Protein skimmers are a necessary but often expensive part of marine reef aquarium keeping. Good models can cost hundreds of dollars. Being on a tight budget, I decided to try out a more wallet-friendly solution, the Lee’s counter-current Skimmer.
Skimmers, for the most part, have the same basic functionality. The devices use a mist of fine bubbles to which floating toxins and other assorted crap adhere. The bubbles then rise, lifting the junk into a collection cup for removal.
Naturally, some devices are better at it than others. But those devices can cost a crazy amount of money and boast all kinds of features like special pumps and programmable memory, alarms and so on.
The solution I went with, the Lee’s skimmer offered none of that. It’s a simple air-driven skimmer. You supply your own air pump to drive the bubbles and the intake. The good news is that it only runs about $30 on Amazon (interestingly, the smaller model is more expensive than the medium I got).
Naturally, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but it had four stars on Amazon and it was about 10% of the price of the high-end models. I even had my own air pump, so I was golden.
Two days later, I got my hands on the skimmer. As expected it’s a simple affair. There’s an outer body that is essentially a tube. An included wooden airstone runs up to the top of the tube and is covered by a conical top cap.
The bottom cap of the skimmer features a riser tube to which the second airline is attached. Bubbles rise through the tube which forces tank water to be sucked in via small openings at the top of the skimmer.
Finally, the collection cup sits on top of the skimmer which has a tapered tube inside it. This allows the bubbles to rise from the water and deposit… muck into the cup.
While the box says the unit comes pre-assembled, it was very much not assembled when I opened the box. I quickly found out why.
The fit and finish of the tubes and caps and stuff are not great. Actually they have about the same build tolerances as a 1987 Pontiac Fiero.
In other words, the thing falls apart if you look at it the wrong way. None of the parts fit snugly together. As soon as you try to place it in your sump or adjust it, something is going to pop off. While you try to fix that part, a different part will come off.
Finally, I broke down and decided to make some improvements. I used silicone tape around the body on the top and bottom to make the sections slightly thicker. With the added thickness, the caps fit very snugly. Superglue was also necessary to affix the suction cups to their posts. Without superglue, the suction cups would dislodge whenever I tried to adjust the Lee’s protein skimmer.
One other quick fix I did was to make the water level line visible with a grease pencil. You simply can’t see the little line once the skimmer’s on the tank. As it turns out, however, that wasn’t necessary because the water level line was far too low and the bubbles would never make it into the collection cup.
It took a little trial and error but I finally got the thing dialed in and actually doing something. It took the better part of an evening, but I finally beat the thing!
One thing to note here is you’ll need either two lower powered air pumps or one larger pump to drive the two air sources. A single small pump simply won’t cut it.
After I got everything going, I have to say the Lee’s counter current skimmer actually did perform its job. It didn’t take long before icky brown crud filled up the cup. Since a decent air pump is pretty reliable, I don’t expect a lot of issues out of this protein skimmer once it’s set up and running.
You just have to work for it to save some money with the Lee’s protein skimmer.
Here’s a handy list of items (including the stuff I had to use to fix it) in case you want to give this thing a go. These links are affiliate links, so I’ll get a (very) small portion of the sale if you buy anything via the links.
- Whisper 20 Air pump
- Silicone tape
- Super glue