Nano Protein Skimmers

Using a protein skimmer on a nano aquarium is a great way to maintain a more stable environment but can certainly be a little tricky. Nano skimmers get a bad wrap for being ineffective and causing the dreaded micro-bubbles which is especially a threat in all-in-one style tanks. Both of these are valid complaints and are often directly related to the design of the skimmer itself and/or proper tuning of the skimmer.

Because of the physical size limitations, nano skimmers cannot afford a large reaction chamber or a bulky pump and plumbing. This limits the possible contact time and in some cases the ability to tune the skimmer with any kind of precision. After seeing the kind of waste you can pull using a standard in-sump skimmer on a larger aquarium, it is easy to understand why many hobbyists just don't have a great experience with a nano skimmer. That said, a small tank doesn't have as much waste as a larger tank and when combined with a poorly designed skimmer that cannot be precisely tuned, less efficient skimming should be expected... but it doesn't have to be accepted.

There are a handful of nano-size protein skimmers out there that really do work and they work well. While you shouldn't expect cupfuls of dark, waste-laden skimmate every day, you can certainly get an acceptable level of nutrient export that will ultimately help keep your tank cleaner and promote a healthy gas exchange.

AquaMaxx

Aquamaxx makes a large line of high-quality skimmers and the selection is no different when it comes to nano tanks. There are actually four different models that come into play depending on your particular tank size and requirements for mounting or installation. All four models get excellent reviews and the main reason for that is the wide selection. A properly sized skimmer is critical for consistent performance and since it is difficult to make a nano skimmer that allows for a wide range of precise adjustments, choosing the exact model that fits your particular bioload is going to yield much better results. 

AquaMaxx HOB 1.5 AquaMaxx WS-1 AquaMaxx Bullet-1 HOB AquaMaxx NF-1
Realistically suited for 20-40 gallon tanks with a typical medium-heavy bioload. Realistically rated for 20-30 gallon tanks with a medium-heavy bioload. Realistically rated for 10-20 gallon tanks with a medium-heavy bioload.  Realistically rated for 10-20 gallon tanks with a medium-heavy bioload. 
  • Hang-on back installation
  • Water level: No more than 2"-3" below the top rim of the tank
  • Air silencer & drain fitting
  • Easy to use, minimal adjustments
  • Uses Sicce pump motor
  • Optional bubble stopper
  • Internal installation; small sumps or AIO tanks
  • Dimensions: 5.9" x 3.2" x 19.5"
  • Required Water Depth: 8" - 10"
  • Uses Sicce pump motor
  • Air silencer & drain fitting
  • Easy to use, minimal adjustments
  • Hang-on back installation
  • Water level: No more than 2" below the top rim of the tank
  • Easy to use, minimal adjustments
  • Uses Sicce pump motor
  • Bubble diffuser included
  • Internal installation; AIO tanks
  • Magnetic mount for glass up to 1/2" thick
  • Dimensions: 2.76" x 4.15" x 13.39"
  • Internal water level adjustment
  • Uses Sicce pump motor
  • Air silencer and silicone vibration pads

 

Tunze Comline

Tunze makes an excellent line of internal skimmers with their popular Comline series. In this case, there are three different models which should be chosen carefully based on bioload but you do have a little more flexibility in terms of control and tuning.

All of the Tunze Comline skimmers have a surface skimmer design in which all the water going into the skimmer is pulled from the surface where proteins concentrate. They also have the ability to adjust how much are is injected into the pump and the larger 9004 and 9012 models come with the option of a DC controllable pump. This control is important because it allows you to tune the skimmer to your tank's specific bioload which results in more consistent performance. 

Tunze Comline 9001 Tunze Comline 9004 & 9004-DC Tunze Comline 9012 & 9012-DC
Realistically rated for 5-20 gallons tanks with a medium-heavy bioload. Realistically rated for 20-50 gallon tanks with a medium-heavy bioload. Realistically rated for 50-75 gallon tanks with a medium-heavy bioload.
  • Internal installation with magnet mount
  • Magnet mount for up to 3/8" glass
  • Must be submerged in 5.3" - 6.1" of water depth
  • Dimensions: 4.3" x 2.5" x 8.5"
  • Air adjustment
  • Internal installation with magnet mount
  • Magnet mount for up to 1/2" glass
  • Must be submerged in 8.86" - 9.65" of water depth
  • Dimensions: 4.3" x 3.5" x 12"
  • Air adjustment
  • Pump speed control with 9004-DC model
  • Internal installation with magnet mount
  • Magnet mount for up to 1/2" glass
  • Must be submerged in 10" - 11" of water depth
  • Dimensions: 5.5" x 4.3" x 16.3"
  • Air adjustment
  • Pump speed control with 9012-DC model

 

Eshopps

Eshopps In-Sump Nano Protein Skimmer deserves recognition because it makes a great skimmer for AIO-style aquariums. The magnetic mount and slim profile make it easy to install right in the back filtration chambers. It comes with a venturi air silencer and Sicce brand pump motor, both of which will minimize noise. You don't have any adjustments outside of moving the skimmer itself up and down within the water column which directly affects the internal water level. That said, you can expect solid performance on tanks ranging in size from 10-20 gallons. 

Eshopps In-Sump Nano Protein Skimmer

  • Realistically rated for tanks up to 20 gallons
  • Dimensions: 4 1/2" x 2 1/4" x 11 1/2"
  • Air silencer
  • Sicce brand needle-wheel pump
  • Coarse sponge bubble diffuser

What Makes A Nano Skimmer "Nano"?

The definition of "Nano" is sometimes debated in the hobby but widely accepted as tanks ranging in size/water volume from 5 to 40 gallons. Anything below 5 gallons is what we would define as a "Pico" aquarium.

In the case of a Pico aquarium and using a protein skimmer, you probably won't find very many skimmers that will actually fit on the tank. Facts are, small tanks like this just don't contain enough nutrients to maintain a consistent level of protein skimming. Pico tank hobbyists rely instead on a heavy water change schedule, somewhere in the range of 50% of the water each and every week.  That is only 2.5 gallons of water which is manageable for most. 

The word "nano skimmer" is intended to mean protein skimmers sized for nano aquariums. It may be best defined as small, compact protein skimmers... without any particular tank size limitation attached. Either way, using a protein skimmer on your nano aquarium is indeed beneficial and can be very effective.  It's just a matter of choosing the right skimmer for your particular aquarium with both the installation requirements and bioload in mind. 

What is Bioload?

The more fish and corals you have, the heavier bioload you will have. That is more food going into the tank and more waste being created which requires a stronger protein skimmer. In reality, choosing your skimmer should be solely based on bioload but we just don't have a way to measure bioload effectively. Therefore, we use tank size with the idea that bioloads are typically relative to tank size, within reason.

A 20-gallon tank with one shrimp and a handful of corals is nowhere near the bioload of a 20-gallon tank with x5 small fish and packed full of corals.

Bioload is directly tied to protein skimmers because the air/water ratio a particular skimmer needs to produce a stable foam head and remove waste is based on the nutrient concentration in the water.  While you can tune a skimmer to some extent, if you choose a skimmer drastically too large for your tank size, it just won't skim. For this reason, it's always a little better to be conservative with your skimmer selection as opposed to generous or "oversizing" it.