Salty Confessions: Procrastination Never Pays in Reefkeeping!

Ignoring a protein skimmer in need of maintenance could make you pay later!

Ignoring a protein skimmer in need of maintenance could make you pay later!

Regular SWS readers know that CC and I always emphasize the importance of staying on top of routine maintenance chores so small problems don’t develop into big ones. Great advice for a hobby in which only bad things happen quickly, right? Unfortunately, my recent failure to follow my own “sage” advice nearly led to disaster. Allow me to set the stage:

Over the holidays, my wife, Melissa, and I had to ready our house for a large family get-together. Because we’re generally messy and disorganized people who like to procrastinate, that meant major cleaning and decluttering in the last few days prior to the gathering.

On the first day of our cleaning odyssey, I was vacuuming around my reef system (situated in the living room) and noticed that the protein skimmer was in need of a tear-down and cleaning. Specifically, the volume of water discharging from the skimmer was greater than usual and the water level in the reaction chamber was higher than normal—both tell-tale signs that the air-intake was getting clogged. What’s more, I was overdue emptying the collection cup, so it was close to brimming with skimmate.

Now, pulling and cleaning the skimmer would have been a 10-minute job—maybe a bit longer if I had to soak any components in vinegar to dissolve calcium carbonate deposits. But I was busy with house-cleaning chores and didn’t want to get sidetracked, so I said “mañana” to the skimmer (which is odd since I don’t speak Spanish) and went back to vacuuming.

Bad decision.

Your skimmer can do a great job pulling all this nastiness from your water column

Your skimmer can do a great job pulling all this nastiness from your water column

Not two hours later, while I was taking a quick “breather” in the adjacent room, I heard an unusual sound emanating from my sump—a sort of sputtering noise that quickly changed to a louder-than-normal splashing. I ran back into the living room to find that the skimmer was overflowing like a fountain, dumping all that nasty, stinky skimmate right into the sump!

With my lone functioning brain cell struggling to process what was happening, I immediately switched off the power strip that supplies my return pump and protein skimmer and then stood there staring, aghast at the aftermath. My sump looked like a putrid milkshake!

So at that point, in addition to tearing down and cleaning my protein skimmer (which, as suspected, had a clog in the air hose that I was able to clear in no time), I also had to perform a water change in the tank and sump—a process that took considerably longer than the 10 minutes I thought I had saved earlier.

Thankfully, I was on hand to take immediate action when this crisis arose. Otherwise, all that skimmate would have been circulated throughout the system. As it was, most of it was confined to the sump, so all my livestock came through unscathed. Had I been out of the house when the overflow occurred, things could have turned out quite differently.

So, what’s the takeaway from this situation, which, let’s face it, was just plain stupid on my part? Simple: When it comes to your reef system, don’t put off until tomorrow what you really should do today.

Or maybe, “Do as I say, not as I do!”


If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to get our new posts in your email.
About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. I concur 100%. I’ve learned many lessons the hard way and this TOO was one of them

  2. I can only fully agree with you on that

Speak Your Mind