A nano tank is one of the most unique forms of fishkeeping around.
The organisms and fish in the tiny space are exciting, beautiful, and usually colorful, and the compactness of the reef draws the eyes in a way that few other things in your home could.
These small eco-systems are delicate, though, and need the best equipment to help keep them clean and healthy for those corals and clownfish. And one of those equipment pieces most necessary for this is a nano protein skimmer.
Below you’ll find information and our reviews to help you find the best nano protein skimmer.
Best Nano Protein Skimmer Quick-Find Table
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What is a Protein Skimmer?
A protein skimmer – also known as a foam fractionator – is a device designed for use in an aquarium.
The device skims off and removes organic compounds such as uneaten food particles and wash waste.
They’re used in large capacities in places like water treatment plants and public aquariums, but small aquarium owners – specifically saltwater aquarists – use them to clear out gunk and keep their fish tanks cleaner and healthier.
How Does a Protein Skimmer Work?
Protein skimmers are also called foam fractionators because this is the actual function of a nano protein skimmer.
The skimmer produces foam – tiny, even microscopic air bubbles – that floats up and rests on the water surface in your aquarium. This foam captures the undesirable waste and bi products in our fish tank.
The waste clings to the foam bubbles much the way soap clings to the bubbles of air blown through a bubble blower that kids use.
Author note: The result is that all that nasty stuff that can make your fish sick clings to those microscopic bubbles and is then skimmed off the surface of the water by the protein skimmer device. Protein skimmers are literal lifesavers.
Why a Protein Skimmer is Important for Nano Tanks
Protein skimmers get rid of waste that builds up in your aquarium.
And just like you clean your bathtub to remove the soap scum and bacteria that grows their to avoid becoming ill, your nano tank needs to have the crud removed.
This helps you to avoid bad bacteria from collecting and growing in the nano tank and messing with the water quality.
Author note: Because nano tanks are such small, concentrated closed “eco-systems,” they are even more prone to significant issues if these wastes – extra food, plant waste, algae, fish waste, et cetera – are left in the water.
Some folks are concerned that a protein skimmer for nano tank will detract from the beauty of their tiny environment.
But there are special skimmers designed to be the smallest, most unobtrusive models possible to lessen this issue. These are the ones we’re reviewing and suggesting below.
When You Need to Use a Protein Skimmer
There are three primary types of aquariums that need protein skimmers.
Fish Only or Live Rock Aquariums
Aquariums that either fish only populations or heavily organic live rock situations produce a lot of extra waste that other fish tanks don’t.
This means they need extra help in cleaning up after themselves. A protein skimmer is ideal for this task.
Aquariums with Invertebrates
Aquariums that house invertebrates benefit from protein skimmers heavily. These creatures release extra toxins into the water that can harm the other residents of the aquarium.
Protein skimmers remove these toxins along with the other biological waste.
The other place you need a protein skimmer is a reef aquarium – whether nano or full-size.
Corals are a very sensitive living organism that cannot handle the organic waste of many of the other creatures in there. The waste is toxic for them.
Author note: A protein skimmer regularly removes this waste and keeps your nano reef tank safe and healthy for the whole aquatic life environment. This means way less work for you.
Risks of Not Using a Protein Skimmer for Your Nano Reef
We’ve pretty much covered this already, but just to emphasize the necessity of a protein skimmer: your nano tank is at risk if you skip on the skimming.
The biological waste of fish and leftover food and the bioload of certain invertebrates and other animals can cause harm to the other living organisms in your tank.
Technically, you could clean your tank freaking often to clear away the toxins, but a protein skimmer quickly and consistently does the work for you without hassle.
Top tip: A protein skimmer for your nano tank will save you hours of work and possibly save the lives of your aquatic pals.
Types of Protein Skimmers Available
There are a variety of protein skimmer types available to choose from. Examine your own situation -space, perspectives on the nano tank, et cetera – as you read up to decide which is best for you.
Hang-on skimmers – or HOBs – do just what the name indicates: they hang from the back of the aquarium.
In-tank skimmers for nano tanks are compact and designed to submerse into the fish tank. They’re slim and unobtrusive, and highly effective when they’re well-built.
These usually use suction cups to stay in place.
In-sump protein skimmers are designed to work inside the aquarium sump.
They come in a variety of sizes and powers, so be sure to choose the right one for your sump system, if this is the route you choose.
Finally, the external skimmer rests separately from the aquarium.
The water is fed through the skimmer, which cleans it, and returned to the aquarium.
How to Choose the Best Nano Protein Skimmer
Now that you’re aware of the types of skimmers that exist and why you need one, it’s important to keep a few things in mind as you shop.
You can search for “best internal protein skimmer” and come up with reviews and ratings that don’t match the quality of the skimmer.
It’s important to not only read those reviews, but to be aware of a few of things first before you even start shopping.
Know Your Budget
Setting up a new aquarium (especially a blackwater aquarium) can be pricey. You’ve got loads of equipment to choose from and purchase, the tank, the live rocks or corals, and, of course, the fish.
Author note: If you’re operating with a tight budget, it’s important to do a basic overview on the prices of the various equipment pieces you need and set a firm guideline for yourself with an ultimate cap on what you can spend.
Know the Tank Size You’re Working With
Skimmers are geared toward different size aquariums, so it’s important to either already have the aquarium or know the size you’ll be purchasing when you buy your nano protein skimmer.
The skimmer needs to be able to handle the amount of water in the tank.
Decide on the Power You Need
Some experts say that the power behind the skimmer is actually more important than the size of your tank.
Larger aquariums need powerful protein skimmers, but nano reefs house extremely sensitive organisms that need uber clear, clean water.
Some experts recommend using a more powerful protein skimmer than size would suggest to ensure the more sensitive species in your tank thrive instead of just survive.
Consider the Size of the Skimmer
Of course, since we’re working with nano tanks, we want to make sure that the fish tank skimmer you purchase works with your tank.
It needs to be small enough that it won’t block views, take up too much space around the aquarium, or otherwise feel massive in comparison to the small size fish tank.
Reviews of the Best Nano Protein Skimmers
There are many popular options out there – the Eshopps nano skimmer, the Tunze, the Hydor nano skimmer or Hydor slim skim, the Comline DOC, even the Fluval Sea PS1 protein skimmer.
But they are definitely not all equal to each other.
Some are made of the highest quality materials and come from trusted brands, while others are chintzy and won’t work for long.
To make sure that we’re only offering the best suggestions, we’ve done our research into these best of the best and come up with this list of best small protein skimmers on the market.
The Mame Skimmer is the best-looking skimmer out there. It’s slim, sleek, and nearly completely unnoticeable at a glance, which makes it great for nano tanks, since it’s also got a small footprint and fits in tight spaces.
Your tiny tank needs a small, unobtrusive protein skimmer to keep everything healthy and your eyes happy.
The incredibly well-built Mame Skimmer does all that while also cleanly removing the waste from your aquarium. It works quietly while encouraging better gas exchange by dissolving oxygen in the high pressure sealed skimmer tube.
- Type of skimmer: HOB or AIO filter placement
- Dimensions: 3.9 x 3.9 x 11.4 inches
- Weight: 9.6 ounces
- Use for tanks up to: 20 gallons
- Bonus features: N/A
What We Loved
There are some really great things about this protein skimmer for nano aquariums.
The first is the ultra-slim design. It’s perfect for tucking away, out of sight, meaning it’s a much more attractive option for your nano tank than many of the other much larger, clunkier options.
Because of that slim and sleek design, it also fits into tight corners and weird spaces that other skimmers can’t fit. Since it works as either an HOB or AIO filter insert, this really can go anywhere.
Though it needs an air pump, it doesn’t also need a water pump to keep it working and in good running condition.
Plus, it’s super easy for anyone to set up and run.
And, best of all, this is a very high-quality protein skimmer that is worth the price, if you’ve got it to invest.
The combination of quiet running, next to zero heat output and the strong oxygenation it also adds while powerfully skimming away the crud makes this a truly fantastic product.
What We Didn’t Love
There are a few things that detract from the overall quality of the Mame Skimmer.
The first is that it’s a bit pricey. It’s definitely not the most expensive on the market, but it is at the higher end of the spectrum, meaning it’s a bit more difficult for beginner aquarists to justify unless they’ve got an abundant budget.
The system also doesn’t include an air pump, which can be a bit frustrating, especially with the price. But for those who want to customize their tank, this is the best option anyway, since you can choose which air pump to use.
Our Verdict on the Mame Skimmer
The ultra-slim, nearly completely unobtrusive Mame Skimmer is an all-around great option as a nano tank protein skimmer.
The quiet operation also makes it more usable while it does the work you need it to. It doesn’t require a water pump, you can choose your own air pump for the best customized tank possible, and it’s made of super high-quality materials.
Plus, it doesn’t add any extra heat to your nano tank but does improve the gas exchange while skimming cleanly.
All-in-all, this is a phenomenal setup for long-time aquarists or beginning hobbyists.
The Azoo Aquarium Nano Surface Skimmer 250 is the smallest protein skimmer that we could find that’s actually worth recommending.
This device uses a special air buoy design to automatically adjust to the water level in your tank to provide the best long-term skimming power.
This mini internal protein skimmer has a security inlet flap design that prevents your small fish, shrimp, or other tiny critters from being sucked up into the skimmer.
It also adjusts automatically to the size of the aquarium you’re using. It’s easy to install, maintain, and clean.
- Type of skimmer: Internal skimmer
- Dimensions: 5 x 1.8 x 2.2 inches
- Weight: 8 ounces
- Use for tanks up to: 20 gallons
- Bonus features: Automatically adjusts to aquarium water level and security flap for fish safety
What We Loved
I love the clear body on the Azoo 250. This makes it much easier to monitor quickly, which means I can keep my nano aquarium clean and healthy easier.
The special security inlet float and flap design is also great, especially for folks keeping small critters in their nano tanks. It prevents them from getting sucked up while also adjusting to the water’s height automatically.
The whole thing has uber powerful film suction for getting out the crud – which also means I don’t have to worry about a thing, since I can run it 24/7 without issue.
It’s reasonably energy efficient as well, so that doesn’t cause more pocketbook problems.
This protein skimmer for nano tanks is also extremely budget-friendly while also being well-made. Win-win.
What We Didn’t Love
There are two consistent issues I’ve seen with this particular skimmer.
First, this micro protein skimmer is a bit noisy. It’s tiny and it’s slim, but it’s noisy.
So though aesthetically it doesn’t disrupt your aquarium space too much, the noise can be a bit much if you have sensitive ears or keep your nano tank in a bedroom.
The second issue is like the first and probably causes the first: it vibrates a bit too much. The Azoo 250 is effective and efficient, but because it’s always adjusting to the water level, it vibrates a bit more than some people would prefer.
This generally isn’t too much of an issue, but if you have a particularly sensitive grouping of aquatic critters, it could be a major drawback.
Our Verdict on the Azoo Aquarium Nano Surface Skimmer 250
Ultimately, the Azoo 250 is a great option for anyone looking for a tiny, nearly invisible protein skimmer.
The clear body makes it easy to maintain while being less distracting inside the tank and the overall quality is fairly high.
It works efficiently and quickly, but it can be noisy and vibrates a bit too much for uber-sensitive aquarium life. If you need something super small but quiet, you may want to look into some other options that aren’t quite as tiny.
Note: Some folks say the Azoo works for larger tanks, but the compact size seems to be more in line for working as a protein skimmer for a 20 gallon tank.
This is also not a replacement for a filter, despite some of the packaging suggestions that imply it could work as such for a planted aquarium.
For the best protein skimmer for nano tanks that are just a little bigger, the Macro Aqua M-50 Mini is a great choice.
It’s specifically designed for use in saltwater tanks up to 60-gallons – the larger model works on twice that size – and is powerful enough to effectively eliminate that nasty waste you need gone for the health of your fish.
With a water flow of 238 GPH, the Macro Aqua M-50 is definitely the best nano skimmers model you can find for larger nano tanks.
It’s also not so powerful that it can’t be used on 15 or 20 gallon tanks, either, which is a great bonus for those with ultra-sensitive marine creatures who need a really clean aquarium environment.
- Type of skimmer: HOB
- Dimensions: 5.5 x 5.5 x 13.5 inches
- Weight: 2 pounds
- Use for tanks up to: 60 gallons
What We Loved
The Macro Aqua M-50 has lots of positives. The first is that it’s incredibly good at its job. It really bubbles and skims away the crud quickly and efficiently.
It’s also got a great needle to wheel impeller that kicks up the air to water contact for a cleaner, deeper skim.
You don’t have to prime this nano protein skimmer either, which is nice. Just plug it in and let it work.
And the size is another great bonus. It’s not the smallest out there, but it’s pretty close. It neatly tucks into the corner, hanging on the back of your aquarium without issue.
What We Didn’t Love
The primary issue with the Macro Aqua M-50 is that it’s a bit noisy. For those needing an uber-quiet model, you may not be able to use this one.
The other issue is that it can take a little while to break in. For super sensitive tanks, this can be an issue. If, however, you can wait on it, it’s really a great choice.
Our Verdict on the Macro Aqua M-50 Mini
Overall, the Macro Aqua M-50 is a great option for clean, efficient protein skimming in a nano tank up to 60-gallons – 30 for best results.
You’ll find it works well, really digging deep with those micro-bubbles and getting rid of the scum, but that’s kind of noisy in most cases.
It will do the trick, though, so it’s worth the investment, especially since it’s reasonably priced.
Nano Tank FAQs
As you consider your protein skimmer options for your nano reef tank, you may have some other questions on the topic of nano tanks. Here are a few FAQs that might help.
What are the advantages of keeping a nano aquarium?
If you’re willing to put in the work and have the time to do so, nano tanks have a number of advantages over other types of saltwater tanks.
They use less space, for one – which is a huge bonus for many folks, especially those living in smaller spaces like apartments.
They’re more cost effective that other saltwater tanks as well, as they don’t require as much equipment and can’t house as many fish, corals, etc.
Many nano tanks are ready to go right out of the box. There’s no need for external plumbing or major equipment installations.
Nano tanks require less electricity than larger saltwater aquariums.
Do I have to have a protein skimmer for my nano reef tank?
Different folks will give different answers on this one.
I don’t think protein skimmers are necessary in every case, but a lot of times, your nano tank will be easier to maintain and healthier with one installed.
What kind of fish do well in a nano tank?
There are a number of great species who do well in a nano tank.
Corals, for example, when chosen correctly, can do well in a nano tank. They must be paired with “reef safe” fish species, however, for their safety and health.
Some of the best fish species for a nano tank include
- Royal gramma
- Neon goby
- Fire goby
- Ocellerais clownfish
- Coral beauty angelfish
- Orchid dottyback
- Pygmy hawk
- Six line wrasse