Maintain That Skimmer

The protein skimmer is a device that is essential to the maintenance of high quality seawater in nearly all systems. There is a system that claims to not need a skimmer, but aquarists often run one anyway. Using a protein skimmer is particularly useful to experienced aquarists and beginners alike.

The skimmer when purchased, whether a hang-on or stand alone model, should be sized at around twice the net gallonage of the system. This is because manufacturers can be a little enthusiastic about skimmer capabilities, and it also takes into account, up to a point, the less efficient skimmers on the market.

Any device is only as good as the necessary maintenance it receives. The skimmer is no exception.

There are (I assume) not that many air driven skimmers left in use. If the skimmer is air driven, then it is important to ensure that maximum air is being delivered properly. This is done by ensuring that the air pump is operating at full efficiency, without clogged air filters or damaged diaphragms. The bubbles coming from the air ’stone’ should be very large in number and very small in size. If they are not, change the ‘stone’ for a new one. If this doesn’t make any difference check the pump for problems as above.

The skimmer is more than likely to be a [tag-tec]venturi[/tag-tec] model nowadays. These come in different guises that are essentially the same – flowing water from a pump passes an intake where air is taken in. The air is pounded into small bubbles by the pump impellor or a variation of this. Again, the bubbles should be very numerous and very small, If they are not, check the air intake (venturi) as these have a tendency to block. Switching the unit off can often clear them by allowing the blockage to dissolve. If this doesn’t work, check the air line to the venturi is clear. Always adhere to the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.

There are other skimmers which are less common.

All skimmers should have the bubble chamber packed with bubbles. This is often evident by the colour – the chamber appears close to white.

A very important maintenance task with a skimmer is cleaning. Over time, the period depending on the level of [tag-ice]dissolved organics[/tag-ice] in the seawater, the cup will fill. This should be emptied and cleaned. Whether the cup is full or not, the aquarist should check the condition of the effluent throat (the part where the bubbles rise up towards the cup). This is because a layer of scum builds up here, and the efficiency of the skimmer is directly affected by it. Clean it off and maintain efficiency.

A skimmer does not always perform at full efficiency when new. This is because of the manufacturing process and the plastic. It will soon settle down, however. The same thing could happen for a shorter period when the skimmer has been cleaned.

The great majority of aquarists should have a skimmer and run it continuously. It is a direct contribution to the health of the aquarium.

  1. Good read! I first had a prizm skimmer that needed to be adjusted all the time. I cant even count how many times it overflowed on me. that sucked.

    Its good to have a reliable skimmer

    ChehalisCoral’s last blog post.. Video Of My 55 Gallon With The Metal Halide Fixture

  2. Nice write up John. One thing I’d like to mention is with today’s technology over-skimming is definitely possible and some skimmer’s are now being rated appropriately. No matter what skimmer you decide to purchase research that model and look for educated user reviews.

    We’ll be adding you guys to our blogroll, Keep up the good work.



  3. Thanks for the comments.
    Yes, that’s quite right about up to date skimmers – or at least some of them. Advanced aquarist are running them on timers so that the time they are on is controlled.
    However, for the new and low experience aquarists, it is still best to leave the skimmer on full time.

    John’s last blog post..Keeping An Anemone

  4. Hi in your column of “should I clean my aquarium sand”, I purchased a sand sifter “Mural Goby” he does a great job of keping my substrate clean its a mixture of sand and crushed coral, he takes a mouthful and ‘filters’ it out of his guills and he is great to watch, and by the way I would like to say once again what a great site this is its full of useful answers and so easy to understand……..thanks

  5. Hi Neil.
    Thanks for the very kind comments. It is very pleasing to hear that the very thing we are trying to achieve (help new aquarists by information in a simple format) is working.
    The sand sifter is a very useful fish, and interesting to watch. Unfortunately, some aquarists lose their fish in time because the sand bed cannot provide enough food. Perhaps there is a substitute diet that could be used.
    Glad you are enjoying the marine hobby.

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