Best Protein Skimmers

by | Articles, Blog, Breeding and Care, Saltwater Fish

Almost any saltwater aquarium enthusiast will emphasize the importance of protein skimmers in reef tanks or saltwater aquariums. Wonder why it’s only for saltwater aquariums? Freshwater doesn’t form bubbles the same way saltwater does (like foam at the beach!) so protein skimmers don’t really work in freshwater tanks. If you’re planning a saltwater setup, a protein skimmer is mandatory. I’ve spent lots of time comparing what I think are the best protein skimmers out there – So you don’t have to! Let’s dive in.


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7 Best Protein Skimmers: Reviewed

2.1 Aquatop Xyclone Mini Protein skimmer PS-170

Best For: Tanks up to 55 gallons.

Method of use: HOB/ Sump

Pump capacity: 174 GP/H



Depending on the size of your aquarium, you can pick the model for tanks up to 55 gallons, or the bigger one that’s compatible with large tanks up to 100 gallons. In this review, I’m focusing on model number PS-170, which is the unit for tanks up to 55 gallons in size. The water pump of the Aquatop Xyclone Mini Protein Skimmer has a maximum flow of 174 gallons per hour, which I consider to be a decent flow rate for a tank of this size. This could be fitted to the tank as a hang-on back protein skimmer or connected to the aquarium sump. The pump consists of a needle wheel impeller and a removable collection cup which can make maintenance much easier. It doesn’t come with a controller.

Customer Sentiments


Over 63% of buyers who have purchased this product have rated 4 stars or more at the time of writing. Most found this to be a great deal that exceeded expectations for the price paid. Buyers were satisfied with its quiet operation and the pump’s efficiency. One thing to note is that it might be a little challenging to set up because it didn’t come with instructions.


  • Flexible design for convenience.

  • Submersible pump and detachable collection cup inclusive.

  • Adjustable outflow.


  • No controller.

  • Hang-on back clip may not fit some rimmed tanks.

2.2 IOAOI PS-75

Best For: Tanks up to 75 gallons.

Method of use: Sump

Pump capacity: 300 GP/H



This protein skimmer works for tanks up to 75 gallons, though, like the Aquatop, IOAOI has larger versions available for larger tanks. The IOAOI PS-75 comes with a DC-powered water pump with an efficient needle impeller. The pump has features such as low/high voltage protection, blockage protection and overload safety to ensure the long durability of the unit.

This is an in-sump protein skimmer with an adjustable water flow and air silencer. A cone-shaped diversion plate is in place to produce more and denser air bubbles as compared to most protein skimmers. Denser air bubbles will maximize the contact time between water and air, boosting the collection of proteins and organic waste. For durability, the PS-75 has a graphite shaft cover.

Note that it can only be used in-sump, and should be adjusted carefully to prevent overflow.

Customer Sentiments


This particular protein skimmer received the ‘Amazon’s choice’ badge. From over 115 buyers, this unit has been awarded a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 to date. This unit has received positive feedback across the board online (eg, not just on Amazon). The P-75 is made of firm acrylic, which is good for durability. The skimmer body can be removed easily, enabling thorough cleaning. Like the Aquatop, this one doesn’t come with instructions, so newbs will need to find their way around.


  • Energy-efficient pump.

  • Adjustable outflow.

  • Has a controller.

  • Converts AC power to DC.


  • It can only be used in-sump.

  • You need to keep an eye out for adjustments; otherwise, it can overflow.


2.3 Coralvue Technology Bh 1000 Octopus (Reef Octopus)

Best For: Tanks up to 100 gallons.

Method of use: HOB

Pump capacity: 264 GP/H



The BH-1000 is an internal protein skimmer from Reef Octopus that fits a 100-gallon saltwater tank. This hang-on back unit has a complex look and comes with an external pump that does well for a saltwater aquarium of this size. Unlike most skimmers, the Reef Octopus has its pump operating outside the tank, which will not emit heat into the aquarium water. The collection cup can be adjusted to customize the amount of foam being created by the skimmer. The skimmer body is made of acrylic and has been designed with the pump placed below to minimize space taken behind the aquarium. No controller is provided. It’s compact which make it efficient for small spaces.

Customer Sentiments


With an overall rating of 4 stars by over 180 ratings to date, the Coralvue Technology Bh 1000 Octopus Protein Skimmer has done well with buyers and hasn’t received noise complaints, which is important to me personally (although some have said that it isn’t “too silent” 🙂 Protein skimming involves air and water flow which can create be noisy, so this is a plus.

The Reef Octopus is sturdy and not flimsy like many other protein skimmers. Buyers have worried that the collection cup could break as it needs to be screwed in a thread which doesn’t hold up if frequently screwed improperly.


  • Fits in small spaces due to its compact design.

  • Easy to maintain due to the external pump.

  • Removable collection cup.


  • No controller.


2.4 Aquaticlife 115 Mini Internal Protein Skimmer

Best For: Tanks up to 30 gallons.

Method of use: Internal skimmer

Pump capacity: Not specified.



I picked this protein skimmer as an option for those looking for one for a nano reef aquarium. The Aquaticlife 115 Mini is made for small aquariums of up to 30 gallons, and it’s basically just a miniature version of the larger ones. It has a needle wheel pump to maximize air-water contact, helping to break down organic compounds efficiently. The unit has a quick-lock design to make taking apart and cleaning this protein skimmer convenient (big plus!) and adjustable water flow. The Aqaticlife 115 Mini comes with suction cups, a clear collection cup, and adjustable brackets to fit standard aquarium sizes. It’s a great choice for nano marine tanks. Note that it can’t be used in sump.

Customer Sentiments


With over 65% of users rating this product 4 stars or more, I consider this one of the best protein skimmers for small-sized aquariums. Buyers are happy with its quiet operation and ease of set up. A few complained about it emitting tiny air bubbles when first operating, but I don’t consider this a deal breaker, especially as it seems to reduce and go away with time. If it does do this at the beginning and your fish have a hard time with the flow of micro bubbles in the tank, I recommend placing a piece of sponge filter floss to break up the movement.


  • Water flow can be adjusted.

  • Quick-lock design to take apart and fix easily.

  • The small dimensions of the unit allow it to fit into small tanks.


  • It cannot be used inside a sump.

  • No controller.


2.5 Coralife Protein Skimmer

Best For: tanks of sizes ranging from small to 220 gallons.

Method of use: HOB/ sump

Pump capacity: Depends on skimmer size



This is another aquatic brand I highly recommend that offers a variety of aquarium products. Coralife skimmers come in a range of sizes suitable for tanks of 65G, 125G and 220G. One thing I think is cool about this protein skimmer is that it uses a patented technology: In the skimmer’s chamber, a needle wheel pump generates a whirling vortex that mixes bubbles and water to attract organic compounds and proteins, and pushes them into the collection cup. It’s like turbocharged protein skimming. Neat!

Featured with dual injection inlets, there is increased bubble-water contact time for efficient skimming.

To prevent the flow of tiny bubbles, the Coralife protein skimmer is equipped with a bubble production diffuser; This can be used as an external protein skimmer by fitting into a sump, or you can simply hang it on your aquarium according to your preference.

Customer Sentiments


To date, over 515 customers out of 920 have rated 5 stars for this protein skimmer. Buyers enjoy the efficiency of the product, as it maintains good water quality by collecting organic waste, making it a very effective skimmer.

One peeve is that the air silencer isn’t as effective as expected because although it reduces the noise, there’s still an audible hum. Not an unbearable noise, but the silencer could be better.


  • Bubble production diffuser available.

  • It can be used in a sump or as a HOB protein skimmer.

  • Available in 3 sizes.


  • No controller.


2.6 Magtool Nano Skimmer DC-SQ70

Best For: Tanks up to 40 gallons.

Method of use: HOB/ sump

Pump capacity: 190 GP/H



The Magtool Nano protein skimmer is ideal for saltwater tanks up to 40 gallons. It has a clear skimmer body in appearance, allowing you to view the entire protein skimming process. I recommend this protein skimmer for small aquariums or for a nano reef aquarium as it takes up minimal space due to its small size.

The unit can be in a filter chamber or in the corner of your aquarium, depending on the availability of room. It has a rotatable body so you can adjust the water level. The collection cup is removable, and there’s a filter sponge to slow the water flow and prevent the formation of tiny bubbles. A DC pump is used in this energy efficient and safe protein skimmer. The pump outflow is around 190 gallons per hour, which I consider adequate for protein skimming.

Customer Sentiments


This is a highly rated product by buyers, making it one of the best protein skimmers you can invest in. To date, it has a 4.2-star rating out of 5 stars, and many positive reviews from aquarists. The product is high quality and a powerful protein skimmer, and it’s compact so it can easily fit into small tanks. By now you might have noticed that a lot of these don’t come with detailed instructions, and the Magtool Nano is no exception – So assembly can take some finagling. Excellent skimmer.


  • It can be used as a HOB skimmer as well as an in-sump.

  • Adjustable height bracket.

  • Built-in bubble trap.


  • The transparent body of the skimmer may not be everyone’s preference.

  • Suggested only for small or nano saltwater aquariums.


2.7 Icecap K1-130 Protein Skimmer

Best For: Tanks from 80-140 gallons.

Method of use: Sump

Pump capacity: 100 GP/H



Compared to the other protein skimmers we’ve highlighted so far, the Icecap K1-130 is definitely the most colorful. It’s a white and orange skimmer, compatible with tanks from 80 to 140 gallons. This unit is made of acrylic and PVC that can be disassembled effortlessly for intensive cleaning.

The Icecap K1-130’s pump is the ‘EVair 400 Skimmer Pump’, which has a flow rate of 100 gallons per hour. The clear collection cup will help you to identify when it needs to be cleaned, for efficient skimming. This is an in-sump protein skimmer, which can only be fitted to an external filter sump and not inside the tank. It does stand out with its easy online instructions and set up video. Finally! 🙂

Customer Sentiments


With an overall rating of 4.4 stars out of 5, this is another protein skimmer highly recommended by aquarists. Buyers are impressed with the efficiency of skimming, and the Icecap K1-130 met expectations well. One peeve is that some buyers felt the collection cup could be a bit bigger. I don’t consider that a deal-breaker, but rather, more of a personal preference: A larger collection cup would mean a bigger protein skimmer, which would take up more space.


  • Online instructions and a video on setting up were provided.

  • Easy to take apart during cleaning.

  • Removable collection cup.


  • It can be fitted only in a sump.

  • The pump flow is relatively low.


3. Our Recommendation



This list reflects what I consider to be the best protein skimmers to choose from. In my opinion, I’d recommend the Reef Octopus Coralvue Technology Bh 1000 Protein Skimmer as there are a few things that make it the best option, IMO. First of all, Reef Octopus is a reputed brand in the field of protein skimmers. They’re innovative and have developed a variety of protein skimmers, demonstrating that they’re specialized in these products.

Secondly, the Reef Octopus protein skimmer has almost every feature you’ll ever need, minus a controller. Personally, I’m not a fan of controllers in protein skimmers as I’ve found they never seem to work properly when needed. Your experience may be different.

Third: The product works as advertised and exceeds expectations, with lots of positive reviews that reflect its consistency. Buyers rave that it’s a fantastic protein skimmer to have, and with good reason.

If the Reef Octopus meets your requirements, I think this is the best protein skimmer you can get your hands on. Everyone has their own opinions and needs, so I’ll never say there’s a one-size-fits-all, but I do recommend this skimmer.

4. How Do You Choose A Protein Skimmer?



How fast does aquarium coral grow?



While almost every protein skimmer looks the same and offers similar features, it’s understandable that beginner aquarists struggle to make a choice. I’ll take you through the factors related to this accessory to help you understand, and choose the best protein skimmer for your needs:

4.1 Skimmer Size


The size of a protein skimmer is usually given in the form of footprints, and it’s vital to consider. Whether you’re looking for an internal or external protein skimmer, you’ve got to make sure there’s sufficient space for it. Dimensions will typically be listed in advertisements, and labeled in the packaging.

Usually, larger protein skimmers have greater capacities, meaning that a bigger aquarium will have a larger skimmer. Confirm the dimensions of the skimmer with your available space and set up.

4.2 Aquarium Size


Before purchasing a protein skimmer, you have to match the skimmer to the size of your aquarium. This is because skimmers are selected based on the aquarium size. It’s crucial to ensure that you don’t purchase one that’s too small or too big for the tank, as both have consequences.

If you buy a protein skimmer with a lower capacity than the required amount for your tank, the protein skimming process won’t be as effective. It’s also likely that the collection cup will get full regularly, which can be inconvenient.

Having a protein skimmer that’s too big for the aquarium can create harsh water movement in the tank due to the outflow’s high pressure. If the outflow can’t be adjusted and the pressure of it is too high, fish may find it challenging to move around and, in turn, develop stress.

4.3 Type Of Aquarium


Different types of tanks require different protein skimmers. For example, it can be impossible to fit HOB skimmers onto fully covered fish tanks. In this case, you can consider external or sump skimmers. Similarly, the compatibility of the protein skimmer can depend on the type of aquarium you have. Let’s take a look.

4.4 The Pump


A water pump helps flow water to the skimmer, making it one of the primary components of a protein skimmer. You’ll want to buy a skimmer with a pump of an adequate flow rate, enabling the whole tank to be circulated. If the pump doesn’t seem powerful enough, see if other pumps are compatible with that protein skimmer so you can purchase one separately.

I recommend considering a DC-powered pump skimmer, as they tend to be more energy-efficient and quiet in operation. Most pumps use a needle wheel impeller and tend to stop working after some time – So I recommend choosing a pump that’s easy to find replacement parts for as needed (established brands are best).

4.5 Build Quality


Plastics like acrylic and PVC are the most common materials used in protein skimmers. Some are built with durable, high-quality acrylic that can withstand use without breaking easily.

You may also come across protein skimmers that use cheap and poor quality ‘o’ rings, which are known to cause untimely leaks. Avoid skimmers that look flimsy; I also recommend closely inspecting for any cracks to ensure that water doesn’t leak when it’s running.

Transparent protein skimmers are available, which let you see the skimming in action. There are some skimmers that even have a clear impeller housing. This might look interesting, but remember that it may require cleaning from the inside as they can stain.

4.6 Bubble Plate, Silencer And Drainage


A bubble plate helps diffuse the rough flow of water moving to the reaction chamber by blocking the water flow and slowing it down. If a bubble plate isn’t in place, the micro bubbles may break due to the high pressure of water, which can bring down the skimming efficiency.

Now, an air silencer isn’t necessary for protein skimming, but it definitely can b super valuable! The air intake of a protein skimmer can make an irritating sound that’s particularly unpleasant indoors. An air silencer is used to allow the protein skimmer to work silently, without interrupting its air intake. Most protein skimmers run with silencers, but it’s worth confirming before buying.

Once the collection cup is full, you’ll have to get rid of the collected waste so it can function as usual (kind of like emptying a vacuum). Some protein skimmers will include a drainage hose so that the collection cup can empty itself automatically, but this is usually only in large, high-end units.

4.7 The Shape Of The Skimmer Body


You’ll notice that some skimmers come in different shapes. Wider shapes will take up more space, but there are some benefits to these skimmers; Circular and large skimmers can typically hold a greater volume of air and water, which helps air bubbles to reach the collection cup smoothly.

4.8 Outlet Adjustment


Some protein skimmers include an outflow adjustment feature. With this option, you’ll be able to control the water outflow from the protein skimmer. For example, if the pump pressure seems too high for your aquarium, the water movement can be adjusted to create an optimal circulation rate using the outlet adjustment feature.

4.9 Reaction Chamber


The reaction chamber is where most of the action in a protein skimmer takes place. Air bubbles and aquarium water mix together in this stage. Protein skimmers with larger reaction chambers provide more efficient skimming, as there’s a greater area for the water to get in contact with the air bubbles. As a result, it will help in removing dissolved organic compounds much more productively.

5. Types Of Protein Skimmers

Protein skimmer photo

5.1 Hang-On Back Protein Skimmer


Hang-on back (HOB) protein skimmers are the ones you see fitted above the water surface of the aquarium. Not every protein skimmer can be fitted this way, so check before buying. HOB protein skimmers can’t be attached to rimmed aquariums or ones with fully covered canopies.

An HOB skimmer will take in water, and once tiny organic particles have been filtered, the water will flow back into the fish tank.

5.2 In-Sump protein skimmer


A sump is an external filter placed outside the main aquarium; Sump protein skimmers are fitted outside of the aquarium. Most skimmers can be used either as an HOB or attached to the sump – But make sure you read the listing to see how the unit is supposed to be fitted before purchasing, as this is not the case for all of them.

5.3 External Protein Skimmer


As its name implies, an external protein skimmer operates outside the aquarium and the sump. This type of skimmer works by using a pump that brings in water to the skimmer, which then flows back into the main aquarium. Typically, these skimmers are used for large saltwater aquariums that require intensive purification.

6. Frequently Asked Questions

6.1 What Is A Protein Skimmer?


A protein skimmer is a key aquarium accessory used in saltwater aquariums that helps improve water quality. If you’ve had a freshwater tank before, then you’ve used filters. A protein skimmer is kind of like an additional filter for a saltwater tank.

These skimmers work by creating a froth which is used to clean the water. When the water is mixed with air, it creates bubbles and froth that contains organic waste – Just like the froth you might see at the beach. When the froth is removed, so is the organic waste. Neat, huh?

You might wonder why protein skimmers aren’t used for freshwater tanks. This is because freshwater doesn’t froth as easily as saltwater, making it unproductive. That said, there are instances in which some aquarists use this equipment, particularly in large aquariums. (Though note that it’s used in addition to a filtration system.)

6.2 What Is The Purpose Of A Protein Skimmer?


A good quality protein skimmer will collect and separate organic compounds and dissolved organic waste from the aquarium water. Dissolved organic compounds may include fish waste, leftover food particles and other diffused particles.

The ultimate purpose of protein skimming is to get rid of dissolved organic compounds, which have the potential to turn into ammonia and nitrites if untreated. Ammonia and nitrites are a few harmful organic compounds you must be careful of as they can cause severe consequences such as diseases, and can even quickly kill your fish.

6.3 How Do Protein Skimmers Work?



Saltwater foam



The process of protein skimming begins with the inflow of water, moved by a pump. Air intake and water flow mix together to create foam inside the protein skimmer. This foam is then pushed into the collection cup while attracting dissolved organic compounds and proteins. This way, all particles and waste will be separated from the water. Afterwards, it’s just a matter of emptying the collection cup – Easy!

6.4 How Often Should I Run A Protein Skimmer?


I recommend running the protein skimmer pretty much all the time, as it’ll allow you to have a cleaner and healthier tank. You can consider switching it off for things like water changes or medication. In fact, I recommend switching off the protein skimmer when using certain medicines for fish or plants, as there’s a chance that the skimmer could weaken the strength of the medicine. This is usually for a short time.

6.5 What Are The Best Skimmers?


Numerous reputed brands offer great protein skimmers, such as Reef Octopus, Coralife, SC Aquariums and Aquatop. When choosing the best brand, I opt for Reef Octopus, and I highly recommend them.

While you do want to choose something that fits your setup, I personally prefer sump skimmers. This is because they don’t take up room in the aquarium, and they’re safe from leaks because it operates inside the sump. This is just my opinion/preference.

6.6 Are Protein Skimmers Worth It?


Yes! Definitely. Having a protein skimmer will allow you to provide a thriving environment for your fish. Plus, it may also lower the need for maintenance!

6.7 Should I Run Protein Skimmer 24/7?


Yes, it will benefit your aquarium if it operates all the time. This is where the ‘energy efficient’ option comes in handy. I recommend looking into this feature when buying a new protein skimmer if electricity cost is a concern.

6.8 Does A Nano Reef Tank Need A Protein Skimmer?


Yes. Due to the low volume of water in nano aquariums, they’re likely to deteriorate faster. Moreover, corals require good water quality. Definitely add a protein skimmer to your nano reef tank.



To say that I’m obsessed with all things saltwater is a bit of an understatement. Aquarium Passion has served freshwater and saltwater aquarium hobbyists for over 10 years, and I'm committed to keeping the information accurate and free. My post-bac certification in Sustainability informs my writing about aquarium conservation efforts. When I'm not writing at AP, I'm out in the ocean or researching weird fish.


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