Protein skimmers - are they useful or harmful?

There are various methods and technology for keeping aquariums clean and prosperous. Examples are Bio Chem-Zorb, Rowa, Purigen and Ozone. Ozone can be used to help with water clarity and to help control disease but it is important to note that it significantly reduces the effectiveness of a protein skimmer. It can even result in a build up of nitrate. It is best to research which products may be used in conjunction with which protein skimmer design.

An examination of protein skimmers shows that they help keep aquariums in tip-top shape by focusing on organic matter. This device bonds oxygen with the organic matter and removes it from the water. The oxygen bubbles collect the matter as they make their way up through the water column for accumulation in the collection cup. The organic-free water then returns to the bottom of the device and back into to the aquarium. Sounds great, right?

Make sure the white foam stays inside the neck of the device. The colored foam should rise into the cup. Remember this cup is where the waste is placed after being collected. It is important to note that the white foam should remain within the neck chamber and never carry over into the collection cup. Utilizing the air valve will adjust the foam. Be sure to use the valve to increase and lower the foam level as needed for the protein skimmer to function properly.

It is important to keep in mind what types of water habitats protein skimmers are useful for. It is suggested to use them in these three types of aquariums: marine fish only, highly populated and new reef aquariums. The skimmer enhances mechanical filtration by removing the particulates in the water including algae spores and parasites. However, alternate water habitats do not need this because the skimmer also removes necessary trace elements required for the survival of the aquarium’s inhabitants.

For highly populated tanks, removing and replacing the cup every few days may be beneficial. If you see the need for trace elements, simply begin this rotation remembering to add the solution desired when removing the skimmer cup.

For marine aquariums housing sharks or other very large sea animals, an over-sized skimmer is highly recommended. This type of marine life produces large amounts of excrement which must be filtered quickly and efficiently.

Protein Skimmer vs. Bio Balls

The function of bio balls, in essence, is to breakdown high-level waste into low-level waste. Bio balls don’t actually remove organic matter. So this low-level waste will build up as waste does contributing to heightened algae growth and additional water changes. Using a protein skimmer before the introduction of bio balls to the aquarium will remove the waste before it is broken down into matter the skimmer cannot handle. Adding the device after use of the bio balls is pointless, because as discussed, the skimmer cannot remove low-level waste. Thus, the protein skimmer ends up only removing valuable trace elements instead.

What’s the Value of the Protein Skimmer?

As mentioned, the protein skimmer is better utilised for marine fish, highly populated and new reef aquariums. It may also be used for new water habitations which may have unstable levels of organic waste, which is to be expected for brand new tanks. Once the water becomes stable the quality will remain high due to the natural allocation of bacteria. Then, the skimmer can be used as an oxygen reactor and it is not suggested to use bio balls. To use the protein skimmer as an oxygen reactor simply remove the cup.

Three Week Skimmer Test

Once the inhabitants of the aquarium are faring well it’s time to perform the three week skimmer test. When the quality of the water is high and the aquarium is running as a stable ecosystem, refrain from adding chemicals, trace elements or changing the water. When the three weeks are up, check the protein skimmer to see whether it is still removing waste or trace elements. In the event that the skimmer is still removing major organic matter, continue cleansing the eco-system and perform the test again at a later date. However, in the event that the skimmer is no longer removing waste, simply remove the cap and utilise it as an oxygen reactor until needed again for its cleansing assistance.

The Skimmer Trace Element Test

After the three week skimmer test you can perform a trace element test. Knowing the levels of trace elements in the tank is important for flourishing coral. For long-term success, having numerous trace elements is absolutely necessary. Over time, missing elements will cause deterioration (possibly to excessive levels). To begin the test, make sure the skimmer is on and add one trace element solution only. Check how much of the solution has been removed over the next couple of days. Wait one week with the skimmer running before testing another solution. Do the same for each solution. When the test is complete, you will know which trace elements can be added with the skimmer running and which to add while the cap is off.

Having a skimmer may prove useful or detrimental. Look into whether or not your tank needs a skimmer. If it does, research which protein skimmer will work best for your aquarium so your beautiful investment can thrive.

Good luck and enjoy,

Paul Talbot