Why do I need a skimmer in my aquarium?

I am planning my next saltwater aquarium after recently moving. I started thinking about it, and I’ve always run a skimmer in my aquariums, and I was aware that it helped to remove nutrients from the water but do I need a protein skimmer in my aquarium?

Skimmers can be an expensive part of your tank setup so I figured I would look into it more. Skimmers are a nice to have product that can reduce the needed maintenance on your aquarium by removing organic waste from the water before it has a chance to break down and release nitrogen compounds. While they are not required to keep a successful saltwater aquarium, there are benefits to owning a skimmer.

How does a protein skimmer work?

To put it simply, you have a pump and an air source, the air goes through the pump and creates microbubbles. Small particles of food and waist (as well as amino acids) stick to the microbubbles. As they reach the top, they pop, and the waste is released. The waist is either collected on the bubble at the top of more bubbles. As the bubbles keep working their way up they overflow into the collection cup (wet skimming) or if they pop at the top, the waist pops into the collection cup (dry skimming).

Beaches have their way of skimming the ocean using waves. When a wave breaks, it crashes into the sea creating microbubbles. The more waste in the water, the more foam or dirty bubbles that are produced by the wave. Think about that next time you are at the beach :)

 

Why should you consider adding a protein skimmer to your aquarium?

Other than being a mechanical filter that only needs to be cleaned and does not have to be replaced regularly which helps reduce your nitrate and phosphate levels. It also promotes proper gas exchange, increase oxygen level for healthy inhabitants, and helps to maintain appropriate pH levels.

 

What size protein skimmer should I use?

First, add up the total tank volume (aquarium + sump + anything else plumbed to the tank). Then refer to the manufactures volume level for the skimmer. The total tank volume is the minimum the skimmer should be able to handle. In a perfect world that would be enough, and it would be if we only feed the amount of food that we were supposed to, but we don’t so...

When you go to buy a protein skimmer measure the area where you want the protein skimmer to go, and then buy the biggest skimmer you can afford and that will fit in the space where you want it to go. Most people suggest getting a skimmer rated for 3x, 4x or 5x your total water volume.

Can you over skim an aquarium? Not really. There are too many factors to consider; your skimmer removes some trace elements from the water so technically over skimming could cause you to lose more trace elements but its not anything that you should worry about. In most cases, it seems like the benefits out way any issues.

 

Fresh air source for your skimmer = higher pH

If you are having issues with your pH in your tank, you may want to think if you can extend the airline to an outside air source. Adding fresh air help normalize your pH levels injecting outside air to your skimmer works well.

If you extend your airline tube to allow for fresh air make sure the airline is not anywhere where it can get sprayed with any chemical or gas (mosquito trucks, bug pesticide, lawn care products, etc..). These chemicals could instantly kill everything in your tank, having an airline in your addict how your addict has access to fresh air.

 

Why are protein skimmers not used in freshwater aquariums?

In freshwater tanks maintenance usually revolves around a significant water change of 50% or more. Due to the cost of salt and having the ample space to mix the water the day before, you don’t see that significant of a water change. In a saltwater aquarium, you usually do a 10-20% water change. Technically you can use a skimmer in a freshwater setup, and some people do.

The surface tension between freshwater and saltwater are different making it easier to create more microbubbles and skim in saltwater. Sometimes you do see skimmers on overly stocked freshwater ponds and tanks with large bio-loads.

 

About author

I got into the aquarium hobby in 2004 after I went diving for the first time I knew I wanted a small piece of the ocean nearby to admire at home. I have a tech background, so I enjoy gadgets and automation. I plan to do a planted freshwater tank and play

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