Back when protein skimmer neck cleaners were little more than overpriced novelties, we had serious doubt about their actual efficacy in a real world situation. Just over three years ago a much smaller breed of simple and affordable protein skimmer neck cleaners began to hit the market and we began using a model from Vertex with pretty good results.
At the time, pretty good results to us meant that we only had to clean the protein skimmer cup, neck, and lid on a monthly basis, which was awesome and greatly reduced the maintenance of this important water quality device. A monthly protein skimmer cleaning is a pretty good extension from the weekly servicing that we’re used to performing but how well do they work long term? How long can you really go between cleaning the protein skimmer and still get good skimmate to come out?
About a year ago we reviewed an automatic waste collector which was really effective, and helped to stretch out the length of time between servicing the protein skimmer, or at least emptying the cup. Since we no longer needed to remove the cup to empty the skimmate, and weren’t accessing the neck and lid of the skimmer, we decided to try a little experiment to see how long it is possible to go between cleaning the neck while still having a protein skimmer operating good enough to export nutrients.
At the end of last year, so in late December, we did a really thorough maintenance of our Waveline RLSS 10-U, hooked up the Vertex Vectra Automatic neck cleaner and Reef Octopus waste collector and didn’t touch the skimmer until yesterday. The waste collector had been emptied a number of times but the cup, neck, lid and cleaning part hadn’t been cleaned or service in any form since December.
Honestly, the skimmer was still working just fine and producing a decent amount of skimmate but since it was the 9 month mark, it was time to clean the needle wheel pump, perform a little preventative maintenance cleaning the aspirator valve and needle wheel and such, so it seemed like as good a time as any to get down and dirty and see how the business end of the protein skimmer was faring.
The collecting part of the cup had gotten so filthy and laden down with skimmate and scum that we could no longer see inside to determine how well the neck-cleaning squeegee was wiping down the neck. Through the part of the neck below the cup we could see that the squeegee was wiping things down pretty well, save for one little streak where the wiper blade had begun to deform a little bit (it’s probably time for us to replace that wiper blade).
What do you know, but the top part of the riser neck was squeaky clean – literally! In the image above you can see all the sludge that had collected on the outside however the inside of the neck couldn’t have been any cleaner if we had just wiped it down. The image below shows the appearance of the protein skimmer cup after we very carefully cleaned everything but the inside of the neck so you could see how clean this part of the skimmer remained.
So after 9 months of continuous use, we’d say our experiment to “never” clean the protein skimmer went pretty well. Through the use of the automatic waste collector and automatic neck cleaner, we got to spend time on other parts of our tank while automating the very crucial protein skimming process, and streamlining its performance for three quarters of a year.
From now on we’ll probably schedule the entire protein skimmer, including the neck cleaner, waste collector, neck, cup, lid and needle wheel pump to be serviced on a six months basis, just to keep all the parts running smoothly and at peak performance. An automatic waste collector is not a silver bullet that will magically reduce maintenance of your protein skimmer. But if you have the entire protein skimmer system dialed in, it’s definitely possible to stretch out protein skimmer maintenance to a few times a year instead of a few times a week.