Protein Skimmer vs Refugium – Which Is Best To Use?

Protein Skimmer vs Refugium – Which Is Best To Use?


Both protein skimmers and refugiums have their place in saltwater reef tanks. Both are very popular and can be used in all tank sizes. Making the choice of using a protein skimmer or refugium in your saltwater tank can be a difficult decision.

There are different reasons why you might want to use one of these on your reef tank. Perhaps you want to use both or you may decide you don’t want a skimmer or refugium at all. These are the choices you need to make. This article will help you make that decision.

You also have the option of using both a protein skimmer and a refugium at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Skimmers come in different varieties. Hang-on tank style, In-tank style, and in sump styles.

The same goes for refugiums. There are both hang on tank styles and refugium sections that are built into a reef tank sump system. So regardless of the type you decide to go with, there is an option there to use both at the same time which can provide additional benefits.

I mention in the article the best protein skimmers, how important protein skimmers are and the value that they can have on a reef tank. Although they are not necessary, I highly recommend using one if possible.

My hang on tank Bubble Magus QQ3 skimmer. Look at the gunk it pulls out of the tank. You don’t want that nasty stuff in your water.


protein skimmer vs refugium


Why should you have a protein skimmer on a reef tank?


  • Acts as a mechanical filter that removes organic compounds from your tank.
  • Waste, uneaten foods, toxins, and bacteria are all things that a protein skimmer helps remove.
  • Removes organic waste before they have a chance to break down and release nitrogen compounds.
  • Helps to reduce nitrate and increases oxygen levels and overall water quality.


Why should you have a refugium on a reef tank?


  • It provides a separate dedicated section for nutrient export like growing cheatomorpha macroalgae.
  • Adds water volume and helps with tank stability.
  • Great place to grow copepods.
  • An additional place for sand and live rock which increases beneficial bacteria.


So as you can see there are some great benefits to have a protein skimmer and a refugium.


Marine Depot Aquarium Supplies

Reasons why you might not have a protein skimmer or refugium on your reef tank


  • Cost – There is no arguing that both of these items are an additional expense. It’s one of the main reasons hobbyists don’t have one or both.
  • Space – Both skimmers and refugiums require extra space. Whether they are the hang on tank style or in sump style, they take up extra room which you may not have.
  • Tank size – Perhaps you have a nano reef tank and simply don’t feel the need to have one. Proper water change schedule and good husbandry sometimes are suitable for small tanks.


Benefits of a protein skimmer vs refugium


In my opinion, if you have to make the choice between a skimmer or a refugium, I would go with the skimmer. Both are great to have but if I had to choose one that is more essential, it would be the protein skimmer.

Over many years of keeping skimmers and refugiums, I find protein skimmers will do a much more effective job keeping excess nutrients and toxins out of your tank. For long term success, stability is the answer and I just find a good protein skimmer will keep your tank clean and healthy.

Others may argue that fact, but this is my experience.


Benefits of a refugium vs protein skimmer


If using a skimmer is not an option for you, then a refugium is a great way to go. You can still control nutrient levels and provide additional space for bacteria to harvest and grow to keep your tank healthy. By adding an additional grow light in the refugium section, you can grow macroalgae enhancing the ability to remove excess nutrients.

As mentioned earlier, both protein skimmers and refugiums have their place in saltwater tanks and both play important roles. Taking in considerations like cost, space will help you decide which is right for you.

If you have the option, go for both. Most sump tanks on the market have the space to keep a skimmer and a refugium section integrated into the same tank. There are many options for you.





If you are looking to buy a sump tank system without breaking the bank, check out the article best sumps for saltwater tanks.

Recommended protein skimmers:

Recommended lighting for refugiums: