The top performers in our review are the Coral Vue Octopus protein skimmer, the Reef Octopus, and the Comline DOC 9001. Choosing the best protein skimmer can be difficult if you don’t understand different skimmer types and how they work. The following information may help you make the right choice for your aquarium:

How do protein skimmers work?

A protein skimmer collects dissolved organic compounds before they break down and contribute to the overall bioload of the aquarium. While an aquarium filter will usually collect and contain these compounds, some of it is always brought back into the tank. An aquarium skimmer completely removes these compounds from the aquarium by collecting them in a cup that’s housed outside of the tank.

This is achieved by mixing water with air, which produces millions of tiny bubbles which travel to the collection cup. Proteins, amino-acids and other harmful compounds “attach” to these bubbles and are effectively removed from your fish tank. The performance of a protein skimmer heavily depends on the size and number of these bubbles.

Types of protein skimmers

There are many different types of marine skimmers available on the market, each with its own unique way of generating bubbles. While there is no best protein skimmer type, some are believed to be more efficient than others. The three most common systems are:

Turbo protein skimmers also known as “Needle Wheel” skimmers, draw air into the pump where small blades “slice” the air into tiny bubbles, which are mixed with water.

Venturi skimmers use pressure to mix air and water. Although compact and efficient, standalone venturi skimmers are hard to find nowadays, and the venturi design is usually combined with a different design (usually the turbo design).

Counter current skimmers usually feature a single column with separate air and water inputs. Air is forced from the bottom of the column, while water flows from the top. The height of the column affects the number of bubbles being produced, making these protein skimmers ideal for deep fish tanks.

Protein skimmer maintenance

Regular maintenance is necessary with most aquarium supplies – including protein skimmers. Ease of maintenance is an important factor, as a neglected fish tank skimmer can get clogged, perform poorly, or start to smell. The collection cup needs to be easily removable, and its interior needs to be easily accessible. We paid special attention to the ease of maintenance while reviewing our 5 best protein skimmers.

Best Protein Skimmer1. Coral Vue Octopus Protein Skimmer

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We liked: High performance. Gate valve for water level adjustment.
We didn’t like: In-sump use only.

There’s no doubt about the quality of the Coral Vue Octopus skimmer. We were impressed by its performance and ease of use. The Hailea OTP pumps and needle wheel impellers offer great bubble production – which is essential for clean water. The wide neck makes bubble collection easy. Additionally, a convenient gate valve allows you to adjust the water levels at any time.

As far as noise goes, we were pleasantly surprised. Despite its high bubble production, the Octopus protein skimmer doesn’t appear to be noisy at all.

While being somewhat pricier than some products we’ve tried, we believe that the Coral Vue is well worth it. Please note that this is an in-sump protein skimmer, and can’t work without a sump.

This protein skimmer is suitable for aquariums up to 210 gallons.

Octopus Protein Skimmer2. Reef Octopus Classic HOB Protein Skimmer

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We liked: Good performance. Easy setup.
We didn’t like: N/A.

If you want an Octopus skimmer but don’t have a sump to run the Coral Vue, their Classic model is a great choice. This HOB protein skimmer is efficient, well-made, and easy to install. The high-quality acrylic surface seems sturdy and durable, while the powerful Aquatrance 1000 pump ensures good performance.

Like with most hang-on protein skimmers, setup is fairly simple. Simply attach the Reef Octopus to the back of your aquarium, position the pump, and adjust the intake strainer – and it’s ready to go.

This protein skimmer is suitable for marine aquariums up to 105 gallons.

Comline Fish Tank Skimmer3. Comline DOC Protein Skimmer 9001

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We liked: This small protein skimmer is perfect for nano aquariums.
We didn’t like: The collection cup lid may be difficult to remove.

If you own a nano reef, you’re going to be limited when looking for marine equipment. The Comline DOC is suitable for aquariums up to 37 gallons – which makes it a perfect nano protein skimmer. Its small footprint ensures easy placement, being only 4.3″ x 2.5″ x 8.5″.

While compact and energy-efficient, the Comline DOC uses its needle-wheel pump system to draw some serious performance. In smaller tanks, we found that it cleans up water in a matter of hours. This small protein skimmer comes equipped with a magnetic holder, which can easily be attached to acrylic or glass up to 3/8″ of thickness.

Compared to other similar products, we found it to be fairly silent and unobtrusive. The only real issue we had with it was the cup lid – it’s a little difficult to remove, making maintenance less easy.

Coralife Protein Skimmer4. Coralife Super Skimmer with Pump

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We liked: Versatile. Suitable for both in-sump use, and as a HOB skimmer.
We didn’t like: Installation may be difficult.

This marine protein skimmer boasts some impressive features that boost its performance. The needle-wheel aspiration system comes with a diffuser which prevents small bubbles from escaping into the tank. The dual-injection inlets prolong bubble/water contact time, increasing its efficiency in removing harmful compounds.

Coralife’s Super Skimmer comes in three sizes, fitting saltwater aquariums from 65 to 220 gallons.

Yet another big plus is that the Coralife Super acts as both an in-sump protein skimmer and a HOB skimmer. It can be used in sump – or attached to your tank with a mounting bracket. Unfortunately, we found that the setup may take some time and practice, especially if you’re a beginner. If this doesn’t concern you, we definitely recommend this protein skimmer. It’s a quality, versatile option with many happy owners.

SeaClone 100 Protein Skimmer5. SeaClone 100 Protein Skimmer

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We liked: Versatile.
We didn’t like: More noisy than some competitors.

Although essential, marine skimmers can be expensive. If you’re looking for an efficient product, but don’t want to spend a fortune, the SeaClone 100 protein skimmer is a solid choice. Its turbo-venturi injection system gets the job done, while ensuring good gas exchange.

Similarly to the Coralife Super Skimmer, it offers plenty of versatility. The SeaClone 100 can be used in-sump, or as an external protein skimmer, and is suitable for saltwater aquariums up to 100 gallons. If you own a larger tank, the SeaClone 150 offers the same features, but covers aquariums up to 150 gallons.

Sadly, we found this venturi skimmer to be somewhat noisy. Although it’s not dreadful, and the sound of bubbles very quickly blends into the background, it’s still present.