What Does a Protein Skimmer Do?


Large Protein Skimmer

Customers often ask about a protein skimmer when we are assessing their aquarium. They say that they know they are supposed to have one, but they don’t understand what it does. They also say that many of the explanations online are too scientific or technical to understand.


What does a protein skimmer do?

The protein skimmer removes dissolved waste materials from the water. What used to be fish poop, or sloughed off slime coat dissolves into the water. Uneaten food decays and pollutes the water.

A protein skimmer pumps this polluted water through itself, and makes a lot of bubbles which pull the waste materials out of the water by pulling the wastes to them, just like a magnet pulls another magnet.

The bubbles lift the waste up out of the top, and into a cup to be collected and removed.


Then what?

The owner simply removes the protein skimmer cup, empties it and rinses it clean, and then puts it back on.

Empty the protein skimmer cup once per day, on average. A technician may adjust this, however. A skimmer can be set to be emptied once every few days or couple weeks. The aquarium’s needs and owner’s desires play a part in determining this.


Why is a protein skimmer important?

Good water quality is important to the health of most fish in an aquarium. A protein skimmer removes “nasty stuff” from your aquarium’s water and makes the water cleaner for the fish to live in. If the entire purpose of having a filtration is providing fish with clean water, then the skimmer is the backbone of that system, efficiently pulling dissolved organic wastes out of the water.


Can a person get away without using a protein skimmer?

Yes. Some people have successfully maintained aquariums for a long time without a protein skimmer, but there are a couple conditions in play:

The aquariums are not reef aquariums. They are fish-only, which are more forgiving than reefs.

The other condition is that the people are often highly knowledgeable hobbyists, with the ability to frequently make large quantities of water for water changes. Without frequent large water changes, the pollution in the water doesn’t come out quickly enough and becomes a problem over time.

However, I don’t personally know anybody who runs a saltwater aquarium without one.

Everyone I know, from the “hands-off” aquarium owner to the most knowledgeable hobbyist, has a protein skimmer in their aquarium because they know how much benefit it brings to their tank.

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