There is such a vast array of different aquarium equipment available, it can be hard to determine what’s really necessary and what’s not.
If you’re considering adding a protein skimmer to your tank but find yourself unsure if you really need one, we’re here to help.
In this article we provide details on the benefits of using a protein skimmer, what type of tank setups it’s required in, and hence if it might be necessary for your specific tank.
You’ll also learn the difference between nano protein skimmers and full-sized ones, so you know which size you need.
Additionally, we’re going to look at the key features you should be looking for when you buy one of your own, and we finish up the article with a list we’ve compiled of the best models available on the market today.
At a Glance: Our Top Recommendations for Best Nano Protein Skimmer
- Eshopps Protein Nano 10-35G Skimmer
- Aquamaxx Ws-1 In-sump Protein Skimmer
- Tunze USA 9004.000 Doc Skimmer for Aquariums, 15 to 65-Gallon
- Aquatic Life 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer/Filter, 30-Gallon
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Contents - Click to Jump to Section
What are the Benefits of Using a Protein Skimmer?
There are quite a few benefits to having one in your aquarium. These devices can be of use to you personally, as well as to your aquarium inhabitants.
Gets Rid of Surface Scum
You know the unappealing film of scum that gathers on the surface of your aquarium water every so often? Well, you may be interested to know there is a range of potential reasons that this happens.
Microalgae blooms, dissolving fish food and even your own dirty hands could be the culprit. Basically, anything that enters the tank but can’t be absorbed into the water will eventually just float there as scum.
You’ve likely become accustomed to using a skimmer net to clear away this gunk whenever it appears. Even the best maintenance practices won’t eliminate the possibility of scum forming entirely.
A protein skimmer can take care of that for you. It will ensure that all the various residues which cause surface scum don’t get a chance to build up.
Assists Your Filter
A protein skimmer can work in conjunction with your filter to keep the tank clean. Your filter may do a good job at collecting some debris, but falls short when it comes to other types. Most aquarium filters aren’t as effective at sucking in surface waste either.
It’s worth noting that waste products that stay on the surface of your tank tend to be hydrophobic. This translates literally as “afraid of water,” which means they aren’t likely to sink. It also means that your filter won’t be able to suck them out of your tank.
A protein skimmer is capable of separating your tank water from these waste substances. Think of it like a washing machine for your aquarium water. Dirt is removed through foam fractionation, and scum-free water is returned to your aquarium.
Oxygenates Your Tank
If the surface water of your tank isn’t clear, this isn’t just an aesthetic problem. Filmy scum can prevent oxygen from entering your aquarium. Keeping the surface clear is therefore essential to fish and plant life.
Besides photosynthesis from plants, the surface of your aquarium is one of the major sources of oxygen in your tank. That makes it extremely important. In addition, extra carbon dioxide that your plants don’t consume exits your tank from the surface.
As long as you keep your protein skimmer running, surface scum will be a thing of the past. In turn, this will guarantee a healthy exchange of gases in and out of your aquarium.
Even if you stay on top of your surface scum, you may not capture the bacteria the scum leaves behind. These microorganisms are invisible to the naked eye and cannot be captured with a skimming net.
If there are too many bacteria in your aquarium, especially on the surface, this can further limit oxygen. Most bacteria break down organic waste by using oxygen. A protein skimmer will therefore help to keep bacteria populations under control.
Finally, they circulate the water in your aquarium. Keeping the water in your tank moving is the most efficient way of distributing gases evenly—including oxygen.
Controls Algae Growth
Out-of-control algae can be the bane of any aquarium owner. These resilient, fast-growing plants can detract from the quality of life of your aquarium’s fish and plants.
As algae can flourish in almost any environment, you want to take precautions. One strategy of avoiding a burst of algae growth is by keeping your aquarium clear of excess nutrients.
A protein skimmer is adept at handling this for you. Any residue from uneaten fish food (e.g. fatty oils) will be removed, along with any other gunk.
If your fish, plants, or other creatures aren’t eating the excess nutrients, then algae will. Too many nutrients in any body of water are the primary cause of eutrophication.
This unpleasant phenomenon occurs when algae consume extra nutrients in the water and bloom explosively. The algae will begin to die off when the nutrients are exhausted.
You’d think that would be a good thing. However, they deplete the water of oxygen when they do. That’s why it’s preferable to prevent this from happening in the first place.
Protects Sensitive Corals
Some species of coral can be particularly sensitive to changes in water quality. If your aquarium includes corals and you want them to thrive, you need to keep things balanced.
As we have established, protein skimmers clear organic debris from your water, preventing bad bacteria from growing. Certain species of coral are especially vulnerable to bacteria and can sicken and die upon exposure.
Combined with your filter and good water-hygiene practices, they will work to keep your aquarium clean. Don’t forget that they promote oxygen diffusion, which will in turn encourage coral growth.
An abrupt algae bloom (discussed above) can also cause serious harm to your corals. With a protein skimmer filtering out excess nutrients, the coral in your tank is further protected from this risk.
Maintains Water Quality
All in all, protein skimmers can work wonders for sustaining water quality. Encouraging consistent gas diffusion throughout your aquarium avoids “dead spots” from forming.
Clearing out organic refuse and excess nutrients from your water is great for a stable water pH. If your aquarium water gets too scummy or waste builds up, the pH level can fluctuate.
Keeping the water surface clear also allows for improved light penetration. The fish and other aquatic residents in your care will appreciate the newfound clarity.
Saves You Cleaning
That’s right, they can cut down on your ongoing cleaning responsibilities. If removing scum from your water surface is a task you dread, a protein skimmer is a must-have.
This gadget will do the work for you and it will do a better job. They are infinitely more effective at skimming refuse from your aquarium water than a handheld net.
Realistically speaking, things like oils and microscopic bacteria can’t be collected by hand. You can rest assured that your protein skimmer will get your water cleaner than you ever could on your own.
Do You Need One?
If you have a saltwater aquarium, there’s a good chance they will be advantageous for you. We’ve shown how one can improve the quality of life for all the inhabitants in your tank.
That being said, it all depends on the individual setup of your marine or reef aquarium.
If you’re a beginner with a fresh setup, a protein skimmer may not be absolutely necessary. Aquariums with low populations are less likely to require constant skimming.
The opposite also applies: heavily populated tanks means more organic waste in the water.
If you’re keeping sensitive corals, you should definitely think about getting one. Keeping the water pristine and allowing lots of light into your tank will boost coral growth.
And as we mentioned, you’ll also avoid any bacteria building up that some species of coral could be susceptible to.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether a protein skimmer is right for you and your tank. Are you tired of skimming scum off the surface of your tank on a regular basis? Then installing one could be your perfect solution.
Remember that they cannot hurt, all it will do is clear the water of waste. As long as you pick a compatible model, you won’t be risking anything concerning your aquarium residents. You (and your fish) literally have nothing to lose.
How do Protein Skimmers Work?
It’s always handy to understand the core principles behind the equipment in your tank.
Protein skimmers use a process called foam fractionation to collect waste in your tank. Basically, lots of tiny micro-bubbles (foam) are produced by the unit and circulated with your tank’s water.
This is why they are only suitable for marine or reef tanks. Saltwater foams quite easily. Freshwater, on the other hand, is less capable of foaming because it has a lower density.
The exact process can vary based on the model. Some have pumps and use a narrowed tube and high pressure to create foam. This is known as the Venturi method. Others use different mechanisms, such as creating a counter-current.
The tiny bubbles – or foam – attract the organic waste in your water. They are then carried back to the protein skimmer collection cup. The accumulated gunk is forced into the collection cup, and the cleaned water is released back into your tank.
Nano Protein Skimmers Vs. Full-Sized Ones
Protein skimmers come in two general size categories: nano or full-sized. As you have probably guessed, nano protein skimmers are built for nano aquariums.
Unfortunately, protein skimmers can sometimes be cumbersome pieces of equipment. Many models are built to be installed inside your aquarium (e.g., in your sump). As with the majority of aquarium equipment, protein skimmers have size ratings.
This relates to the volume of water being processed as well as the physical tank size. For the average nano tank, ranging from five to 40 gallons, a standard protein skimmer would be too much.
If you could even fit it inside your aquarium, it would end up taking over the whole tank.
At the same time, nano reef tanks can benefit too, and a nano protein skimmer is the answer. They are built to be compact enough to fit in smaller aquariums.
Nano protein skimmers have other benefits as well. For example, most are equipped with silencers so as not to stress your fish out by running noisily.
How to Choose the Right Model
Are you ready to make a purchase but not sure how to choose the best nano protein skimmer? In general, you should apply the same rules that you would for any equipment you are buying for your tank.
We’re here to make things easier for you. Below are the specifics of what you should be checking for when you shop for a nano protein skimmer.
Different Types Available
There are various models on the market. You have options when it comes to the way it functions as well as where it can be placed.
We briefly mentioned the different mechanisms at play for foam fractionation. Venturi-based pumps are typically the most popular and effective.
Venturi pumps are built off the Bernoulli principle. Water passes through an hourglass-shaped tube under high pressure. Air gets drawn into the tube, mixing with the water to generate microbubbles.
Counter-current pumps swirl air and water together in a current to produce bubbles. Needle-wheel or turbo pumps agitate water and air with impeller blades, creating foam.
Combination pumps are also available. These can employ additional impellers or pumps for more effective foam generation. You want lots of bubbles to be produced—this means more waste gets taken out of your tank.
Just like full-sized protein skimmers, nano models can be placed in one of several ways.
They can be in-sump, meaning the skimmer should be installed in your aquarium sump. Others can be hang-on-back (HOB) designed to mounted onto your tank.
Or, a nano protein skimmer can be external. This means it won’t be submerged in your tank at all. Rather, water will be circulated from a pipe into the skimmer then drawn back into your tank.
Finally, internal nano models can be used in aquariums without sumps. As long as they’re submerged, they’ll do the job.
Don’t assume that all models will fit your nano aquarium. Always check the indicated size-rating before you invest in it.
If a model is rated for a range of tank sizes, check what this means for your aquarium. If the tank you have falls towards the maximum listed size, will the skimmer be powerful enough?
Don’t play a guessing game when it comes to space. You don’t want to buy one only to find that it won’t fit in your aquarium. Whatever model you choose (in-sump, external, etc) double-check the dimensions.
Make sure the depth of your tank is compatible as well. You’re already restricted on space with a nano tank, so you can’t be too careful.
Take your personal preferences into account too. If you’re not a fan of visible, bulky equipment, certain nano protein skimmers may be better than others.
Appearance shouldn’t be the sole focus, but it is important. Some models are designed to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Effectiveness is a crucial point. A nano protein skimmer can be costly with a futuristic-looking build and still not do a good job.
It’s always wise to review what other customers have said about a product. This will give you a good idea of performance, durability, assembly, etc.
In this case, we’ve done all the necessary research for you. You can rest assured all the nano protein skimmers we recommend are efficient at what they do.
Build Quality and Durability
A nano protein skimmer should be constructed from quality materials. You don’t want to deal with damage or malfunctions after a few months. This equipment is intended to be a long-term investment.
Best Nano Protein Skimmer – A Detailed Look at Our Top Recommendations
Now that you understand everything you to need to know about this essential piece of equipment for your reef tank, you’re ready to pick one out. Below we’ve listed some of the best nano protein skimmers available on the market today.
Bubble Magus QQ1 Hang-on Nano Protein Skimmer
The Bubble Magus is for tanks up to 25 gallons. If your current tank is way smaller than this, but you’ll likely upgrade it later, this model is perfect. You won’t need to buy a new skimmer when you upgrade.
The most attractive feature of this product is that it’s external. All of the skimming will take place outside rather than inside your aquarium.
If you can’t compromise on space inside your tank but need a nano protein skimmer, this model might suit you.
Those of you who dislike packing your tank with equipment will also appreciate this model. It is compact and discreet. It runs quietly so that neither you nor your fish will be disturbed by it.
As the mount is a hang-on-back (HOB) type, this means installation is a breeze. All you have to do is hang it over your rimless tank and prime it.
Adjusting and handling this skimmer in general is straightforward. Removing the collection cup or adjusting the body itself isn’t a challenge. The same goes for taking it apart when it’s time for a cleaning.
An additional plus of the Bubble Magus is that it is black. Wherever you decide to mount it, the skimmer won’t stand out as lighter colored models tend to do.
Needle-wheel impellers generate a decent amount of foam. The outlet also includes a foam bubble reducer for extra control.
- Dimensions: 6 x 13 x 10 inches.
- Weight: 3.5 pounds.
- Compatible with tanks up to 25 gallons.
- Needle-wheel pump.
- Hang-on-back mount.
What We Like
- Easy to install.
- Simple to adjust settings.
- Runs silently.
- Won’t restrict space inside your tank.
What We Don’t Like
- Takes a few days to break in.
- For rimless tanks only.
- Less foam generated than on internal models.
If you can’t stand the thought of a nano protein skimmer in your aquarium, this product is a terrific choice. Check it out further at this link:
Eshopps Protein Nano 10-35g Skimmer
This model is intended for internal use inside your tank. It works with tanks ranging from 10 to 35 gallons. If you have a 10-gallon tank, you can expect this skimmer to stay with you for at least one upgrade.
The greatest advantage of this skimmer is that despite being internal, it’s far from bulky. Most nano protein skimmers are petite, but this design is optimal for conserving space.
It is long and narrow, just over 11 inches tall, including the collection cup. Since the collection cup and pump will be sticking out of your tank, that’s even more space saved. You can’t beat that for an internal skimmer.
Don’t be fooled by the diminutive size. The Protein Nano 10-35G will produce more than enough foam to keep the tank clear of organic debris. It collects dark, concentrated skim from your tank swiftly and consistently.
You’ll find that it is also built sturdily to last you and your aquarium for a long time.
The Esshops 10-35G comes equipped with a magnetic mount. This means you have the option to re-adjust your skimmer on your tank with ease. Combined with the trim design, it can be concealed to the point of being nearly invisible.
There aren’t many moving parts to handle. Assembling and installing it won’t take you much time. It is equipped with a control slider. This allows you to easily adjust its running power.
- Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.5 x 11.5 inches.
- Magnetic mount.
- Compatible with tanks from 10 to 35 gallons.
- Internal placement.
What We Like
- Magnetic mount makes placement and movement easy.
- Nearly invisible in your tank.
- Rapid installation.
- Produces lots of foam.
What We Don’t Like
- Some say the collection cup is difficult to remove.
- Can be noisy.
This nano protein skimmer proves that even internal models can be unobtrusive. It is powerful but practically unnoticeable. If you want to check it out, click the link below:
Aquamaxx Ws-1 In-Sump Protein Skimmer
If you want a nano protein skimmer for in-sump use, this Aquamaxx delivers. The Ws-1 is also liberal when it comes to size ratings. This skimmer can be used in tanks all the way up to 65 gallons.
If you’re an aquarium enthusiast who plans to up the size of your nano tank repeatedly, this model is ideal. You don’t have to resign yourself to replacing your protein skimmer several tank sizes from now.
This product shines when it comes to performance. It consists of an Italian pump combined with a Venturi system. The thick foam will gather every last bit of organic waste in your tank and remove it from your water.
You don’t have to wait for the Ws-1 to get to work either. There’s no break-in or adjustment period: it’ll start skimming straight away. From the moment you set it up, it will start collecting all the gunk you don’t want in your tank.
This skimmer is so efficient that the collection cup can fill up rather quickly. Another great feature is that there’s a drain fitting included in the package. You can have all the waste drain into another reservoir so you won’t be dumping the cup all the time.
If you’re concerned that all this power might make for a lot of noise, don’t be. It operates quietly with no vibrating or humming reported by users.
User-friendliness is another advantage of this model. Installation and disassembly for cleaning is a smooth, stress-free process. Built primarily from acrylic, the skimmer is tough and made to last.
- Dimensions: 14 x 5.9 x 3.2 inches.
- Venturi pump.
- 11 watts.
- Compatible with tanks up to 65 gallons.
What We Like
- Strong pump mechanism.
- In-sump use.
- Suitable for larger-sized tanks.
What We Don’t Like
- Adjustment can be tricky – overflow can happen.
If you want a skimmer that’s powerfully efficient and compatible with a range of tank sizes, consider this product. If you’re curious to learn more, follow the link below:
Tunze USA 9004.000 Doc Skimmer for Aquariums, 15 To 65-Gallon
This nano protein skimmer by Tunze is an all-inclusive package. It doesn’t require any extra equipment (e.g., feed pumps). You can use it in tanks from 15 to 65 gallons, giving you the freedom to expand if your current tank is smaller.
This skimmer is excellent for aquarium owners who are concerned about leaving equipment running alone. It has a safety mechanism to prevent overflow so that you won’t return to any surprise messes.
The preventative over-foaming system also helps regulate the performance. It can sense the water level and the organic load of the water collected. This takes some of the responsibility of adjustment off your shoulders.
This skimmer operates with a twist: it employs a patented “flash-skimming” principle to clear your water. Big quantities of minuscule air bubbles are generated and drawn into the reactor chamber. This is done repeatedly in rapid bursts for greater efficiency.
As this is an internal device, you might be wondering about visibility. Since it is built with black plastic, it won’t draw attention away from your fish. It is also compact enough not to make much of an impact on space.
This skimmer has very few parts, making cleaning it very simple. You’ll find that the initial installation is equally undemanding. Placing and moving it around your tank won’t be hard as the mount is magnetic.
Running on only four watts per hour, it won’t waste any electricity. It is just as conservative when it comes to noise so you won’t hear it at all.
- Dimensions: 4.3 x 3.5 x 9.65 inches
- Compatible with tanks from 15 to 65 gallons.
- Magnetic mount.
- Internal use.
- Uses flash skimming.
- Four watts.
What We Like
- No other equipment
- Saves energy.
- Patented flash-skimming system.
- Won’t overflow.
- Comes with owner’s manual.
What We Don’t Like
- Plastic can crack if mishandled.
- Magnet can become loose with time.
If you want to save on electricity and like patented technology, the Tunze skimmer is right for you. Check it out at the following link:
Aquatic Life Mini Internal Protein Skimmer/Filter, 30-Gallon
If you’re looking for a basic protein skimmer that’ll do the job for tanks with light loads, this is the one for you. This model from Aquatic Life suits tanks up to 30 gallons.
This model lives up to the name, it truly is miniature. For this reason, you can expect that it will be compatible inside the sumps of most nano aquariums.
Despite its teeny size, there’s more going on inside this small gadget than you’d expect. The needle-wheel impellers will produce big volumes of microbubbles to get rid of waste in your water.
In terms of assembly, this product is perfect for beginners. Although it does have a fair amount of moving parts, it is easy to take apart and put back together. Preparing to clean it out won’t be tedious or frustrating.
The mount is another extremely convenient feature. It’s a hang-on-back (HOB), which makes everything simpler. It includes suction cups as well to prevent the skimmer from vibrating during operation.
The power cord that comes with this skimmer is generously long. You get a 4.5-foot long cord, which enables an easier set-up. After all, just because the equipment is small, it doesn’t mean the cord has to be.
- Dimensions: 10-5/8 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches
- Compatible for tanks up to 30 gallons.
- Needle-wheel pump.
- Hang-on-back mount.
- 8 watts.
What We Like
- Tiny build.
- Effective at collecting waste.
- Saves energy.
- Assembly isn’t complex.
What We Don’t Like
- Can make a gurgling sound at some settings.
- Adjustment knob is very small.
- Lots of microbubbles in your tank before it breaks in.
If you’re looking for a nano protein skimmer that’s simple to install and use without frills, this model may suit you. Take a look at it for yourself at this link:
What Sort of Maintenance Do They Need?
Protein skimmers will save you effort, there’s no doubt about that. As we’ve described, you won’t be fighting surface scum single-handedly anymore.
Still, whether it is nano or full-sized, a protein skimmer will require some maintenance. Don’t expect to install and then just forget about it.
Some maintenance tasks can be specific to the model and type. For example, if it uses an airstone to produce foam, this airstone will need to be replaced periodically.
Otherwise, there are two basic maintenance tasks that you’ll have to perform with any protein skimmer. These are emptying the collection cup, and general cleaning.
Emptying the Collection Cup
Since nano protein skimmers are typically smaller, their collection cups will be, too. Neglecting your collection cup and letting it fill up too much is a bad idea.
Firstly, you might end up jamming your protein skimmer. Next, you don’t want the concentrated, collected waste to go anywhere but down the drain or in your garbage.
You’ll have to keep an eye on your collection cup and see how quickly it fills up. You might have to empty it more often after you first start using your nano protein skimmer.
There are some models that come with collection cup drains. This way, all that nasty waste will drain into a larger receptacle of your choice. This is handy, as you won’t have to keep on top of emptying the collection cup as often.
The collection cup itself should be cleaned out at least a few times a week. Otherwise, you might notice it starts to smell awful—like a stinky garbage can.
Cleaning Your Protein Skimmer
You’ll also have to clean the whole protein skimmer out from time to time. Rinsing it with warm water and cleaning with a gentle soap or vinegar will do the trick.
A build-up of salt or slime can jam the mechanisms if left unattended.
Watch this video to learn how to give your protein skimmer a deep clean.
Nano protein skimmers are the only way to go for nano saltwater tanks. If you have a smaller marine or reef aquarium, don’t struggle to cram a full-sized model into it.
Remember, these recommended units are designed with nano aquariums in mind. Save yourself the trouble of picking over specifications that probably won’t work!
If you have any thoughts or questions about nano protein skimmers, leave us a comment. Your feedback is welcomed and appreciated, and we’ll be sure to get back to you.
Happy fish keeping!
Product image credits: © Amazon.com
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