Why is a Surface Skimmer Important in Planted Tanks?

Are you wondering if you need a surface skimmer for your fish tank? Or are you wondering if it is just one of those aquarium accessories that you can skip purchasing? Do you also have many live plants in your fish tank? This article will answer both of those questions and more.

It is obvious that your fish tank inhabitants require oxygen to survive. If you let a film or scum build on the surface of the water in your fish tank, then this will interfere in the process of your fish getting adequate oxygen to survive. Hence, what a surface skimmer does is keep the surface of the water scum-free to ensure that your fish get the required oxygen.

So, how does this scum build up on the surface of the water? What exactly does an aquarium surface skimmer do? Which surface skimmer should you purchase for your fish tank? I have all the answers for you right here in this article!

What does an Aquarium Surface Skimmer Do?

A surface skimmer is essentially a type of filter that you can install in your fish tank. The surface skimmers suck away the water on the surface, which usually has a thin layer of scum built up.

This scum is developed over time and consists of the leftover food in the water, duckweed, or even the remains of the live plants. Other debris that consists of algae and bacteria also make up the thin layer of scum on the surface of the water.

What your surface skimmer will do is vacuum up the surface water along with all the scum with the help of a floating suction device.

Benefits of using an Aquarium Surface Skimmer

The benefits of using an aquarium surface skimmer are not just one-fold. The surface skimmer gets rid of the surface scum, which consists of debris that could prove to be harmful to your fish. It also allows for the necessary gaseous exchange to take place between the fish tank water and the surrounding air.

Are Surface Skimmers a Must for Planted Tanks?

Now, let us move on to understanding whether it is that much more important for a fish tank with many live plants to have a surface skimmer installed.

You might see a light film on the surface of the water that looks a bit oily sometimes. If this happens, do not be alarmed. The thin film of “oil” is because of the live plants in your fish tank!

However, what this film does is it creates a barrier for an exchange of gases to take place. This means that the atmospheric oxygen will not be taken into the water through the process of gaseous exchange.

Furthermore, one of the main supplies of oxygen for your fish is from the atmosphere. If there is a layer of scum blocking the exchange of gases at the surface of the water, then your fish will be deprived of one of the main sources of oxygen. Hence, a surface skimmer will help in solving this issue. It will suck in the film of “oil” along with other debris that forms a layer of this scum.

Moreover, by removing this layer of scum you will also ensure that there is more light entering the water tank. This is essential, as light, especially sunlight, is crucial for the survival of your live plants!

Finally, with the increased level of oxygen in the water, you can also turn up the supply of CO2, which your plants need to produce oxygen too!

Also Read:

  1. 9 Low Light Aquarium Plants | Benefits of Aquarium Plants
  2. Fish to Avoid for a Planted Aquarium

Which Surface Skimmer is the Best for your Tank?

Now comes the question of which surface skimmer to get for your fish tank.

The first thing to note here is that you can choose between a stand-alone skimmer, or replace the filter inlet of an external filter that you already own, with a skimmer. If you opt for stand-alone skimmers, then there are a few good options to keep in mind.

The Skim 250 by AZOO is a stand-alone skimmer that is not too bulky and will not stick out in a bigger fish tank. They can also be used as a filter in nano tanks.

If you want a compact skimmer with quiet operation, then you can opt for the Internal Mini Skimmer 115. It measures at only 3” x 3.25” x 10.5”. However, you can also check out the following skimmers online on sites like Amazon.

  • Red Sea Fish Pharm Ltd. PRIZM Hang on Skimmer
  • Instant Ocean SeaClone Protein Skimmer
  • Turboflotor Hang on Protein Skimmer and Reef Aquarium Filter

Is a Surface Skimmer the Same as a Protein Skimmer?

Now that I have mentioned protein skimmers in the previous section, do you know what they are? If not, continue to read this section to have a better understanding.

As discussed earlier, a surface skimmer removes debris that is floating on the water’s surface. This could involve floating foods and oily substances that are caused by the live plants in your tank.

However, a protein skimmer removes dissolved organic compounds and fine proteins that are floating about throughout the tank water, not just on its surface. The protein skimmer accomplishes this by the diffused aeration method.

Should you get a Surface Skimmer or a Protein Skimmer?

So, should you opt for a surface skimmer or a protein skimmer? Which one does your tank actually need?

A surface skimmer is generally used for freshwater fish tanks, whilst a protein skimmer is used for marine fish tanks. However, as I mentioned earlier, it has two different objectives. Hence, it would be best to use a surface skimmer if you want the water surface to be scum-free and a protein skimmer to suck up the proteins and organic compounds floating throughout the water.

How else can you Get Rid of Surface Scum?

To reduce or get rid of the surface scum you need to understand the root causes of it first. It could be due to the leftover food, due to plant waste, or high concentration of CO2, or too much lighting, etc. Hence, to remedy the issue you can fix the cause of the issue.

This can be done by reducing the lighting intensity in your fish tank. You can also increase the fertilizers and improve the movement of water. Finally, you can adjust the level of CO2 in the water by reducing the level of CO2 that is injected into the water. Since more supply of carbon dioxide means that your plants will grow quicker and produce more waste, this will cause the amount of surface scum to be higher.

Do Planted Tanks Need Surface Agitation?

I have talked about how important oxygen is to your fish. So, in order to ensure that it is always available in abundance to your fish tank inhabitants, there is another component that can be added to your tank.

This component would be an aerator. An aerator basically causes there to be more surface agitation, which causes gaseous exchanges to keep taking place and ensures that oxygen is entering the tank water. Such aerators can be found in the form of airstones, bubble wands, LED bubblers, and more!

Final Words

Now, you have all the required information about a surface skimmer; how it cleans the surface of your fish tank water and sucks up all the excess debris. Not only that, but a surface skimmer also vacuums up the thin film of “oil” on the water surface that is present in planted fish tanks.

Furthermore, now you also know what the difference is between a surface skimmer and a protein skimmer, so you can make the right decision and the right purchase for your fish tank. Hence, with your questions answers, what are you waiting for? Go get your surface skimmers now!