7 Best Protein Skimmers: In-sump, HOB, In-tank and External
In freshwater tanks, most of the proteins and organic waste settles at the bottom of the tank. However, this waste usually dissolves in saltwater and this makes it very difficult to clean the water using normal filters.
A protein skimmer is basically a filter that is designed to clear out this organic waste. There are some very good benefits that come with having this saltwater aquarium accessory.
For starters, it keeps your water clean and toxin-free, creating a conducive environment for your reef and sea animals to grow.
In the process, the skimmer also reduces the rate of algae growth because of the reduced “food” that the algae would otherwise feed on. Lastly, it reduces stress on the filtration system, which means you won’t have to worry about maintenance after short time intervals.
With this in mind, it is important to get the best protein skimmer for your tank. This article gives an in-depth review of the best ones in the market so as to make it easier for you to pick the most suitable one for your tank.
7 Best Protein Skimmers – Reviews
1. Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer
Innovatively designed protein skimmer with a needle wheel impeller for bubble creation and a bubble plate for reducing turbulence in the reaction chamber.
2. SC Aquariums SCA-302 Protein Skimmer
Compactly designed protein skimmer with a powerful pump and a silencer for quiet yet powerful operations
3. Reef Octopus Classic 202-S Protein Skimmer
Solid cast acrylic protein skimmer that is easy to assemble and a cone-shaped body for enhancing foam formation.
4. Reef Octopus Classic 110-INT Protein Skimmer
Energy efficient protein skimmer with a 9-watt pump motor and a very small footprint for fitting in most sumps
5. Reef Octopus Classic 100-HOB Protein Skimmer
Affordable protein skimmer with a small footprint and is installed by hanging inside the tank
6. Coralife Super Protein Skimmer with Pump
Very versatile protein skimmer with a powerful 500 GPH pump and a dual injection system for more effective skimming
7. NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer
In sump protein skimmer with a clear view reactor and a hybrid wheel pump for creating a lot of microfine bubbles
1. Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 – Our Pick for the Best Protein Skimmers
Editor's Rating: (4.3 / 5)
- Compatibility: Up to 140 gallons
- Flow rate: N/A
Bubble Magus’s BM-Curve is one of the best products in this review because it has some outstanding features such as the revolutionary needle wheel.
A needle wheel is basically an impeller consisting of needle-like spokes, which whisk the water and air to form very fine bubbles that carry the dissolved organic waste to the top of the skimmer.
Other than that, the unit features an SP1000 internal pump that is placed inside the unit and this keeps it neatly out of the way while also making the skimmer very compact.
In terms of performance, the pump’s motor does a good job at rotating the needle wheel and is connected to a venturi intake for sucking the air using a tube that goes above the tank.
Another important performance feature is a bubble plate and this reduces any turbulence in the reaction chamber, resulting in the collection of more waste at a faster rate in the collection cup.
On installation, this is an in-sump skimmer and thus, requires an additional sump in order to clean your saltwater tank. Also, it is quite complex to set-up because it has a lot of parts but once you figure it out, disassembling and assembling it for cleaning purposes will be very easy.
2. SC Aquariums SCA-302 – Compactly Designed In-sump Protein Skimmer
Editor's Rating: (4.2 / 5)
- Compatibility: Up to 180 gallons
- Flow rate: 400 GPH
SC Aquarium’s unit is quite similar to the BM-Curve in terms of design. However, this one is more compact, which means it can fit in most sumps and can handle a larger load of up to 180-gallon aquariums.
An Atman 2000 pump runs the skimmer and it features a needle impeller, which is responsible for creating the bubbles that carry waste up to the collection cup. This cup comes in a large size as standard, which ensures that it collects a lot of waste before requiring some cleaning.
Although the unit has a powerful pump (with a 400 GPH flow rate), it operates very silently and this is because it features a silencer for scaling down the noise that is produced.
For installation, a sump is required and the unit sits on its own without any fixation. Assembling the unit is quite easy because the parts are laser cut for seamless fitting with each other.
3. Reef Octopus Classic 202-S – Easy to Maintain Protein Skimmer
Editor's Rating: (4.9 / 5)
- Compatibility: Up to 265 gallons
- Flow rate: 211 GPH
Reef Octopus’s Classic 202-S is quite expensive but it is also a top-rated protein skimmer that is built using high-quality acrylic, which makes it very easy to dismantle for cleaning purposes.
On the inside, the unit features an ultra-efficient Aquatrance 3000S pump, which is equipped with a pinwheel for creating the perfect air and water mix for optimal waste removal.
A bubble dispersant plate is included above the pump for reducing turbulence within the bubbles in order to make them rise quickly above through a wine glass shaped skimmer body. This cone shape naturally stabilizes and concentrates the foam as it rises, enhancing its formation.
It is important to note that the Classic 202-S is an in-sump unit and thus, requires an additional sump to your aquarium in order to function properly. The sump’s water should be at a depth of about 7 – 9 inches.
With this setup, the skimmer can comfortably handle up to a 265-gallon aquarium on a light bio-load, 200 gallons on a medium bio-load and 180 gallons on a heavy bio-load.
4. Reef Octopus Classic 110-INT – Energy Efficient Protein Skimmer
Editor's Rating: (4.5 / 5)
- Compatibility: Up to 130 gallons
- Flow rate: 92 GPH
Just like the Classic 202-S above, this 110-INT is constructed using high-quality cast acrylic, which makes it strong and easy to assemble/ disassemble for easy maintenance. This makes Reef Octopus one of the best protein skimmer brands in the market.
However, this unit has an external Aquatrance 1000s pump, which is joined to the main skimmer body using an O-ring sealed union to prevent any leakages. It is extremely efficient, with a rating of only 9 watts and yet it delivers a flow rate of 92 GPH.
This external pump gives it sort of an unfinished, rough-edged finish, but the good thing though is that it still maintains a very small footprint of only 10.4 × 7 inches and thus, it can fit inside most sumps. Additionally, it has an air silencer, which makes it operate very quietly.
As the waste is being foamed up, a precision water level control output valve is used to regulate the water outlet and at its height, it is recommended to use the skimmer at a depth of 7 – 8 inches so as to effectively control the foam level.
5. Reef Octopus Classic 100-HOB – Best Protein Skimmer for the Money
Editor's Rating: (4.1 / 5)
- Compatibility: Up to 105 gallons
- Flow rate: 92 GPH
If you are on a tight budget, Reef Octopus’s Classic 100 is the best protein skimmer that you can buy. However, it is only meant for smaller saltwater tanks of up to 105 gallons in capacity and this justifies its price.
The good thing about it is that it is a hang on back filter, which means that it can simply be installed inside the aquarium while hanging off the back wall. This makes it very easy and affordable to install since you don’t need to buy a sump.
Construction wise, the Classic 100 is true to the strength of Reef Octopus’s Classic series with its high-quality cast acrylic body. This body has a very small footprint of 8 × 3.75 inches, with a height of 17 inches and thus, it occupies a very little space inside the aquarium.
At the heart of this skimmer is a 9-watt external pump, which features a pinwheel for producing the ideal air and water mix, and this dissolves the organic waste while pushing it up to the collection cup.
6. Coralife 100105277 – Very Versatile Protein Skimmer
Editor's Rating: (4 / 5)
- Compatibility: Up to 220 gallons
- Flow rate: 500 GPH
Coralife’s protein skimmer is a very versatile product because it can be installed either as an in-sump or a hang-on unit. However, it is quite big in size and might take up a lot of space inside your tank.
The good thing though is that it is available in 3 sizes, which include an up to 65-gallon, an up to 125-gallon and this 220-gallon unit option.
A 500 GPH external pump runs this 220-gallon option, which is very strong, and features a patented needle-wheel impeller and an aspirating venturi to bring in the air.
With the impeller running, micro-bubbles are created rapidly and carry dissolved proteins up to the large collection cup. A dual-injection system makes this skimmer more effective by increasing the bubble/ water contact time.
The result of this is a higher rate of dissolving proteins and organic waste, making it the best protein skimmer for saltwater aquariums.
7. NYOS Quantum 160 – In Sump Protein Skimmer with a Hybrid Wheel
Editor's Rating: (3.9 / 5)
- Compatibility: Up to 265 gallons
- Flow rate: N/A
NYOS’ Quantum 160 is a very expensive in-sump protein skimmer, with an internal 18-watt pump that is capable of handling up to 265-gallon aquariums.
This pump is quite unique because, unlike the rest that features needle wheel impellers, it has a hybrid wheel that is built using super light materials and combines the benefits of a needle wheel and a lattice wheel.
Basically, these benefits result in the creation of countless microfine bubbles for a very high rate of dissolving protein so as to be more effective at cleaning the water.
Structurally, the unit features a clear view reactor, which means you can see the performance of the pump and the bubble creation in action, combining a stylish design with practicality. This makes it one of the best in-sump protein skimmer.
How to Buy the Best Protein Skimmers
For protein skimmers, compatibility is usually considered in terms of the tank size. Most skimmers are rated for the particular tank capacity that they can handle and this should be a guide to help you choose the most suitable unit for your tank.
However, it is recommended to get a larger size so as reduce strain and also clean the water thoroughly. For instance, if you have a 100-gallon aquarium, it is recommended that you get about a 150-gallon protein skimmer for you to get the best results.
2. Types of Protein Skimmers
There are 4 main types of protein skimmers. These are:
In sump: These are the most common and the most popular types of protein skimmers. They are designed to be used within an aquarium’s sump system and are available in a variety of sizes and prices.
HOB: Just like in filters, HOB stands for hang-on-back and this simply refers to skimmers that are hung on the back of aquariums. They are usually meant for smaller aquariums which have a capacity of fewer than 100 gallons.
In tank: These kinds of protein skimmers are placed inside the tank and thus, are usually small-sized so that they do not occupy a lot of the space that is meant for your tank’s animals. Despite their small size, they still clean the water pretty well.
External: This type runs externally from the sump, pulling dirty water from the sump and returning clean water into it.
Buying Guide: In-sump and HOB filters are the most common types of skimmers. If you have a big aquarium (100 gallons plus), the best option would be the expensive but powerful in-sump unit. However, if you have a small aquarium, the cheaper HOB type will work for your tank.
3. Flow Rate
Given in GPH, a skimmer’s flow rate shows how fast it can cycle through your tank’s water while removing the dissolved organic waste per hour.
The faster the flow rate, the better because this means it will clean your water in the shortest time possible.
This term is mostly used with in-sump protein skimmers and it means the amount of sump floor space that the unit will occupy once placed inside it. It is important to check the space that is available in your sump beforehand so that you don’t buy a unit that won’t fit.
How to Install and Maintain the Protein Skimmer
With 4 types of protein skimmers, the common installation and maintenance instructions are given below.
1. Ensure you have the right sized protein skimmer
Although these products are usually rated for a particular tank capacity, it is recommended to get a bigger unit for your tank. For instance, if you have a 50-gallon tank, you should get a 100-gallon capacity skimmer.
2. Inspect the skimmer
These products usually have a lot of parts and therefore, it is important to check if all are included in the pack. Also, check for any defects in these parts, including the pump.
3. For an in-sump skimmer
If the filtration system does not come with its own sump, you have to mount an external one and connect the inlet and outlet to it. After doing this, power the skimmer to test whether the pump is circulating the water.
4. Determine the best depth
Depending on the manufacturer and the product itself, determine the best water depth for placing the protein skimmer. It is very crucial that you follow the product’s installation instructions so that it can perform exceptionally well.
5. Install the skimmer
Place the skimmer in the water and allow it to fill with water. After that, plug it in and if all is set up well, the foam should start forming within a few seconds.
6. Leave it to run
Let the skimmer run for 2 – 3 days to complete its break-in period. During this time, monitor the foam level and ensure that it does not exceed the recommended level by the manufacturer. Adjust the unit accordingly until you get the right settings.
For maintenance, the cup of the skimmer should be washed once it gets filled up while the unit should be disassembled for cleaning at least every 6 months so as to maintain optimal performance.
1. Does the protein skimmer remove salt?
No. A protein skimmer is designed to remove proteins or DOC (dissolved organic compounds) from the aquarium. This comprises of uneaten food and waste from the fish and corals in this state before breaking down to ammonia, nitrites or nitrates.
Salt is not a DOC and thus, it won’t be removed from the tank using a skimmer.
2. What is the best protein skimmer for a bio-cube?
Being small in size, a bio-cubes’ saltwater dissolves a lot of organic waste quickly and will become concentrated in a very short time. As such, a bio-cube needs a skimmer with a strong pump that will cycle through the water multiple times per hour so as to clean it thoroughly.
With this in mind, Coralife’s skimmer would be the best fit for such a tank from the listing above.
3. How often should a protein skimmer be cleaned?
It is recommended to always clean a skimmer after 5 – 6 months. This cleaning should be thorough, with the unit being disassembled so that all the parts are scrubbed off the dirty layer.
4. How do you quiet the protein skimmer?
The moving part inside a skimmer is only the pump and this means that all the noise comes from it. Therefore, quieting the unit should involve dampening sounds and vibrations using suction cups as well as rubber pads, which can be placed between it and the sump or tank to neutralize the noise.
Another important thing to do would be to replace or repair all broken parts because they could be the causing the noise.
5. Why is the protein skimmer overflowing?
Too much air is flowing into the skimmer. When this happens, the air forces wet or excess foam to rise and this causes the overflow. Simply adjust the air intake and observe for about 10 minutes, then readjust if required.
As you can see, protein skimmers are very important accessories for saltwater tanks. By helping eliminate dissolved proteins, these units prevent the formation of ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and phosphates, which are very harmful to your sea animals.
This also prevents the growth of algae because the bacteria will have no food to feed on. Therefore, it is important to get the best protein skimmer and this article helps you to do just that.