Mr. Saltwater Tank TV Friday AM Quick Tip #115: Protein Skimmer Cleaning For The Busy Person


Protein skimmers for saltwater tanks are valuable nutrient export tools until they get dirty.  Once dirty, their efficiency and cleaning power plummets.  A full cleaning of your protein skimmer’s cup is best, and sometimes you just don’t have the time.  When you are in a bind, here’s how to clean your skimmer’s cup quickly.

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Comments for this article (35)

  • Louis says:

    Along with same idea, I use one of those sponge mop dish (glass/baby bottle) short handled cleaners. Much better than the squeegee you suggest. Make sure that EVERYONE in the family knows what it s for exclusively. And speaking of that, I keep a rectangular Tupperware box in the cupboard marked FISH ONLY that I keep sponges, scrubbers, etc, anything I use for my tanks that requires using water to wash. Good suggestion Mark, keep on reefing!

  • Matt says:

    That’s the cheapest skimmer neck cleaner I’ve seen to date … 😀

    Great idea … although I must confess I’m considering a self cleaning head on our skimmer as its got a HUGE collection cup! Not that proper inspection and cleaning should ever be neglected when it comes to skimmers… 🙂

    Cracking little tip … just no one lick the spatula, this ain’t no cake mix 😛

  • Angel says:

    Great idea..
    Since I have a large SWC Skimmer I found it easy to use a “Vent Brush” to go down the neck as well as the neck of the cup. This brush is cylindrical and does not harm the plastic. I also found that when it’s time to clean the whole Protein Skimmer, I take it apart and submerge the parts in vinegar (75% water) to take out the stubborn build-up.

  • JasPR says:

    excellent tip. But prepare the divorce papers if the wife sees you using her cooking epuipment! 🙂 JasPR

  • David says:

    Hey Mark,
    Just wanted you and all your subscribers to know about the first annual reefcon2013 in Orlando March 16 & 17 at the Orlando Fair Grounds.
    To find out more go to http://www.reefcon2013.com
    Hope to see you there

  • mitch says:

    Wouldn’t it be wise to have a “tank maintenance only” spatula as residual dish soap could potentially poison the tank? I realize that it would only be a very small amount… but that is still too big of a risk in my opinion… I have too much invested.

    Plus, spatulas are wicked cheap…

    Just my $0.02! 😛

  • mitch..the very small amount of soap residue that might be on the spatula won’t poison a whole tank.

    Now would a spatula that was used in your protein skimmer poison your marriage/relationship as JasPR suggested? That’s a more likely scenario! If that’s a worry of yours, just run it through the dishwasher before she notices!

  • dave from brooklyn says:

    I’ve been using the handled cup sponge for ages now. Just pick up a couple of cheap ones at the 99 cent store and leave a separate one fir dishes. Do you really want what my daughter calls fish poop on your dishes. Lol

    Happy Wife happy life

  • Mike says:

    Good idea, there are many good ways to clean the neck I prefer a bottle brush. It has a sponge and bristles with a long handle. Just another idea!

  • BRIAN says:

    I use a toilet brush specially designated for my skimmer.

  • Jerry says:

    I have a Swabbie, auto cleaner on my Avast Black Pearl skimmer and the amount of waste that it removes is unbelievable. I’m going to add one to the Geo skimmer on my other tank the next time I’m at George’s shop. Want to see what kind of design he comes up with!

  • Jimbo says:

    This is nutz! If one owns a reef tank and spends all that time on it as they do cleaning the skimmer neck should be a some-what joyful thing to know its really working and thats enough reason right there to keep it clean… takes what a few minutes… lol…. Louis make a comment that he keeps a tupperware full of sponges etc.. in the Kitchen cupboard that makes no sense at all one day it will get mixed up in with other stuff keep it near or in the tank stand! peace… Some maintence just has to be done or get the skimmer with the wiper blades!

  • sanchezkk says:

    That’s a real good idea. But, does it really make it all of a difference?

  • Alexander t says:

    I started using this a couple months ago after wasting half a roll of toilet paper lol.

  • sanchezkk…the difference between a dirty skimmer neck and a clean one is night and day.

  • Rob Melo says:

    Hey guys,
    leave the spatulas for the wives or girlfriends and pick up an oversized bottle cleaner brush from say walmart its what I have been using for years; just a few strokes and voila clean as a whistle. The best part is that you won’t kill your foam head because your dumping that “thin layer” of waste back into the skimmer and forces your skimmer to push it out into the collection cup almost immediately.

  • Rob…the waste you scrape off gets put into the skimmer cup. That way the skimmer doesn’t have to work to remove it.

  • Rob Melo says:

    I hear you Mark,
    Thats why I mentioned a thin layer ( say 4-5 days worth) its so minute that the skimmer won’t even notice it. Now for those of you that have skimmer necks that look like sewer pipes then obviously this might not be for you. Anyway Happy reefing to you all.

  • Dang Rob…what does your skimmate look like? After 1 day I’ve got dark dark brown skimmate and goop in the neck. Even turning down the output valve still gives me solids in the neck on the skimmer.

  • Rob Melo says:

    I run mine on the wet side so I don’t really get that sludge your talking about. The Juice in my cup smells like hell, and my tank looks amazing so I’d say its Working.

  • Mike says:

    Yeah! Glad my tip made it.

    I would like to have an auto wiper device, but I just don’t have that big of a tank, and therefore not that big of a skimmer. The spatula solution has been great for me. I still do a full cup clean every week, but each time I feed, I do a quick spatula wipe and my skimmer has never performed better. I keep it in the cabinet, right next to my sump, so no worries about accidentally cooking with it!

  • Abilio says:

    I should probably mention it is not a good idea from your own health point of view to reuse this in your kitchen afterwards.

    No matter how well you clean it you have no idea what toxins or bacteria would embed themselves in the rubber/silicone/plastic, and given that our tanks would be far more concentrated than the ocean in all those nasties. Especially if you’d be ingesting it through food. Better to be safe than sorry. I recommend to keep your own fish only tools.

  • Matt Allen says:

    Hmm … I’d better stop cleaning my skimmer neck with my fingers then … At least I don’t bite my nails afterwards I guess … 😛

  • James Day says:

    It would take more time to run to the kitchen to get a spatua, than it does to take a scrubby and give it a once over. That quick tip is rediculous

  • Lisa says:

    You mention that amount of soap won’t poison your whole tank. Aren’t you kind of operating on the assumption that everyone rinses their dishes properly? I know a few people who don’t.

  • Mike says:

    The idea is to have a dedicated spatula for your tank. I got mine for less than $5. Then there are no worries about soap, kitchen confusion or anything else. Keep it next to your skimmer and the process only takes a couple seconds.

  • Matt Allen says:

    James – I think the idea is you keep it handy… plus my tank is next to my kitchen so the tip would work perfectly for me 🙂 Think you’re being a little bit picky on that one 😉

    Lisa – The concentrations we’re talking about would be minimal … if it was enough to damage the tank it would most likely be hurting the person who doesn’t rinse properly … 🙂 Certainly any toxic levels would be diluted by weekly water changes …

  • debby says:

    just a reminder…..not all tank people are male, and not all kitchen people are female!!!

  • Matt Allen says:

    This is very true … My lovely lass can do a water change quicker than me as long as I haul the barrels in for her 😀

    She’s also far better at coral placement but don’t tell her I told you so … 😉

  • Danny Murphy says:

    My a idea for a quick tip is whenever someone feeds their fish, they should watch them eat and they shouldn’t wander off.

  • Fishtk75 says:

    Mark, you still have the seachem matrix in the sump?
    You said about carbon dosing?

  • The matrix is still in the sump, yes

  • Rick Tobey says:

    My next build, I want an automatic neck cleaner for the skimmer. I’m all about making it easy.

  • Phill says:

    way bad idea never throw the skimmer gunk from the neck of the skimmer in to the collection cup, just throw it out! That gunk just might clog the small outlet hole in your skimmer cup and cause all the gunk to reenter your aquarium.

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