7 Best Protein Skimmers for Reef Tanks in 2023: Reviews & Top Picks
Protein skimmers (also referred to as foam fractionators) are an effective way to remove organic waste components in marine aquariums. This device is a necessary item for both small and large marine aquariums, and it works effectively alongside filters. There are many protein skimmers available on the market, but not all protein skimmers are created equal. Certain components and price variations should be considered when choosing the right protein skimmer for your marine aquarium, whether it is small or large.
To make things easier for you, we’ve compiled a list complete with in-depth reviews of the best protein skimmers available for marine aquariums, from nano sizes to large tank options.
A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites in 2023
|Best Overall||Aquatic Life Mini Protein Skimmer||
|Best Value||Coralife Super Protein Skimmer & Pump||
|Premium Choice||Simplicity Sump Protein Skimmer||
|Macro Aqua Mini Hang-On Protein Skimmer||
|AquaMaxx Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer||
The 7 Best Protein Skimmers
1. Aquatic Life Mini Protein Skimmer – Best Overall
|Compatible tank size:||Up to 30 gallons|
|Dimensions:||65 × 3.5 × 3.25 inches|
Our top choice overall is the Aquatic Life mini protein skimmer because it is an ideal skimmer for small tanks under 30 gallons in size, while being affordable and efficient at its job. It can be mounted to the inside of an aquarium, but it is also small enough to fit in most rear overflow and filtration compartments built into nano tanks. This ultra-quiet protein skimmer is powered by an 8-watt needle-wheel impeller for maximum air to water contact and energy efficiency to be effective at organic waste removal in saltwater aquariums.
The water flow can be adjusted by the knob, and it comes with a mounting bracket and suction cups so it can easily be placed inside an aquarium. The quick-lock design makes it easy to open the skimmer for cleaning, and there is a built-in channel that conceals the grounded power cord.
- Easy installation
- Includes adjustable bracket
- Quiet operation
- Only suitable for aquariums under 30 gallons
2. Coralife Super Protein Skimmer & Pump – Best Value
|Compatible tank size:||Up to 220 gallons|
|Dimensions:||7 × 5.6 × 4.2 inches|
|Mounting:||Sump or hung on the aquarium|
The best protein skimmer for the money is the Coralife super protein skimmer as it’s highly affordable in comparison to other protein skimmers suitable for large tanks, and it comes with a pump included. This skimmer can be hung on your aquarium or used inside a sump to remove dissolved organic waste materials from the water before they break down. This protein skimmer and pump feature a needle-wheel system that creates a vortex of water and small bubbles inside the chamber to attract fine proteins and organic compounds in the water column.
The protein skimmer also has a wide neck collection cup that keeps saltwater clean easily with a bubble production diffuser that helps prevent the flow of micro-bubbles in your aquarium.
- Made with high-quality materials
- Ideal for large tanks
- Needs to be cleaned regularly
3. Simplicity Sump Protein Skimmer – Premium Choice
|Compatible tank size:||Up to 120 gallons|
|Dimensions:||7 × 6.3 × 18.7 inches|
Our premium choice is the Simplicity protein skimmer because it outperforms many of its competitors by pulling more air. This skimmer is efficient at removing organic waste from saltwater aquariums to help maintain low nitrate levels and features a smart and modern design with custom controllability. It is designed as an efficient hybrid cone for maximum performance and provides bubbles from the needle-wheel impeller which provides oxygen to aquariums. This protein skimmer can be customized through the controllable DC pump, wedge pipe, and air valve.
Furthermore, this brand has renowned customer support and a 3-year warranty on this protein skimmer. Simplicity also has protein skimmers that function the same as this product but are made for larger tanks, so you have more options to choose from.
- Pulls more air
- 3-year warranty
- Silicone tubing gets brittle over time
4. Macro Aqua Mini Hang-On Protein Skimmer
|Compatible tank size:||Up to 60 gallons|
|Dimensions:||5 × 5.5 × 13.5 inches|
This is a high-quality protein skimmer suitable for saltwater aquariums up to 60 gallons in size. It is a small hang-on-back (external) skimmer with a water flow of 238 GPH. It works effectively to eliminate organic waste and can easily be cleaned by simply removing the collection cup to dispose of the collected waste.
We love that this protein skimmer is small and discrete so it can be hidden at the back of an aquarium. The needle-to-wheel impeller increases the air-to-water contact, allowing this protein skimmer to function efficiently, plus, it’s easy to install and fairly priced for the quality.
- Fairly priced
- High efficiency
- Easy to install
- Slightly noisy
5. AquaMaxx Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer
|Compatible tank size:||Up to 90 gallons|
|Dimensions:||5 × 3.5 × 17 inches|
The AquaMaxx protein skimmer is easy to set up and maintain. The collection cup can be moved up or down to adjust the foam level to wet or dry. It’s efficient, durable, reliable, and fully set up to operate without much complicated installation. It requires roughly four inches of clearance to remove the collection cup and can skim marine tanks with light bio loads up to 90-gallons in size, or 60 gallons in size for high bio loads. It also includes a drain fitting if you want to set up a separate reservoir for skim mates.
The pump is placed inside to conserve space in this protein skimmer, and it is capable of drawing in more air and moving it up to the optimum bubble. Each Sicce pump motor block has been modified with needle impellers for efficiency and less noise output.
- Made of high-quality acrylic
- Adjustable foam level
- Easy to maintain
- Moderate noise output
6. Marine Color Internal Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer
|Compatible tank size:||Up to 70 gallons|
|Dimensions:||1 × 8.46 × 8.23 inches|
This protein skimmer is built with high-quality red and white pipe fittings and a high-efficiency pinwheel pump. The standard cone design has chambers where the skimmer collects bubbles and smoothly and efficiently removes organic waste from marine aquariums. The small and compact design saves space and is usable in small sumps.
All the material for this product is made of high-quality cast acrylic, however, the silicone tubing has been known to become brittle over time. It is easy to clean and install, and cleaning is made easy by removing the section where the waste is collected.
- High-quality material
- Easy to clean and install
- Fairly priced
- Silicone tubes become brittle over time
7. Instant Ocean Sea Clone 100 Protein Skimmer
|Size:||4”L x 20.75”W x 6.25”H|
|Tank size:||100 gallons|
The Instant Ocean Sea Clone 100 Protein Skimmer is made for tanks up to 100 gallons, and it retails for a budget-friendly price for this size tank. It has optimized skimming capabilities, ensuring maximum efficiency. All organic compounds are trapped within the collection chamber, where they remain until you empty the chamber. It can be installed by hanging on the edge of your tank or adding to your sump setup.
Multiple users of this skimmer report excessive amounts of microbubbles, so it may be best within a sump system and not the tank itself. It also has a louder operation than most comparable protein skimmers.
- Ideal for tanks up to 100 gallons
- Budget-friendly option
- Optimized skimming capabilities
- All compounds are trapped within the collection chamber until emptied manually
- Can be hung on your tank or added to a sump system
- May create large amounts of microbubbles
- Louder operation than other comparable models
Buyer’s Guide: Buying the Best Protein Skimmers for Reef Tanks
How Do Protein Skimmers Work?
Protein skimmers work by removing organic waste before it has a chance to break down and release nitrogen compounds, which are harmful to the fish and other aquatic life in your aquarium. Using a protein skimmer is essential in reef aquariums to ensure that the nitrate levels do not reach a toxic amount that would otherwise affect the growth and vitality of corals and fish.
Not only do protein skimmers help to remove organic waste compounds from your tank, but they oxygenate the water. A protein skimmer functions like a filter by removing organic impurities from the water, while also foaming the surface.
Do You Need A Protein Skimmer for Your Tank?
Protein skimmers help to keep marine tanks clean, and they are necessary for beginners who plan to keep corals and fish. If you want your marine tank to be cleaner, then a protein skimmer is a good investment that will help you maintain your aquarium easily in the long run. Most protein skimmers are easy to use and clean, and they work well alongside filters while also providing your aquarium with a source of aeration.
These are some of the many benefits to having a protein skimmer in your tank:
- Help maintain low nitrate levels
- Remove organic waste compounds from the water
- Helps keep the water crystal clear
- Allows for better light penetration throughout the aquarium
- Helps reduce phosphate levels which in return slow down algae growth
How Do You Choose The Right Protein Skimmer?
The protein skimmer should fit the available space in your marine tank, and there are plenty of space-saving designs to choose from. It’s also important to choose a protein skimmer that is suitable for your tank’s water capacity and bioload. If you have a large marine tank, then you want to aim for a protein skimmer that can skim your tank’s maximum capacity. If you choose a protein skimmer that is too small for your aquarium, then you will not notice much of a difference in your tank’s cleanliness.
There are a variety of different protein skimmer designs to choose from, so choose one that not only looks good but fits your aquarium size-wise and meets your budget. If you are looking for a discrete protein skimmer that saves space, then choosing one with a built-in pump will be a better option for you.
Our favorite choice overall is the Aquatic Life mini protein skimmer because it is affordable, space-saving, and suitable for nano reef aquariums. Our second top pick is the Simplicity protein skimmer because it comes in a variety of different sizes and has a modern design that suits the appearance of many aquariums without standing out. Hopefully, our reviews have helped you choose the best protein skimmer for your tank.