Best Protein Skimmer Brands
A product review of the most popular brands of saltwater protein skimmer available for the reef aquarium
As technology continues to improve, it becomes a little bit easier for us to maintain ideal conditions for our reef tanks. But as our reef aquarium equipment improves, our options seem to be multiplying too. Having choices, as a consumer, is usually a good thing. But when it comes to the reef aquarium hobby, there are so many brands and so many options that choices can sometimes be overwhelming for the newcomer to the hobby. Whether you are in the market for your first protein skimmer or are looking to upgrade your existing protein skimmer, this article should help you sort through all the options and help you find the best protein skimmer brands for your reef aquarium.
But first, let’s cover some of the basics
What is a protein skimmer?
A protein skimmer is a piece of equipment (a device) that purifies your reef aquarium water. Just think of it as a somewhat fancy filtration apparatus. Protein skimmers work by a process called foam fractionation, which is a fancy way of saying they create scrubbing bubbles. The gunk in your aquarium water gets stuck on the bubbles and gets carried up into the collection container, which you will need to dump out and keep clean.
A protein skimmer is an amazing tool that combines thermodynamics and engineering. Much of the organic gunk that is suspended in the water column doesn’t like to be in the water (thermodynamically speaking), gunk would rather be close to surface of the water. Bubbles, by comparison to regular old water have a whole lot of surface and not a lot of water, so given the option, the gunk in your water will ‘stick’ (thermodynamically speaking again) to the bubbles rather than hang out in the water. Then, the design of the protein skimmer draws the bubbles and the gunk with it up and out of the water and into the collection cup, where the gunk is removed. The best protein skimmer brands, therefore, are the brands that easily and reliably remove that gunk from your reef tank.
Does every reef aquarium have to have a protein skimmer?
No, you don’t always need a protein skimmer, but they are good to have, as a general rule. Just take one look at the brown, smelly, nasty gunk they remove and you’ll be convinced they do a lot of good.
How to pick a good protein skimmer
One of the most important factors when determining the best protein skimmer to brand to select is the size rating for the skimmer. Every skimmer is rated for a certain size tank, based on the amount of skimmate they can remove from the water, factoring in design, pump size, etc. If you buy a protein skimmer that is under-sized for your aquarium, you run the risk of always struggling to keep nutrient levels down. Take into account that the marketing messages for these skimmers tend to accentuate the positive, and consider purchasing a skimmer that is rated a little bit higher than the size of your tank–or a model where your tank is in the middle of the range.
Best protein skimmer reviews
These days, I tend to use articles (like this) and the wisdom of the crowd, captured as product reviews on trusted websites to help me narrow the field of endless options. More often than not, it seems that the crowd tends to get things right. I like to look for protein skimmers with the highest ratings. I sorted through all the reviews so you don’t have to (although don’t have to take my word for it and are welcome to do your own follow up, of course. I won’t tell anyone).
You could probably spend almost as much money as you wanted on a protein skimmer–so ask yourself–how much money do you want to spend…then do some research to try and find the ‘best’ skimmer for the money.
Design (how it works)
Every manufacturer seems to boast that their skimmers are high efficiency, make tons of tiny bubbles and remove lots of waste. But there are a few different ways the protein skimmers get their results:
Air or airstone driven–these are some of the weaker (and less expensive) models, simply because the air pumps are usually loud and not that efficient and airstones make relatively large bubbles. Since
protein skimmer efficiency is generally driven by the creation of large numbers of small bubbles…well…this is not so good…but it is better than nothing. So if you have one of these models, make the best of it. These are also sometimes called counter-current skimmers. Bubbles float up, pumping water down against the flow of the bubbles improves the efficiency a bit–this is how these skimmers work. There are DIY skimmer designs that employ this method. Since this is a fairly basic design, counter-current airstone driven models are sometimes described in DIY plans.
Venturi driven–a venturi is a valve that is designed to suck air in. Venturi-driven protein skimmer models tend to be paired up with powerful pumps to create the air bubbles and drive the performance of the skimmer.
Impeller skimmers–With this design for a protein skimmer, bubbles are pumped through a needlewheel or pinwheel impellers (think about the propeller on a plane) where the bubbles are sliced up into even smaller bubbles, which improves the efficiency of the skimmer. The impeller driven models are often paired with another feature, like a venturi design.
Design (where you install it)
The next design feature that matters is to figure out where you are going to install it. The three basic options are: 1) in sump (only works if you have a sump) 2) HOB or hang on back–works whether or not you have a sump and 3) External or recirculating skimmers–these are skimmers which are external to the pump and don’t hang on the tank. A pump pulls the water out of the tank, to your skimmer and returns it.
Size (literally how big it is)
An often over-looked (and by often, I mean I did it once so I’m suggesting that this is overlooked all the time, so I don’t feel as dumb) but extremely important aspect about selecting the best protein skimmer brands is to consider exactly how big the skimmer is. Since bubbles float up, most protein skimmers have their collection cup at the very top of the apparatus. You could purchase the most efficient protein skimmer in the world, but if you install it in your sump, under the tank and don’t have enough room to get the collection cup off…well…then you’re in for a long ride. Make sure to check the size specifications as well as the minimum clearance needed. Then measure it again. Then check again. Ok, I’m overcompensating for something here…but I messed that up before…can you tell?
Worst protein skimmer brands
I hate to be negative here, but recommending which brands to avoid is probably as important, if not more important than recommending the best protein skimmer brands. Starting things off, here, I’d like to introduce you to two brands that I highly recommend you avoid. This is an expensive hobby. In general, I am in favor of taking steps to reduce or contain costs. I’m personally not the type of person who always needs the best or highest end equipment. I’m a do-it-yourself-er at heart, although I find myself with much less time to DIY than I used to have. And I like getting value for my hard-earned money. The two brands below are inexpensive, which is great if they make the hobby more approachable for some people, but I don’t feel that they represent a good value for the money–and as such, I would advise you to keep on reading to learn more about the later brands, if you can afford to spend just a little bit more.
By the way, I don’t have images of all of these products, some of these images are available to me as an affiliate for Amazon.com and they have affiliate links. What that means is that if you click on the images or the product links below, they will take you to Amazon’s website, where they hope you will buy something. If you do, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. I don’t want to make a big deal about it, I also don’t want you to feel any pressure at all, but I did want to disclose that.
SeaClone is the first protein skimmer for many reef aquarium enthusiasts, probably because if the affordable price and the fact that it is a brand that is available even in the larger national pet store chains. The problem is that this skimmer doesn’t have a reputation for being all that efficient and can therefore be quickly outgrown. SeaClone features a turbo-venturi injection system. The $90 unit is paired with a Maxi-Jet 1200 pump rated for tanks up to 100 gallons.
Coralife Protein Skimmer: Super Skimmer Needle Wheel
The price, for the Coralife protein skimmer, seems too good to be true. In my personal experience with this product, it has been. I purchased the Coralife protein skimmer twice, because it was on sale–once for my fish room–and once for my display tank. Both times, the self-proclaimed super skimmer stopped working way before I thought it should have. The 220 gallon unit costs less than $200 (and is even cheaper if you catch it on sale) but in this case, you get what you pay for. There is a flimsy knob that helps you control the height of the water inside the skimmer. A very tiny tweak and the skimmer goes from too low to overflowing.
Coralife protein skimmer, sorry to rip on you, but I got a dud twice in a row. I won’t try this again.
In all fairness, this skimmer can’t be all that terrible, because it gets a 3.5-3.8/5.0 stars on various websites, but I wanted to share my own experiences and product review with you here.
Best top of the line protein skimmer brands
My vote for the best top-of-the-line protein skimmer brand would be Vertex. They can be a bit pricey, but if you want the best for your reef aquarium, Vertex is a good choice. The Vertex line starts out at a meager $300 (for the Vertex Omega model, which is rated up to 100 gallons, is 8.5 in x 11 in x 20 in and tops out over $1500 for the Vertex Alpha 300 model, which is 18 in x 23.5 in x 27 in. Designed and assembled in Germany, these protein skimmers are powerhouses (or is it spelled powerhaus?) and beautiful.
Best nano protein skimmer brands
What is a nano protein skimmer?
For all intents and purposes, a nano protein skimmer is just a small protein skimmer, in the same way that a nano reef tank is just a small reef tank.
AquaMaxx HOB 1
Despite the large size, however, this AquaMaxx HOB 1 protein skimmer will work (and fits nicely with) the JBJ 28 gallon nano reef tank.
How does it work?
The AquaMaxx HOB 1 is paired with a Sicce Syncra 1.0 pump, which blasts water through a needlewheel impeller. The pump and impeller action is what creates the bubbles that ultimately remove the waste from your reef aquarium. The Sicce Syncra 1.0 pump is rated for 252 Gallons Per Hour (GPH) flow rate and runs on 16 watts.
The Tunze Comline protein skimmer brand is rated for 15 to 65 gallons. What I like about this skimmer is that there is a surface kit which equips it to draw water from the surface, which is where the most polluted water is (and therefore makes the skimmer more efficient. I also like the ~$150 price tag
Bubble Magus is a popular skimmer brand, and is certainly one of the best protein skimmer brands, with 4.5/5 stars on one of the major online retailer websites. The design is a venturi-pump with a needle wheel impeller. The cost is about $200 for the Bubble Magus Curve 5 model rated up to 180 gallons and is 7.3 inches by 7.1 inches by 18.5 inches, paired with an 8 watt pump.
Best HOB Protein Skimmer Brand (HOB is an acronym for Hang on Back Protein Skimmer)
What is an HOB Protein Skimmer? Most hobbyists prefer to install their protein skimmer out of sight, below the tank, in the sump area. The HOB Protein skimmer is a great option, if you don’t have a sump. Designed to hang on the back of your aquarium, the HOB Protein skimmer is a great option–and is the style of skimmer I first installed on my display tank.
AquaC Remora Pro-S HOB
AquaC Remora Pro -S HOB protein skimmer boasts a patented spray-injection technology designed to create a “massive amount” of scrubbing bubbles. Rated for an aquarium ~75 gallons or smaller, the standard size skimmer is a pretty good choice, for the money. The size is 6 inches x 2.75 inches x 19 inches. The Remora Pro handles tanks up to 120 gallons and is a bit larger in all dimensions: 7.5 x 3.25 x 22. The recommended Pro-S model has the same size body as the Pro model but with an upgraded spray nozzle which improves the efficiency of the skimmer by 30%. The spray-injection technology creates more bubbles than airstone driven skimmers. AquaC was my first protein skimmer, is easy to install and works well, right out the box. There are several options available. Pick the one with the most reliable pump/powerhead you can find. This skimmer will run you somewhere between $150-$225 dollars. AquaC may not literally have the #1 slot for the best protein skimmer brands, but they are up there among the best, have a completely unique (patented) design and are a model I have had great success with, personally.
Best all around protein skimmer brand is the Reef Octopus Skimmer
Reef Octopus Skimmer
In my opinion, Reef Octopus has the best protein skimmer brands. The shape of this skimmer (half-cone) lends to improved foam collection. It features a pinwheel impeller and a Hailea OTP pump with a venturi air injector. While other skimmers (like the Coralife Super Skimmer) have a cheap, loose knob that regulates the water height within the body of the device, the Reef Octopus Skimmer has a substantial, signature gate valve to allow precise control of the water level. Based on my experiences with the Coralife protein skimmer, this seems like well designed feature.
The reviews for this product are consistently 4-5 out of 5 stars. A Reef Octopus protein skimmer brand will run you $250-$800.
Interested in shopping for one of the best protein skimmer brands now?
Here are a few links to the most popular brands on Amazon if you want to continue your journey to read product reviews, get some more detailed information, etc.
Bubble Magus Skimmer
Reef Octopus Skimmer