What Is A Protein Skimmer?
If you stumbled onto this web site accidentally, the first thing you might find yourself asking is, “what is a protein skimmer?”. And that would be a logical question to ask. But if you are a marine aquarium hobbyist, you probably know exactly what a protein skimmer is. If you are that hobbyist, your question might be more along the lines of “how does a protein skimmer work?”, or “why do I need a protein skimmer?”. This post will hopefully answer those questions and make it clearer to you just what a skimmer does and why it is vital for a marine aquarium.
If you have spent any time at all keeping marine fish or corals, you understand how hard it is to keep water conditions clean enough for them to not only survive, but thrive. Those who choose to fight this battle without the use of a protein skimmer usually find themselves on the losing end, which unfortunately often results in dead livestock. There are a lot of ingredients to having a marine aquarium, and the one at the top of the list should be the use of a quality protein skimmer.
A protein skimmer is a device that is made to utilize a process called foam fractionation. More about that process shortly, but the term is the reason this device is sometimes called a foam fractionator. Most protein skimmers are made up of a tall tube, usually made of clear plastic. The quality level of a particular skimmer will dictate just how large that tube is, and how well it is constructed. A pump is mounted to the bottom of the tube, and water from your tank is injected with air by the use of a venturi valve that is mounted to the pump. At the top of the skimmer’s tube there is a removable collection cup. When this fills with waste you simply remove it, clean it out, and replace it.
Protein skimmers come in both hang on the back and in sump models. Most protein skimmers are made to operate in a sump, which is a smaller tank usually kept under the main tank inside the tank stand, or perhaps behind a wall in an equipment closet. The hang on back of tank type of skimmers are typically those that are made for smaller tanks, but it is possible to find this type for a medium sized system. The size and appearance of a skimmer makes it so most hobbyists want to keep it hidden away so people can focus on what is inside the tank rather than the tank’s equipment.
How Does A Protein Skimmer Work?
As stated earlier, all protein skimmers use the process of foam fractionation. In basic terms, foam fractionation is the process of using foam, or air bubbles, to transport waste particles out of your aquarium tank’s water. The skimmer consists of a pump that has an adjustable valve called a venturi valve. Water from your tank is pumped into the body of the skimmer, and air is injected into that water with the venturi. It is that injection of air into the water that makes the process of foam fractionation possible. The air being injected into the water results in millions of tiny bubbles that fill the main tube of the skimmer. Since those bubbles are filled with air, they float to the top of the tube. As these bubbles rise, tiny particles of waste from the water attach themselves to the bubbles and ride to the top of the tube and overflow into the collection cup.
As you can see, the actual process is a pretty simple concept; use air bubbles in the water to remove waste. But there is a reason why skimmers come in such a wide range of prices. The most effective skimmers are able to produce the tiniest and largest amount of bubbles because the total surface area of the bubbles dictates how much waste can be removed in any given time period. In order to produce both the smallest and most bubbles, a skimmer has to have the highest quality pump and venturi combination. This, combined with the quality and strength of the pump and the overall construction of the skimmer tube is what creates the large price differences.
If you have been in the marine aquarium hobby for any length of time, you know it is not a cheap hobby in which to participate. Everything from the tank equipment to the livestock costs much more than it would for a fresh water system. But the payoff comes when you have created a marine ecosystem that is successful and thriving. There are not many things you can skimp on when it comes to cost with a marine aquarium, but the thing you should definitely not skimp on is the protein skimmer.
The quality of your skimmer and the performance level you are able to tune it to are the single largest factors in determining how clean your system’s water will be. A good skimmer performing at a high level can be the difference between an amazing system and one that has unhealthy and even dying livestock.
While it probably does not make sense for the average hobbyist to purchase a skimmer that costs several hundred dollars for their 55 gallon tank, it also does not make sense for that hobbyist to purchase the cheapest skimmer they can find. It is easy to find one for less than $100, but it is almost a sure thing that you will not see the results you desire. Given the cost of all things related to this hobby, it makes the most sense to spend whatever your budget can spare on a quality skimmer. For less than $300, it is possible to have good selection of quality skimmers from which to choose.
An important thing to remember is that all skimmers need a break in period. This means your skimmer might be set at the perfect setting but not produce much in the way of waste for a few weeks. This is because the surfaces of the skimmer need time to become part of the system and get a good bacteria coating. Once your skimmer is broken in and the correct settings are in place, you will be able to develop a routine for cleaning your collection cup. the results left in that cup will be the proof that your skimmer is working as expected.
The Best Protein Skimmer
Finding the best protein skimmer requires a little bit of research. We have geared this website to that research, and the site will continue to grow as we add both protein skimmer reviews and information to educate hobbyists, particularly those who are new to the hobby. Take a look at the skimmer reviews by clicking the links in the sidebar, and you can both read information about that brand of skimmer and follow the links to the lowest prices we can find on these skimmers.
We hope you will bookmark this page, as we will be constantly adding more protein skimmer reviews, as well as more educational information about best practices when it comes to these skimmers.