Skip to Content

Are Protein Skimmers Necessary In An Aquarium?

Protein skimmers are used in saltwater aquariums to remove protein foam and oil biofilm. However, they aren’t necessary for the success of your fish tank and can be used as a supplemental filtration device. As side benefits, it helps oxygenate the water, provides efficient gas exchange, and reduces one’s reliance on frequent water changes.

Overall, adding a protein skimmer to a reef aquarium increases the efficiency of the primary filtration system and makes it easy for you to maintain the tank. If you find yourself unable to decide whether or not you need to buy a protein skimmer for your aquarium, the following article contains all the assistance you seek.

What Protein Skimmers Do and How They Work?

are protein skimmers necessary
If you consider yourself fairly new to protein skimmer and its usage, you must first get clear on the basics.

The primary job of a protein skimmer is to remove organic waste from water such as uneaten food, fish excrement, and suspended particulates.

These protein-based wastage floats to the surface by sticking to small air bubbles and creating smelly foam and oily biofilms.

A protein skimmer is more like a mechanical filtration device to your reef aquarium with additional benefits.

The way it works is by forming thousands of micro-bubbles and injecting them into the water column. In the form of tiny molecules, the nitrogenous waste is naturally attracted to the surface of these bubbles due to the electric charge to them.

So when the undesirable waste is caught up in the bubbles, it creates a foam head that travels up through a chamber and accumulates into a collection cup for convenient removal.

Once the cup is full, you can simply drain it and remove the foam that got stripped out of water.

Protein skimmers come in various proportions and shapes. There are HOB skimmers, in-tank, in-sump, and external skimmers, which you can buy depending on your tank size, equipment, and personal preference.

Saltwater Filtration: How a Protein Skimmer Makes Your Life Easy

Now, let’s talk about how incorporating a protein skimmer in your marine aquarium benefits you and the aquatic pets.

By removing harmful nitrogenous waste from the water before it breaks down into phosphates, a protein skimmer helps keep the nitrate level low, prevent algae outbreaks and keep your inhabitants safe from disease-causing bacteria and parasites.

The fine bubbles formed by a skimmer not only remove organic waste particles but also trap out the biological dissolved toxins and color pigments that cause the water to be yellowish. By getting rid of the oil biofilms, you significantly improve light penetration in your aquarium, crucial to aquatic and coral growth.

A protein skimmer, by all means, promotes mechanical, chemical, and biological processes in a marine aquarium, increasing the efficiency of the filtration system, thus enhancing the overall water quality.

Another major function it performs in an aquarium is the oxygenation of the water in a proportion that cannot be achieved unless you are using some kind of pressure-driven air pump. Having highly-oxygenated water in turn helps stabilize the pH level in the tank and allows good bacteria to thrive.

Furthermore, it supports gas exchanges by replenishing oxygen and releasing CO2 into the surrounding air.

Overall, an addition of a protein skimmer to marine aquariums can be beneficial to maintaining a healthy tank environment. With all the work it does, it certainly reduces your reliance on frequent water changes as well as other filtering devices and processes.

A protein skimmer is supposed to be an optional piece of equipment used for removing protein foam in reef tanks. However, considering what it has to offer makes it one of the most desirable pieces of filtration device.

Do I Need a Protein Skimmer for My Saltwater Aquarium?

are protein skimmers necessary
If you are facing constant protein foam and oil slicks floating all over your tank surface, then absolutely yes, you should buy a protein skimmer. However, before you react to the bubbles in your reef tank, you must determine if it’s the detrimental foam created by protein-based organic waste.

Occasionally, you may find small air bubbles forming at the corner of your aquarium due to surface agitation created by filtration or aeration equipment. But, you can rest assured that it is completely natural and there is nothing to worry about.

Foam production may also occur while setting up a new aquarium or performing your periodic tank cleaning; however, you don’t have to remedy it. It will automatically dissipate away shortly.

The only time it can be alarming for an aquarist to actually pay attention is if there is a thick, smelly foam or oily slick surfacing the water that remains constant throughout days. In such cases, installing a protein skimmer would be the best thing you can do. Your aquatic pets will thank you for that.

Many marine aquarists tend to decide to buy a protein skimmer based on the types of fish and corals they plan to keep in the tank. Species such as SPS corals require pristine quality water to remain healthy, while soft corals will be fine and thrive in a moderately maintained reef aquarium.

So take a note of the water quality requirements of your aquatic inhabitants, and let it assist you in making a solid decision.


Do protein skimmers work on freshwater aquariums?

Protein skimmers don’t do well in freshwater tanks due to the inability of freshwater to form the small air bubbles needed for the skimmer to perform effectively.

Can I replace the filter with a skimmer?

No, you shouldn’t replace a filter with a skimmer. The reason is, both pieces of equipment have different purposes for the filtration of a tank. You can potentially skip a protein skimmer, but not the primary filtration system.

Are there any downsides to adding a protein skimmer to a fish tank?

After installing a protein skimmer, all you will have is an increased workload. Now, you have one more piece of equipment to maintain and clean periodically that will also require a good amount of space wherever you place it.

Besides, protein skimmer has a tendency to cut down on the amount of minerals, trace elements, and amino acids from the water column. So, you have to add the nutrients back by either doing water changes or adding supplements to the aquarium. Keep in mind that it’s a minimal amount of nutrients that get stripped out, so don’t worry about it much.


We hope the information presented here in this article helped you gain some clarity over protein skimmers, and now you are able to form your own opinion on the subject.

As we know, a skimmer has a number of benefits to offer. However, it’s not necessary to run an aquarium. So at the end of the day, it should be your discretion.