Saltwater Aquarium Foam Fractionation & Protein Skimming Answers

Q:  What is a protein skimmer/foam fractionator?
A:  A protein skimmer, sometimes called a foam fractionator, is a device that removes dissolved organic matter from the aquarium before it can be broken down. The unit uses air driven against a water current to create dense foam. Organics in the water stick to the bubbles as they are pushed into a collection cup. The longer the contact time between the air and the water, the better foam production will be. These units are popular for reef systems and beneficial for the fish-only tank.
Q:  Why does my SeaClone™ protein skimmer periodically put so many fine bubbles into the tank?
A:  During the first few days of operation, the skimmer has a tendency to put a small amount of bubbles into the tank; this is normal, and the bubbles should dissipate during the skimmer’s break-in period (two to four days). It has also been observed on many occasions that the addition of products that claim to promote a thickened slime coating on fish tends to make the skimmers put bubbles into the aquarium for a week or so. This problem usually dissipates over the course of one or two weeks.

If bubbles persist, however, it is usually an indication of too much water flow and not enough airflow. You can check this by looking at the submersion depth of the venturi air intake (located at the Maxi-Jet™ pump intake). The venturi should be 2 to 2.5 inches below the water surface. Often, the venturi ends up about 4 inches below the surface, so it may be necessary to cut off a short length of the “J” tube to raise the pump to the appropriate level. Raising the pump closer to the water surface will increase the airflow and decrease the water flow.

Once the pump is set at the proper level, remove the cap from the air intake adjustment bulb. This will be the setting that allows for maximum air flow and minimum water flow; there should be no bubbles going into the tank at this setting.
Q:  How long after installing a protein skimmer will I start seeing results?
A:  In older, established aquariums, a new protein skimmer usually takes several days to begin showing results. In new aquariums, it may take several months to see results, due to the low amounts of organic matter present in new aquariums.
Q:  I’m not getting any foam production in the collection cup of my skimmer. Why?
A:  There could be several causes for this:
  • The skimmer is still in its break-in period, which could last three days to one week.
  • The aquarium is not established and does not have enough dissolved organic compounds in the water. It may take one to three months or more depending on, among other factors, bio-load, feeding/maintenance habits and other types of filtration used.
  • Air intake is clogged with salt deposits. If you suspect this to be the case, run hot water through the air line and venturi intake to clean them. The air line may be changed periodically, if desired.
  • The pump and venturi intake may not be submerged to the proper level. The venturi intake should be submerged two to three inches. Evaporation and fresh water top-off can alter the water level enough to affect skimmer production.
Q:  What could cause a sudden or gradual loss of air intake or water flow in my skimmer?
A:  There could be several causes for this problem, as well:
  • If the air intake is clogged, run hot water through the air line and venturi intake to clean them.
  • The air adjustment bulb may be closed too tightly. Open the bulb and see if that solves the problem.
  • The foam pre-filter could be clogged or dirty. Remove it and clean under running water.
Q:  I need a replacement part for my Instant Ocean® pump, and my pet store doesn’t carry it. What do I do?
A:  Use the dealer locater on this website to find the nearest Instant Ocean® dealer. Or call Instant Ocean® customer service at 440-255-1997 or toll free (in the U.S. only) at 1-800-822-1100 and ask for extension 0. An operator will help you.