Best protein skimmer reviewed - 2020 buyers guide

protein skimmers

So what is a Protein skimmer?, protein skimming which can also be called foam fractionation or air stripping, is a mechanical process for removing waste substances from saltwater.

First of all, the theory behind protein skimming is relatively simple. Molecules of many organic and inorganic substances are strongly attracted to the interface between water and gas. The attraction is a result of each molecule having a “water-loving” (hydrophilic) and a “water-hating” (hydrophobic) end. Substances that react in this way are called surface active agents. This is commonly shortened to surfactants. Surfactants include proteins, amino acids, dyes, fatty acids, albumin compounds, fats, carbohydrates, enzymes, detergents, copper ions and many inorganic compounds.

A protein skimmer is a key component of a marine filtration system. Using a good quality protein skimmer can very much increase the success rate of your aquarium. So which is a good protein skimmer 2020?

protein skimmer comparison table

Image

Protein skimmer

Footprint

Sump

water level

HOB

Sump

Tank size

Rating

Price

protien skimmers

7" X 7"

18.5" H

9.5"-11"

up to 140

Reef Octopus Classic 100-hang on back Protein Skimmer

8" X 3.25

17" H

up to 100

Coralife Super Skimmer with Pump in sump HOB

5.5" X 4.25

20" H

7"

up to 65

protein skimmers

10.5" x 6.6"

20" H

7"-8"

up to 100

SC Aquariums 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer Newest Version

9.5" x 9"

18" H

6"-8"

up to 180

Bubble Magus BM-Curve 7 Protein Skimmer

11" x 10"

21" H

7.5"-8"

up to 240

Eshopps 75 gallon protein skimmer

7" X 6"

23"H

6"-8.5"

up to 75

Simplicity 240DC Protein Skimmer with DC Pump

8.3" X 7.9"

19.5"H

6"-8.5"

up to 240

Reef Octopus Classic 202-S Protein Skimmer

12.4" X 10"

23.2"H

7"-9"

up to 265

protein skimmers

9.5" X 6.7"

22.1"H

8"

up to 250

protein skimmers

9.8" X 6.9"

19.3"H

not needed

not needed

up to 125

How does a protein skimmer work

A protein skimmer creates a huge water and air interface area.  The process is initiated by producing millions of tiny bubbles in a confined space.  The surfactants become attracted to this area. As the bubbles rise naturally, an oily residue is produced at the surface.  The residue is continuously pushed up by the pressure of the foaming column until it overflows into the waste collection cup. The final stage is the bubbles burst and the liquid residue is captured.  Finally, the residue can then be disposed of.  Its color may vary from dark brown to yellow.

Good protein skimmers often include a needle wheel impeller which will chop incoming air into even smaller bubbles.

protein skimmer impeller wheel types

As bubbles pass through the impeller needles or pins the impeller shreds incoming bubbles into microbubbles. A high-quality pump with a well-designed impeller will produce more bubbles that are smaller in size which increases the surface area inside the skimmer to remove more waste. Also, a high-quality pump will last longer and also run quieter.

The impact of the skimmer bubbles.

The more bubbles there are within the interface, and the longer they are kept in suspension, the more efficient the skimming process will be. Furthermore, studies on the most advanced models indicate that up to 80 percent of all organic waste can be removed from the marine aquarium by an efficient skimmer of the correct size.

Using a Protein Skimmer while using medications.

One drawback with using protein skimmers is they may reduce the effectiveness of medications.  This is as a result of some inorganic ions (such as copper) being surfactants and are readily removed. Therefore when using medications switch the skimmer off for 12 hours immediately after each treatment. It is questionable whether the skimmer should be switched off for the duration of medication.  This is because the resultant build-up of waste products could very likely offset the advantages of treatment owing to increased stress levels to the fish.

Three Basic Types of Protein Skimmer.

The basic types of protein skimmer available are the direct-current, the counter-current, and the powered venturi skimmer.

The direct-current skimmer.

This skimmer is positioned inside the aquarium.  It is the simplest and least efficient of the designs. In its basic form, a wooden air diffuser is positioned below a hollow acrylic tube.  In addition, above this, a collection cup is placed. Bubble generation and contact time are minimal, limiting this design to the very smallest and lightly stocked aquaria. Ozone cannot be used with this model.

Counter-current skimmer.

These skimmers are is probably the most popular method in common use.  Although some designs are outdated, the unit is generally easy to install and fairly efficient. Physically it can resemble the direct-current model with the addition of an extra counter-flow feature. This keeps the bubbles inside the acrylic tube in suspension for a much longer period.  The result of this is a greater number of surfactants can be attracted and collected. Counter-current models come in several lengths.  The greatest length that will fit in a particular depth of water should always be chosen for maximum efficiency. Furthermore, it is important for both the direct-current and counter-current model to be set at the correct height in the water. The grid below the collection cup should be at the same level as the water surface.

Advance counter-current skimmer.

This type of skimmer is positioned outside the aquarium. Tank water is pumped into the top of a cylinder and mixed with the stream of fine bubbles.  These bubbles are produced from a limewood air diffuser. A counter-current effect is set up as the water exits from the bottom of the unit and the bubbles try to rise against the flow. Contact times can be very prolonged and consequently make this type of skimmer extremely efficient.

Furthermore, to prevent bacterial build-ups and nasty smells, the collection cup should be emptied and cleaned regularly. The result of this is that the liquid waste is practically odorless.

Powered Venturi Skimmer.

This type of protein skimmer is the most efficient skimming device to date.  As a result, it is also the most expensive of the three types. Such is the versatility of the powered skimmer that several designs exist.  Different designs enable positioning above, beside or inside the tank or external trickle filter sump. Hence, for a more heavily stocked aquarium, that has fish only, a larger powered Venturi skimmer is recommended.

Size of the skimmer reaction chamber.

The reaction chamber is part of the skimmer body where all the magic happens. A big reaction chamber allows for a larger volume of air bubbles to accumulate and attract proteins. Furthermore, it also allows for more contact time for the bubbles to attach to proteins. The shape of the skimmer body shouldn't be overlooked either.  This is because as a smooth transition from the skimmer body to the collection cup is what allows the bubbles to easily rise and fall into the collection cup for easy removal.

The main three types of body shape are cone, hybrid cone, and wineglass.

protein skimmer body types

These offer the smoothest path for air bubbles to rise into the collection cup with the least resistance.

Outlet adjustment

When looking for a protein skimmer ,an easy to use and responsive outlet adjustment is also helpful because it allows you to adjust the water level in the skimmer.  You can easily fine tune the skimmer for steady skimming production and to avoid overflows.

Many of the newer protein skimmers include bubble plates which reduce turbulence.  the result of this is that is it further increase contact time an air silencer and a collection cup with drain fitting is very useful.

Top 10 protein skimmers reviewed.

Bubble Magus BM Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

Bubble Magus BM Curve 5 Best Protein Skimmer

It uses the bubble Magus pump with the needle wheel to produce the right amount and size of bubbles with the venturi intake. This protein skimmer does come with a bubble plate which does a great job of reducing the turbulence in the reaction chamber to help with the flow. The air silencer is a recommended and added feature to have to keep any noise down to a minimum.

The bubble Magnus is a nicely designed protein skimmer. It's definitely has a smaller footprint than you would expect for a skimmer rated for 140-gallons.

The collection cup does actually have a rubber o-ring.  It does make it an easy to release from the main body for cleaning when needed. It also comes with a drain to reduce the times you need to maintain and empty the cup.

Pros

  • Nice and quiet in operation, small footprint. produces good skimmate.
  • The pump intake and outlets can be inline or perpendicular.

Cons

  • long break in period
  • The Dial setting can be misleading as the Max setting lowers the bubble height and Min setting raises it.

Reef Octopus Classic 100-hang on back Protein Skimmers

Reef Octopus Classic 100-hang on back Protein Skimmer

This reef octopus is a HOB (hang-on-back) skimmer. It can filter up to 105 gallons. With this setup, the pump is mounted inside the aquarium. Then you just hang the skimmer body on the back of your aquarium. adjust the intake flow then you are ready to start skimming!

The pump features a pinwheel design which is the best design to optimize the number of bubbles it can produce to make it more effective on skimming.

The skimmer is nice and quiet.  It also has a nice large collection cup that allows you to adjust it to get the most efficient skim. Also, the cup cannot overflow and make a mess of the floor, as once the cup reaches a certain level it just overflows back into the skimmer.

Pros

  • Easy setup and startup.
  • Great value for money.

Cons

  • Can be a little tricky to adjust
  • Could do with a drain outlet for cleaning the cup

Coralife Super Skimmer with Pump

Coralife Super Skimmer with Pump in sump HOB

The Corallife protein skimmers can be used in a sump or you can hang it on the back of your aquarium.

It features a needle wheel impeller in the pump that creates a vortex effect.  The result is this creates the maximum micro bubbles to attract the proteins in the water. With a bubble production diffuser that prevents the flow of the micro-bubbles back into the aquarium.

The collection cup is a nice size so you don't have to worry about in overflowing because with the right adjustment you can get it just right. It also features a wide neck with an easy twist fixture for easy removal and cleaning this is a nice feature.

With the HOB option, this Coralife protein skimmer is a great introduction to using protein skimmers as the installation isn't overly complicated.  This way you don't have to worry about the setup.

Pros

  • With the dual injection inlets for increased water contact to make this a very efficient skimmer
  • This skimmer only takes about 36hrs to break in and start to extract proteins
  • very easy to assemble

Cons

  • can overflow if the water level isn't maintained properly
  • when mounting on the back it can vibrate and cause noise

Coral Vue Technology AC20284  Skimmer

Coral Vue Technology AC20284 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer for Aquariums

The CoralVue protein skimmers uses a pinwheel/needle impeller for maximum bubbles with the 4" cone neck helps with the transitions of the bubbles.

The collection cup uses a quick release mechanism for easy removal for routine maintenance so you don't have to spend too long maintaining and cleaning it.

The gate valve allows for easier water adjustment with just a turn of the knob so you can control the inlet flow so it can work at its optimum for perfect skimming to produce skimmate.

Pros

  • Easy to adjust

Cons

  • break in period of 1 to 2 weeks before you get the best results of skimmate 
  • only usable in a sump

Bubble Magus BM-Curve 7 Protein Skimmer

In this Bubble magus curve 7 review, we’ll discuss both the pros and cons of this model. We’ll also share a number of observations that aren’t clear pros or cons but may affect someone’s decision to buy the model.

Pros in Favor of the Bubble Magus BM-Curve 7

It is very quiet compared to similar products. And that’s despite the fact it is designed for tanks up to 240 gallons, so it moves quite a lot of water through the system every minute. This is a little less than the capacity of the Curve-9.

It comes with an internal needle wheel pump. This provides ideally sized bubbles in almost every case. What if you need something different? Adjusting the air flow is easy.

It is possible to replace the pump if it breaks. This model costs nearly 50 percent more than the BM-Curve 5, but that unit is designed for tanks up to 140 gallons. However, they use the exact same pump. This means that in a pinch, you could reuse the old pump from your old Curve 5 for the Curve 7. And you can install the Curve 7 in a smaller reef tank, keeping nasty protein skim to a minimum in the most sensitive fish tank.

The unit has a collection cup drain to make it easy to reduce how often it has to be maintained. Don’t put the pump inlet too close to the filtration sump unless you want the unit to collect unnecessary debris. On the other hand, the collection cup pops off easily, so there’s little risk of spilling the junk you want to get out of the tank while in the process of disposing of it.

The Bubble Magus brand is known for its reliability. These units can run for years, assuming you don’t drop or break something.

Cons and Weaknesses:

The air inlet is very close to the lid. The lid itself has holes to handle an overflow. The problems start if you forget to empty the collection cub. If it then overflows, the semi-liquid brown salt will end up flowing into the needle wheel inlet. The salt will then harden and clog it. You have to take apart the skimmer and tubing to properly clean it, and this is time consuming. That design flaw makes this protein skimmer a poor choice if you aren’t detail oriented. The mess can also create a film on the lid that blocks the vent holes. That interferes in its performance until you clean it.

The instructions that come with the protein skimmer are terrible. They don’t tell you how to assemble it, and they certainly don’t address the little details that affect performance such as the air inlet issue we just discussed.

Observations about the BM-Curve 7 Protein Skimmer:

The water level must be at least nine inches, if you want the skimmer to work properly. In deeper tanks, you may have to buy or build a stand to hold it at the ideal height. On the other hand, this protein skimmer has a relatively compact footprint. It requires 11 inches by 10 inches of space.

The unit uses roughly 80 watts of power. That’s more than the manufacturer says it will draw, but it is not a major difference.

Summary

This protein skimmer balances high capacity and ease of use, once you get it properly set up. While it isn’t the cheapest option on the market, its long-life and the availability of replacement parts makes it a good overall value.


SC Aquariums 180 Gallon Protein Skimmers  Newest Version

SC Aquariums 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer Newest Version

The SC aquarium can work effectively up to 180 gallons without any problems,.The extra large collection cup is removable and also comes with a drain tube for easy emptying and cleaning.

This aquarium skimmer is a top performer with a nice small footprint that allows you to easily install it in the sump without taking up to much room.

With the Air silencer there to keep any noise down to a minimum with the 6 levels of water flow adjustment so you can get just the right amount of skimmate produced once you have it dialed in for your aquarium. The large dial makes it easy to adjust when needed.

It can take about four days to fully break in before it fully settles down. For best results, it works very well in between 6/9 inches of water. The bubble plate ensures good contact time for the bubbles with the water.

This pump is very quiet which is always a consideration when looking to buy a protein skimmer.

Pros

  • nice and quiet.
  • Easy adjustment flow.

Cons

  • Not the best instructions with the skimmer.

Eshopps 75 gallon best protein skimmer

The Eshopps skimmer uses the upgraded Sicce pump which is a big improvement. It's a HOB type which makes it a skimmer you don't have to worry or need to have a sump tank fitted so they are beneficial for that reason. With the Sicce pump in this HOB that is the same as the sump model so you know you are getting a good quality skimmer.

It's a nice compact size for a HOB protein skimmer that's 4" diameter.

Using a needle impeller in the silent running the Sicce pump to generate the bubbles you know this protein skimmer will generate the right amount to give it the best water contact to bubbles.

A removable cup will make life easier when it comes to cleaning out any scum that is generated, additionally with the drain plug that helps to empty the cup before cleaning it.

A slant neck design helps to maximise the transitions of bubbles to rise to the collection cup more easily for a better skimming effect.

Pros

  • Good build quality
  • Easy adjustment
  • Very small footprint for a HOB

Cons

  • Can take time to settle down

Simplicity 240 Protein Skimmer

Simplicity 240DC Protein Skimmer with DC Pump

This Simplicity skimmer isn't just in name only this skimmer is nice and simple to assemble and just as easy to disassemble to clean with the thumbscrews. It's a nice compact size when space is at a premium. With the ability to Skim aquariums up to 240 gallons.

It comes with an electronic controller, which is a nice addition to this skimmer.  it also has a feeding time button that just drops the flow down for 10 mins. The pump uses a needle wheel impeller for the best possible bubble to air ratio The pump runs almost silently in operation.

With the cone shape design to give the bubbles the easiest transition to the decent sized collection cup which also has a drain built in to aid maintenance. The cup uses a Bayonette locking design which makes it nice and secure and easy removal when needed. It also has a bubble plate and easy to read wedge pipe setting indicator. This is a serious contender for anyone looking for a skimmer that packs a punch.

Pros

  • Quiet operation.
  • Powerful It makes lots of skimmate.
  • Easily adjustable for both air and water.
  • Skims tanks up to 240 gallons.

Cons

  • Only internal use in sumps.

Reef Octopus Classic 202-S Protein Skimmer

Reef Octopus Classic 202-S Protein Skimmer

Reef Octopus has many different protein skimmer models so when looking for a good protein skimmer it's a name to surely check out.

The Classic 202 design in an in-sump set up only with a massive capacity to skim aquariums up to 265 gallons. With the Aquatrance 3000s series pump that uses a pinwheel design to produce the perfect balance of water and air for optimal waste removal.  You can be sure it will do a great job in scavaging the water into microbubbles with ease.

The turbulence reducing design of the super cone wine glass shaped body will stabilize concentrates the skimmate rich foam, with the help of the bubble dispersant plate, will make sure maximum skimmate reaches the  collection cup, it also uses a drain for ease of use.

Pros

  • Amazing skimming capacity.
  • Precision Control Bubble Free Output.

Cons

  • Can be noisy during the break-in period.
  • More expensive than most.
  • Super Cone Body Size

AquaMaxx ConeS CO-2 In-Sump Protein Skimmer

AquaMaxx ConeS CO-2 In-Sump Protein Skimmer

This AquaMax protein skimmers does feature some innovative ideas. It has a unique design with the bubble plate, as it uses extenders to further reduce turbulence inside the reaction chamber which will then increase contact time.

A well made Italian Sicce pump is the heart of the Aquamax skimmer that is then modified by Aquamax that they call the "shark pump" with there own needle impeller design to give it optimum bubbles for protein extraction.

The next unique feature is the handle on the collection cup.  This is a simple idea that just makes removing it a little easier if space is a bit tight and you have to use one hand. This also is something to consider if space high up in the sump is tight. It also has a baffle inside the collection cup that helps to keep control of the skimmate it collects.

The air silencer makes sure you have a nice quiet operation and the easily adjustable drain pipe makes sure you can tune the skimmer for your aquarium with just a few turns on the knob.

Pros

  • Sicce pump
  • Handle on the collection cup

Cons

  • Not the cheapest
  • colors might not appeal to everyone

Recirculating Protein Skimmers

This last addition in this protein skimmers review is this Hydor recirculating skimmer.  There are advantages in running a recirculating skimmer and also a disadvantage too.

With a recirculating skimmer, you need an additional pump to feed the skimmer.  Consequently, this becomes an extra cost to consider. However, it's possible to feed your skimmer of your return pump as long as it's up to the job.

However, the advantages are you don't have to have the skimmer in the sump.  You can place it anywhere you want (within reason!).  Another advantage is they have more contact time due to the design of recirculating that means it will produce increased skimmate. Also, you don't have to worry about any depth of water like a skimmer that sits in a sump they need to be in a certain depth to run smoothly. With a recirculating skimmer, you don't need to worry about that as the skimmer is fed via a pump.

Hydor Performer Universal Recirculating skimmer.

Hydor recircilating protein skimmer

With the Hydor recirculating skimmer, it's a well-built piece of kit, with the Seltz pump that uses venturi silencer.  It also has an easy to use drainage system that can regulate the level in the chamber. The air regulating control allows easy to dial in adjustment to get it exactly how you need to produce good skimmate.

The pump is one of the quieter ones out there with the innovative Rotimix brush style impellers to make sure good air to water bubbles are produced.

It has a pretty small footprint for a recirculating skimmer which is a great advantage. This is along with not having to worry about water levels in the sump to get the best performance.

Pros

  • Don't have to worry about depth of water
  • Nice and quiet

Cons

  • can be awkward to clean.

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