How do I Set Up a Protein Skimmer?

In saltwater aquariums, proteins and other organic wastes build up over time. These by-products of normal aquarium biology will eventually break down into ammonia and nitrates. These toxins significantly alter the chemistry of the water and make the closed environment of the aquarium uninhabitable.

Saltwater aquariums require a protein skimmer to keep the water free of toxins.

A special device, called a protein skimmer, reduces the amounts of these toxins. The protein skimmer mixes air and water together in a vortex to form small bubbles. These separate the protein out of the water as a foam, which rises to the surface and is captured in a collection cup for later disposal.

  1. Select a protein skimmer that has a capacity greater than volume of your tank. For example, if your tank holds 100 gallons, choose a skimmer that is rated for up to 150 gallons.

  2. Check the protein skimmer before you install it. Different skimmer designs use different parts. Ensure the manufacturer has included and assembled all the necessary parts, based on the manufacturer setup, and that the motor works properly. It is better to check this now rather than after you have removed any existing equipment from your aquarium. You may find the new skimmer does not function properly.

  3. Set up a sump box below the aquarium, if your aquarium filtration system does not have a built-in sump box. Connect the intake and output hoses from the water in the aquarium to the pump in the sump box. Plug the pump in. See that the sump box circulates the water properly from the tank to the sump box and back again.

  4. Determine the depth at which the protein skimmer functions best, based on manufacturer recommendations. The sump box for your aquarium, whether it placed under your aquarium as a separate unit or as part of your filtration system, should hold the proper depth of water for the skimmer.

  5. Place the skimmer in the sump box and allow it to fill with water. Plug the skimmer into an electrical outlet. The motor should be working properly and producing foam in the center of the skimmer body.

  6. Allow the new skimmer to work almost completely open for 3 or 4 days to complete a break-in period. Check the skimmer twice a day to ensure the foam does not exceed the manufacturer recommended maximum level on the skimmer. If the foam begins to exceed that level and overflows freely into the collection cup, close the skimmer until the foam recedes. Continue to adjust the skimmer until it reaches optimal operation.