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Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Fish Scaler

After a long relaxing day fishing at your favorite watering hole, a cooler full of fresh fish may be the last thing you want to tackle when you get home. Prepping your catch doesn’t have to be an intimidating ordeal. Step one is scaling (or descaling). As the name suggests, this is the process of removing the scales from your fish so you can cook the flesh. The process is simple, especially if you are using the right tools. Not sure what one uses to scale a fish? We’ve got you covered.

Qualities and Features

There are a few things to consider when picking out a fish scale remover tool, qualities you will want to determine are essential before you begin looking. This will make the search process much more manageable.

1. Frequency

First, consider how frequently you will be scaling fish. Do you want to scale a catch on your annual fishing trip, or do you prepare fish as a profession, scaling hundreds of fish a day? This will help you determine investment you make in your fish scaler.

2. Ease of Use

The next most essential selling points you need to consider is ease of use and comfortability. If it takes you three hours to scale a fish that then takes you ten minutes to eat, is it worth it? Getting carpal tunnel while scaling is probably not worth it either.

You want a scaler with a comfortable, non-slip grip that allows for quick scale removal.

3. Bladed vs. Scrubbing

The method of scaling you prefer will determine if you want a bladed scaler or a scrubbing scaler. There are manual and electric versions of each.

Electric options are more expensive, but these devices make quick work of many fishes in a short time. Some electric filleting knives can be used on multiple meats, making it a worthwhile investment no matter how frequently you handle fresh fish.

A knife doesn’t guarantee controlled scale removal, however. Scales may fly everywhere leaving a mess.

Knives, do, however, allow for precision in removal a scrubbing tool will not. These tools are useful for both small and larger fish. Some tools of this nature come with interchangeable or additionally integrated blades for cutting the fish post descaling. If you are looking to limit the number of tools you need to work on your dinner, look for these features.

4. Clean up

Another consideration when choosing a fish scaler tool is the mess it leaves behind. As previously mentioned, knives may disperse scales all over, but there are tools which have a scale capture feature making for easy clean-up after your project is complete. You only have to rinse the scales from their accumulated location. This is a particularly handy feature when scaling much fish at a time.

The best tools will also be rust and corrosion resistant and easy to clean. Removal blades or scraping parts allow for utensils to be washed separately from any electrical components. Some tools are even dishwasher safe.

The higher powered electric tools often attach to an electric drill. These are the tools best for extreme descaling on a regular basis. Drums and buckets can connect to a drill or be self-powered. These options tumble the fish against scraping liners, allowing for you to remove the scales of up to fifty fish at a time.

Scaler Options

Once you’ve determined your needs in a fish scaling tool, the next thing to do is go through the options that fit your criteria.  Here are a few options for everyone: from beginner fishers to pro fishmonger.

Basic Knife

If you are in a pinch or do not find yourself needing to descale a fish frequently, you can get by with a basic butter knife. This tool requires a bit more manpower, but if you hold your fish tightly, and scrape against the grain of the scales in a downward motion, your efforts will be rewarded. Beware the flying scales, however. A butter knife will do nothing to control the mess. Pro tip: wear rubber gloves to prevent slippage.

Stainless Steel Scrubber

Another tool you probably already have on hand is a stainless steel scrubber (make sure it’s not the kind of with soap!). You can use this little ball of wire to light scrub over your fish to remove the scales. The trick is to apply enough pressure to remove the scales without tearing up the meat underneath.

Fillet Knife

A standard fillet knife will do, but if you don’t have a fish fillet knife, you’re better off using your butter knife. Fish fillet knives are specially designed with fish scales in mind, and are sharp, tapered, stainless-steel blades, sometimes with non-stick coatings to make scaling easier. A good knife will have a comfortable, non-slip handle for a safe grip when wet. Use these knives on large or small fish. These knives are easy to clean but do not readily control the fish mess. 

Scrapers or Brushes

These fish scalers come in plastic and stainless steel materials. Depending on the type, your scaler may look more like something you use to clean your grill or work in the garden. The design, however, is similar. This scaler is a handled tool, with a broad head and “teeth.” The teeth scrape off the scales quickly and easily with a few stroking motions. These are typically dishwasher safe for easy washing.


Usually made of plastic, these tools look very similar to a vegetable peeler. The blade’s serrated edges make it the perfect tool for fish scales, and many make for easy cleanup with a scale catching compartment. These devices may also come with a small, retractable fillet knife at the end of the handle, which can be used to gut the fish. The “peeler” is another excellent tool to use on smaller fish.

Electric Fillet Knife

An electric knife is entering “hard-core” territory. These knives are typically shaped the same as the non-electric knives, and come both in both corded and cordless varieties. Designed with a comfortable grip and interchangeable blades for easy cleaning, electric knives are suitable for larger fish or greater quantities. It will make quick work of any meat in need of carving, not just fish. A super sharp, easy to wield blade allows for precise work with the meat, but not with the clean-up. Be prepared to clean up rogue scales. An electric knife is going to be more costly, and to get a good one you will spend at least $60.

Electric Drill Scaler

An electric drill fish scaler is a tool you attach to your drill. That’s right. The one you used to mount your prize catch on the wall. This is a fast and easy method to scale your fish, and because it requires minimal manpower, is a useful tool for larger descaling projects. This is going to be a device you want to work with outside, though as it flings the scales out to the side. You’ll stay clean, but your scaling area won’t. A good drill scaler is self-oiling and rust resistant so that it will last you a long time. It’s safer to use than a knife, and won’t harm the fish meat. These run anywhere from fifty to thousands of dollars, for the serious fishmonger.

Electric Drum Scaler

A drum scaler is a supreme choice for cleaning multiple (as in 20+) fish at a time. A drum scaler uses water and a large compartment that looks like a round cheese grater to remove scales, dirt, and grime from large quantities of similar sized fish. Simply fill the tank with water, toss in your fish, plug in, and run for 10-20 minutes. When time is up, dump your fish out and wipe away the scales in the drum. Because it keeps the scales contained, you can use the drum scaler tool inside or outside.

Drill Bucket Scaler

A bucket scaler is similar to a drum scaler. The concept is the same, but the execution is a bit different. A bucket scaler is used to descale multiple fish at one time, but instead of using a cheese grater type container, the bucket is lined with stainless steel and uses a beater to toss the fish around. The beaters attach to an electric drill. This is another easy to clean tool; after dumping the fish, rinse and wipe down the bucket.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

No matter what kind of fish you work with, there is a scaling tool for you. If you scale a single fish exactly once a year, you are probably okay with using a knife and some muscle. If fish is your life because you are a proper fishmonger, or you host the annual charity fish fry, one of the electric scaler options will be the way to go. The important thing is to pick a tool that best suits your needs and allows you to scale your fish smoothly, efficiently, and comfortably. Remember to consider the features you believe to be most important: Affordability, comfortability, ease of use, ease of cleaning, the mess it leaves, the frequency of use. A manual tool, be it knife or scrubber is suitable for small fish and small quantities. An electric device is an excellent choice for more frequent use. A drum or bucket does mass quantities in one fail swoop.

Scaling fish doesn’t have to cause you stress; with a little research, it is easy to find a good option best designed for your personal needs.

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