“Why is my protein skimmer overflowing?” - This is one of the most common questions asked in reef keeping and today we are going to look at the reasons why.
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The good news is that an overflowing skimmer is not broken or defective. Let’s talk a bit more about protein skimmers to help us understand how they work and what can cause them to overflow.
When food, livestock waste, or any decomposing organic matter breaks down in your aquarium, it forms organic compounds in the water column. Each molecule of these compounds has one side which is positively charged, and one side which negatively charged. These charges are the reason you may see an oily film on the surface of tanks that don't use a protein skimmer. One side of the molecule is attracted to the water while the other (side of the molecule) is repelled by it, drawing them to the surface.
Just as the charged waste molecules are attracted to the surface of the water, they are also attracted to the surface of the tiny bubbles created by your skimmer.
As the bubbles rise through the skimmer body, they collect these waste molecules. Once they reach the top, they form a foam that will overflow into the skimmer cup and can be easily removed.
Occasionally, the skimmer can overproduce foam, quickly filling the cup and resulting in an overflow.
Within the first two to four weeks, it pretty standard for your skimmer to overflow. Until the body builds up the appropriate "biofilm", the skimmer tend to act pretty erratically.
Adding activated carbon to your filtration and doing additional water changes will reduce the viscosity of your water, causing less foam and fewer overflows.
It's also pretty standard for skimmers to overflow during tank cycles. Since there typically isn't much waste in the tank during this period, its ok to just leave your skimmer off until the tank is cycled.
Outside of removing waste from your water, another benefit of skimmers is that they heavily oxygenate your water. If you still want this oxygenation during your tank cycle, feel free to leave your skimmer on and just remove the collection cup.
Whenever you add new chemicals to your tank, they are going to change your water chemistry. As skimmers are very finely tuned, even the smallest changes can affect their performance and will often result in an overflow.Some of these overflow perpetrators include Water conditioners, bacteria mixes, oily foods, medications, and frag epoxies, but the list goes on.
Another culprit that tends to fly under the radar is fresh filter socks. Often times when filter socks are produced, they will have some sort of residue left over on them from manufacturing. When introduced to your tank, this can unfortunately get into your water and cause your skimmer to go crazy. A quick rinse of the socks before installation will fix this problem and make your life much easier.
Even household cleaning solutions such as soaps and air fresheners sprayed near the tank can change your water chemistry just enough to trigger an overflow.
Again, carbon is your best friend here and is great for pulling these undesirable chemicals out of your tank.
If you are introducing medication directly to your main tank, expect your skimmer to go haywire. Unfortunately, the skimmer is going to overflow until you are done medicating and all of the excess chemicals have been pulled out either via carbon or water change.
Remember to always check your skimmer’s user manual for its recommended water level. Although nearly every skimmer allows you adjust its internal water level, this can only go so far. If the water level in your sump is too high it will elevate the foam to a point where there is too much running into the cup, once again resulting in an overflow.
If you find that your water level is too high, a number of companies sell skimmer stands just for this reason.
Make sure to keep up on your regular maintenance as well. Just soaking the pump parts in a vinegar and water solution and giving them a quick scrubbing with a toothbrush will greatly increase your skimmers performance. Don’t forget to clear your venturi’s airline of any blockages as well.
If you find yourself with an overflowing skimmer, just remember to ask, "what's changed?"
Have you recently done a major water change or started dosing medication? Did you just switch out your filter socks or change to a new frozen food? Did you see the first spots of ICH on your fish and dose and medicate your tank in a panic? The simplest way to solve a overflowing skimmer is just to figure out what is different from before.
Let us know your experiences with overflowing skimmers and how you handled them in the comments below. If you found this video helpful, please share it with your friends and don’t forget to subscribe for similar videos. As always, Take care and enjoy the reef-keeping journey.