Terrible Advice Tuesdays: It Skims, Stinks, and Can Hurt You?


Terrible Advice Tuesdays: Cleaning your skimmer’s cup by hand is not safe. Chemicals in the skimmate can be absorbed by your skin which can make you sick. Use an spray nozzle instead of your hands.

The rest of the story: Let’s look at some facts first:

A.) Absorption of chemicals through the skin is slow…quite slow

B.) While skimmate is made up of a bunch of different substances, there is very likely NOT a chemical in it that is so toxic that the short amount of time you come in contact with it (while you cleaning the skimmer cup) that it will be absorbed by your skin and make you sick.

C.) Wearing gloves while working around your tank is the solution if you fear the so-called “toxicity” of skimmate. This fact is especially true if you have any open cuts on your hands as those cuts would make for an easier way for bacteria or toxins to get in your body.

If you clean your skimmer’s cup bare handed (like I do), rinsing your hands with soap and water afterwards is a good idea. While skimmate won’t make you sick just by touching it, the last thing you want to do is smell like skimmate all day!

Bottom line: Don’t fear the skimmate, just wash your hands!

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Comments for this article (25)

  • stephen says:

    WELL I USE AN OLD TOOTH BRUSH ONCE A WEEK TO CLEAN MY SKIM TUBE BRILLANT THEN ROLL UP SOME PAPER KITCHEN TOWELL SO ITS TIGHT GOING INTO THE NECK SO ITS DRY. JOB DONE MY TANKS A SET UP 2 YEARS NOW HANG ON BACK SKKIM 2 FOOT SQUARE CUBE BUT 40″ DEEP ALL LIVE ROCK SLOPES DOWN LIKE A REEF BRILL .BRITTLE STAR.BI COLOUR ANGLE . SHRIMPS .CLOWNS .GREEN BUBBLE TIP .CLEANER WRASS.X2 FETHER DARTS .TURBUN SNAILS .GREEN STAR POLYOS .ZEENIA .SOFT TOAD STOOL .ALL THIS AND WITH NO FANCY EQUIPMENT REALY ,FLUVAL 206 WITH CHARCOAL .NITRATE ELIMINATER BAG AND FLOSS TO CATCH THE MUCK THATS IT REALY X2 T5S AND A LED 6″ TILE RIGHT IN THE MIDLE OF THE LID’ 2 YEARS NOW LOVE IT” .ANY COMENTS ON MY SET UP WITHOUT POSH STUFF “? STEVE FROM ENGLAND

  • Dave says:

    Hey stephen, See that little key in between your left Shift and the Tab key? Tap that once to turn it off and then do me a favor and never touch it again, OK? I’ll let someone else jump in about the commas and spelling…

    As always, great advice, Mark!

  • Nigel says:

    I DONT KNOW WHAT WE’RE YELLING ABOUT!!!!

  • Bob says:

    That post gave me eye Cancer…

    Good topic though Mark. Yes there are some nasties potentially in our tanks but some folk are hypochondriacs.

    I would suggest a nail brush though! To scrub down correctly! Don’t want any globs of fish poo stuck in there!

  • Adam says:

    I was my hands before and after working on my tank anyway. I think if you don’t like the idea of fish poop etc. On your hands, wear gloves, if you don’t care, don’t.

  • Tim says:

    I know from bitter experience that you can get a skin infection from your tank. But I think mine came from scratching myself on live rock while working in the tank. Pretty nasty stuff; had to go on antibiotics and it took several weeks to clear up completely. Now I’m religious about wearing gloves when I put my hands in the tank. I’m not as fanatical when I clean the skimmer cup, though. Like everyone else, I just scrub up after using the brushes.

  • Enrique says:

    We All should wear gloves wile handling our tank stuff. I think this is not good advice (Sorry Mark) cause we often have cuts and Mycobacterium marinum is always a possibility. I don’t think chemicals will hurt but we should talk more about the risks that we take putting our hands in our tanks, since in there we grow several types of bacteria. Prevention as good tank husbandry are always a good advice. And we should spread more info and the danger of Mycobacterium marinum.

  • Josh says:

    Enrique, please read part c to his comment. I myself use a rubber spatula and the spray nozzle on my sink to clean my skin cup. As for cleaning the tank I do not wear glove while cleaning or performing maintenance on my tank. For one I have not found a glove that will cover my whole arm and I know that my hands are fully emerged in the tank which allows water into the top of the glove plus hands aren’t the only thing that can dawn cut on them “arms”. Be cautious and wash after every time you put your hands in the tank, best rule of thumb.

  • anthony pizzutillo says:

    I contracted mycobacterium marinum in my hand a couple of years ago. The portal was cracked skin or a hand scratch. Very difficult and painful. It took about 6 months of antibiotics to clear it. Be careful before you place your hands into your tank.

  • Enrique says:

    I have read part C but the impression of the hole advice since at the end it says Mark doesn’t use gloves is not to use them. Sorry but this is a bad advice. Lots of peolple such as Anthony get mycobacterium marinum (sorry for that Anthony, that sucks). There are full arm size gloves such as the made from Coralife or other brands you can find online, I would advice everyone to always use gloves. This prevents getting something from the tank as from introducing something to it. Is like safe sex, it is always a good advice! :p

  • Troops says:

    Enrique,

    Seems everyone reads things differently. I personally read it as “Mark does not use gloves” but that’s his choice do what you see fit.

    The subject is what it is about people over reacting to something that is not 100% true. So it brings to light that not to worry to much if you do use gloves and god forbid some skimmate gets into the glove you’re not going to suddenly die from it.

    All the best

  • David says:

    I drink skimmate. Has never been a problem.

  • Guy says:

    I use a 4-5 foot length of weed wacker line to run thru the skimmer drain hose to clear it of obstruction-algae growth every time I clean my skimmer. I also run that hose from the skimmer collection cup to a 5 gallon bucket.

  • Matt says:

    And certainly don’t EVER taste test it … well … don’t do more than gargle if you must…

  • Marty says:

    I just use my hands and don’t worry about it.

    As for cleaning the tank , I just use the right tools and bare hands.

    But as always good advice

  • Moose says:

    Well, interesting topic. Simplicity at its best. The answer to the toxicity is dilution. The more you wash with clean water. The less you are exposed to in ppm. 🙂 as a mechanic I choose to wear nitril gloves as not to contaminate my tank. If I need to go in could’ve deep. I use gloves that are plastic that go to my shoulder (Vet large animal delivery gloves).

  • Charles says:

    I use a toilet brush to clean out the skimmer cup.

  • JohnM says:

    I use cheap sponges that you can get in the corners then after a time it goes bad throw it out.

    Now there is one thing if someone as cut on there finger I would not clean the cup but wear gloves.

  • ska d says:

    Maybe we should wrap ourselves in plastic before we even leave the house. Those that have been afraid thier whole lives to touch anything would probably get sick from handling moldy bread. We used to let our kids play in the mud and they were tough as nails. Nowadays you bring a peanut butter sandwich to school and you are enemy number one. Imagine sending your kid to school with a cup of skimate. Ouch. There’s a reason some people can handle just about anythong , its called an immune system.

  • drstvk says:

    Josh and anybody else who need them: go to Amazon and look up Obstetrical gloves. Being a Veterinarian, these are used for horses and cows. They are full arm length, disposable, inexpensive, and water wont run down your arm when you work in your tank. No you won’t need them for cleaning the skimmer, but they are great for handling corals and anemones in the tank.

  • drstvk…you are bringing back memories of my large animal surgery center days!

  • Ted says:

    Not a good idea to clean your collection cup with abrasive materials such as scouring pads as they leave scratches not good as the bubbles pop.

  • Ted says:

    Not a good idea to clean your collection cup neck with abrasive materials such as scouring pads as they leave scratches not good as the bubbles pop.

  • Vasco says:

    I always wear gloves and use a skimmer brush when I clean the skimmer cup for two main reasons:

    1) to prevent bacterial infection in case I have a cut, which I often do. It is after all fish poo and pee.

    2) Tunze skimmers instructions tell you never to use your hands to clean the skimmer neck, as grease from your hands will prevent the skimmer from performing at their best.

  • Luis says:

    Would you run a skimmer on a brackish water tank that has three silver tip sharks that are about 7inches biggest one is 8 and there’s three of them

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