A protein skimmer is an essential device to have in any saltwater aquarium, and especially in reef tanks. 

They work to remove organic compounds such as food and waste particles from the water.

These undesired compounds will accumulate in your saltwater aquarium, no matter how good a filter you have. 

As these compounds accumulate the water will get cloudy, and nitrate levels will rise making your tank susceptible to unwanted algal growth. Algal growth can get out of hand very quickly and it can be extremely difficult to get rid off. 

To ensure the ongoing cleanliness of the aquarium water and health of your tank fish and coral, you need to have something in place to deal with the build up of waste and organic compounds.

Which is why you are reading this article on the best protein skimmer reviews!

Contents

Protein Skimmer Basics

What actually is a protein skimmer?

Well a protein skimmer at its most basic is exactly as it sounds. It works to remove the excess proteins that build up in your tank. These proteins come from the breakdown of food and faeces, and other natural processes. 

A protein skimmer will also remove phytoplankton (algae), detritus, bacteria, and fats.

If left untreated these compounds will keep building to a level where your water will become cloudy and foggy, and the health of your fish, plants, and coral will also be directly affected.

How does it work? 

It is actually quite cool how it works to collect these proteins. It uses the polarity of the proteins themselves to remove them from the water column. Proteins dissolved in water will either be repelled or attracted by the air-water interface, and large proteins will have parts which are attracted and parts which are repelled.

All protein skimmers work using the same basic process; the water is drawn in a reaction chamber to come into contact with a stream of small fine bubbles. The proteins and organic compounds adhere and “stick” to these bubbles, and are so drawn out of the water column and brought to the top of the skimmer. 

The foam, but not the water itself, is collected in the collection cup, where it condenses into a liquid which can then be easily removed.

Smaller bubbles are more effective than larger bubbles at this process, as they give more surface area for the compounds to adhere to. A high volume of small bubbles is the best way to go.

You can then remove the waste in the collection cup that has been drawn out of the water column.

How To Choose the Best Protein Skimmer For You

How To Choose the Best Protein Skimmers

Before you look at our list of the best protein skimmers available today you should familiarize yourself with what kind of thing you are looking for in a protein skimmer.

There are a couple of basic things you should be looking out for:

The size of your aquarium 

Check the size of your aquarium before you get going looking for a protein skimmer. The size of your aquarium may determine which skimmers you can and can’t use. There are some which are designed for smaller aquariums and some which will allow for the cleaning of larger amounts of water.

While you can risk it and get a smaller volume protein skimmer you won’t get the required power output, and the volume of water cleaned won’t be enough to prevent the eventual build up of harmful compounds.

Size of the Protein Skimmer 

The actual physical size of the protein simmer should also play an important factor in your decision. 

There’s no point in buying a top of the line unit only to discover that it is too big to fit in the space you’ve prepared for it! 

This really can be a problem, especially if you already have everything in your tank set up. Always double check the skimmer will fit, especially if you are going to be using it in a sump.

Protein Skimmer Reviews 

This might go without saying but you really should make sure you read the reviews before you go ahead and buy the best protein skimmer. It is always best to use the  experiences of others. Many people attach pictures as well so you can see how the product looks after setup. 

Budget 

Check that the protein skimmer is within your budget. You need to get the best protein skimmer available for you and your tank to ensure the best functionality and to maintain the delicate balance in your saltwater tank.

But you don’t want to break the bank in doing so. Ensure that you can get the skimmer you need. You should budget for a good quality protein skimmer when you decide to get a saltwater aquarium, as they are an essential component.

Protein Skimmer Types

There are a few main types of protein skimmers that you should be aware of, that each offer different things and are useful for different types of tank 

Hang on Back Protein Skimmers

This type of skimmer is as it sounds, and simply hangs on the back of your aquarium where it draws water into the reaction chamber and cleans it of organic compounds. They are commonly called HOB protein skimmers to shorten the name.

These can be a little unsightly though, as they will be in plain view when you look at your tank, unlike the other two types of protein skimmers which can be hidden from view.

In Sump Skimmers

This skimmer type works it’s magic in the sump tank rather than the main tank itself. In sump skimmers allow your tank to remain looking neat and tidy, while the skimmer works in the back room! In sump skimmers are perhaps the most common type of protein skimmer.

Whether they are the most effective is dependent on your individual setup, but they normally pack a punch!

External Protein Skimmers 

This type of skimmer draws water from the tank, passes it through the system and then passes the cleaned water back in the tank again. 

External skimmers can be very useful if your tank setup means that you haven’t got the room for a hang on back skimmer or an in sump skimmer.

15 Best Protein Skimmers

In the following table we have laid out the top 15 best protein skimmers to make it easier for you to see the options available to you, their best features, and where to purchase them.

PictureProtein SkimmersTop FeaturesLinks
Simplicity 320DC Protein SkimmerSimplicity 320DC Protein SkimmerControllable DC pump and needle wheel
Hybrid cone design improves the contact time between the bubbles and proteins
Buy on Amazon
Coral Vue Technology AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer for Aquarium Filter, 6-Inch, 210-GallonCoral Vue Technology AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel SkimmerNeedle wheel impeller.
Simple setup and ease of use.
Buy on Amazon
Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein SkimmerBubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein SkimmerSilencer for quiet operation
High functionality
Small footprint
Buy on Amazon
Tunze 9410.000 Doc Skimmers, Up to 265-GallonTunze 9410.000 DOC Protein SkimmerEasy to clean and maintain
Low power usage
Large skimming capacity
Buy on Amazon
Tunze 9410.000 Doc Skimmers, Up to 265-GallonSC Aquariums In Sump SCA-302 180 Gallon Protein SkimmerCompact design
Powerful pump
Buy on Amazon
CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus with External 1000 Pump for Aquarium Filter, 100-GallonCoral Vue Technology BH-1000 OctopusPump outside the main body, meaning no heat exchange and easier maintenance.
2 year warranty
Buy on Amazon
Reef Octopus Classic 110-INT Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer for AquariumReef Octopus Classic 110-INT Needle Wheel Protein SkimmerEasy installation
Powerful pump and impressive impeller
Buy on Amazon
Coralife 05272 Super Skimmer with Pump, 125-GallonCoralife Super Protein Skimmer with PumpCan be set up as either in sump or HOB
3 power options available
Dual injection inlets
Buy on Amazon
CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus with External 1000 Pump for Aquarium Filter, 100-GallonIOAOI Ultra Quiet Protein Skimmer for Saltwater AquariumsDC pump which allows you to control air and water flow.
Quiet operation
Buy on Amazon
AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein SkimmerAquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein SkimmerGreat design and color
Small footprint 
Buy on Amazon
Macro Aqua M-50 Mini Hang-on External Protein Skimmer, 60 GallonMacro Aqua M-50 Mini Hang-on External Protein SkimmerSelf-priming
Overflow outlet
Buy on Amazon
NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer for up to 265 GallonsNYOS Quantum 160 Protein SkimmerEasy to clean and maintain
Quiet operation
Buy on Amazon
Reef Octopus Classic 100-HOB Protein SkimmerReef Octopus Classic 100-HOB Protein SkimmerSmall footprint
Simple installation
Buy on Amazon
IceCap K1-Nano Protein SkimmerIceCap K1-Nano Protein SkimmerEasy to install with magnetic mount
Quiet
Buy on Amazon
Marine Color RDC 250 Hanging On Internal Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer 70 Gallon Saltwater AquariumMarine Color RDC 250 Internal Needle Wheel Protein SkimmerSmall footprint
Solid construction
Buy on Amazon

Best Protein Skimmer Reviews

Best protein skimmer reviews

Here is our list of what we believe are the best protein skimmers available today.

We have taken the time to carefully look at the specifications of each of these protein skimmers and taken into account the reviews and customer feedback. 

So without further ado here is our list of the best protein skimmers!

1) Simplicity 320DC Protein Skimmer

Simplicity 320DC Protein Skimmer
  • Adjustable DC pump speed
  • For tanks up to 320 gallons
  • Small foot print
  • Cone shape design
  • Collection cup drain with cap

The Simplicity 320DC Protein Skimmer is a great way to kick off this list of the best protein skimmers. The 320DC is effective at cleaning aquariums of up to 320 gallons. There are also smaller and larger models if you have a different sized tank, such as the Simplicity 120DC Protein Skimmer suitable for tanks up to 120 gallons.

Simplicity protein skimmers use a controllable DC pump and needle wheel to create a stream of micro fine bubbles which maximizes the contact surface area between the bubbles and water. This increased air-water interface enables maximal capture of organic compounds.

The hybrid cone design improves the contact time between the bubbles and proteins, which gives these organic compounds more opportunity to adhere to the bubbles and be drawn to the surface. The cone design also helps to concentrate the foam as it rises and collects in the cup, which has a built in drain.

The thumbscrew assembly makes cleaning and maintenance very easy, as it is straightforward to take apart. The body of the protein skimmer is produced from high quality durable acrylic which is easy to clean and very long lasting.

You can easily adjust the pump speed using the handy controller which comes with the unit. Using this you can also temporarily turn off the pump. A digital display on the controller also shows the current speed and power consumption of the skimmer.

Overall a great product which can be adjusted to perfectly suit your unique tank setup. And to top it off Simplicity have very good customer service and offer a good warranty period.

Pros:

Controllable DC pump and needle wheel

Great customer service and warranty

Built in collection cup with drain

Hybrid cone design improves the contact time between the bubbles and proteins

Cons:

Sensitive controls; be careful when adjusting settings.

The following video shows the setup of the 240DC model, but the installation is the same for all sizes of the Simplicity DC models.

2) Coral Vue Technology AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer

Coral Vue Technology AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer for Aquarium Filter, 6-Inch, 210-Gallon
  • Coral vue octopus 6-inch needle wheel skimmer 210gal
  • Reef octopus pinwheel/needle wheel skimmers provide you with a high performance features in an easy to use package
  • New pinwheel impellers provide up to 100% improved performance

The AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer is an amazing protein skimmer by Coral Vue Technology. It is very highly rated and has some rave reviews. 

There are some great features that you get with this model that really kick it up a gear.

The needle wheel impeller is a major feature, hence the name of this skimmer. It whips the sir flow to create a stream of micro bubbles that maximize the amount of organic material taken from the water column. While this is the premise of all protein skimmers the amount of bubbles produced is what is unique. 

The four inch cone-neck eases the transition of the bubbles into the collection cup, so you get a better rate of collection. The collection cup has a quick release for easy cleaning. The gate valve is very useful and allows for much easier water level adjustments.

This model is an in sump skimmer, and works brilliantly for any tank of 210 gallons and under.  If you don’t have a sump then a HOB skimmer or an external skimmer will have to be the way you turn.

The setup and installation is very easy and simple, which is a huge tick in the plus column. Some skimmers are very complicated, but ease of use is extremely good with this model. Don’t discount the ease of use going forward. Having a skimmer that is simple to operate will save you untold amounts of hassle!

The footprint is approximately 12.6 x 8.7 inches, so make sure to check the space you have in your sump tank to ensure that this skimmer will fit.

The one downside is that the Coral Vue Technology AC20287 Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer is a little noisy when operational. While it won’t be a big hassle, and is definitely not a reason not to get this product, it does mean that it might not be appropriate for silent surroundings such as in a bedroom.

Pros:

Needle wheel impeller

Simple setup and ease of use

Cone-neck design

Cons:

Noise level

3) Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

Sale
Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer
  • High performance pump included
  • Tanks up to 140 gallons
  • SP1000 internal pump

The BM-Curve 5 by Bubble Magus is a brilliant in sump protein skimmer which can be used in tanks of up to 140 gallons with a light bioload. It can handle tanks of a smaller volume with a higher bioload absolutely fine!

You get a 1 year warranty on the skimmer and pump motor with Bubble Magus, and also an additional 6 months warranty on the impeller of the pump, so you are covered if anything occurs. You can also get spare parts very easily. There have been reports of the customer service not being up to scratch, so be slightly wary of that.

High functionality is a real talking point of this skimmer; the needle wheel pump has a venture intake which produces a great stream of fine bubbles, which maximizes the uptake of organic compounds. It also features a bubble plate which reduces the turbulence in the reaction chamber to reduce the risk of bubbles bursting before they reach the surface. 

The curve in the body of the skimmer is an innovative design which enables the foam created to rise up smoothly without incident and be collected in the collection cup. 

The BM-Curve 5 also features an air silencer which ensures quiet operation. This feature really is a great addition, as the noise made by protein skimmers is often the major drawback. But with the silencer attachment you get near silent operation so it is perfect if you have your saltwater tank placed in your bedroom or another place you want as little noise as possible.

The collection cup is on a quick release, as is the skimmer body, which allows for very easy cleaning and maintenance. The collection cup also features a drain which acts to reduce the amount of maintenance it needs. 

Installation is also very simple and easy; with a small footprint it doesn’t take up much room at all. 

The reviews are extremely good for this unit, and overall it is a really great product. 

Pros:

Silencer for quiet operation

High functionality

Small footprint

Simple and easy maintenance 

Cons:

Customer service

4) Tunze 9410.000 DOC Protein Skimmer

Tunze 9410.000 Doc Skimmers, Up to 265-Gallon
  • Easily removed, large capacity skimmer cup
  • Low power consumption
  • Removable post filter

The Tunze 9410.000 DOC Protein Skimmer is suitable for use in heavily stocked SPS (Small Polyp Stony) reef tanks up to 80 gallons and in fish only saltwater tanks up to 265 gallons. 

Therefore if you have a fish only tank then this protein skimmer will most likely be powerful enough as it can handle very large tanks, but if you have a reef tank do make sure that it will handle it.

This unit is produced using high quality materials that won’t degrade over time and will last you and your tank a long time. It is an in sump skimmer, so ensure that you have the space required to install it in the sump. The product measures 9.8 by 7 by 16.3 inches, which isn’t huge by any means, so you should have the space available to install it in the sump with no problems.

A major plus of this protein skimmer over other models is the electricity usage. It only has a power consumption of 15W. For the skimming performance that you get it is similar to larger skimmers which can use twice as much power. You’ll soon see how much of a money saver this is, as especially with larger tanks the costs can quickly rack up!

Overall the Tunze 9410.000 DOC is a great protein skimmer which is well worth the price tag and is with a removable post filter and large easily removable collection cup cleaning and maintenance is also very easy. There have been some users who notice that the operational noise is slightly loud, so bedroom use might not be recommended. 

Pros:

Easy to clean and maintain

Low power usage

Large skimming capacity

Cons:

Slightly loud operation

5) SC Aquariums In Sump SCA-302 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer

SCA-302 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer
  • Easily removed, large capacity skimmer cup
  • Low power consumption
  • Removable post filter

This in sump SCA-302 protein skimmer by SC Aquariums is a great model which has some amazing features which make it one of the best protein skimmers around. 

This is a new and upgraded version of this skimmer, so if you have heard of the older models then know that this one is even better! These new models come with a larger collection cup and silencer as standard.

This model is suitable for heavy load tanks of up to 180 gallons. These are getting up to pretty large tanks, so if you have a tank on the larger side definitely take a look at this one. 

It is very compact and so will fit most sump tanks. It measures 9 x 18 x 9.5 inches so make sure that it will fit on yours, but being so compact it most likely will. Be sure to check the depth of your sump too, the ideal depth is 6-8 inches.

The powerful Atman PH2000 pump with a needle impeller is very powerful and packs a punch, so you can be sure that it will create enough fine bubbles to catch all that organic waste in your tank system.

The ratings on this skimmers are extremely good, so you can buy it knowing that you will get a great product. And to top it off the price tag it carries is extremely competitive, especially for the power it has and the ratings it has received.

Pros:

Compact design

Powerful pump

Great reviews

Price

Cons:

Be wary of getting the correct depth in sump.

6) Coral Vue Technology BH-1000 Octopus 

CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus with External 1000 Pump
  • Coral vue octopus with external 1000 pump 100gal
  • This design also allows for easy removal of the pump for cleaning and maintenance
  • They are built with high quality acrylic

This is the second protein skimmer by Coral Vue Technology on this list of the 15 best protein skimmers, which shows how highly rated they are. This model is a hang on back (HOB) protein skimmer, which simply hangs on to the back of your tank.

The BH-1000 Octopus is unique in that it has its pump mounted below and outside the main body of the skimmer. This allows the model to be a lot sleeker and thinner than a lot of HOB models, using up less of that vital space behind your tank. 

The BH-1000 Octopus is suitable for aquariums up to 100 gallons. Many reef and saltwater tanks are under this size but make sure you don’t need a skimmer with a larger capacity.

Maintenance and cleaning is very simple, with the collection cup very easy to remove and clean, and the pump also readily available for maintenance. 

Having the pump outside the main body of the skimmer also means that there is no heat transfer between the pump and the water of your tank, so you can be sure the water temperature will remain constant. 

There have been some references to performance issues, such as overfilling and collection cup issues, but you also get a 2 year warranty so you are covered in case there are any issues.  

Pros:

Pump outside the main body, meaning no heat exchange and easier maintenance.

2 year warranty

Cons:

Slightly noisy

7) Reef Octopus Classic 110-INT Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer

Reef Octopus Classic 110-INT Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer for Aquarium
  • Coral vue octopus 4-inch needle wheel skimmer 100gal
  • Reef octopus pinwheel/needle wheel skimmers provide you with a high performance features in an easy to use package
  • New pinwheel impellers provide up to 100% improved performance

The Reef Octopus Classic 110-INT Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer is a great skimmer which has amazing reviews, which is a very good sign that you’ll be getting a skimmer worth every penny.

It is an in sump skimmer which will work effectively in saltwater tanks of up to 130 gallons with a light bioload. If you have a heavy bioload in your tank then the recommendation is 60 gallons.

The pump is powerful which creates a strong stream of bubbles, and the new and improved impeller carves these up to produce fine bubbles perfect for adhering all that gunk on your tank. 

The footprint of the skimmer is 10.4″ x 7″ x 20″, but be aware that the water depth of the sump is between 7 – 9″. If your sump is any deeper then you may have to use something to get the skimmer to sit at the correct depth, which will increase the total height you need.

The setup and installation is very easy, and has been noted to be quite seamless, though it does have a break in period of around two weeks. So after this break in period you may have to tweak the settings again to ensure maximum function. 

Reef Octopus is a brand known for its reliability, which is exactly what you want to hear when buying an expensive bit of kit! Though do note that the Classic 110-INT Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer is a great bang for your buck. 

Pros:

Easy installation

Powerful pump and impressive impeller

Easy maintenance

Cons:

Noisy operation

8) Coralife Super Protein Skimmer with Pump

Sale
Coralife 05272 Super Skimmer with Pump, 125-Gallon
  • Effective addition to saltwater or reef aquarium filtration
  • Patented needle wheel system creates a spiraling vortex of water to remove fine proteins and organic compounds from the aquarium water
  • Highly effective at removing dissolved organic compounds from saltwater aquariums
  • Wide neck collection cup with easy twist Feature for effortless cleaning
  • Bubble production diffuser to prevent the flow of micro-bubbles into main Aquarium

The Coralife Super Protein Skimmer is unique in that it gives you the flexibility to set up the model to best suit your tank setup. You can choose between three sizes which are suitable for tanks of up to 65, 125, and 220 gallons respectively. 

Not only can you choose the unit most suited to the size of your aquarium, but you have the option of either installing it as an in sump skimmer or as a HOB skimmer. 

This choice of setup options gives you much needed flexibility. If you are pressed for space in your sump tank, with other skimmers you will have to look elsewhere, but with this model you simply use the mount to attach it to your main tank. 

The wide neck collection cup has an easy twist feature which makes for very easy release, which is very handy when it comes time to clean it and dump the gunk it has collected!

The dual injection inlets increase the contact time between the bubbles and the water, which we have previously said greatly increases the amount of organic waste the bubbles remove. 

A new and improved energy saving pump  has been fitted to this skimmer  to increase performance whilst simultaneously lowering power usage.

Pros:

Flexibility of setup options

3 power options available

Dual injection inlets

Cons:

Customer service issues

Need regular cleaning to avoid salt buildup

9) IOAOI Ultra Quiet Protein Skimmer for Saltwater Aquariums

IOAOI Ultra Quiet Protein Skimmer for Saltwater Aquariums
  • Coral vue octopus with external 1000 pump 100gal
  • This design also allows for easy removal of the pump for cleaning and maintenance
  • They are built with high quality acrylic

The IOAOI protein skimmer has some great features which make it a great option for saltwater aquariums up to 210 gallons. 

The unique feature of this model is that it comes equipped with an LED controller. This controller let’s you see the status of your skimmer and allows you to modify the water flow from the pump to exactly as you need it. There are 20 gears/flow speeds to choose from, which range from 1W to 20W of power consumption. 

The patented needle shaped diversion plate helps the skimmer obtain much greater performance and functionality but generating much finer bubbles and providing a greater contact time between the bubbles and water. It also prevents the bubbles from re-entering.

The construction is very solid, and doesn’t feel or look flimsy at all, which is good as some skimmers can look a little thin. This model is constructed using the highest quality cast acrylic which guarantees a long life span, so you can be sure that this protein skimmer will last you a long time.

This model is designed for in sump use only, so make sure that there is enough room to install it before you purchase it. It doesn’t have a huge footprint which is good; the footprint is 9″ x 6.9″, with a height of 20″. The recommended sump depth is between 7 and 9 inches.

The pump is very quiet when operational which is a huge bonus. The pump uses standard positive rotating wave technology to achieve this. It has also adopted advanced frequency conversion technology, which is highly efficient and energy saving. This will save you a lot of money going forward. There is also built in voltage, water separation, and overload protection.

To start the skimmer you first turn it on then press the triangle button. But don’t press the wave button!! It is there because the pump has a wave maker function as well, but this is not intended for use in the skimmer. PLEASE don’t press this button, it can damage the skimmer!

Pros:

Uses DC pump which allows you to control air and water flow.

Quiet operation

Solid construction

Cons:

Random wave maker button which would harm the skimmer if you press it.

10)  AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer

AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer
  • Dimensions: L 7.5 x W 3.5 x H 17 Inch
  • Minimum tank height 10-7/8"
  • Requires approximately 4" of clearance to remove collection cup.
  • Fits aquarium rims up to 3/4" thick.

This hang on back protein skimmer by AquaMax is perfect for medium sized aquariums of up to 75 gallons with a medium bioload, and up to 90 gallons if you have a very light bioload. If you’re unsure of the bioload in your tank then always scale down; it’s better to have a more powerful skimmer than not have a large enough one! 

It’s a great looking product, which is exactly what you want with a HOB skimmer, as it’s going to be in direct eyeline! The blue of the skimmer actually looks pretty good!! 

The size of the skimmer means the footprint is pretty small as well, so you won’t need a mountain of space behind your tank to house it. It measures 7.5 by 3.5 by 17 inches. 

Well it looks the part and doesn’t take up the whole room, but what about its main job? Well in terms of functionality the AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 can cut it with the best, and is up there as the best option for medium sized aquariums. 

With a SHARK 1.0 pump housed internally in the body of the skimmer which helps to reduce noise levels. This pump is very powerful and is an upgraded Italian Sicce pump, so you can be sure that it will create a strong stream of bubbles. 

The installation is very simple, and you won’t have to constantly tweak the settings once you hit that sweet spot. The only fiddling you’ll have to do is after the break in period.

Pros:

Pleasing blue coloration

Small footprint 

Great for medium tanks

Cons:

Some issues with shipping, so make sure to check the product well before use. 

11) Macro Aqua M-50 Mini Hang-on External Protein Skimmer

Macro Aqua M-50 Mini Hang-on External Protein Skimmer, 60 Gallon
  • High quality protein skimmer for up to 60 gallon tank (depends on stocking)
  • Small hang-on back skimmer; Water Flow: 238gph
  • Effectively eliminates organic waste. Simply remove the collection cup to dispose tank waste
  • Easy to install and operate. No priming required
  • Needle-to-wheel impeller - increases air to water contact

The Macro Aqua M-50 HOB Protein Skimmer is a great option for small saltwater and reef tanks. Depending on the stocking and bioload of your tank it can work effectively for tanks of up to 60 gallons.

This HOB skimmer has a small footprint; it measures only 5.5 x 5.5 x 13.5 inches, so you should have plenty of space behind your tank for installation. 

Installation is extremely simple. This model is simply a plug and play model, so there is no priming involved. You can either set it up on the back of your sump if you have one, or directly on the back of your tank. 

The pump provides a generously powerful 238 GPH, which is plenty enough to clean the water effectively. The skimmer also makes use of a needle to wheel impeller which increases contact time between the bubbles and the water to increase the effectiveness. 

The collection cup can be very easily removed so you can dump the collected waste without fuss. There is also an overflow outlet so you won’t come back to any mess if you go away!

Pros:

Self-priming

Small footprint

Overflow outlet

Cons:

Some noise from pump

No guard at pump inlet

12) NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer

NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer for up to 265 Gallons

  • Easy to maintain.
  • Extreme performance
  • Low power consumption.

The NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer is another option to look at if you have a larger tank. This skimmer can effectively clean and maintain tanks of up to 250 gallons. 

It is an in sump model so make sure that you have enough space to house it. The footprint is 7.1 x 9.8 inches, and the height is 21 inches. This is quite tall so measure twice to make sure! While this height shouldn’t be an issue some sump setups won’t have the space to accommodate it. The sump depth should ideally be between 8 and 10 inches.

It is a fantastic looking product; the clear plastic design allows you to watch the skimmer at work! It also means that it is very easy to tell when it needs a good cleaning. The plastic does feel a little thin compared to other brands though. 

The skimming performance is very good, which is what you would expect for a protein skimmer carrying this price tag. It easily outdoes other models of a similar size. This is due to the saw-blade shaped twister which gives the bubbles an additional spin and swirls them further in a vortex. This greatly increases the contact time of the air bubbles in the water column.

The maintenance is quite simple, and so this model provides a very consistent level of high performance for a very long time. The collection cup is a little difficult to unscrew however, but once you get the hang of it it doesn’t make much of a difference.

The break in period is quite long, about 2 weeks, and during this period a lot of microbubbles will be created, but this will go once the break in is finished.

Pros:

Looks great

Easy to clean and maintain

Quiet operation

Cons:

Long break in period

Thin feeling plastic

Expensive

13) Reef Octopus Classic 100-HOB Protein Skimmer

Reef Octopus Classic 100-HOB Protein Skimmer

  • For aquariums up to 105 gallons
  • Easy installation
  • Small footprint

The Reef Octopus Classic 100-HOB Protein Skimmer is a brilliant small and compact hang on back skimmer option. It is effective at cleaning tanks of up to 105 gallons with a light bioload, 75 gallons with a medium bioload, and 55 gallons with a heavy bioload. 

The footprint is very small so you will have plenty of space to install it on your tank. The dimensions are 8″ x 3.75″, with a height of 17″. Make sure that you have the 4 inches of space behind your tank so that it will fit.

It is very simple to set up and install; you simply mount the skimmer on the bank of your tank, adjust the pump and intake strainer, and you are ready to go. This simplicity is a massive life saver, and will save lots of stress.

It is solidly constructed using very high grade acrylic, and the aquatrance pinwheel pump produces a strong stream of fine bubbles in the reaction chamber to maximizes contact between the bubbles and water. 

You also get a two year warranty on the pump body, and a one year warranty on the skimmer body, just in case anything goes wrong with the unit.

Pros:

Small footprint

Very well-made

Simple installation

Cons:

Some assembly required

14) IceCap K1-Nano Protein Skimmer

IceCap K1-Nano Protein Skimmer
  • Magnet Mount
  • Solid PVC & Acrylic Construction
  • Bubble Dispersant Chamber
  • Pipeless Output Valve
  • In-Sump Installation Only

The IceCap K1-Nano Protein Skimmer is a great option for small nano tanks of up to 30 gallons with a light boload. With a heavy bioloaded tank it will be effective in tanks up to 10 gallons, and for 20 gallon tanks with a medium bioload.

This is an in sump only skimmer, with a small footprint of 2.75″ x 3.2″ and a height of 13″. Make sure your sump has the space to facilitate this skimmer, but with such a small footprint it should be fine.

The magnetic mount allows for very easy placement on surfaces of up to half an inch thick, so it can be put very easily onto your sump tank.

Cleaning and maintenance is very simple as this skimmer can be easily disassembled. This saves a lot of hassle as you won’t have a huge job to do when it comes cleaning time as with some other skimmers.

The construction is very good and solid; it is made from robust PVC and high quality acrylic. THe skimmer works well to provide high performance in foam fractionation.

Pros:

Easy to install with magnetic mount

Quiet

Turbulence reducing body

Price

Cons:

Small collection cup which means you need to empty it more often

15) Marine Color RDC 250 Internal Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer

Marine Color RDC 250 Internal Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer
  • Fashionable design: All skimmer is built with high quality RED and white pipe fittings
  • High Efficiency pin wheel pump
  • Complete standard cone reaction chamber designs make the skimmer collects bubble smoothly and stable
  • Saving area footprint design is especially suitable for using in small footprint sump.
  • All material is made of high quality CAST ACRYLIC. And our professional laser engraving machine ensures the reliable quality and accuracy of every products

The Marine Color RDC 250 Internal Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer is perfect for small tanks ranging from 50 – 250L, or 13 – 66 gallons. If you have a high bioload and a tank of 50-60 gallons then you should consider getting a more powerful unit as this may not be able to handle it. Medium bioloads will be fine though.

It is an in sump skimmer with a footprint of 5.6 x 4 inches. Make sure to check your sump to ensure you have space, but with this small footprint even small sumps should be able to accommodate this model.

The design is a major plus point of this skimmer. The sleek red and white piping looks very attractive, which isn’t something that can be said about most protein skimmers.

The high efficiency pinwheel pump creates a steady stream of bubbles and the standard cone reaction chamber is designed so that the skimmer collects the bubbles smoothly and stably.

The construction is very good with this skimmer; all the pieces are made using high quality cast acrylic, and the professional laser engraving machine that the company uses ensures the reliable quality and accuracy of the skimmer.

The major downside with this model is that there are little to no instructions that come with it. So you should have some experience with skimmers prior to getting this model, as you need to use your own initiative. 

Pros:

Small footprint

Good construction

Nice design

Cons:

Instructions distinctly lacking

Top Pick For The Best Protein Skimmer

While any of the protein skimmers listed above will serve you and your saltwater tank very well, which one do we recommend?

Our top pick for the best protein skimmer would have to be the Simplicity 320DC Protein Skimmer

Simplicity 320DC Protein Skimmer
  • Adjustable DC pump speed
  • For tanks up to 320 gallons
  • Small foot print
  • Cone shape design
  • Collection cup drain with cap

It uses a controllable DC pump and needle wheel to create a stream of micro fine bubbles. This and the hybrid cone design maximizes the contact surface area and time between the bubbles and water. The cone design also helps to concentrate the foam as it rises.

How to Set Up Your New Protein Skimmer

If you’ve not used one before or you haven’t set up something like this before it can seem a little nerve wracking to set up a protein skimmer, but don’t worry it’s not going to be that difficult!

Follow a few simple rules and you should be fine.

Please, PLEASE. Read the instructions

This might seem like a ridiculous thing to actually put in writing and say, but you’ll be surprised how often a mistake is made during set up that has stemmed from not reading the instructions, or reading them incorrectly.

So please read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before you do anything or build anything. Reading it carefully and understanding what you need to do to install it properly is half the battle!

Assemble it before installation

A solid piece of advice, you definitely want to put everything together before you install it. You don’t want to install it perfectly then be fiddling around while trying to put the collection cup whilst trying not to ruin the perfect setup!

Ensure to place it at correct depth

Many models and units have a required depth they need to be placed at to function at their best. Make sure to double check that you have your protein skimmer at the right depth in your tank or sump, as otherwise you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot. 

Leave it running for a while

Even the best protein skimmers have a break in period. Don’t freak out and think that your brand new protein skimmer isn’t working because it’s not creating the foam you expect after a few days. 

Leave it running at least a week or two to do its thing and you will start to see the results you expect. 

Just make sure you have read and followed the instructions, and it should tell you about the break in period too. If after a few weeks you’re still having trouble then you can start to see if something is wrong.

Frequently Asked Questions about Protein Skimmers

In this section we will go through and answer some FAQs that we get about protein skimmers. Hopefully you can find the answer to your questions here! 

Protein Skimmer FAQs

Can I use a protein skimmer in a freshwater tank?

You can use a skimmer for your freshwater aquarium, but you will find that the effectiveness of it is majorly affected. Freshwater doesn’t have the ability to form foam the same way as saltwater, which is basically how the unit works!

Does a protein skimmer remove algae?

Basically, yes. Protein skimmers will remove planktonic algae to a certain degree. But the main reason they help with algal issues is to remove the organic compounds that algae thrive on. 

Algae can grow and multiply very quickly in high SOMETHING conditions. By lowering the amount of food they have you essentially stop algal blooms and help to resolve them if they occur.

You won’t be able to completely remove algae with a protein skimmer alone. Algae is notoriously difficult to get rid off, so you need a multi pronged approach to completely clear the water and get your tank healthy. 

Does a protein skimmer remove nitrates?

Thus is a little tricky, as while saltwater protein skimmers don’t remove nitrates from the water body directly they can still help in lowering the nitrate levels of your aquarium.

How exactly?

Well the protein skimmer will help in removing algae from the tank. The algae will use nitrates as a source of food, so in removing algae then nitrates are removed as well. 

The skimmer will also remove the waste products which will otherwise break down into nitrates, or aid in its production. So you remove the root cause of the problem, which will lower the nitrate levels. 

Does a protein skimmer remove calcium?

Proteins skimmers do remove some calcium in the form of calcium carbonate, which is used by planktonic algae to form their shells. So when a skimmer removes some algae it may remove some calcium too, but this is always going to be a low amount. 

Does a protein skimmer remove salt?

This is a very good question, as the salt concentration, or salinity, of your saltwater or reef aquarium is in a very fine balance, and is very important to the health of your fish. Therefore needing to know if you are going to be removing salt by installing a protein skimmer is vitally important.

The answer is no. Using a protein skimmer to remove the organic compounds in the water won’t remove the salt along with it, so the salinity and the specific gravity of your tank won’t be changed. 

Does a protein skimmer remove phosphates?

Your protein skimmer will help in lowering phosphates levels in the same way as it will lower nitrate levels. It won’t remove phosphate directly but will remove some degree of algae which use phosphates to grow. So the algae will carry the phosphate out of the water column. It will also remove organic compounds which may contain phosphates.

The skimmer won’t remove much phosphate whatsoever, so you should look at other ways of reducing the phosphate levels in your tank.

Does a protein skimmer remove ammonia?

You should not rely on the protein skimmer to remove ammonia. While it may remove some indirectly through reduction of organic compounds before they are broken down into ammonia, if you have high ammonia levels you should look at other ways of reducing these. 

Why is my protein skimmer noisy and how do I quieten it?

There could be a number of reasons why your protein skimmer is making excess noise. Protein skimmers work using pumps, so there will always be inherent noise that comes with this. Some skimmers may have silencers to reduce noise. 

Excess noise could be from the shaking of the pump and hitting the walls or the sides of your tank. To reduce this noise you can place rubber mats under the skimmer and between the skimmer and the tank. 

If any parts have any signs of wear and tear then this could also be the cause of any excess noise. Check the internal workings of your skimmer and see if any parts need to be replaced. Make sure you clean the entire skimmer as well, not just the collection cup.

How often should I turn on my protein skimmer?

Ideally you want to be running your protein skimmer constantly. When you think about it, the build up of organic waste is a continuous process, so you want to be constantly removing it as it is created. 

If you leave it until you can notice a difference in water quality before turning it on it is already too late and the poor water quality will be affecting the health of your tank and fish.

How often should I clean my protein skimmer?

Ideally you should be removing the collection cup and emptying it out at least once a week; if you leave it longer than this the cup will overfill and the effectiveness of your protein skimmer will be reduced. 

You should also give your skimmer a thorough cleaning every four months or so; you can leave it until about the six month point, but it will be very gross by that stage. And it will improve the longevity and effectiveness of your protein skimmer if you deep clean it every four months.

Conclusion

Hopefully this complete 2020 guide to the best protein skimmers has been helpful to you! You should have learned some useful information about the general workings of protein skimmers, and how to choose the best one to fit your aquarium set up.

Any of the protein skimmers listed will be able to serve you well, just make sure that it can manage the size of your tank and that the space you have in your tank or sump will allow for the footprint.

You can also read our other related guides:

Best Aquarium Auto Top Off Systems

11 Best Aquarium Wave Makers

Best Aquarium Air Stones

Best Aquarium Heaters

About the author

Authority Aquarium Staff

Authority Aquarium Staff writers are experts and aquarium enthusiasts, our in-house marine biologist fact checks all our content and reviews to bring you the best advice for your aquarium health.

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