Also known as a foam fractionator, a protein skimmer is used to remove waste particles from water.
These are particularly useful when keeping a tank clean.
It does this by bringing the water into contact with a large concentration of bubbles, creating a scummy foam that can be collected from the skimmer and removed.
If you’ve ever been to a beach, then you might have noticed the foam sitting on the edge of the water, perhaps around rocks or the sand.
This is the result of the natural processes that occur within saltwater in order to remove proteins and bacteria.
A protein skimmer simply replicates this process within man-made tanks, typically found in professional or commercial aquariums, but can also be used in residential tanks or ponds.
Though these don’t do any harm in freshwater, they are particularly helpful in saltwater environments.
Why Do I Need One?
Well, you don’t really need one, and if you just have a simple freshwater tank with basic fish in it, then you’ll probably be fine with just a regular filter.
However, if you’re running a tank with saltwater fish, or more complicated or difficult to manage fish, then you should seriously consider purchasing a protein skimmer in order to ensure that you can maintain a clean and healthy tank.
No matter how careful you are not to overfeed your fish, or how much you try to keep a super clean tank, there’s always going to be something that gets missed.
Be that fish excrement, leftover food, or any dead organisms.
Whilst these are not inherently dangerous, they can cause the water to see a spike in certain things like ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite, which, if left unchecked, could be the reason for unhealthy fish.
In other cases, or with particularly sensitive fish, this could be fatal.
A protein skimmer takes all that nasty stuff out of the water, leaving it fresh and healthy.
Other benefits include keeping parasites and disease-causing bacteria away since those things thrive in protein-rich environments such as dirty tanks.
The better you’re able to skim the nasty stuff out, the healthier your fish will be, and the fewer diseases and parasites they will come into contact with.
They also protect the water from algae breakouts by removing waste before it has a chance to turn into phosphates.
If you know the pain of trying to keep algae at bay in your own saltwater tanks, then you could definitely benefit from getting yourself a protein skimmer.
Types of Protein Skimmers
There are several different types of protein skimmer that you can purchase, that either do slightly different things, or can attach to different kinds of tanks – what you need will depend on your care routine, and what kind of tank/pond you’re buying the skimmer for.
Hang On Back
These are the option you should go for if you don’t have a fish tank sump.
A sump is another tank that usually sits under the tank and houses the important equipment – although if you don’t know what a sump is, you probably don’t have one, so this option is most likely for you.
A “Hang on Back” (HoB) skimmer does exactly that; it hangs off the back of the tank and works from there.
That said, these aren’t a great option, and should only really be used if there’s no way you can install a sump.
This is because although they are less powerful and don’t work as well, an HoB skimmer is typically a lot more expensive than other options.
And if you need an HoB skimmer that works as well as a regular one, then you’re really going to have to fork out for an expensive one.
An In-Tank skimmer is the cheapest option you’ll come across, however, they suffer the same low efficiency as an HoB skimmer, unfortunately.
That said, so long as you do your research, you’ll still be able to find one that can be effective enough for a simple tank.
They are, however, a bit of an eyesore and can take up valuable space within the tank.
If you are new to the hobby or don’t have the budget for anything else, then this is by no means a bad option, you will just have to keep a closer eye on it to ensure that it’s working as you need it to.
In case it wasn’t obvious, the most well-regarded and high-efficiency skimmers that you can come across.
They are a much stronger option and therefore are a lot more effective at removing proteins and bacteria.
They’re also easy to install into a sump and are great for keeping your tank looking uncluttered.
A sump that can be installed under the tank is going to improve your space management, biological filtration, and water volume.
And because there are so many varieties of in-sump skimmers, you can do way more research in finding one that’s going to be perfect for you and your setup.
There are super cheap versions as well as super expensive ones, so finding one in your price range that works effectively should be a lot easier.
If you happen to go for a high-end model, then you’re going to find that you get exactly what you pay for, and a good protein skimmer is really going to take your tank to the next level.
Though not essential for a beginner’s tank, if you’re creating a saltwater aquarium with difficult to take care of fish, you definitely want to invest in a protein skimmer in order to optimize your tank.
Keeping your tank, and by proximity your fish, perfectly clean and healthy.