How to Adjust a Protein Skimmer

Written by kimberly johnson
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How to Adjust a Protein Skimmer
Protein skimmers remove excess protein from aquarium water. (aquarium image by Henryk Olszewski from

Protein skimmers are aquarium filtration devices that remove microscopic organic waste from the water by injecting it with air bubbles. The air bubbles attach to the protein waste and float to the top of the collection cup, creating a tan-coloured foam that's discarded. If the foam is a dark colour, pure white or if it is very wet, the protein skimmer is not working correctly and must be adjusted. Adjusting a protein skimmer is done gradually over several days or weeks.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Wait at least three to four days after the initial installation before attempting to adjust the skimmer. Brand new skimmers need to develop a thin slime coating on the inside before they will function correctly.

  2. 2

    Look at the upper part of the protein skimmer, or the collection cup. The cup should be filled with foam. If there is any water in the cup, adjust the skimmer height so that it sits higher in the aquarium. If the slimmer is attached with a clamp, loosen the clamp and raise the skimmer. Otherwise, place additional gravel under the bottom of the skimmer so it's one to two inches above the water line.

  3. 3

    Examine the foam in the upper collection cup of the protein skimmer at the water line. The consistency of the foam should be like soap suds and be a light tan colour. When you touch it, the foam should be almost dry and contain very little moisture. Pull the cup up to remove it and rinse the foam out before replacing the cup.

  4. 4

    Locate the water flow or air flow control knob on your skimmer, which is attached to the outside motor or compressor. If the foam in the collection cup was too wet, turn the knob to increase the flow rate by one or two settings. If the foam in the collection cup was too dry, or was dark instead of light tan, decrease the flow by one or two settings.

  5. 5

    Wait 24 hours and examine the colour and consistency of the foam in the collection cup. Continue adjusting the skimmer, if necessary, in small increments until the proper colour and consistency of foam is achieved.

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