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Best Protein Skimmers 2019: Keep Your Marine Water Aquarium Clean & Tidy

What is a Protein Skimmer and How Does It Work?

Any aquarium with live fish tends to accumulate organic waste over time. Of course, you can try to purify the water with an ordinary filter; however, filters often come up short. They collect waste and debris but they don’t remove it from the water physically. As a result, water passes through the container filled with the waste, and toxins (nitrates, in particular) get back to the aquarium and cause harm to its habitats.
The mechanism of working of a skimmer is different. What does a protein skimmer do? It also collects organic waste and sends it to a special container, which is placed outside the water. Thus, the debris and waste are removed physically. Besides, a skimmer aerates the water, improving its quality.
The mechanism of action of a protein skimmer is the following. It consists of a wide tube that is placed in the water and a collection cup placed above the surface of the water. Small bubbles quickly move up and down the tube. When the bubbles get to the aquarium water, they act as magnets for protein-based substances: waste, uneaten food, algae, and so on. Tiny fractions of proteins stick to the bubbles and rush upwards; passing through the tube, they get to the collection cup, after which the cup is cleaned up manually.
Protein skimmers are not made equal. Different models have a different construction. They also come in a variety of forms and sizes. Based on the type of mounting, there are four various kinds of skimmers distinguished by specialists.

Hang-on-the-Back Skimmers

A hang-on protein skimmer a.k.a. a hang-on-the-back or HOB skimmer is the device that is meant to be hung on the tank’s rim. Such skimmers are ideal for small and medium-sized aquariums without a sump. They are compact and easy to install.

In-Tank Skimmers

An in-tank (internal) skimmer is intended for very small tanks. It works as effectively as a full-sized device; the difference is in the dimensions and the placement. It is placed right inside a tank.

In-Sump Skimmers

An in-sump protein skimmer is mounted inside the sump. The devices that fall into this category are the most popular: they come in a wide variety of sizes and forms. Most of them easily fit various sump systems but the size should always be considered.

External Skimmers

An external protein skimmer is a unit that is placed outside the aquarium. It takes water from the sump, purifies it externally, and then returns clear water back. They are effective but a sort of bulky; some extra room is required for their proper mounting.
Protein skimmers are also categorized based on their mechanism of action. There are several ways to create bubbles in the water. Depending on the method used, skimmers are subdivided into four groups.

Air/air stone-driven skimmers

They create bubbles with air diffusers. These devices are simple and inexpensive while their efficiency is average. The bubbles are relatively large (which reduced the effectiveness of protein collection), and the diffusers require much maintenance.

Venturi skimmers

These units use a venturi pump that sucks air in and mixes it with a water stream, forming a lot of bubbles. The efficiency of the method depends on the pump. Pumps that are more powerful create more bubbles of a smaller diameter.

Impeller skimmers

They have a simple and effective construction. An air stream passes is directed to a rotating impeller that mixes air to water at a high speed, producing bubbles. Sometimes, they feature a needle that breaks the bubbles into smaller parts, increasing the efficiency of water cleaning. Unlike venturi skimmers, the impeller-driven options don’t require a powerful pump. They are also great for those looking for a quiet protein skimmer.

Downdraft skimmers

These are powerful and effective units. A stream of water under pressure is injected into a tank and mixed to the air that is released from a special valve. Myriads of small bubbles move upside down and then slowly rise to the surface where they are collected.
In the framework of our research, we tried to review the skimmers of various types and pick out the best options in different categories. In a comparative chart below, there is a brief description of top-ten options.

The Best Protein Skimmers 2019: a Comparative Chart





Type of water

Aquarium size

Weight (pounds)

Dimensions (inches)

Noise level


Coralife Super Protein Skimmer

BUY NOW AMAZONHang-on or in-sumpSaltwater & freshwaterUp to 220 gallons7.134.2 x 5.5 x 20.8Low1 year

CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus

BUY NOW AMAZONHang-onSaltwaterUp to 100 gallons9.30.02 x 0.02 x 0.02


2 years

Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

BUY NOW AMAZONIn-sumpSaltwaterUp to 140 gallons6.926 x 9 x 10Low1 year

Reef Octopus Classic 100-HOB Protein Skimmer



Up to 105 gallons


8 x 3.75 x 17LowN/A

Comline DOC Protein Skimmer 9001

BUY NOW AMAZONHang-onSaltwaterUp to 37 gallons1.84.3 x 2.5 x 8.5LowN/A

SCA-302 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer

BUY NOW AMAZONIn-sumpSaltwaterUp to 180 gallons


9 x 18 x 9.5Low1 year

NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer

  BUY NOW AMAZONIn-sumpSaltwaterUp to 265 gallons


7.29 x 9.85 x 20.87Very low1 year

AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer

 BUY NOW AMAZON Hang-onSaltwaterUp to 90 gallons7.87.5 x 3.5 x 17LowN/A

Macro Aqua M-50 Mini Hang-on External Protein Skimmer

 BUY NOW AMAZON Hang-onSaltwaterUp to 60 gallons2.25.5 x 5.5 x 13.5MediumN/A

Aquatic Life 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer

 BUY NOW AMAZON Hang-on or in-sumpSaltwaterUp to 30 gallons1.810-5/8 x 3.5 x 3.5LowN/A

Things to Consider When Choosing a Protein Skimmer

Choosing the right type of a protein skimmer is crucial, as it influences water condition in your aquarium. Therefore, the life and well-being of the aquarium habitats depend on it to a large extent. Here are some essential things to consider.

Aquarium Volume and Type

Check the specification of a protein skimmer to make sure it is powerful enough for your aquarium. For a small aquarium, choose a small protein skimmer and vice versa. The type of an aquarium also matters. Some models are effective for freshwater tanks only while others can be used in both saltwater and freshwater aquariums.

Noiselessness and Safety

A good skimmer should not cause any discomfort to you or your fish. Some options, especially those with powerful pumps, produce a lot of noise, which can disturb light sleepers. Needless to say, the device must meet safety requirements. Don’t forget to check the compliance certificate and read some customer reviews to be sure that the skimmer is safe enough.

Energy Saving

A protein skimmer is a type of device that has to work in a 24/7 mode. Options with powerful pumps are effective but they can consume much energy. So, it is important to find a perfect ratio of power, effectiveness, and energy consumption.

Automation and Ease of Use

Most skimmers are quite easy to use but they require proper installation. All the needed parts and components are supplied by the manufacturer. Use the manual to assemble and mount the device correctly. After the installation and plugging in, it will run automatically but some maintenance is still needed. Thus, air stone skimmers require regular cleaning.

How We Selected the Best Protein Skimmers

To compile our ranking of the best protein aquarium skimmers we conducted comprehensive research. We studied over two hundred protein skimmer reviews to make a preliminary selection of the most popular models. After that, we thoroughly compared their specification and prices to pick out the best offers. Finally, we tested the selected options in real-time conditions. We used two marine aquariums (100 and 350 gallons) and one freshwater tank with live fish. Leaping ahead, we are happy to report that no fish suffered during testing. The results of our research are presented in the following section of our review.

The Best Protein Skimmers of 2019: Our Choice

With a variety of great models on sale, choosing the best protein skimmer is quite a challenge. We tried to select ten options that meet several core requirements: safety, efficiency, moderate noise level, and low energy consumption. Such aspects as price, ease of assembly and use, and design were also taken into account. Here are our winners.

Coralife Super Protein Skimmer with Pump

Coralife Super Protein Skimmer with Pump


Being an inexpensive and versatile option, Coralife protein skimmer is one of the most popular choices. It features a speedy impeller with a needle that breaks the bubbles into smaller balls, increasing the effectiveness of water cleaning. The device provides enough flexibility: you can either hang it on the tank’s rim or mount inside the sump. It comes in several sizes and fits the tanks from 65 to 220 gallons. The skimmer suits for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums.

What we think

On the plus side, this is an affordable and quiet protein skimmer. It is easy to install and maintain. On the minus side, you need some practice to regulate and adjust it properly. The problem is that its knob for the water level regulation is flimsy, and setting the proper level can turn a real challenge. All in all, it is a good entry-level option that comes with a yearly warranty.


  • it is quiet and energy-saving;
  • small bubbles clean the water fast and effectively;
  • a reliable impeller-based construction;
  • versatile and easy to install;
  • for various types of aquariums.


  • build quality is average;
  • fine-tuning can be a problem.
CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus

CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus with External 1000 Pump


This is a compact hang-on-back protein skimmer that has a unique construction with the pump placed externally. It makes it easier to clean, and the pump doesn’t contact with the water directly, which prevents overheating. The device works very quietly – it won’t disturb you even at night. It is notable for its excellent build quality – the body is made of acrylic of high quality.

What we think

Because of its unique construction, CoralVue requires a lower than usual water level in the tank, so you need to get used to it. Some customers complain about a too thick foam on the surface and frequent overfilling but it is resolved by the proper setup. In general, the device does its job well, effectively removing organic waste from the tanks up to 100 gallons in capacity.


  • compact and lightweight;
  • prevents overheating;
  • provides effective water purification;
  • works quietly;
  • the pump is easy to clean.


  • it requires a subtle adjustment;
  • the water level in the tank must be lower than usual.
Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer


Bubble Magus protein skimmer is a reliable impeller-based option that is currently marketed as Amazon’s choice. It is a compact powerful device that can handle up to 140 gallons of saltwater. Despite its small size, the skimmer is very effective, thanks to its pump system with a needle wheel. It forms a lot of tiny bubbles, which provide brilliant results. It is easy to install and set up, and fits most existing sump systems.

What we think

We have few if any complaints about this nano-skimmer. It is inexpensive but powerful and effective. On top of this, it produces minimum noise and won’t disturb you at nighttime. The only small downside is that due to its ergonomic design it needs to be cleaned more frequently than larger devices.


  • a decent build quality;
  • low noise level;
  • effectiveness;
  • compact size;
  • easy to install and fits most sumps.


  • needs to be cleaned often.
Reef Octopus Classic 100-HOB Protein Skimmer

Reef Octopus Classic 100-HOB Protein Skimmer


Despite being one of the cheapest options around, this Reef Octopus protein skimmer is known for its great performance and durability. It is relatively small – the maximum amount of water it can handle is 105 gallons. The device is exceptionally easy to use and install: all you need to do is to hang in on the back of a tank and attach a pump. The latter is Aquatrance pinwheel pump, which is notable for its effectiveness and production of small air bubbles.

What we think

Though the skimmer is not completely flawless, it is a great value! At the price of less than $200, you get a modern noiseless device with a powerful pump. We also have virtually no complaints about is build quality – the body is made of high-grade acrylic. That said, we’d like to see the height adjustment feature in it.


  • well-made and reliable;
  • a powerful pump;
  • affordable;
  • easy to use;
  • noiseless;


  • a bit heavy and bulky;
  • no height adjustment.
Comline DOC Protein Skimmer 9001

Comline DOC Protein Skimmer 9001 by Tunze


This is a cheap protein skimmer for small saltwater tanks. Measuring just 4.3 x 2.5 x 8.5 inches, it is capable of handling water tanks of up to 37 gallons. The device features a needle wheel pump that ensures fast and effective water purification. It is very easy to mount thanks to a magnet holder.

What we think

All things taken together, you get what you pay for. It is an entry-level option, and you should not expect too much from it. That said, it honestly does its job, and ease of use and set up makes it an awesome option for beginners.


  • compact and lightweight;
  • affordable;
  • easy to install;
  • doesn’t require much maintenance;
  • works noiselessly.


  • the build quality is average;
  • no information about the warranty.
SCA-302 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer

SCA-302 180 Gallon Protein Skimmer by SC Aquariums


If you are looking for a compact saltwater cleaner with a highly efficient protein skimmer pump, you’ve found it! It features a great Atman 2000 impeller pump with a needle that easily copes with cleaning large aquariums from organic waste. The manufacturer guarantees seamless performance in the tanks of up to 180 gallons but real-life tests confirm than SCA-302 doesn’t lose its effectiveness in larger aquariums. The pump produces minimum noise that won’t disturb anyone.

What we think

This skimmer is a great value for money. Thanks to its ergonomic design, it easily fits most sumps. The assembly and installation are very simple and takes no more than 5-10 minutes; however, you need to spend some time on fine-tuning. We especially love the fact that it copes with large volumes of water without any hassle.


  • compact and powerful;
  • a high-quality impeller pump;
  • fits a wide range of sump systems;
  • very quiet;
  • handles large aquariums – 180 gallons and even more.


  • water level adjusting is not too intuitive.
NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer

NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer for up to 265 Gallons


NYOS Quantum 160 protein skimmer is a high-performance aquarium cleaner from a trusted and reputable brand. Its main selling points are an exceptionally smooth performance and a heavy-duty hybrid pump, which does an awesome job in providing myriads of tiny bubbles. Another distinctive feature is the pump placed inside the skimmer, which adds ergonomics. It has decent build quality, and high-grade transparent acrylic provides good visibility. The device is easy to assemble and mount but a bit bulky and doesn’t fit small sumps.

What we think

NYOS skimmer is expensive but is worthy of it if you have a large saltwater aquarium that requires the highest quality of purification. It is effective, versatile, and powerful; the great thing is that it allows to adjust water and air streams separately.


  • very quiet;
  • high quality of purification;
  • ergonomic design;
  • superb build quality;
  • can handle large aquariums.


  • expensive;
  • difficult to twist-off.
AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer

AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer


This AquaMaxx protein skimmer is a medium-sized medium-priced hang-on-back device for easy and effective purification of aquariums with a capacity of up to 90 gallons. It is the “younger brother” of the popular AquaMaxx HOB 1 hang-on-back protein skimmer. The device features an improved AquaMaxx SHARK 1.0 pump and a high-quality needle wheel impeller. It is very easy to use and has a removable collection cup for fast and hassle-free cleaning.

What we think

Though the skimmer can seem slightly overpriced, at a closer inspection we realized it is worthy of its price. It combines an awesome build quality with a top-notch impeller, a powerful pump, and noiseless operation. Some customers complain about troubles with setting up and fine-tuning but when installed and set up properly, it is very easy to use.


  • highly efficient;
  • superb quality of purification;
  • noiseless;
  • easy to use and maintain;
  • decent build quality


  • setting up is a bit of a challenge.
Macro Aqua M-50 Mini Hang-on External Protein Skimmer

Macro Aqua M-50 Mini Hang-on External Protein Skimmer


This is, probably, the best hang-on-back protein skimmer for small through medium-sized aquariums (60 gal. max.) It is compact and lightweight – just slightly over 13 inches in height and 2.2 lbs. The skimmer features a wheel needle impeller that does a great job in producing small bubbles that effectively clean water from gunk. The device requires minimal effort when you set it up, and the removable cup is easy to clean.

What we think

The only minor downside of this otherwise great product is a buzzing sound that it produces when working. It is not loud but noticeable, so we don’t recommend it for use in the bedroom.


  • affordable and compact;
  • very easy to use, no priming is required;
  • effective and reliable;
  • fits aquariums of up to 60 gallons.


  • a bit noisier than competitors.
Aquatic Life 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer

Aquatic Life 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer/Filter


This AquaticLife 115 protein skimmer is a versatile internal nano-skimmer that can be used both as a HOB and in-sump option. Keep in mind, however, that when you hang it on the back, the hinged lid won’t close. It is perfect for use in small in mini-aquariums. An effective needle-wheel pump does its job of removing organic waste just fine.

What we think

If you are looking for a basic skimmer for your small saltwater aquarium, you will be fully satisfied with this option from AquaticLife. Thanks to its fully internal construction, it produces minimal noise. Besides, it is affordable and easy to mount, which makes it suitable for beginners.


  • good price/quality ratio;
  • versatility;
  • low-budget;
  • effective in removing gunk;
  • low noise level.


  • It doesn’t let to close a hinged lid.

Five Interesting Facts about Protein Skimmers

A reef aquarium with a protein skimmer

  1. Saltwater skimmers remove not only waste but also salt from the water, so don’t forget to add some marine salt in your aquarium from time to time.
  2. A good saltwater or freshwater protein skimmer can remove up to 80% of the strongest organic pollutants, including cellulose.
  3. New skimmers tend to produce a lot of micro-bubbles that can form a thick layer of foam. Commonly, it disappears after several days of use.
  4. If organic waste is not removed, it forms a thin film on the water surface. Its thickness is just one molecule, so you even won’t see it but your fish will suffer.
  5. Even cheap skimmers, such as Instant Ocean SeaClone protein skimmer, save a lot of your money: they are way cheaper than gallons of marine water you’ll have to buy otherwise.

Frequently Asked Questions

Protein skimmers are specific devices, and protein skimmer setup can be quite a challenge. No surprise beginners always have a lot of questions. Here are some of them.

Q: How to Clean and How Often Should Be Cleaned Protein Skimmer?

A: The frequency of cleaning can vary depending on the quality of water. As a rule, manufacturers recommend to disassemble and clean a skimmer at least twice a year. The tubes are hard to clean, so you’d better replace them. All the other parts are to be soaked in hot water (for a couple of hours), cleaned from organic waste, and rinsed. After that, the device is assembled and installed in the aquarium.

Q: How to Set up a Protein Skimmer?

A: The best approach is to read the user manual and to follow it precisely because the setting-up of Instant Ocean protein skimmer differs from the installation of Coralife biocube protein skimmer. The procedure is not complicated: all you need is to assemble all the parts and components according to the instruction and plug in the device to make sure it works. After that, you can install it in the aquarium. HOB options are mounted on the back rim of the tank, and in-sump skimmers are placed inside the sump.

Q: When and How Often Should a Protein Skimmer Be Run?

A: Normally, a protein skimmer should be run 24/7/365. However, it is OK to make short breaks sometimes (no more than a couple of hours.) Thus, you will turn it off the unit when you clean it or replace its parts and components. Also, it is allowed to switch it off during feeding.

Q: How to Quiet Protein Skimmer?

A: If the device you’ve bought seems to be noisy you may try to make it quieter by placing a rubber rug under it. It will absorb vibrations and make the pump silent. Keep in mind that you must NOT cover the working skimmer with anything!

Q: What is the Difference between a Protein Skimmer and Regular Filtration?

A: A filter also captures waste and gunk but it doesn’t remove it from the tank physically. As a result, the captured proteins stay in the water and continue producing toxins that make harm to the aquarium habitats. What is a protein skimmer advantage? It doesn’t just captures the gunk but also collects it in a special cup that is placed outside the tank.

Verdict and Recommendations

There are a lot of brands of protein skimmers to choose from. The final choice mainly depends on the size and type of the aquarium. All the options described are great but each of them has its strong and weak points.
If you are looking for versatility, consider Coralife Super protein skimmer for freshwater and saltwater. It can be used as an in-sump or a hang-on-back skimmer at your wish and handles up to 220 gallons of water. But if you need a smaller option, try Coralife protein skimmer 65, which is equally effective.
The cheapest options for micro-aquariums is Aquatic Life 115 Mini. It can purify 30 gallons of water without any hassle while being really affordable and effective. This is one of the best options for beginners.
Our top pick is NYOS Quantum 160 that is notable for its awesome performance, heavy-duty pump, and an exceptional build quality. It is a bit pricey but it is worthy of it. NYOS skimmers are often chosen by professionals. We highly recommend it for large reef aquariums with delicate species of fish and octopuses.
There are some other excellent options, which haven’t been covered in the framework of this review, for example, Reef Octopus Classic 1000 HOB protein skimmer – an inexpensive unit with a stable performance. It’s for you to decide what to choose. We hope our recommendations will help you to make the right choice.


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