Protein skimmers are not only a difficult beginner topic, but they are difficult to recommend as well!
Let’s quickly cover the basics for all you newbies out there.
What is a protein skimmer? A skimmer removes protein (fats, fish poop, food) from the water column by use of bubbles. The protein is sucked into the skimmer via a pump, and then that pump creates tons of bubbles. Those bubbles are pushed upwards into a collection cup. The proteins are hydrophobic, and are thus trapped in the bubbles as they rise upward into the collection cup. Did that make sense?
Basically, a protein skimmer is a fancy type of mechanical filtration (think sponge), that helps to remove the really fine particles that may get through your sponge media or filter sock.
Do I need a Protein Skimmer? Probably not, especially for a lightly stocked tank, but a skimmer can be helpful. For example, in my 24-gallon kitchen tank, the only filtration I run is some filter floss, nothing else. But that is a well established tank that is lightly stocked with livestock, so it works. In my 120-gallon tank, I definitely run a protein skimmer, mainly because I have a large sump and it’s easy to fit.
What size protein skimmer do I need? The biggest two considerations when answering this question are 1) will the skimmer fit in my tank and 2) how many gallons is my tank. All of the skimmers in this article are rated for tanks between 30-gallons and 150 gallons. You can always get a skimmer that is rated for a much larger tank, but you have to be sure it can fit in your sump or rear filtration chamber.
Protein Skimmers are usually placed in a sump, but there are a few types that are HOB (hang on the back), which can fit most tanks. Read each section below carefully and measure your sump/rear filtration chamber to see which one will best suit your needs!
5. AquaMaxx HOB 1.5 ~$250
Dimensions: 7.5″L x 3.5″W x 17″H (19cm x 9cm x 43 cm)
Filtration Rating: Up to 90 gallons with a light bioload and 60 gallons with a heavy bioload
Ideally, this skimmer would be used for an AIO (all-in-one) style aquarium with a rear filtration chamber. If you were to hang this inside your tank, it would also work, but it would a) not look great and b)might add some micro-bubbles to your display (not dangerous, just unsightly).
This AquaMaxx skimmer uses a modified Sicce pump (Sicce pumps are Italian made and quite nice) and a bubble diffuser to maximize skimmate.
Before you pick this item up, get out your measuring tape and be certain your rear filtration chamber has enough space to accommodate this little beast!
4. AquaMaxx HF-M HOB ~$290
Dimensions: 17.25″L x 3.94″W x 14.18″H (44cm x 10cm x 36 cm)
Filtration Rating: Up to 60 gallons with a light bioload and 20 gallons with a heavy bioload
This is a really cool protein skimmer, not because the skimmer itself is anything amazing or out of this world, but because this it also comes with two filtration chambers in addition to the skimmer. That means you can add any sort of mechanical, chemical, or biological filtration media into those compartments.
It is basically like having two additional mini-reactors built in! A great spot for adding activated carbon, filter floss, GFO, or even a small refugium with macroalgae.
It has a large footprint though, so make sure you have the space. On top of that, if you have a heavily stocked tank, or a larger system, then this small skimmer may not cut muster.
This is ideal for a 20-40 gallon tank with a large rear-filtration chamber.
3. Reef Octopus Classic 110 Space Saver~$239
Dimensions: 6.1″L x 7.87″W x 19″H (15.5cm x 20cm x 48 cm)
Filtration Rating: Up to 130 gallons with a light bioload and 60 gallons with a heavy bioload
I love Reef Octopus skimmers. They are solidly made and use great pumps. This skimmer is a lot of filtration in a small package. If you have a small sump, then this might be the skimmer for you. With a small footprint, most sumps will be able to handle the Reef Octopus Classic 110.
This is the smallest of the in-sump skimmers that I recommend. The recommended water height in your sump is 7-8″, but if your water is a bit higher, you can always place something underneath this skimmer to raise it up.
2. AquaMaxx ConeS HOB ~ $320
Dimensions: 8.75″L x 5.5″W x 20″H (22cm x 14cm x 51 cm)
Filtration Rating: Up to 175 gallons with a light bioload and 90 gallons with a heavy bioload
Okay, so this is a HOB style skimmer, but this thing is a beast! If you don’t have a sump but have a larger tank with a rear filtration chamber and you just want to filter the heck out of it, go with this skimmer.
For a pretty condensed package, it packs in a lot of filtering capacity. It is well-liked amongst hobbyists, and solidly made. The body is 5.5″ wide, so be sure to measure the width of your filtration chamber.
1. Bubble Magus Curve 5 ~ $200
Dimensions: 7.28″L x 7.08″W x 18.5″H (18.5cm x 18cm x 47 cm)
Filtration Rating: Up to 140 gallons with a light bioload
I have personally owned only two skimmers, and this is one of them. It is currently running on my neighbor’s Waterbox Marine 70 tank, is is working great.
Like all skimmers, it does take a couple weeks to break in. So during that time there were a lot of micro-bubbles being produced, and we also had to raise it up a couple inches so it wouldn’t overflow.
It is a little tricky to put together, so be sure to watch a video on how to do it!
This skimmer has a small footprint, and a great price. For most beginners this would be my go-to recommendation.