Is a protein skimmer worth it, needed, or necessary?

Do you need a protein skimmer? The answer is no. Everything in the tank is optional.

But the real question worth asking is - is a skimmer worth it? That's a system design question. What is the problem I'm trying to address with the skimmer and is it the best tool for the job. What you are going to find is that a skimmer is not the best solution for many things. 

But the collective function and redundancy it provides make the skimmer juice with the squeeze for many. 

Organic Removal

Most skimmer implementations are capable of removing somewhere between 30-80% of the organic waste from the tank. In theory, from a nutrient perspective alone, that reduces the size or frequency requirement for water changes by 30-80%.

Somewhere in that range is a threshold where the skimmer is worth it to most reefers. Half of that 30-80% removal disparity is simply because most skimmers are treated like they set it and forget it where they are plugged in and left alone.

Others ideally tune the skimmer for ideal foam in collection and they'll produce higher end results using the exact same tool. The other half is that every skimmer has its maximum capability. So, if advanced or active tuning techniques alone are not working, changing tools to one that's capable of the desired job may be necessary. 

That can be going bigger, but just as often smaller.

The basics of that is that if you don't feed a lot, a small skimmer with minimal air is the best tool. Going bigger will do the opposite since a larger skimmer with more air will increase the capability or capacity to remove the waste. The best options are those that help us span gap between two. 

Ideal performance is not always necessary because a skimmer is often not designed as the sole filter on most tanks. So, its values are not stand-alone but how it combines with other efforts. Often implemented with particular filterations. 

This combo is the most time-tested, widely used approach to reefing. How effective it is is based on how much thought and consistent effort you put in. 

Carbon Dosing

Today's reefers are using techniques that utilize the value of the skimmer in different ways because modern advancement is a skimmer combined with organic carbon dosing. This combo is a complete solution to excess nutrients, even on tanks that are heavily fed. 

Carbon dosing is based on dosing carbon stored in organic molecules. The bacteria rapidly consumes those carbon sources, multiply explosively, and along with thecarbon, they bioaccumulate nitrate and phosphate into their cells. 

The bacteria is attracted to the air in water, and the protein skimmer than removes the nutrient laden bacteria. It's a solution that works almost too well in many cases. Strips the water of all inorganic nutrients.


Here the skimmer becomes every high value. Ozone is not a modern approach but is now used more often. The worth-it questions are just a personal preference on the value of crystal clear water. 

When is the value lower?

In smaller tanks where water changes are easier, cheaper, and more effective than a skimmer and it avoided unsightly hang on gear. On tank this size, grabbing a pinch grip and just scooping out some water sending it down the drain, and then replacing it can be a 60-second maneuver.

If you put a container of mixed saltwater near or under the tank, a few gallons of water change is way easier than maintaining a protein skimmer. 

Another instance is on tank with highly effective refugiums. Once refugium grows, everything works which is capable of managing an inorganics nutrients on its own. The skimmer is more of a redundant item. 

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