Q&A Series #9: What makes a "good" protein skimmer?
A protein skimmer is a key component to a marine aquarium's filtration system. Throughout my years of reef keeping, I have learned that using a good quality protein skimmer can greatly improve your odds of success.
That's why today we are going to answer one of the aquarium hobby's most frequently asked questions: "What makes a good protein skimmer?"
First, it is important to understand how protein skimmers work. The skimmer pump produces air bubbles that proteins and waste attach to inside the skimmer. The air bubbles, carrying waste, rise to the top of the skimmer then spill into a collection cup.
The pump is really the heart of the protein skimmer since it is what produces those waste-carrying air bubbles.
Good protein skimmers often include needlewheel impellers inside their skimmer pumps to "chop" incoming air into even smaller bubbles. As bubbles pass through the impeller, "needles" or "pins" on the impeller shred incoming bubbles into micro bubbles. A high-quality pump with a well-designed impeller will produce more bubbles that are smaller in size, which increases the surface area inside the skimmer to remove more waste. Plus, a high-quality pump will last longer, run quieter and transfer less heat into your aquarium.
Another important feature to consider is the size of the reaction chamber. The reaction chamber is the part of the skimmer body where all the action happens. A big reaction chamber allows a larger volume of bubbles to accumulate and attract proteins. It also provides more contact time for the proteins to attach to air bubbles.
The shape of the skimmer body should not be overlooked. A smooth transition from the skimmer body to the collection cup allows the bubbles to easily rise and fall into the cup for easy removal. Cone, hybrid cone and wineglass designs offer the smoothest path for air bubbles to rise into the collection cup with the least resistance.
An easy-to-use and responsive outlet adjustment is helpful because it allows you to adjust the water level inside your skimmer. You can easily fine-tune your skimmer for steady skimmate production and to avoid overflow. Many of the newest protein skimmers to hit the market also include bubble plates which reduce turbulence and further increase contact time.
An air silencer and a collection cup with a drain fitting are also useful. They may seem like minor details but can really help keep your skimmer quiet and reduce maintenance. Performance aside, you will want to look at the quality of the materials used to build the skimmer. Higher quality materials will be more durable and resistant to damages. Cast acrylic is generally considered the best material, followed by extruded acrylic, and then plastic.
The brand of the skimmer is also important. You may find yourself needing technical or warranty support during your ownership of your protein skimmer. A reputable company with a customer support team willing to help you during set up or if something goes awry is a true test of the value of their product. AquaMaxx, Reef Octopus, Vertex, and Tunze are currently among the best in our industry.
Here at Marine Depot, we carry a lot of great skimmers… many of which we use on our own aquariums. If you have questions about any of the protein skimmers on our website, feel free to contact us—we’d love to hear from you!
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