Protein Skimmer: 15 Things You Should Know (Must Read)

If you are new to fish and coral keeping, one of your major concerns would be the effective maintenance of your aquarium.

You might have heard of a protein skimmer that greatly helps in keeping water clean as it removes organic contaminants. But, what else should you know about this tool?

What is Protein Skimmer?

A protein skimmer is an aquatic device for removing organic wastes in your aquarium’s water.

Also known as a foam fractionator and is commonly used in saltwater aquariums, a protein skimmer is a helpful tool for maintaining healthy water for your fish and corals. It is removing organic wastes like unconsumed food, fish wastes, and proteins.

The wastes are binding to the tiny bubbles that it is injecting. These bubbles that trapped wastes will then overflow to the collection cup as foams or skims.

Do You Really Need A Skimmer?

No. You do not really need a skimmer but having it will provide a lot of benefits to your tank’s maintenance.

A lot of reef tank and saltwater tank owners are using protein skimmers as these do an amazing job in maintaining low levels of nitrates and phosphates. There are four types of protein skimmers – internal, hang-on back, in-sump, and external protein skimmers.

But, do not be worried as your aquarium will still be successful even without a protein skimmer. You can use different methods and devices to maintain quality water for your aquatic pets.

The need for a protein skimmer depends on your bioload. A lightly stocked aquarium can do well with a refugium and regular water changes.

On the contrary, a fully loaded tank will be better with a protein skimmer. The bigger the population, the more wastes can be expected which can affect the wellness of your marine inhabitants.

Are Protein Skimmers Loud?

Some protein skimmers are loud while some are not based on various factors.

Not all protein skimmers are manufactured the same. Some brands are known for producing loud sounds while others are considerably gratifying as they are quiet or might just hiss soft sound that is tolerable.

Protein skimmers can be noisy too if they are not properly maintained. Make sure that they are checked regularly for any damages as well.

Why Is My Protein Skimmer Making Noise?

Your protein skimmer is making noise due to its position in the tank and the setup of its interior parts.

Protein skimmers are beneficial tools to your tank, but if they are too loud, you might probably change your mind from getting one!

These devices can be noisy due to various factors. The position of the protein skimmers is one consideration. Being too close to the tank’s wall will make vibrations that can be a nuisance for you.

Likewise, the placement of the interior parts of your protein skimmer is a factor for noise production. The collection cup and the O-ring should be properly suited in the body of your skimmer to ensure their efficient, smooth operation.

Do Protein Skimmers Get Quieter?

Yes, protein skimmers get quieter once they are fully broken in. 

If you got a new quiet brand of protein skimmer and everything inside it is properly placed, the noise that you are hearing might be caused by the bubbles and the film behind it that shall be gone after some time.

The term “breaking in a skimmer” simply means the process of eliminating the excess film to achieve optimal skimming.

Some manufacturers are leaving films on the skimmer that are not harmful to your tank inhabitants but can affect protein skimming. Protein skimmers need to operate for some time to remove all excess oils from the production and handling before producing a constant foam.

The break-in process usually lasts for one to two weeks and after that, your new skimmer will be quieter. The small bubbles produced in the tank shall be gone by then as well.

How Long Should You Run A Protein Skimmer?

You should run your protein skimmer 24/7 to achieve its maximum benefits for the water and inhabitants in your aquarium.

If you need extensive maintenance with an overstocked aquarium, it is advisable to run your protein skimmer all the time, 24/7. With this setup, it is necessary to have adequate aeration and nutrient control.

You should also consider the types of tank inhabitants you have, some creatures do not really require a skimmer and can be fine without it.

If you are running your skimmer daily, you just need to turn it off if you need to do some cleaning. For instance, you must clean the collection cup at least twice every week if your tank is producing a lot of waste.

Can You Turn Protein Skimmer Off At Night?

Turning off the protein skimmer at night depends on the requirements of your aquarium’s bioload.

Some prefer to turn off their skimmer at night if their tank is not loaded; likewise, if their aquatic pets can thrive even without the device.

For others that have a fully stocked tank, turning off the protein skimmer is not an option as they want to ensure the water is always clean and healthy for their fish and corals.

They do not want to drop the pH level and increase the build-up of harmful wastes and chemicals in the aquarium overnight,

Is A Protein Skimmer Necessary For Saltwater?

No. A protein skimmer is not necessary for saltwater if you are doing frequent water changes and if your tank is not fully stocked.

You can usually see protein skimmers in saltwater aquariums which can give you an insight that it is a requirement for such tanks. Well, having one is not necessary as long as you are changing the water regularly.

A protein skimmer provides lots of benefits when it comes to maintaining water, especially if you keep a fish tank. Yet, you can get away with this tool if you have a light bioload.

If you have a fully stocked aquarium, a protein skimmer is advised to have as more ammonia and nitrites will be produced. The more creatures you have, the more wastes will build up causing these chemicals.

These compounds are naturally turned into nitrates through the nitrogen cycle. However, not all the creatures in your aquarium can tolerate the level of nitrates such as some corals. Thus, you need a skimmer to keep the level of nitrate low.

Do You Need A Protein Skimmer For Clownfish?

No, you do not need a protein skimmer for clownfish.

Clownfish are captivating creatures with their orange and white color patterns that any marine enthusiast could not easily turn down.

These bright-colored fish are a favorite to keep since they do not need a big space. They would typically swim up and down without the desire to roam around your aquarium.

Clownfish will thrive perfectly fine in a small tank as long as they have hosts which can serve as their refuges like corals or anemones. This makes them the perfect choice for those who have limited space.

With small tanks, you need more maintenance as wastes and other harmful toxins will develop faster and affect the quality of water. In this situation, having a protein skimmer is highly beneficial.

Nonetheless, your clownfish will do well even without the protein skimmer in a small tank. You can sustain healthy water quality through regular changing of water to exclude all the wastes that can be harmful to your clownfish.

Can You Keep Corals Without A Protein Skimmer?

Yes, you can keep corals without a protein skimmer. However, some types will thrive better with it so you must know whether your corals need a skimmer or not.

You can get away with a protein skimmer if you are planning to keep soft corals and LPS corals. These types of corals can flourish with just regular changing of water or with the help of a refugium.

However, if you are eyeing SPS corals, then you should get a protein skimmer. These corals have higher requirements that cannot be fulfilled with simple changing of water.

They need a skimmer to promote their healthy growth. They are not tolerant of other chemicals like nitrates, thus a protein skimmer is a big help in keeping the levels of these compounds down.

How Do I Know If My Protein Skimmer Is Working?

Your protein skimmer is working if your collection cup is filling up with dark and stinking dry gunk.

Your skimmer is running properly if enough bubbles are coming at the top and stocking up its collection cup with the rubbish from the tank’s water.

The cup should not get wet as it will be loaded quickly, hence you should ensure that it is just getting skim foam for efficient operation. 

Do I Need A Protein Skimmer If I Have A Canister Filter?

Yes. You need a protein skimmer if you have a canister filter as they are serving a different purpose for your aquarium’s maintenance.

A canister filter is mainly assisting with the removal of ammonia and solid wastes in water.

Meanwhile, a protein skimmer is performing the tasks of the canister filter but even more. It can collect the tiny debris that cannot be strained by a canister filter.

Knowing the purpose of these two devices, it is recommended to have both of them for your aquarium. If you can choose only one at the moment due to a tight fund, get the skimmer first.

Is A Surface Skimmer The Same As A Protein Skimmer?

No, a surface skimmer is not the same as a protein skimmer. A surface skimmer removes floating wastes while a protein skimmer removes wastes throughout the aquarium.

From the word itself, a surface skimmer is skimming wastes that are floating on the surface of the water. These wastes could either be oily film and unconsumed food that is accumulating on top of the water.

On the other side, a protein skimmer is skimming wastes that are under the water. Through diffused aeration, a skimmer is eliminating dissolved organics. It is removing small wastes that cannot be filtered by other aquatic devices.

Does A Coral Only Tank Need A Skimmer?

No, a coral tank does not need a skimmer. Yet, having one will provide lots of benefits when it comes to cleanliness, oxygenation, and nutrients for your corals.

A skimmer is not a requirement that you cannot miss in your aquarium. There are lots of aquariums without protein skimmers that are flourishing successfully.

However, having a skimmer in your tank is an advantage as it can offer various benefits. One of such is effective maintenance as this device can help in eliminating organic wastes like unconsumed food.

Another of its purposes is to increase the oxygen in the water. With its removal of organic wastes, it is improving the aeration in your tank which supplements your coral with adequate oxygen.

Lastly, protein skimmers will allow you to do generous feeding for your corals as they will help with the cleaning of uneaten food. You need to feed your corals according to their types to sustain the nutrients they need, which the water does not have.

Protein Skimmer

If you are looking for the perfect protein skimmer for your aquarium, you can check the links below for the most recommended brands in the market.


Flickerton, B. (2021, August 1). Protein Skimmer: Ultimate Buying Guide Plus 11 Reviews. Fish Tank Advisor.

Ulrich III, A. B. (2021, August 7). Best Protein Skimmer Product Reviews. Saltwater Aquarium Blog.