Turtles make wonderful, interactive pets, and their need for both land and water in their tank can make their displays beautiful conversation pieces. However, they also produce more waste than most fish and need a high-quality filter in their tanks to stay happy and healthy. Finding the best filter for a turtle tank is an important step in responsible turtle ownership.
You need one with constant water flow that can handle more than your tank’s volume because most filters are rated for less demanding fish tanks.
Luckily, high-powered filters are widely available and can manage even above-average tank sizes for aquatic turtles. We put together this list of reviews and a comprehensive buyer’s guide to help you find the best filter for your turtle tank.
What Kind of Filter Do I Need for a Turtle Tank?
There are two main types of filters that are suitable for turtle tanks, each of which has its pros and cons.
1. Canister Filters
Canister filters sit outside of your tank and use hoses and pumps to remove water from the aquarium, pass it through several canisters with filter media inside, and return clean water to your tank. They don’t detract much from the appearance of your tank, as they sit in the aquarium stand below.
They are more expensive than other types that are suitable for turtle tanks, but they are usually also more efficient. Most are relatively silent during operation and won’t interrupt sleep or conversation in the room.
They can be customized with different filter material depending on your tank’s specific needs, and they can often include a combination of mechanical, biological, chemical, and radiation filtration.
If you go the canister filter route, know that this will have implications on your turtle tank heater selection process.
2. Power Filters
Power filters – also referred to as a rear-hanging filter or HOB filter – hang on the back of your tank or suction to the inside of it and use a submerged pump to move water up and into a series of filter chambers.
They are significantly cheaper than canister filters, but they are also typically much noisier. Some power filters aren’t suitable for tanks in bedrooms, given how much noise they make.
They often use only mechanical and biological filtration, but some can be fitted with chemical and radiation options as well.
3. Warning: Under-Gravel Filters
Some aquarists rely on undergravel filters to supplement the filtration in their fish tanks, while others use them as a sole filtration method. Sometimes, they prefer the aesthetics of an internal filter. However, these types of filters are not suitable for use in turtle tanks.
First, gravel isn’t a good substrate for turtles. The pieces are easily mistaken for food and can be swallowed, causing major health issues. Additionally, gravel lends itself to excrement and uneaten food getting trapped in your tank, which can break down into ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, all of which are dangerous for turtles.
Second, turtles tend to dig in their substrate, and gravel filters can trap debris that creates cloudy water when your turtle disrupts it.
Third, under-gravel filters are often far less effective than canister and power filters, so they aren’t suitable for turtle tanks in terms of cleaning power.
How to Choose a Filter for Your Turtle Tank
When you’re searching for a turtle tank filter, there are several things you’ll want to consider carefully. The below factors will help make sure you get the best filter for your tank that can provide adequate filtration.
Above all else, you’ll need to choose a filter designed to handle your tank’s volume.
Aquarium filters are rated for certain sized tanks, which should make the selection straightforward. However, unless you’re purchasing a filter designed exclusively for turtles, the volume ratings apply only to an aquarium filter. Fish eat less and produce less waste than turtles, so their tanks need far less filtration.
As a general rule of thumb, you should choose a filter rated for a volume at least twice the size of your turtle’s tank. More powerful filters that can handle three times the volume is recommended, as they will do a better job of scrubbing your tank clean.
For example, if you have a 100-gallon turtle tank, a fish tank filter rated for 200-300 gallons is suitable.
Gallons Per Hour (GPH)
Most filters have a flow rating in gallons per hour (GPH). The GPH refers to the number of gallons your filtration system can scrub clean in one hour.
For turtle tanks, you’ll want a GPH that matches or exceeds your tank’s volume, meaning that all of the water in your tank should pass through the filter at least once in a single hour.
This flow rate will help remove harmful chemicals and keep your water from getting murky. It can also help reduce the odor coming off your tank.
Mechanical, Biological, and Chemical Filtration
Understanding the filtration process is important. Many aquarium filters make use of different filtration methods, including mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration.
Mechanical filters use a physical membrane to capture things like bits of food, excrement, and other possible contaminants. These help keep your tank water clear and free of floating debris.
Biological filtration consists of bio balls or ceramic rings that house denitrifying bacteria. The bacteria consume harmful chemicals in your water and keeps your turtle safe from pollutants like nitrites, nitrates, and ammonia.
Chemical filtration uses highly absorbent materials, like activated carbon, to attract debris and pollutants and remove them from your water.
The most efficient turtle tank filters will include all three forms of filtration for the best results possible.
No matter how efficient or powerful your water filter is, you’ll need to clean it regularly to ensure it continues cleaning your turtle’s water. While owning a turtle can be fun and exciting, cleaning the filter most certainly is not. As such, a filter with an easy maintenance process can make your life significantly easier.
The most straightforward filters to clean often include separate canisters or compartments that you can remove for individual cleaning. Some canister filters have a dedicated cleaning mode that lets you pump water backward through the system to help with the process. Others make replacing media straightforward by housing them in easily accessible areas that don’t require disassembly to reach them.
Reviews and Budget
Before purchasing any filter, we strongly recommend reading the online reviews. Most serious aquarists and turtle owners are happy to provide helpful information to fellow enthusiasts, and their hands-on experience and opinions can help determine the likelihood of a filter suiting your tank.
Keep in mind that all products will have negative reviews, so it’s important to read the good and the bad ones to determine the overall effectiveness and ease of using a given filter.
You’ll also need to choose a filter that will fit into your budget comfortably. Turtle tanks require additional equipment that can get expensive, so setting and staying within a budget is essential to ensure your tank isn’t lacking in other areas.
Do Turtle Tanks Really Need Filters?
Some aspiring turtle owners may wonder if turtle tanks really need filters. After all, turtles don’t spend all of their time underwater, so the water quality isn’t as important as it is in a fish tank, right? Wrong!
Turtle tanks absolutely need filters unless you’re willing to clean the tank and change the water daily. They require better filtration than fish tanks because your red eared slider (or whatever type of turtle you have) will eat more food and produce more waste than fish. Their water quality can degrade very rapidly without constant filtration. Even a short amount of time without a proper filter running can result in dangerous levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, as well as murky, unappealing water.
Never neglect the filtration needs of your turtle tank, or you’ll be putting your reptile at risk of infection, disease, and even death.
Turtle Filter Set-Up
The placement of your filter will depend mainly on the type of filter you purchase. Power filters hang on the rear of your tank, and you may want to position them behind decor so that they don’t detract so much from the natural beauty of your tank. Canister filters are best placed in your tank’s stand, and you can use clear suction cups to keep the hoses that route the water to and from your filter in place.
If you get a filter with different compartments for filter media, the order and arrangement of the media you choose can make a big difference in terms of efficiency.
Most turtle tank owners set up their first compartment with mechanical filtration, and some include a second compartment with a finer physical filter after the first if they have the space for it. Mechanical filters will remove large pieces of debris that can clog future chambers.
Biological filtration often comes next, and these compartments contain bio balls or ceramic rings that give plenty of surface area for denitrifying bacteria to live.
Chemical filtration is an excellent follow-up to biological media. This compartment will remove impurities not consumed by the bacteria.
UV radiation is a good final filtration method if you have the room and ability to implement it in your filter. UV radiation kills harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can be hazardous to your turtle.
Turtle Tank Filter Maintenance
Turtle tank filters will be under constant stress as they strive to keep up with the demands of your reptile. As such, proper maintenance can extend your filter’s life and help it provide the cleanest water possible for your tank.
Provided you keep up with regularly removing visible debris and routine water changes, you should plan to clean your turtle tank filter about once every two to three weeks. The cleaning process will depend on your particular set up, but each media usually requires the same steps.
Mechanical filters like sponges or foam pads should be removed and rinsed thoroughly. Continue rinsing and wringing until the water runs clear. Repeat this process for all mechanical filters.
Bio balls and ceramic rings should be removed from the canister and placed in a container with some of the tank water. Be sure not to use tap water, as it can shock and kill the beneficial bacteria. Swish the contents around to remove debris, then dump and dispose of the water. Return the biological media to your canister.
Chemical filtration cleaning frequency will depend on what type of media you’re using. For example, activated carbon should be replaced about once a month, while resin cartridges may require more frequent changes.
UV radiation doesn’t require any maintenance.
8 Best Filter Options for Turtle Tanks
This canister filter comes in three different volume options ranging from 40-92 gallons, so it’s powerful enough for turtle tanks up to around 45 gallons.
It has a 165 GPH rating, so it’s more than capable of filtering all of your tank water more than three times each hour.
It includes everything you need to get started, including mechanical, biological, and chemical media. The resin cartridge (chemical media) does get clogged often, so it can be a costly ongoing expense. However, this filter allows for customization, so you can swap it out with another media.
- It has a high flow rate to turn over tank water three times every hour
- The durable construction provides longevity and reliable filtration
- It comes with all the filter media you’ll need
- It includes a spray bar, hoses, and equipment for installation
- It is an excellent value for the money
- It comes with green tubing that can be challenging to hide in your tank
- The chemical filtration clogs easily and can be costly to replace during maintenance
This power filter is effortless to set up, as it uses suction cups to stick to the inside wall of your tank. It will be very visible unless you cover it with rocks or other decor.
It creates a waterfall that can be pleasing to listen to and look at, so it can add some beauty to a well-decorated tank.
It’s made specifically for the high demands of reptiles, so it can be used on turtle tanks up to 50 gallons. The GPH rating of 125 gallons is plenty for turning over all of your tank water twice hourly.
- It distributes clean water with an appealing waterfall
- It’s sleek but powerful enough to handle the maintenance needs of a turtle tank
- It’s very straightforward to set up
- The 125 GPH rating is plenty for a turtle tank
- It includes filter media
- It may detract from the natural beauty of your tank a bit
- It can burn out quickly if your water level gets too low
This canister filter is highly durable and reliable. It comes in options rated from 65-200 gallons that you can use in turtle tanks ranging from 30-100 gallons.
It has a very impressive flow rate of 265 gallons, making it a very efficient filter for turtles.
It has customizable canisters, so you can set up the media to suit your tank. It also includes filter media to get you started.
This filter can be a bit more challenging than others to find replacement filters for, as the brand isn’t as big as some others.
- It has a hefty pump capable of moving 265 gallons per hour
- The design allows for easy access and maintenance
- The options can handle turtle tanks up to 100 gallons
- It’s straightforward to set up and clean
- It includes filter media
- Replacement filters can be slightly more difficult to find than those for major brands
- The interior design allows some water to pass through unfiltered
This canister filter is highly durable and is likely to last countless years, even with a turtle tank’s heavy filtration requirements.
It is rated for up to 400 gallons, so it can handle up to about a 200-gallon turtle tank. It puts out 563 gallons per hour, so even a 200-gallon tank will be turned over more than twice every hour.
It’s relatively silent during operation and won’t interrupt sleep or conversation.
It comes with media to get you started right away, and it has a customizable interior to fit your tank’s needs.
- It has an enormous capacity of up to a 200-gallon turtle tank
- The impressive GPH rating is perfect for the high filtration demands of turtles
- It is silent during operation
- It includes media, so you’ll have no other upfront costs
- Set up is relatively straightforward
- Cleaning can be a bit messy
- It is very expensive
This power filter is small and sleek, so it will take up minimal space inside your tank. It’s rated for 40 gallons, so it’s only suitable for 20-gallon turtle tanks. However, the 155 GPH rating makes it great for smaller volumes.
It can be mounted horizontally to sit under shallow water lines, so it’s easy to hide with plants or decor. It has a spout to create a fountain effect that can be soothing.
It comes with media to get you started, but we recommend replacing it relatively soon, as it isn’t the best.
- It includes a water spout for a calming trickling sound
- It can be mounted horizontally, so it’s easy to hide
- It’s very affordable
- It has an excellent GPM rating for smaller tanks
- It’s very straightforward to install
- It’s only suitable for 20-gallon turtle tanks
- The included filter media should be replaced quickly
This canister filter is large and extremely powerful, capable of handling turtle tanks up to 80 gallons with a flow rate of 185-265 gallons per hour. It will turn over even the largest tanks about three times every hour.
It has a digital screen for monitoring temperature and adjusting the flow rate.
The maintenance process is made very straightforward with clips to access the canisters. It can self-prime, so setting it back up once cleaned is a breeze.
This filter is costly, but it feels incredibly durable, so it’s likely to stand up to the stress of a turtle tank.
- It has a digital screen for easy monitoring and adjusting
- It has an easy-access compartment for straightforward maintenance
- It’s powerful enough for even the largest turtle tanks
- It has an impressive flow rate suitable for the most demanding tanks
- It includes filter media
- It is very expensive
- It takes up a lot of space in your tank stand
This canister filter comes in different sizes that can handle turtle tanks between 20 and 50 gallons. It moves water at a rate of 160-360 GPH, depending on the size, so it’s more than capable of turning over your tank three to four times hourly.
It includes filter media to get you set up right away. The cartridges are slightly more challenging to find than those for larger brand names.
It’s very straightforward to clean and requires just minimal effort to access the cartridges.
It’s relatively inexpensive for a cartridge filter and provides good value.
- The GPH rating is more than sufficient for the demands of a turtle tank
- It’s powerful enough for small and mid-sized tanks
- It includes filter media to reduce your set-up costs
- The maintenance process is a breeze
- The replacement cartridges aren’t as readily available as those for more prominent brands
- It doesn’t feel quite as durable as some other models
This canister filter is compact but delivers excellent power and efficiency. It’s rated for 60-gallon tanks, and it’s made specifically for turtle tanks. As such, this is suitable for turtle tanks up to 60 gallons.
It has a flow rate of around 80 gallons per hour, so it will turn over your tank about one and a half times each hour.
It includes media that works very well, and it keeps the water crystal clear without having to go out and buy new cartridges.
It doesn’t feel as durable as some other options, but it’s very affordable.
- It has a hefty flow rate to turn over your tank at least once hourly
- It’s designed for turtle tanks and is very efficient
- It includes all of the media you need to get started
- It’s very affordable
- It’s a bit noisy during operation
- It doesn’t feel as durable as some other options
Benefits of Using a Turtle Tank Filter
Using a good filter for your turtle tank will make both your life and your turtle’s life a whole lot easier. Below, we’re going to discuss some of the many benefits of using a filter to keep your turtle’s water clean.
Keeps Your Turtle Healthy
Turtles create a lot of waste and tend to leave behind lots of food scraps when they eat. This debris eventually breaks down into ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, three chemicals that are hazardous and potentially deadly to your turtle.
Whether a filter is designed for a fish tank or a turtle tank, it will include biological media, typically in the form of bio balls or ceramic rings. The immense surface area on the media houses millions of nitrobacter, which are bacteria that consume these harmful compounds.
With a good filtration system, your turtle’s water will be clear of these harmful chemicals, making the tank water a safer place to swim and eat.
Helps Keep Your Water Clear
As a turtle owner, you probably find yourself scooping debris out of your turtle’s tank regularly to try to keep the water from getting murky. There are few things more unsightly than brown or green water in your turtle tank, not to mention that your reptile probably doesn’t enjoy swimming in cloudy water either.
A turtle tank filter includes a physical filter media, like a sponge or foam block, which traps debris suspended in your water. The best filters will leave your water looking super clear at all times, so you’ll spend less time removing debris manually.
Makes Maintenance Easier
Turtle tanks that don’t have filtration systems need water changes every two to three days. This process can get exhausting pretty quickly, especially if you treat your tap water before introducing it to your tank.
With an efficient filter designed to handle your tank’s volume, water changes can safely be done about once every week or week and a half. You’ll go about four times as long between water changes with a good filter installed in your tank.
Many turtle tank filters make maintenance of the media straightforward too, so your total cleaning time can be reduced further with an easily accessible cartridge filter system or a filter with a backwash setting.
Turtle Filter FAQs
Are Sponge Filters Good for Turtles?
Sponge filters are mechanical filter media, so they will trap debris that is visible and suspended in your water. They’re great for removing bits of food and even excrement in your turtle’s tank.
However, a sponge filter won’t provide all of the necessary filtration for your turtle’s water. They won’t remove dangerous chemicals like ammonia or nitrites. For that, you’ll need biological media.
Sponge filters are useful as an initial filtration method, but they should always be followed by biological media.
Can I Turn Off My Turtle Filter at Night?
Turtle filters should run continuously, even through the night. Turtles create a lot of waste, which can build up rapidly in your tank water. Even a few hours without filtration can lead to murky water at best and potentially dangerous chemicals in your tank at worst.
We strongly recommend leaving your filter on at all times. In fact, many turtle owners rely on two separate filters for adequate filtration so that one can run in the short amount of time the other is being cleaned.
When Should I Change My Turtle Filter?
The media in your turtle filter require changing at different times.
Physical media like sponges or foam pads should be cleaned and wrung out during every cleaning, but they can last quite a while without having to be replaced. If you notice your tank becoming murkier than usual or the medium getting clogged, consider replacing it with a new mechanical filtration medium.
Biological media can last months and even years, depending on the type. Ceramic rings tend to get clogged due to microscopic pores on the surface. They usually need to be replaced once every six months or so. Bio balls don’t get clogged and can last indefinitely.
Chemical media like activated carbon should be changed about once a month, while resin cartridges or water scrubbers may need to be swapped out every two weeks or so.
Can I Use a Turtle Filter for Fish?
You most certainly can! Turtle filters work the exact same way as those for fish tanks, but they’re more powerful to meet the demands of a turtle tank. Turtle tank filters can generally handle about twice the volume for which they’re rated if they’re placed in a fish tank.
Can Turtles Live Without a Filter?
Turtles can technically live without a filter, but we strongly recommend against leaving your reptile in an unfiltered tank. Harmful chemicals will build up very rapidly without proper filtration, so your tank would require water changes and cleaning daily or every other day. Not only is this less convenient for you, but it also means your turtle will be subjected to potentially hazardous water in between changes.
How Long Do Turtle Filters Last?
Turtle filters are put under a lot of stress, so poorly made products can fail quickly, sometimes in under a year. However, high-quality turtle tank filters can run continuously and efficiently for years and sometimes decades with good maintenance.
Why is My Turtle Filter Making Bubbles?
Bubbles form on the surface of turtle tank water with regular agitation, so a few bubbles usually are nothing to worry about. However, foam or persisting bubbles can be a sign of protein build-up in your tank, as bubbles are more stable when protein is present.
Protein build-up is a sign that your water needs changing and that your tank should be cleaned. Remember that turtle tanks still need regular cleaning – about once every week or week and a half – even with a good filter installed.
Turtles are delightful animals to keep and can bring joy to their owners. However, they create a lot of waste and leave food scraps behind regularly, both of which can quickly make water murky and even unsafe for your reptile. Adequate filtration is crucial for maintaining good water quality and a healthy environment for your turtle.
Our number one recommendation is the EHEIM Classic Canister Filter 2213. It’s abundantly powerful and durable, so it will likely stand up to the demands of a turtle tank for years. It includes media to get you started, and it does an excellent job of moving water and scrubbing it clean of physical debris and harmful chemicals.