An important consideration when keeping fish is ensuring a clean environment in the aquarium. This means periodic cleaning of the tank to remove foreign matter. Substances such as fish waste and food tend to dissolve in water, creating an imbalance in the aquatic environment. A hang-on-back protein skimmer can be a useful tool in keeping your tank clean – and a worthy investment.
Unlike inorganic materials, removing organic material is not always so easy. The only effective way of clearing organic material is with a hang-on-back protein skimmer. This guide will go over everything you need to know about hang-on-back protein skimmers and how to choose the best one for your needs.
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Best Hang-on-Back Protein Skimmer Options:
What is the Best Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer?
Our top choice is the Coral Vue Technology BH-1000 Octopus protein skimmer. The protein skimmer effectively cleans harmful bacteria, debris, and most other potentially dangerous debris out of the aquarium.
Comparatively, the Coral Vue BH-1000 is a top performer and relatively inexpensive given its features.
What is a Hang On Back Protein Skimmer?
As mentioned, a protein skimmer purifies your aquarium by cleaning out the organic components. The skimmer, also known as a foam fractionator, helps maintain a healthy environment for your coral and fish by removing organic waste present in water. Organic waste material typically includes fish waste and unconsumed fish food that can promote toxic water environments, algae growth, and an increased risk of fish disease and infection. Check out our guide to non-HOB skimmers and nano skimmers.
How Do HOB Protein Skimmers Work?
As the name suggests, a protein skimmer ‘skims’ protein out of your aquarium’s water. HOB protein skimmers have two main components; the pump and the impeller. These two components are the chief drivers of the protein skimmer.
If you notice continuous bubble formation in your aquarium, don’t panic, your skimmer is in perfect working condition. The pump and impeller create bubbles which then attract waste in the aquarium. The bubbles then float to the protein skimmer chamber, where they burst, and the waste collects in the cup.
Some skimmers have additional features that create the bubbles faster, cleaning your fish tank more efficiently.
Do I Really Need a Hang-on Back Protein Skimmer?
It is not mandatory to install a HOB protein skimmer in your aquarium since you can periodically change the water to maintain a clean environment. However, having a HOB protein skimmer is very helpful since it delivers numerous benefits to you and your fish and reduces how often you have to do water changes and full tank cleanings.
In a natural environment, the level of nitrates and phosphates is relatively low and is controlled by other organisms. However, when fish are in an enclosed habitat, the levels tend to rise, signaling the need for a water change.
When uneaten fish food collects in water, it breaks down, and the components rise and form a layer above the water surface. If the water filter fails to work, the layer on the water surface may affect the movement of oxygen in the water. Also, unconsumed fish food tends to break down in the tank resulting in the production of nitrate and phosphate, leading to a further reduction of oxygen.
Additionally, it is difficult to tell when nitrate levels in your aquarium are high without doing frequent water tests. Nitrates are naturally present in water, but the concentration can quickly get out of hand and become dangerous to your fish. A HOB protein skimmer is great for keeping your fish healthy and preventing you from having to test your water daily.
What are Dissolved Organics in a Reef Aquarium?
Generally, dissolved organics are soluble organic materials present in tanks due to the partial decomposition of organic matter. Dissolved organics can be beneficial or detrimental to the living organisms in your tank, including the fish, beneficial bacteria, and the reef itself.
These dissolved organics are protein sources that cause the levels of nitrates to rise in the tank, so keeping them in check is paramount to maintaining the health of your tank.
Best Hang-on Back Protein Skimmer Options
- CoralVue Technology BH-1000 Octopus with External 1000 Pump, 100 Gallon
- Reef Octopus BH90 Hang on Protein Skimmer
- Coralife Super Skimmer with Pump, up to 220 Gallons
- Macro Aqua M-50 Mini Hang-on External Protein Skimmer, 60 Gallon
- AquaMaxx HOB-1.5 Hang-On-Back Protein Skimmer
- MagTool Nano DC Pinwheel Pump Protein Skimmers, Hang-on-back Protein Skimmer
With multiple options in the market, narrowing your choice down to the right HOB protein skimmer may not be as easy as it seems at first. However, our reviews below should help you choose the one thatâ€™s best for your needs.
The CoralVue Technology BH-1000 is a compact model that fits well in small or tight spaces. Made of high-grade acrylic, this HOB protein skimmer is compatible with tanks up to 100 gallons. In addition, the skimmer’s pump hangs on the tank’s exterior and doesn’t affect the water temperature when functioning.
While other HOB protein skimmers are hard to clean, you can dismantle the Coral Vue skimmer quickly, making cleaning less of a hassle.
Installing a Coral Vue skimmer is relatively easy. The package comes with an instruction manual that gives a step-by-step installation process.
A downside to this skimmer is that it produces a continuous humming sound when running. If you’re a light sleeper, you should consider placing the aquarium away from the area where you sleep.
- Installation is a straightforward process
- Relatively inexpensive
- Easy to clean
- Solid build
- Humming noise
A popular HOB protein skimmer is the Reef Octopus BH90. The model features a minimal design measuring 8 x 3 x 7 inches. The Reef Octopus BH90 is ideal for homes since it can support up to 105 gallons of water and hangs on the inside of the aquarium, making it practical for small spaces.
The skimmer features an Aquatrance 1000 pump that is built-in and is easy to set up. The pump helps maximize the amount of oxygen in your tank, which is essential for fish health. This way, you don’t need to have live plants in your aquarium if you have a large fish population.
Also, due to the pump’s high level of efficiency, waste accumulation in the collection cup occurs more often than other HOB skimmers.
While some protein skimmers produce a noise when filtering, the Reef Octopus features an air silencer that makes it run almost entirely silently. The protein skimmer also has a larger collection cup for holding more waste.
Being an external skimmer, the Reef Octopus provides you with more room for your fish to swim.
- Suitable for tanks with a high fish population
- Easy to use and install
- Silent during operation
- Good in minimal spaces
- Frequent maintenance
- Overflow possibility
- A bit bulky
Weighing five pounds and offering a capacity range of 65 to 220 gallons, the Coralife Super Skimmer is an inexpensive and effective HOB skimmer to have. The skimmer comes with an air pump and can be installed in reef or standard saltwater tanks.
You can place the skimmer inside a sump or have it hanging freely. The brackets are flexible to allow skimmer installation both internally and externally. Therefore, regardless of your tank’s design, this skimmer will fit seamlessly.
For effective removal of dissolved organics, this skimmer contains a needle-wheel impeller which creates a vortex inside the water that effectively removes any contaminants. In addition, the vortex creates more bubbles in the tanks, which leads to a faster and more efficient collection of organic compounds.
The Coralife super skimmer also features a wide collection cup for ease of foam production. Also, the collection cup has an ‘easy twist’ mode, which makes it easy to screw off. You don’t have to worry about making a mess when removing the cup.
Thanks to the dual injection inlets and the energy-efficient motor, the skimmer has a silent run.
- Efficient and inexpensive
- Easy to set up
- 1 Year warranty plus customer service support
- Does not adjust easily
If you have a 40 to 60-gallon fish tank, this is probably the ideal HOB protein skimmer for you. This protein skimmer uses a pump to move water from your tank into three different chambers for proper cleaning.
The Macro Aqua skimmer also has a needle-to-wheel impeller which increases the amount of oxygen in the tank by blowing more bubbles than most other models. This feature cleans up your tank at a faster rate. The skimmer’s water flow is also faster at a rate of 238 gallons every hour. This means if you have a 40-gallon tank, the skimmer will filter the water about six times every hour.
The skimmer is made of plastic and is highly sturdy. The skimmer also features an easily removable collection cup for an easy cleaning process.
- Easy to install
- Easy to maintain
- Minimal design
- Relatively inexpensive
- Long adjustment period
Another needle-wheel impeller in the market, the AquaMaxx HOB 1.5 protein skimmer, has a bubble diffuser that produces large amounts of foam inside the tank. The foam then collects the dissolved organics, which the pump and impeller direct to the collection cup.
The pump, impeller, and bubble diffuser increase the cleaning efficiency of the skimmer.
This HOB protein skimmer is compatible with various tank sizes ranging between 40 to 100 gallons of water. The skimmer also features a collection cup, which collects the waste and makes cleaning a breeze.
- Easy to install and maintain
- Convenient minimal design
- Silent run
- Comparatively expensive to alternative models.
Ideal for home tanks with a capacity of up to 80 gallons, the MagTool Nano DC Pinwheel Protein Skimmer is 3 inches in diameter and has a minimal compact design. If you have less space in your home, this protein skimmer might be the best one for you.
The skimmer has a cone-shaped chamber which allows the easy collection of bubbles. It also features a DC pump with a needle-wheel-impeller design, enabling the skimmer to run silently.
The MagTool Nano DC skimmer’s body is rotatable, making it easy to adjust water levels. This feature makes it easy to collect foam and control moisture levels.
- Easy to use and install
- Low noise
- It only works in rimless tanks.
How to Set Up HOB Protein Skimmers
Most HOB protein skimmers are relatively straightforward to install, but understanding the process will help prepare you for a seamless installation. The steps below will help you set up your skimmers the right way in no time.
Step 1: Choose the Appropriate Protein Skimmer
Based on the guide above, you first need to select the suitable skimmer thatâ€™s ideal for your tank. For small fish tanks, a hang-on back protein skimmer is usually best to minimize how much tank space it takes up. You should also consider the skimmer’s capacity, which should be higher than your aquarium’s capacity.
Step 2: Unbox and Clean Accessories
After making your HOB protein skimmer purchase, the next step is to unbox and remove all skimmer components. Next, check to see whether all parts are in the package. The instruction manual will list all parts and where to place them.
In case of a missing or broken part, contact the supplier immediately for its replacement. Avoid installing the skimmer with faulty parts since it will cause the skimmer to function ineffectively, potentially putting your fish at risk.
If all parts are accounted for, you can proceed by cleaning the accessories. Avoid using detergent or any acidic solution when cleaning. Warm water and a dry towel will suffice.
Step 3: Assemble All Accessories
Most protein skimmers will just have a few parts that click together. You can follow the instruction manual to make sure itâ€™s put together properly before moving onto the installation.
Step 4: Install the HOB Protein Skimmer
With all accessories in place, proceed to install the protein skimmer in your fish tank. You need to install the skimmer at the proper water level based on the capacity and the power of the pump. The skimmer’s instruction manual will guide you on this.
Step 5: Run a Test
After installation, connect the skimmer to a power supply and check to see whether the protein skimmer is working. Itâ€™s best to monitor how it works over the next five days to ensure proper and safe functionality.
How to Tune a HOB Protein Skimmer
For peak performance of your HOB protein skimmer, it is advisable to tune it. Unfortunately, many models do not provide enough information on adjusting your skimmer and what factors affect performance.
You should tune your protein skimmer about an hour before feeding fish or introducing water additives. This is because some additives may affect bubble formation while others may increase it, making it impractical to tune your skimmer.
If you’re using a needle wheel skimmer, the steps below will help fine-tune your skimmer for optimal performance.
- Turn your speed controllable pump to 100%.
- Fully open the gate valve or wedge pipe adjustment. For the wedge pipe adjustment, you only need to turn the knob.
- While monitoring the foam and bubbles in the skimmer, close the air valve slowly. Continue making slight adjustments on the air valve until the bubbles reach their maximum height. It is advisable to give the adjustments 30 seconds to observe the bubble behavior.
- Turn the gate valve or wedge pipe slowly to reduce the water outflow rate. Reducing water flow will push the water levels higher in the skimmer. Once the bubbles reach the bottom of the neck skimmer or the collection cup, you can stop making the adjustments.
- Monitor the skimmer for 10 to 20 minutes for any changes. If you notice brown bubbles at the top of the foam head or bubble column, then you are good to go.
To prevent having to re-tune your skimmer each time you feed your fish, it is best to switch it off before adding any food. The bubble column should naturally rise after 1-2 hours, with bubbles leaping up and over into the collection cup. The foam head/bubble column will automatically rise up and down during regular operation.
If you’re having trouble collecting any waste, slightly close the gate valve or wedge pipe to force more bubbles upwards into the collection cup. If the junk in your collection cup appears to be very watery, you can reduce the water levels by slightly opening the gate valve or wedge pipe.
Protein skimmers are wonderful tools that help you maintain proper water quality in your aquarium without having to do frequent testing and constant water changes. By pulling impurities and toxins out of the water, your fish will be left with a healthy environment to thrive.
Hopefully, the guide above has helped you make the proper protein skimmer selection for your aquarium. Our top recommendation is the Coral Vue Technology BH-1000 Octopus with External 1000 Pump. This option is suitable for medium and large fish tanks, offers peak performance and cleaning capabilities, and is relatively straightforward and easy to install and clean.