Top 5 Best Protein Skimmers for Reef Aquariums


If you want to protect the plants and fish living in your saltwater aquarium, you must be prepared to conduct cleaning and maintenance activities on a regular basis. Having an aquarium filter is a must, but even if you have a filter, this doesn’t mean that your job is done. Using a protein skimmer can help a lot in this process.

What is a protein skimmer and its benefits?

Protein skimmers, often called foam fractionators, represent a type of aquarium equipment that is typically used in saltwater aquariums. Their main purpose is to eliminate DOC (dissolved organic compounds) and other potentially dangerous compounds. In case these compounds are left in the aquarium they will start breaking down after a while which will result in biological overload. Needless to say, this situation will have a strong negative impact on the fish and plants in your aquarium.

Protein skimmers are used for the removal of compounds that thrive in water and they work with the help of air bubbles that are gathered in a specially designed cup. When the water and air are mixed in the collection cup, the bubbles tend to grow and soak up dissolved organic compounds that naturally go in the direction of the bubble surface. After that, the bubbles loaded with amino acids, proteins and other potentially dangerous things reach the tube they can be easily removed from the tank.

Protein skimmers are more efficient compared to mechanical filters because the filters are just entrapping the solid particles which mean that the aquarium flow is still in touch with them. On the other hand, protein skimmers allow physical removal and elimination of these particles.

There are many different benefits associated with protein skimmers and in this article, we will mention some of them.

First of all, protein skimmers are able to boost the levels of dissolved oxygen and redox potential too. These skimmers are eliminating dissolved organic compounds right before they start breaking down and becoming a source of food for unwanted algae.

If the dissolved organic compounds are removed in a timely manner, the aquarium water will not turn yellowish and won’t become aged quickly. Namely, in a situation like this, the reduced DOC accumulation allows light, both natural and artificial, to reach the deepest layers of the aquarium. Obviously, this is good for the plants and fish that live there.

According to many experts, protein skimmers can also stabilize the pH levels because of the presence of a lower amount of dissolved organic compounds. Finally, protein skimmers can boost the quality of life of all the animals found in the aquarium because they will no longer have to be surrounded by waste.

Top 5 Best Protein Skimmers for Reef Aquariums

1. SCA-302 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer (In-Sump)

SC Aquariums has already created a few successful protein skimmers, but it looks like this one is the most efficient in their offer. As the name suggests, this is a skimmer for aquariums up to 180 gallons in volume. It is ideal for those who don’t have much space for an item like this because it is very thin. However, the high-quality materials used in it make it durable and efficient. It also has a beautiful design and many interesting features. Unlike other skimmers, the features found in SCA 302 skimmer are useful.


  • Beautiful design
  • Smooth profile
  • Very quiet
  • Easy to install and maintain


  • Requires additional cleaning

2. SC Aquariums SCA-301 Protein Skimmer

Now here’s another successful model made by SC Aquariums. The SCA-301 has a compact and sleek design and it works in aquariums with a capacity of up to 65 gallons. Even if you use it in smaller (30-gallon aquariums) you can expect the same great results. Just like other protein skimmer models from SC Aquariums, this product is designed with space in mind which means that you should not have problems using it almost anywhere. This model uses a special cone mechanism to create air bubbles.


  • Extremely quiet
  • Simple setup
  • Attractive design


  • Short GPH cycles

3. CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus

CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus is a protein skimmer that can be used by almost any aquarium owner. This skimmer has proven to be effective in removal of large amounts of dissolved organics. It would work great in aquariums with a capacity of 130 gallons or less. This is a hang on back protein skimmer with a unique design. It has a special pump that can be easily mounted and unmounted when needed.


  • Relatively cheap
  • Allows customization and tweaking
  • Very quiet
  • Excellent performance even in large aquariums


  • Poor instruction manual

4. Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 is a popular in-sump protein skimmer. It comes with a sophisticated pump that uses 8 watts of power to do this job. The design of this product is similar to the one found in milk bottles. Even though this skimmer is relatively new, it has managed to create a huge fan base. It is a powerful skimmer that can remove food waste, animal waste and other potentially dangerous compounds from aquariums that have a capacity of up to 140 gallons.


  • A strong pump that promises great results
  • Small size makes it suitable for almost every aquarium
  • Almost noiseless


  • Mediocre customer support

5. AquaMaxx HOB-1 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer

Aquamax has released a great protein skimmer which is perfect for mid-sized aquariums with a capacity between 50 and 75 gallons. Experts say that even uses with very small aquariums will find this protein skimmer useful because of its specific design. The HOB-1 skimmer is 17 inches high and has a 7.5-inhc base. It’s very easy to maintain a skimmer like this and users can also adjust the level of foam easily.


  • Excellent results
  • Attractive design
  • Minimal noise


  • Poor instruction manual

More Benefits You Say?!?!

The benefits we’ve mentioned at the top of the page are extremely important, but this doesn’t mean that the list of benefits of using protein skimmers stops there. On the contrary, there are many less important benefits that are still worth mentioning.

For starters, aquarium owners can reduce the levels of phosphate in the aquarium which will stop the growth of unwanted algae in it. In addition, these skimmers can eliminate biological toxins created by algae, corals, and invertebrates.

Protein skimmers encourage adequate gas exchange and they also boost oxygen levels which lead to a positive impact on aquarium animals’ health. Thanks to protein skimmers, you can also aid pH level maintenance and balance because these devices can stop carbon dioxide accumulation. They can also eliminate oily wastes that occur on the surface and these wastes prevent light exposure. Finally, they can support a huge bioload and this is especially true when they are used with a sump too.

Overall Cons of Protein Skimmers

Just like any other product, protein skimmers come with certain disadvantages too. Before we highlight these disadvantages we would like to point out that the benefits that you can get from protein skimmers outweigh the drawbacks associated with them.

So, for starters, these skimmers can be quite costly. Of course, you can find some great deals on the Internet and pay less. In addition, don’t forget that you are getting what you are prepared to pay for.

Another disadvantage that we should mention is that these protein skimmers can also eliminate good bacteria, phytoplankton, and other useful organisms from your aquarium and this is obviously not a positive thing.

Finally, these skimmers can eliminate even trace elements and you might have to find a way to bring these elements to your aquarium again. This is a common situation when it comes to iodine. There are few other trace elements that can be removed with protein skimmers. If you want to avoid this, practice partial water changes on a regular basis.

Overall, protein skimmers bring way better things than harmful things. By being more careful, you should be able to avoid all the drawbacks.

Types of Protein Skimmers

There are actually a few different types of protein skimmers used today. For instance, there are venture skimmers which rely on venture valve to get water and air mixed. They are typically found on the intake tube that goes in the skimmer.

Another popular type of protein skimmers is counter current skimmers. These skimmers are forcing the mixture of air and water through a counter-current water right into the body of the skimmer. In this way, the bubbles are getting additional time to collect organic compounds.

The co-current skimmers are probably the oldest type of skimmers. They are using an air stone located at the chamber’s bottom and this is where the air bubbles are created. So, the air bubbles are going up in a vertical manner and collected into a collection cup. Feel free to use them even today when there are some more advanced solutions. However, keep in mind that the wooden air stones must be replaced on a regular basis.

In addition to these protein skimmers, you can also find and use needle wheel skimmers, Beckett, and Downdraft skimmers as well as spray induction skimmers.

How does it work?

Protein skimmer’s work is based on a process known as foam fractionation which is why many people call them foam fractionators. These devices were first used in the wastewater treatment industry. As previously mentioned, the fractionation process is using the attraction between air bubbles and organic waste to clear the water. It turns out that when water loaded with dissolved organics gets in touch with a line of air bubbles, the waste compounds are attracted to the air bubbles resulting in foam which easily collected and eliminated after that.

Where does it go?

There are many people who are wondering where does a protein skimmer go? In a sump or maybe on a tank? It all depends on the situation and the type of skimmer you use. Solving the placement of your skimmer should be one of your priorities. In case you are using a wet/dry filter, it might be a better idea to use an in-sump skimmer which obviously goes in the sump. If the sump doesn’t provide much space, you should use an external model that hangs on the back of the tank.

Protein Skimmer Maintenance

Since there are different types of protein skimmers out there, there is no universal answer to the question – how easy or difficult these devices are when it comes to maintenance. If you want to stay on the safe side and get a skimmer that is easy to maintain you must take a few things into account.

You should check how simple or difficult it is to clean the collection cup. This is one of the most used parts of a protein skimmer. You should also check the accessibility of the skimmer. Can you put your arm in it? It’s also good to analyze the bubble creation device and how easy/difficult it is to reach it and clean it. Don’t forget that in order to get the best results, you will have to clean the collection cup once a day.


Without any doubt, protein skimmers are useful devices for your saltwater aquarium. With their help, you can make a suitable environment in which animals and plants can thrive. Due to the specific nature of saltwater aquariums, it is highly recommended to get a protein skimmer.

We should also point out that protein skimmers can be quite expensive and that their price is usually a good indicator of their value. Of course, we have also explained what makes a good protein skimmer and reviewed some popular protein skimmers which will probably help you make the right decision.


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