Protein Skimmer Troubleshooting Guide

Troubleshooting Skimmer Over-Foaming

- Skimmers take 2-4 weeks to break in. If the skimmer is new, open outlet fully (or raise collection cup as high as possible) allow the skimmate to drain back in to the aquarium and let the skimmer break in for 2-4 weeks. Microbubbles will also subside after the break-in period.

New Aquariums will usually have very dirty water that cause skimmers to overflow. A few weekly 20%-25% water changes and running activated carbon after the tank has fully cycled will eliminate the over-flowing problem.

Water Level - In-sump skimmers require constant water levels to function properly. Check to make sure your water level is set at the correct height for the skimmer and this water level does not fluctuate.

Equipment – a dirty or clogged venturi (where air enters the pump) may cause the skimmer to pull too much water. Make sure to clean the venturi and clear out any debris, salt/calcium build up. Also, clean the needlewheel impeller and inspect the airline and air silencer. 

Water Viscosity - If the skimmer is installed and setup properly and it continues to overflow after the break-in period, it is usually due to a change in the viscosity (thickness) of the water. If the water is thick (more viscous), the skimmer will foam more as air bubbles will stay in the water column much longer. If the water is thin (less viscous), the skimmer will foam less.

There are several factors that will increase the viscosity of the water in the aquarium. These include: certain additives, bacterial supplements, water conditioners, medications, greasy frozen foods, epoxy glue, sudden increase in organics, new filter socks and sometimes newly mixed salt water.

To reduce viscosity, a large water change (around 25%) and running twice the usual amount of activated carbon will help to lower the viscosity of the water back to normal levels. Perform another large water change after one week and replace the activated carbon if the problem persists.

If the over-foaming problem is severe and the above water change procedure has already been done, we would recommend the procedure outlined below:

  1. Have 5 gallons of new clean saltwater on hand
  2. Turn off your Automatic Top Off System, if applicable.
  3. Adjust the skimmer so you set the water level inside the skimmer low so you have the cup filling up slowly with skimmate/suds.
  4. For the drain fitting at the bottom of the skimmer cup, connect tubing to it and allow it to slowly drain into a separate bucket
  5. Allow the skimmate to overflow and exit out of your system. The tiny microbubbles have a lot of surface area so it will eventually pull out whatever is causing your skimmer to overflow.
  6. Top off your aquarium with the new clean saltwater as the water level drops.
  7. In our experience this process can take 1-3 hours, but the over-foaming issue should be resolved within a day.

If over-foaming occurs regularly, you will need to implement a regiment that maintains a lower water viscosity. Some of these steps include: thawing then rinsing the frozen food in RO/DI water and straining the food before feeding, adding certain additives daily in smaller amounts instead of weekly in larger amounts, eliminating certain additives, always running activated carbon and changing it monthly, rinsing new filter socks thoroughly before use, perform more-frequent water changes, turning off the skimmer for a few hours after a water change, Etc..

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