Tip of the Day 9/2/2015 – Cleaning the Protein Skimmer and Doing Automatic Water Changes


Cleaning your skimmer neck regularly is a simple, yet important task which will help to ensure optimal performance of your protein skimmer. We recommend one of the following methods depending on your skimmer’s design:

manual collection cup can be a little messy and stinky at times, especially if something in the aquarium has died recently.  Start by removing the collection cup and placing it into a bucket, trash can, or any available container.  Immediately dump the collection cup into the closest toilet and flush two times for good measure.  If you dump it outside instead, make sure that you do so in a natural area and far enough away from the house to protect from the odor.  Next, place the skimmer cup under a running faucet, sink sprayer, or garden hose at low pressure while gently scrubbing away any buildup with a soft bristle toothbrush. Doing this regularly between water changes will control skimmate buildup and help to keep your skimmer running at optimum efficiency.

A Self Cleaning Head (SCH) can increase skimmer efficiency by as much as 70%.  This method which is preferred by many aquarists can relieve you from what is considered by many to be  your routine maintenance tasks.  This is a preferred method by many aquarists as it relieves some of the hassle out of your normal aquarium maintenance routine.  Some of the more popular brands of Self Cleaning Heads are made by Vertex, Reef Octopus and Avast Marine.  They come in most of the popular skimmer sizes.  If you know the model of your skimmer then chances are you will know the size of the SCH to purchase.  For example a Bubble King Mini 200 has a 200mm collection chamber requiring a  200mm SCH.  The Vertex model required would be the Vectra SCH200.  If you have a 6″ collection cup then you would need to convert mm to inches and upon doing so you will find that an SCH150 would be the right size.  If you are unfamiliar with how a self cleaning head works, please watch the following video on YouTube.

The SCH begins doing it’s job the 1:20 mark.

Using a DC pump to supply a water change and clean your Protein Skimmer at the same time – This is is an interesting approach to taking on two separate maintenance tasks at once.  So how do you do an automatic water change and clean your skimmer at the same time?  The following method was was devised by RLSS co-owner, Daniel Nguyen.  While speaking to Daniel on the phone a few days ago,  I inquired as to how the production of the new Apex ready Waveline pumps was coming along.  Our conversation then led to applications for protein skimmer use.  Daniel suggested this new approach to cleaning the skimmer with the new pump running using the RJ45 control featured on their new Neptune Apex ready controllers.  To do this simply set the skimmer pump to a lower setting during normal operation.  When it’s time to clean the skimmer and do a water change at the same time, you simply tell your Neptune Apex controller to ramp up the speed on the skimmer pump for a couple of minutes or less.  The skimmer will overflow into the collection cup as the excess water cleans the neck of the skimmer.  To make this work safely, the drain port on the collection cup will need to connected to a drain line and fed to a floor drain in your aquarium room (provided that you have one).  Then you will need to have an auto-top-off device setup to replace the water going down the drain with pre-salted water from a reservoir.  This approach may not be possible for everyone as it requires a way for you to dispose of the excess water down a drain in your aquarium room.  For those who can, this is an interesting approach to keeping your protein skimmer clean and simultaneously perform automatic water changes.


About Author

Scott Groseclose is the owner of AquaNerd, Aquarium Specialty, Aqua Specialty Wholesale, BioTek Marine, & The Carolina Reef Experience. He has a degree in Biology from St. Andrews University and he has been a passionate reef keeper since 1988.