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10 Best Protein Skimmers For Aquariums in 2023: Top Picks & Reviews

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By Lindsey Stanton

CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Pump for Aquarium Filter,

Not everybody uses a protein skimmer, but they are great tools to have. You don’t necessarily need one, but they do serve to clean your water and remove dissolved organic waste, which can harm your fish.

Not all skimmers are the same, and different models are ideal for different sizes and types of aquariums. The trick is to find the best protein skimmer available, which is exactly what we are here to help you do with our detailed reviews and buying information guide.

A Quick Look at Our Favorites Picks in 2023

Rating Image Product Details
Best Overall
Coral Vue Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer Coral Vue Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer
  • Durable and long lasting
  • Ideal for large fish tanks
  • Easy to clean
  • Second place
    Coralife Super Skimmer with Pump Coralife Super Skimmer with Pump
  • Great for larger tanks
  • Easy to maintain
  • Energy efficient pump
  • Third place
    SCA-301 Protein Skimmer SCA-301 Protein Skimmer
  • Quiet operation
  • Easy to install
  • Quite efficient
  • CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus
  • High capacity
  • Very durable
  • Minimal heat exchange
  • Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer
  • Quite space efficient
  • Lots of processing power
  • Great for larger tanks
  • The 10 Best Protein Skimmers

    If you are on the hunt for the best protein skimmer for the money, then this is what we personally feel is one of the better options for many reasons, let’s take a detailed look at what this particular skimmer has to offer;

    1. Coral Vue Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer

    Coral Vue Octopus Needle Wheel Skimmer

    Check Price on Chewy

    The Octopus Needle Wheel is rated for aquariums up to 210 gallons, making the Coral Vue quite a large and powerful option.

    This protein skimmer features a 6-inch needle wheel impeller that generates uncountable tiny bubbles that help to remove dissolved organic compounds from the aquarium water.

    We do have to say that the Coral Vue Skimmer is made out of some durable materials, so it should last for quite some time to come assuming its looked after. The water level for this thing can be adjusted, which is quite useful indeed.

    Yes, this thing is quite big, and it will require a fair amount of space in a sump or refugium, but it does a great job at skimming none the less. It does need to be submerged in between 6 and 8 inches of aquarium water to work properly.

    It also features a 4-inch cone neck to help increase bubble transfer from the main tank to the collection cup. The quick-release neck makes emptying the collection cup of the foam and compounds about as easy as can be.

    • Durable and long lasting.
    • Ideal for large fish tanks.
    • Great needle wheel performance.
    • Coned neck for good bubble transfer.
    • Easy to clean.
    • Fairly easy to maintain and set up.
    • Adjustable water level.
    • Needs to be submerged in between 6 and 8 inches of water.
    • Takes up a lot of space in a sump or refugium.

    2. Coralife Super Skimmer with Pump

    Coralife Super Skimmer with Pump

    One cool part about this protein skimmer is that it can be used in a sump or you can buy a hang on back bracket to mount it on the rear of your aquarium. It’s easy to install and to maintain, which is quite a bonus.

    This particular option can be used for aquariums up to 125 gallons, but it does come in larger sizes as well covering up to 220 gallons. It’s not one of the biggest aquarium protein skimmers in the world, so it does not take up too much space either.

    With that said, it does a great job at removing fine debris and dissolved compounds from the water. It features a patented needle wheel system with dual bubble injectors which help to increase bubble to water contact for effective DOC removal. It does also come with a bubble diffuser to make sure that micro-bubbles do not make their way back into the tank.

    The pump for this thing is quite energy efficient, something most people will appreciate. Moreover, this option comes with a wide neck collection cup to catch as many of the bubbles and foam as possible. The cup can be easily screwed off for waste disposal.

    • Great for larger tanks.
    • HOB or in sump installation.
    • Easy to maintain.
    • Good collection cup – easy to dispose waste.
    • Energy efficient pump.
    • Bubble diffuser to stop micro-bubble reentry.
    • Assembly is a bit of a pain.
    • Requires a precise level for proper function.
    • Not the most durable option.

    3. SCA-301 Protein Skimmer

    SCA-301 Protein Skimmer

    In all honesty, this thing is nothing fancy or too big, but it works really well. The SCA Skimmer is intended for tanks up to 65 gallons per hour. It does have a lot of processing power as it can handle over 340 gallons of water per hour.

    It’s definitely quite powerful and efficient, plus the flow is adjustable, which is convenient. This model uses a simple air injection system to create a lot of small bubbles. It is fairly effective at removing dissolved organic compounds from the water, but not the best ever.

    While this is not the strongest saltwater protein skimmer on the planet or the most durable for that matter, it is a good option for smaller saltwater tanks as it does not take up too much space.

    It can easily be placed in a sump, but it does need to be submerged in between 6 and 7 inches of water. A bonus here is that the SCA-301 comes with an air silencer, so at least it is not too loud. As we said, it is not the biggest or best in the world, but it gets the job done.

    • Quiet operation.
    • Easy to install.
    • Quite efficient.
    • Can handle a lot of water per hour.
    • Simple design.
    • Does not take up too much space.
    • Very loud.
    • Interior components might not last too long.
    • Lots of micro bubbles go back into the tank.

    4. CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus

    CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus

    This is a really nice option to go with if you need a large skimmer for a large tank. This thing is meant for aquariums up to 100 gallons in size and can process a very large amount of water per hour.

    This thing is meant for hardcore skimming jobs that smaller skimmers just cannot handle. We do like how this is made with strong acrylic and durable inner components. It should last for quite some time. We do appreciate high-quality components being used.

    Although this thing is quite large, it does not require too much space behind the tank. The external pump is mounted under the filtration system itself, so while it takes up a bit of space, it could be much worse.

    This thing is also designed to minimize heat exchange, so it does not heat up the water too much. The pump is also made for easy removal and maintenance. It looks like there is a lot going on here, but it is actually quite simple. The collection cup here is large and can fit quite a bit but removing it for emptying is a bit of a pain.

    • High capacity.
    • Very durable.
    • Takes up comparatively little space.
    • Easily installed behind the tank.
    • Minimal heat exchange.
    • Easy to remove and clean pump.
    • Collection cup is not the easiest to deal with.
    • Quite loud.

    5. Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

    Bubble Magus BM-Curve 5 Protein Skimmer

    This particular option can be used directly in the tank or used in a sump as well. Easy installation and various installation methods is something that we like about this thing. However, it is best used when put in a sump.

    This thing is quite big and powerful, as it is rated for tanks up to 140 gallons and has quite a bit of hourly processing power. This thing is no slouch. The Bubble Magus is quite big and can handle a lot, but beware; it is not the most durable option out there right now.

    With that being said, while it works, it works really well. The SP1000 Internal pump is actually quite reliable, not to mention fairly energy efficient too. The needle wheel and venture intake let you control the exact amount and size of bubbles being produced.

    It also comes with a bubble plate to minimize turbulence in the reaction chamber, plus an air silencer to make sure that this thing is not way too loud.

    The curved skimmer body helps bring as many bubbles as possible to the collection cup. The collection cup is easy to remove and to empty; however, it also comes with a drain to reduce the frequency at which you have to perform maintenance on it.

    We do like how the Bubble Magus Skimmer is quite compact, at least more so than other options with the same capacity.

    • Quite space efficient.
    • Lots of processing power.
    • Great for larger tanks.
    • Internal or in sump installation.
    • Easy to maintain collection cup.
    • Fairly silent.
    • Allows you to control size and amount of bubbles.
    • Not the most durable option.
    • Tends to suffer from electrical issues.

    6. Comline DOC Protein Skimmer 9001

    Comline DOC Protein Skimmer 9001

    This is a smaller option to go with, one that is ideal for tanks up to 37 gallons in size. However, if you have a really heavily stocked tank, you may not want to use the Tunze 9001 for anything over 15 gallons. While it is quite efficient and good at its job, it does not have all that much processing power, so it cannot be used for large or heavily stocked tanks.

    The Tunze Skimmer is a very small protein skimmer and best used for a nano reef aquarium. It is very small and compact, which means that it does not take up much space no matter where you put it. To be clear, this model needs to be used in a slump, but it does come with a cool magnet holder and clips to keep it in place within the sump.

    The fact that this thing features a really energy-efficient pump is quite a big bonus, as it won’t run up your electricity bill too much. It comes with a decent aeration system to produce a lot of fine bubbles, but some bubbles may make their way back into the tank.

    With that being said, this option does come with an easy to change and maintain collection cup. On the other hand, this is not the most durable protein skimmer you could go with.

    • Great for smaller tanks.
    • Compact space saver.
    • Easy to install.
    • Simple to maintain.
    • Fairly quiet.
    • Energy efficient.
    • Easy to change and maintain collection cup.
    • Cannot handle heavily stocked tank.
    • Questionable durability.

    7. AquaMaxx Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer

    AquaMaxx Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer

    This is a convenient hang on back protein skimmer option to go with. It’s convenient due to the fact that it is so easy to install. Simply hang it on the back of your tank with the included hardware, and you are ready to go.

    The AquaMaxx is intended for lightly stocked aquariums of 90 gallons or heavily stocked tanks of 60 gallons. It does have a fair amount of processing power, but it’s not the best in the world, so don’t use it for heavily stocked tanks over 60 gallons.

    One thing that you might like about this option is that it is made with cell cast acrylic, so in layman’s terms, it’s pretty tough and durable. The interior components are built fairly well too, but the exterior durability is the real bonus here.

    We also do like the high-quality pump included here, as it is fairly energy-efficient and reliable. You might also like how the amount and size of bubbles created here is adjustable, plus how it comes with a feature to stop microbubbles from reentering the tank.

    The AquaMaxx HOB Skimmer is very easy to maintain, especially thanks to the easy to remove and clean collection cup. You can also adjust the collection cup to adjust the wet-dry foam level for increased effectiveness. All in all, this is a pretty decent option to go with.

    • Quite durable.
    • Very efficient.
    • Good for fairly large tanks.
    • Adjustable bubbles.
    • Diffuser to stop micro bubbles from going into the aquarium.
    • Easy to maintain collection cup.
    • Easy to install – HOB.
    • Adjustable collection cup.
    • Quite loud.
    • Takes up a fair amount of space on the outside.
    • Susceptible to fall and impact damage.

    8. Tunze USA Doc Skimmer

    Tunze USA Doc Skimmer

    One of the biggest benefits that you get with this particular protein skimmer is that it is very energy efficient. It is up to 2 times as energy-efficient as other protein skimmers with the same skimming capacity. It’s good for the environment and for your wallet.

    It might not look like much, but it does actually work quite well. It can be used for heavily stocked tanks between 80 and 265 gallons, so it definitely has quite a bit of processing power. If you are using it for a heavily stocked tank, its capacity is going to top out at about 150 gallons.

    Now, one of the drawbacks here is that the Tunze can only be used inside of a sump, but with that said it is pretty easy to install, not to mention that it does not take up too much room inside of the sump either. Do keep in mind that it needs to be submerged in between 5.5 and 8 inches of water to work properly.

    We do like the very high capacity collection cup, which this thing features because it reduces the amount of maintenance that needs to be performed. We should probably mention that this is not the most durable protein skimmer in the world. It works well, but only so long as all of the individual components stay in one piece.

    • Very efficient.
    • Highly adjustable.
    • Easy to install.
    • Extremely energy efficient.
    • Has a removable post filter.
    • Large capacity skimmer cup.
    • Does not require much maintenance.
    • Can only be used in a sump.
    • Not the most durable.
    • Quite loud.

    9. NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer

    NYOS Quantum 160 Protein Skimmer

    This is a high-end option to go with, one that is quiet, durable, has awesome performance, and more. Just to get this out of the way, this is not the kind of thing that is ideal for beginners, small tanks, or people with tight budgets.

    Also, this thing needs to be installed using a sump, and it takes up quite a bit of space too. However, it works really well at its intended purpose.

    The NYOS Skimmer features an optimal mix of air bubbles to water contact for efficient skimming. The high power pump can handle any tank up to 265 gallons in size, even really heavily stocked ones. This thing is meant to clean even the dirtiest of tanks with ease.

    What is impressive here is that the NYOS is so efficient, yet it used minimal power and is designed for energy efficiency. It’s also a good option because even though it has a ton of power, it actually runs quite silently.

    You can adjust the bubbles and the collection cup for optimal results. At the same time, this particular option is quite easy to install and easy to maintain as well. The collection cup can be easily removed for quick cleaning.

    On a side note, this option is also built for maximum durability and longevity. Just don’t buy the NYOS skimmer for a small tank or if you are a beginner.

    • Very durable.
    • Very efficient .
    • High capacity.
    • Easy to install.
    • Adjustable cup and bubbles.
    • Easy to maintain and clean.
    • Very quiet.
    • Great for large and heavily stocked tanks.
    • Energy efficient.
    • Requires a sump.
    • Not cost effective for beginners.
    • Is not small or compact.

    10. Hydor USA SlimSkim Internal Skimmer

    Hydor USA SlimSkim Internal Skimmer

    If you need a small and slim internal protein skimmer for a small nano reef aquarium, then this is a good option to go with. It can handle tanks up to 35 gallons, but if your tank is heavily stocked, it should probably not be used for anything over 25 gallons in size. Installing the Hydor USA is easy thanks to the suction cup magnets included.

    It is a rather small protein skimmer, so just pick a space and plaster it onto the interior of the tank. Now, this is an internal protein skimmer, so it will take up space inside of the tank, but at least it is built compact, so it’s not too bad.

    The Hydor USA Skimmer uses only 4 watts of energy, making it quite energy efficient and cost-effective. What is cool here is the adjustable air control for the exact amount of bubbles you want, as well as the adjustable foaming level to fit your skimming needs.

    Now, this is not the most durable protein skimmer to go with, not by far, but it works well as long as all of the parts are maintained. We do like the large collection cup, which is also easy to remove. All in all, this option is not the best of all, but it gets the job done for smaller lightly stocked tanks.

    • Small and space saving.
    • Easy to install.
    • Quite efficient.
    • Highly adjustable.
    • Quiet.
    • Looks nice.
    • Easy to clean collection cup.
    • Not the most durable.
    • Not very high capacity.
    • Does take up space inside of the tank.

    fish divider

    Buyers Guide – Choosing the Best Protein Skimmer

    Types Of Protein Skimmers

    There are 4 main types of protein skimmers that you can go with. They all function in more or less the same way, but where they are installed and housed is the real difference.

    Hang On Back (HOB)

    This is a common type of protein skimmer to go with. As the name implies, these are hung on the back of your tank using simple brackets. They do not take up space inside of a sump or the tank, but they do need some clearance in the rear.

    These tend to be fairly efficient and high quality, but they usually are not the best for large aquariums. They do work well, but they are not the nicest to look at.

    In Sump

    In sump protein skimmers are a good option to go with if you already have a large sump or refugium and have some space to spare inside of it. They tend to be easy to install, but you do need to pay attention to the water level, which they require to sit in.

    In sump skimmers are good if you want a protein skimmer, but do not want it being overly visible. They work really well but fitting them inside of a sump can be a bit of a pain sometimes, as it makes maintenance a little harder.


    External protein skimmers are pretty much like in sump skimmers, but they do not require a sump. They tend to be quite expensive, and they need shelf space. However, they also do not take up room inside the tank, they are not overly visible, and they work quite well.

    In Tank

    The in tank protein skimmer is always a good option to go with. These things work really well, they are energy efficient, and they tend to be able to handle fairly large loads.

    You also never have to worry about water overflowing out of them and ending up on your floor. The only real downside here is that they take up a lot of space inside of the tank, plus they do not look all that nice.

    How to Choose a Protein Skimmer

    When choosing the best protein skimmer for your aquarium, there are several factors to take into consideration including the size of your aquarium, the size of the skimmer you want, and the type of aquarium you have.

    Aquarium Sizes

    Protein skimmers that are meant for larger aquariums should be of a higher capacity than the tank.

    So, if you have a 35-gallon tank, for example, you will want to purchase a 100-gallon skimmer. This allows you to have enough room to clean the water and can be done in far less time.

    Skimmer Sizes

    Some skimmers are going to be larger than others, and it is important to remember that the size of your protein skimmer is just as important as the overall size of the aquarium.

    The size of the protein skimmer you choose is in relation to the available space you have in the aquarium to mount it. If you need a larger protein skimmer, be prepared to move your aquarium to an area that will be more accommodating.

    The Amount and Size of the Bubbles

    The protein skimmer uses air bubbles to help get rid of all the organic matter that is in the aquarium water.

    So, the bubbles are important when choosing a skimmer. Small bubbles can get the job done a lot more quickly.


    Finally, what is your budget for a new protein skimmer? The budget should remain somewhat flexible, so you are sure to get all the features you are looking for and so it can be the perfect fit for your aquarium.

    What Is A Protein Skimmer?

    A protein skimmer can be a very important piece of equipment for many aquariums, especially for saltwater tanks. In layman’s terms, it is a secondary filtration unit that picks up the slack which your regular filter has left.

    Regular filtration units usually engage in mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, which in most cases is good enough to keep tanks clean and clear (You might also find our post on cleaning a fish tank properly helpful too). However, a heavily stocked tank with lots of messy waste producing fish and lots of plants can be harder to keep clean.

    This is where the protein skimmer comes into play. It is kind of like a filter, one that is meant to remove DOCs from the water. DOC stands for Dissolved Organic Compounds. These dissolved organic compounds are created when solid waste like old fish food, old plant matter, and fish waste begins to decay and is broken down by oxygen-consuming bacteria from your biofilter.

    Mechanical filtration removes a lot of this waste. The beneficial bacteria which are in the tank, thanks to your biological filter, break down these decaying organic compounds and get rid of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites.

    However, mechanical filtration cannot get rid of 100% of these decaying materials, nor can biological filtration break them down 100%. The result is that dissolved proteins end up in the water, ones such as carbohydrates, fats, amino acids, hormones, phenolic compounds, and more.

    All of these proteins can be dangerous in fish tanks, even lethal, especially in saltwater tanks. A protein skimmer’s purpose is to remove them.

    What Does A Protein Skimmer Do?

    The function of a protein skimmer is actually fairly simple in terms of how it removes all kinds of waste particles and dissolved organic compounds from the water. The mechanism itself consists of a large tank with an air and water pump.

    First off, water gets sucked in from the aquarium. The water is then combined with a lot of air from the air intake. There is then a needle impeller which then cuts these bubbles down into very small bubbles.

    The point of these bubbles is to get all kinds of minuscule debris particles and dissolved organic compounds to bond with them. The bubbles, which are bonded with these dissolved organic compounds, then rise to the top of the tank.

    There is then a collection tank at the top of the protein skimmer which collects these air bubbles which are bonded with the dissolved organic compounds. If the protein skimmer is working right, you will see a thick, watery, and discolored foam in the collection tank.

    This foam can be greenish, bluish, gray, or any number of colors depending on the type and amount of organic compounds being removed from the water.

    divider seashells

    Commonly Asked Protein Skimmer Questions

    Let’s quickly go over some of the most commonly asked questions about protein skimmers, just so you know what they are all about, how to use them, and how to maintain them too.

    What Size Protein Skimmer Do I Need?

    Simply put, you need a protein skimmer that is large enough to handle the total volume of the fish tank several times per hour. Now, the top of the skimmer does need to be above the top of the tank, so there is always that to keep in mind.

    Generally speaking, larger skimmers will perform better than smaller ones. So, if you have a 100-gallon tank, you might want to get a skimmer rated for more than just 100 gallons. However, the size of the skimmer does not always correlate to performance.

    What Is The Best Skimmer For Reef Tanks?

    When it comes to reef tanks, you are probably best off going with an in sump protein skimmer. If you have a reef tank, having a sump is good either way because reef tanks need a whole lot of biological filtration anyway.

    With an in sump protein skimmer, you can keep the skimmer out of sight, while also ensuring that it works properly. In sump skimmers are not the easiest to maintain, but they don’t take up space inside of the tank, they are out of sight, and they tend to be fairly efficient too.

    How To Use A Protein Skimmer Properly?

    This is a somewhat difficult question to answer as different types of protein skimmers have different proper usage instructions. To be honest, your best bet is to read the instructions for the specific skimmer that you purchase.

    One tip is to make sure that the skimmer is properly submerged in water, as much as the particular skimmer requires before you turn it on.

    How To Tune A Protein Skimmer

    Tuning a protein skimmer refers to the amount of water which it puts out into the tank. The more you restrict the water outflow, the higher the water level will become. You want to adjust the outflow so that the water level is a few inches above the upper rim of the neck.

    Different skimmers perform differently at different water levels, so you will need to read the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific skimmer you have in regard to the proper water level.

    How To Clean Protein Skimmers

    The good part about protein skimmers is that they do not need to be cleaned too often. The collection cup should be emptied about 3 times per week and rinsed out with warm water. It really does not get any easier than that.

    Also, the body of the skimmer only needs to be cleaned every 6 months or so, depending on the level of buildup. Just remove the skimmer from the sump or tank, drain all water, and fill it with a strong vinegar and water solution. Let it soak until the debris becomes easy to scrub off.

    Should Protein Skimmers Run All The Time?

    This answer really depends on how dirty your tank is, the bio load inside of the tank, and how efficient your primary filtration unit is. If you test the water for DOCs and the level is high, you will need to run the skimmer more.

    If your tank is lightly stocked and not too dirty, running it for 4 or 5 hours per day should be fine. However, some people elect to let them run all day long if the tank is dirty and heavily stocked.

    Will A Skimmer Help With Algae?

    In most cases, yes, a protein skimmer will help with algae. Algae likes to feed on many types of dissolved organic compounds.

    A good protein skimmer should be able to remove most food sources which algae requires to grow and multiply.

    How To Get Rid of Microbubbles From A Protein Skimmer

    First of all, if you have a new skimmer and it is creating a lot of microbubbles, give it about a week to break in. This should solve the problem. If this does not solve the problem, you need to reduce the amount of turbulence in the tank.

    Also, turning down the flow rate should help eliminate mircobubbles making their way into the tank. Adding a diffuser to the mix will help too. It does depend on why the bubbles are forming, as there are quite a few things that could be the culprit.

    What Are The Advantages Of Using A Skimmer?

    These things help to remove dissolved waste from your water, thus lowering ammonia and nitrate levels, both things that can decrease water quality and even kill your fish.

    The main advantage of these tools is that they reduce the need for frequent water changes, plus of course they reduce the chances that your fish will get sick due to impure water.

    There is also the fact that less dissolved waste in the water means that pesky algae have less food to feed off of and thus it helps to reduce algae build up in the tank. If you need some pointers on removing algae then this post will help you out.

    Skimmers also help to increase oxygenation in the water (and pumps can also help, more on air pumps here), another beneficial aspect indeed. Even better is that these things help provide for clearer water in order to let more light penetrate deeper into the water.

    The final benefit of protein skimmers is that they can help to stabilize pH levels in the water. For more on pH levels on how to lower then check out this article.



    We hope you have found our reviews and buying guide helpful and it has got you closer to finding the best protein skimmer for your tank. There are lots of good options out their but these are just are the ones that we personally felt was worth mentioning.

    See Also: 8 Best Hang On Back Protein Skimmers

    Featured Image Credit: Amazon

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