Filter and/or Protein Skimmer. Do I Need Both?

Filter and or Protein Skimmer. Do I Need Both

One thing that is still unclear to many aquarists is the need for a filter, a protein skimmer, or both pieces of equipment in an aquarium. There is much confusion about which is more suitable for reef aquaria.

While various questions about their functionalities and roles are asked for clarification, some aquarists still opt to buy both pieces of equipment at once. And they will be absolutely right!

Although protein skimmers are not necessarily a requirement they are an important component of the overall filtration system. So, if you are serious about this hobby you will have to use both even though some aquarists prefer to increase water change frequency/volume and not run a protein skimmer.

This article is written to educate aquarium keepers about protein skimmers and filters, their roles, functionality, and whether to use both in saltwater tanks.

What is a Protein Skimmer?

A protein skimmer is a piece of equipment often used in a large setting such as a municipal water treatment facility or in public aquariums to remove and extrude organic compounds, waste products of metabolism, and others from the water. It is equally used in home saltwater tanks.

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Protein Skimmer: Mode of Operation

Filter and or Protein Skimmer. Do I Need Both - skimmerA protein skimmer clears the aquarium by using the mechanism of protein polarity. Water-borne proteins are charged either negatively or positively.

The air/water interface created attracts materials like fats and oil; these are hydrophobic. In contrast, materials like ammonia, sugar, amino acids, and much more are hydrophilic because they are repelled from the air/water interface.

Also, some organic molecules have been found to have both hydrophobic and hydrophilic qualities. They are referred to as either amphipathic or amphiphilic materials.

When a protein skimmer is connected to an aquarium, it functions by creating a massive air/water interface. This phenomenon happens by injecting many bubbles into the water column.

Moreover, it is worthy to note that the smaller the bubbles created are, the more influential the protein skimming process is. The reason is that the surface area of tiny bubbles occupying the same volume is greater than the same volume of more giant bubbles. When little bubbles are abundant, it is perfect for hydrophobic and amphiphilic molecules to collect on the surface. A consequence of the large air/water interface formed.

More organic products are brought towards the air/water surface when the water moves. The water movement also facilitates diffusion. This process can go on until saturation occurs. Then the bubble is extruded from the water, and the molecules that have been accumulated are thus removed.

Some aquarists believe that increasing dwell time or contact time the molecules (in the aquarium water) take to adhere to the saturated air bubbles is necessary.

However, some other people argue against it. It is believed that when saturated air bubbles are in continuous contact with the organic molecules, there may be a lot of detrimental changes, including the replacement of the strong bonds between the molecules with a weaker bond. That is why the molecules should not be left in contact with the interface for a long time.

Protein skimmer has a waste collector or receptacle that collects the organic waste materials. The skimmer bubbles increase at the top of the water column in the protein skimmer and gradually become dense. The water begins to drain, and then foam is created that carries the waste products (skim mate) into the waste collector. Inorganic products bound to organics will now be exported out of the aquarium water.

What is a Filter?

Filters are an essential and indispensable part of the aquarium. They are required because of their huge role in eliminating the physical and soluble chemical waste products from the aquarium.

Filters: Mode of Operation

Filter and or Protein Skimmer. Do I Need Both - filterIn the process of filtration, particles which can include plant or algae debris, food remnants, and other debris, are removed from the water column. This act occurs by allowing the water to pass through a sieve-like membrane that traps the debris.

After the debris has been trapped, the wastes have to be picked out physically from the aquarium. Filtration is incomplete and not maximal if the wastes are not picked out of the aquarium because they can decay and dissolve in the water. The removal of solid waste is known as mechanical filtration.

Concerning wastes and pollutants dissolved in water, a different approach is applied. Several methods are known, and they are collectively known as chemical filtration. The two most prevalent techniques are foam fractionation and activated carbon.

Another filtration method that is not very popular is the sterilization of water pathogens, that is, passing the aquarium water through devices that expose the water to high-intensity ultraviolet light.

Do You Need Both a Filter And a Protein Skimmer?

The answer is dependent on what exactly you want. When the filter and protein skimmer are combined, the work of the filter is lessened, and the aquarium environment becomes super clean.

A protein skimmer removes the accumulated wastes in the aquarium and stores it in a separate container. It also helps to reduce the growth of algae in the tank and the level of nitrate from toxic nitrogenous compounds.

This equipment helps improve the health of the aquarium inhabitants and makes the water clear. An aquarium filter also removes the physical waste products and does a terrific job at that.

However, some conditions require both a filter and a protein skimmer. One point to have in mind is the size of the aquarium and the number of fish it contains. If the fish is more, the need for filtration increases. The reason is that they produce more waste products due to the increased bio load.

An aquarium with corals or other sensitive fish also needs a filter and a protein skimmer to maintain pristine water quality.

Some hobbyists say that with the proper filtration and water change schedule, a protein skimmer is not absolutely required to have a successful reef tank. Well, it can be true for advanced aquarists who develop some feel for whether the optimum has been reached or not. Unfortunately, in most cases, people overestimate their knowledge and abilities.

Considering the fact that keeping a reef tank is not cheap, it is better to play safe and use both equipment – a filter and a protein skimmer. In addition, it usually makes life easier having one.

In Conclusion

Protein skimmers and filters are two separate aquarium equipment with similar functions but different mechanisms.

While protein skimmers are best for organic wastes and molecules, filters are ideal for the physical and chemical removal of waste materials.

Combining the two pieces of equipment is perfect as it takes care of massive amounts of solid and chemical wastes. Protein skimmers help keep the aquarium and aquarium inhabitants safe and disease-free by eliminating the harmful content of the aquarium water that disease-causing organisms love.

Also, the placement of protein skimmer before other forms of filtration lessens the whole filtration system’s burden and significantly reduces water change frequency, which is a huge plus.

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