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Nano tanks are awesome for many reasons, including lower cost. They may be cheap but you still want to buy the best quiet nano protein skimmer. Lower cost applies to almost everything involved with owning a nano aquarium. The primary down side to nano tanks is that the small volume of water makes them delicate. Detritus builds up quickly which means maintenance needs to be frequent. One of the best ways to cut down on maintenance frequency is a solid protein skimmer. By getting waste out of the tank before it has a chance to break down you’ll give yourself a little extra wiggle room. Besides, water changes are the most procrastinated and hated part of owning a saltwater aquarium.
Disolved waste and uneaten food are floating around in your aquarium and slowly breaking down into nitrate and phosphate. A protein skimmer produces bubbles in the water which the dissolved organics conveniently stick to and float up to the protein skimmers collection cup. It’s a surprisingly efficient and simple method to remove waste and uneaten food prior to it becoming a problem.
It’s often that reefers want to oversize their protein skimmer with the theory that it will pull more waste out of the water. This “can be” true but the more oversized your skimmer is the more difficult it will be to tune for consistent and reliable skimming. For this reason it’s suggested to stick to the sizing recommendations from the manufacturers. If you have a small number of fish you may want to downsize a bit.
Conversely, if you have a large number of fish you may want to upsize a bit. If you’ve struggled in the past to tune your skimmer you may want to consider downsizing slightly. It won’t be able to pull the maximum amount of waste out of your aquarium but it will be easy to maintain good skim production and a properly skimming skimmer is better than one that doesn’t skim well and will be less frustrating. Remember, skimmers need to break in for a week or two before they can be tuned effectively. If you’re not seeing the results you’d like immediately, just be patient.
As with all equipment, some maintenance is required. You should regularly clean your pump to remove calcium and other buildup. You’ll also want to clean the skimmer neck on occasion to remove any gunk that sticks to the walls.
Last, obviously you’ll need to perform regular dumping of the collection cup. The frequency you’ll have to dump the collection cup will depend on how it is tuned.
There are several main styles of protein skimmers. This review will focus on internal skimmers, but let’s quickly go over the main skimmer styles:
Internal skimmers sit internal to your aquarium or in your sump. They sit in the water to do their job. This has the benefit of not having to worry about overflows and is the most common type of protein skimmer. Internal skimmers generally have one pump for pumping water and an adjustable valve for allowing air in. Recirculating protein skimmers can be used internal but are what you would want to use if you want an external skimmer.
Hang on back skimmers are great for reefers without a sump or for those that don’t have room in their sump for an adequately sized skimmer. While we’re not focusing on HOB protein skimmers in this review, if you don’t find one of the internal skimmers we cover a good fit for your setup, you may want to look at hang on skimmer options.
The downside to hang on skimmers is aesthetics if you don’t have a sump. Having a skimmer hanging off your tank distracts from the tank itself. Also, hang on designs tend to be smaller in size for standard sized aquariums but for nano aquariums they’re often sized well. Last, since they’re outside the tank there is potential for overflow issues.
The gold standard for protein skimmers. Likely overkill and very expensive for even larger aquariums but only a real option for nano tanks if you have an external sump. Recirculating skimmers have two pumps. One pump is for air and the other for water. This makes for a much more effective and easier to tune skimmer. Obviously these designs take up more space and are more expensive, but worth it if you can spare the extra cash and have the room.
First, of the 3 reviewed protein skimmers the Tunze Comline DOC Skimmer 9004 DC is the quietest, nearly as small as the smallest, can be used on tanks almost as large as the largest, uses less electricity, and has a controllable pump. It is similarly priced to the smallest, the Innovative Marine Aqua Gadget SkimMate Ghost but out performs it. Hands down this is the skimmer to get if price is no object.
Space in nano aquariums is always at a premium so getting the most performance from the smallest size at a reasonable price is the goal. This skimmer quite the little powerhouse.
Being able to tune by adjusting the pump output is a great feature that isn’t just a gimmick. You gain more precise control and you get it accessible from wherever you decide to place the controller versus having to reach into the sump.
Tunze is a leading premium manufacturer of aquarium equipment. They’re well known for their build quality, reliability, and attention to detail. The 9004 DC comes with a two year warranty.
NOTE: This video is a demonstration of the 9012, not the 9004. The 9012 is the larger version but this is a good video that would apply to the 9004.
The second place Hydor Slim-Skim Protein Skimmer is a great bargain and a solid performer. It’s a quality product that’s similar to the Tunze skimmer. The bargain this skimmer represents does come at a cost. First and foremost, it’s quite a bit larger than the others. Also, the pump isn’t controllable. Hydor doesn’t list the actual flow rate but It’s likely equivalent or greater than the Tunze. It’s not as quiet as the Tunze either but it certainly isn’t loud. If budget is the primary consideration then the Hydor will get the job done well assuming you can accommodate it’s size.
Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it is cheap. Hydor is a German company and produces quality products. They target a slightly lower market than Tunze but still live up to the German reputation for quality craftsmanship. They’re relatively new to the protein skimmer market but have really hit all the right notes with this one.
Third, the Aqua Gadget SkimMate Ghost is a very good protein skimmer and it has one main feature that the others don’t – size. It may not be much smaller than the Tunze but if you need to fit a skimmer in a tight spot and the Tunze won’t work, then this may be the solution you need.
Reviews note more micro bubbles and longer break-in period than the others but most still report it does a very good job, is well built, and is quiet.
A bonus this skimmer provides in addition to its small size is the overflow port on the collection cup. This allows excessive skim mate to flow back into the aquarium instead of potentially onto the floor. Additionally you can plumb a line to it and route the overflow to a jug or bucket. This can come in handy when away for periods of time longer than your usual collection cup fill duration.
In the end though, this skimmer is a bit over priced for what you get. But if it fits your needs when the others don’t it’s worth the premium. It’s still a solid performer.
Each of these skimmers has a role it can play. The Tunze may not be the best fit for you, your tank, and your preferences. Ignoring unique requirements and preferences, it certainly is a winner. The larger Hydor and smaller Innovative Marine are great alternatives. The Hydor in particular is a bargain if your requirements will allow for it.
A protein skimmer isn’t a necessity, but short of a weekly large water change regimen there isn’t much in the way of proven success. There are some more fringe solutions such as algae scrubbers but until they become more mainstream and well proven a good skimmer is your safest bet for reducing the need to change as large a volume of water. Also, changing large volumes of water have an adverse impact on your reef tank inhabitants.
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