Our Privacy/Cookie Policy contains detailed information about the types of cookies & related technology on our site, and some ways to opt out. By using the site, you agree to the uses of cookies and other technology as outlined in our Policy, and to our Terms of Use.


Do I Need a Filter if I'm Going to Have a Protein Skimmer?

i Photodisc/Digital Vision/Getty Images

A protein skimmer serves a function similar to that of a filter, with one added bonus: A skimmer removes waste before it breaks down into harmful toxins. You may not need a filter if you have a functioning protein skimmer, but it may be wise to consider alternative filtration depending on your aquarium’s needs. If you’re a beginning aquarist, a solid understanding of aquarium filtration will help you make the best choice.

Benefits of a Protein Skimmer

A protein skimmer removes solid waste from your aquarium and pumps it into a separate canister. According to the Doctors Foster and Smith article, “An Introduction to Protein Skimmers,” a protein skimmer ultimately wards off algae growth and reduces nitrate levels, which improves the health of all living organisms in your aquarium. Additionally, cleaner water means more visibility for enjoying your fish and aquascape.

Types of Skimmers

You must determine what style of skimmer will best suit your tank. The three basic styles are air-driven, turbo and venturi. The differences between the three pertain to how each system mixes air and water to create bubbles, which attract solid waste that collects in a container outside the aquarium. Variations exist in skimmer size and method of attachment to your aquarium — some are designed to fit into an existing filter, while others can stand alone.

Buying and Maintaining Your Skimmer

As is the rule with any aquarium waste-removal system, the bigger protein skimmer you can afford the better. Dr. Frank Marini says taller skimmers tend to work better than short ones. The more bubbles your skimmer produces the better, too. Clean your skimmer frequently by emptying the waste cup and removing any buildup around the body and neck.

When to Use Both

A protein skimmer eases the filter's workload when you combine the two. With both, you can have a nearly immaculate aquarium. You may consider using both if you have a large number of fish -- generally, 3 inches of fish for every square foot of surface area is a healthy formula; more fish than that would require additional filtration. Also, you may need a filter if your saltwater aquarium does not include live rock, which has filtration properties. If you are housing sensitive fish or corals in your aquarium, you may need a filter in addition to your protein skimmer.