red-eared slider in turtle tank

Best Turtle Tank Options: Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

If you have a turtle or you’re thinking about getting one, then it’s likely that you want to make sure your pet has all the best possible habitat options. Finding the best turtle tank for your pet is an important choice.

There are some things that you need to consider when choosing a tank for your turtle. First, turtles can grow very big and require a lot of space. You should choose a tank based on how large your turtle will get and not just on their current size since most turtles grow throughout their lives. A second thing to keep in mind is the amount of water in the tank because aquatic animals need access to fresh water at all times or they may get sick or even die if they don’t have enough water available. Finally, remember that this is an animal with sensitive skin so be sure any material used for decorating doesn’t contain toxic substances!

It’s important to choose the right aquarium setup for your pet turtle. This turtle tank guide will cover all the important parts of tank selection and walk through the best turtle tanks on the market today.

Best Turtle Tank Options and Equipment:

What is the best turtle tank?

The best turtle tank for your situation depends on your turtle species, size, and needs. Here are our favorite tanks:

What size tank do I need for a turtle?

Turtles are active pets, tend to grow quite large, and need a lot of space. This means tiny tanks aren’t going to cut it. Depending on the species, we recommend a tank size somewhere between 55 to 100-gallons. Keep in mind the general rule of thumb when purchasing a turtle tank – you want a tank that has 10 gallons for every inch of your turtle’s shell length.

Do your turtle species research before purchasing a tank as some species can get over 10 inches in length, and therefore need a tank over 100 gallons!

Below is a rough overview of turtle types and tank needs:

  • Male turtles tend to be smaller than female turtles
  • Painted Turtle Species: on the smaller end of the turtle scale, tend to max out at about 5 or 6 inches and therefore can comfortably fit in a 55-gallon tank (one single turtle).
  • Box Turtle Species: terrestrial variety that doesn’t need swimming access. Typically top out at about 7 inches and therefore we recommend a 70-gallon tank.
  • Land-based Turtle Species: these guys can get pretty big so look for outdoor tank options that can stand-up to weather.
  • Yellow-Bellied Turtle Species: max out at about 12 inches but most stay around 10 inches. We recommend 100-gallons plus.
  • Red-eared Slider Turtle Species: similar to yellow-bellied species. Max out at about 12 inches but typically hover around 10 inches. 100-gallons plus is the way to go here.

What Size Tank Do I Need For 2 Turtles?

First of all, check the sex of the turtles you plan to house together. Two females can coexist peacefully but you’re in for trouble if you try to house two males together.

For males, if you have 2 turtles, then the best turtle tank size would be two separate tanks. Having two separate tanks gives both turtles their own space and remains cost efficient on a per-turtle basis.

If you have two females, the rule of 10 gallons per inch of shell doesn’t work directly. Use that for the larger turtle. Then, increase the tank’s surface area by at least another square foot for each additional turtle. Bigger is always better so if you want to go larger, absolutely do so.

Smaller aquariums get dirtier faster, leading to higher stress and illness.

Best Turtle Tanks

Best 20-gallon turtle starter kit: Tetra Aquatic Turtle Deluxe Kit 20 Gallons

Tetra Aquatic Turtle Deluxe Kit 20 Gallons
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The best 20-gallon turtle starter kit is the Tetra Aquatic Turtle Deluxe Kit. This bestseller makes keeping a turtle simple. It includes everything you need to get started including an aquarium, filter, heating lamp, and food samples. This kit comes with all the essentials needed for success in caring for aquatic turtles, including a decorative filter with cartridges, basking platform, heating lamp, boxwood plant mat, and screen top. This is an excellent option for a small turtle where you expect to upgrade the tank in the future.

Features:

  • 30 inches wide x 12 inches deep x 12 inches tall
  • Includes Tetrafauna Decorative ReptoFilter with three cartridges, two 5. 5-inch dome lamps with bulbs, Tetrafauna Turtle Terrace Basking Platform, a boxwood plant mat, a screen top with locking clips and Tetra product samples

Pros:

  • Extremely convenient
  • Great starter kit

Cons:

  • Only works for small turtles
  • Will need to replace when turtles get large

Best-55 gallon option: Tetra 55-galllon aquarium kit

Our Pick
Tetra 55 Gallon Aquarium Kit
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This best-selling aquarium is a great choice for a lot of turtle keepers. Tetra is a trusted brand by fish and reptile enthusiasts. This tank is excellent for a single turtle. This kit comes with a solid glass tank that is heavy, durable construction. Because it is made of glass, it won’t warp and is scratch-resistant, meaning you will be able to see your turtles in crystal clear viewing longer. It does have black seams and corners but we didn’t find this to be a major drawback. This kit comes with a glass tank, 200-watt heater, a thermometer, pump, and water conditioners.

One word of advice – the pump is too weak for a turtle – so expect to replace that piece.

Features:

  • 51.90″ L x 24.40″ W x 16.40″ H
  • Aquarium weighs 79 pounds. With water, total tank weight can reach 521 lb

Pros

  • Contains almost everything you need to get started
  • Double hinged hood means you can slide one side open at a time
  • Glass will not scratch or warp
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Glass is heavier than acrylic
  • Requires purchasing different pump
  • Requires aquarium stand

Best-150 gallon option: SC Aquariums 150 Gallon Glass Aquarium

SC Aquariums 150 Gallon Glass Aquarium
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If you’re ready to go big, your turtle will tank you! This aquarium option is both durable and beautiful. It can handle any single specimen of a large turtle species, and also works well for 2-3 members of a smaller species or baby turtles.

The glass is 12 millimeters thick, which is important because this tank houses a lot of water and needs to be strong! It also has a built-in overflow box and plumbing for an aquarium pump. This tank is kitted out with extra room so you can build a more complex setup.

The back of the tank is covered with a black vinyl sheet. If you want clear sides all around, it can be easily removed.

This tank gets our stamp of approval. We recommend this tank for reptile owners who want to provide their turtles with a spacious enclosure for diving, swimming, and basking.

Features:

  • 60 x 24 x 24 inches
  • Well-built glass construction

Pros:

  • Huge tank – perfect for one large turtle or several smaller species
  • Clean, minimalist design with thick 12mm glass.
  • Glass resists warping and scratching

Cons:

  • Extremely heavy and requires very strong aquarium stand
  • Overflow box and plumbing can be challenging for inexperienced hobbyists
  • Expensive

Great Outdoor Enclosure: Large Wooden House for Turtles

Wooden Tortoise House Large Tortoise Habitat Cage
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If you need a wooden home for a land-based turtle, this large wooden house is a great option with excellent reviews. It is constructed for both indoor and outdoor use, meaning it can last through weather events. It is made from solid wood, unlike some cheaper plywood options on the market. It comes with a private sleeping area and a public viewing area where the UV & Heat lamps are centered. This gives your turtles an option for privacy when they need it.

Features:

  • Activity Area: 23.6’’ W x 22.5’’D x 11.2’’H
  • Sleeping Room: 13’’ W x 22.5’’D x 11.2’’H
  • Door Dimension: 8.3’’ W x 6.7’’H

Pros:

  • Easy to combine two sets if you need a larger space
  • Solid wood construction, weather-resistant

Cons:

  • Needs silicone around the base to prevent dirt leaking
  • Some reviewers note an intense chemical smell at first (that fades away)

Turtle Tank Equipment List

Ok, so you have selected your tank. Now, it is time to get the remaining pieces of equipment to keep your turtle happy and healthy.

UVB light and Full-spectrum basking light

Turtles need their shells to be strong. To strengthen their shells, they need to metabolize calcium.

Turtles that live in enclosures with a UVB light have higher levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium. Because of this, they are less likely to develop shell infections and metabolic bone disease.

Basking bulbs provide warm zones for basking. Aquatic turtles love to swim but do like to take breaks, rest, and bask in the sun. This helps to keep their body temperatures at 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Basking requires a land area for the turtles to hang out and a source of heat – the sun or your basking light.

Basking bulbs create warm air for your turtle, but they don’t do a thing for the water. This means that you need an aquarium heater too.

We recommend this combo light kit that covers a UVB and basking light.

Zoo Med Turtle Lamp Combo Pack
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Filter

Turtles are high-bioload creatures meaning they create a lot of waste. This means you’re going to want a strong filter for your tank. Plan on purchasing a powerful aquarium pump and filter to keep your water clean.

We recommend using a filter that is at least twice the size of your turtle’s tank. A 100-gallon filter is a good choice for a 50-gallon tank. If you can swing it, we recommend using a canister filter, like this one. Check out our turtle filter guide for more details.

Our Pick
Fluval 407 Performance Canister Filter
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Substrate

Substrate is the material that you put at the bottom of your turtle tank. It can vary from gravel to sand to charcoal to a bare bottom. Most people prefer gravel. However, popular aquatic turtle species, like red-eared sliders, don’t necessarily need a substrate, unless you want a planted tank (so the plants can anchor).

When choosing a substrate, try to make the enclosure as natural as possible. By replicating your turtle’s natural habitat, you’re offering them the best living conditions.

Avoid small gravel and calcium sand. They are quite small and can be accidentally ingested, leading to digestive issues. Also, select a substrate that is soft enough to walk on without pain. This way, your turtle will be safe if it chooses to burrow.

Floating islands, bridges or a land area

Aquatic turtles love to bask. In order to do so, they will need a land area that is positioned under a warm basking light. It needs to be large enough so your turtle can get their entire body out of the water. This turtle tank topper is a great option for getting your turtles some space.

Penn Plax Turtle Tank Topper – Above-Tank Basking Platform for Turtle Aquariums
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Aquarium heater

Turtles need warm environments – both above and below water. Your basking light gives your turtle a warm place to relax but your turtle also needs warm water. We recommend this Eheim Jager aquarium heater. Check out our turtle tank heater guide for more information.

Our Pick
EHEIM Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater - 300W
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How To Set Up A Turtle Tank

Now you’ve purchased all of your turtle tank equipment. What’s next? You need to set everything up.

You have to prepare your tank for the turtles. If there are hoses or cords coming from your filters or pumps, make sure they are not going tangled or pose a risk to your pets.

These are the general steps we follow when setting up a turtle tank:

  1. Add your substrate and underwater decorations.
  2. Fill the tank with tap water so that your turtle has a diving zone. The deep end should be about twice the shell length.
  3. Dechlorinate the tap water with a fish-friendly dechlorinater.
  4. Add any remaining equipment: basking zone, the heater, pump, and filter.
  5. Turn on the heater and pump.
  6. Cycle the tank.
  7. While the water is cycling, install the lights and basking bulb.
  8. With all heating elements installed (heater and basking bulb), check to make sure temperature remains consistent.
  9. After your tank is cycled (confirmed via water testing), add your turtle. Do not add your turtle prior to completion.
  10. Keep an eye on your turtle carefully for the first two weeks to make sure no issues emerge. We also recommend water testing frequently during this period.

Turtle Tank Cycling

Tank cycling is an important process where beneficial bacteria builds up, which helps to break down toxic substances from a turtle’s waste. Ammonia from the waste is broken down into nitrite and then nitrate, which is much less toxic.

API Aquarium Test Kit
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Below is a short overview of tank cycling. For more complete details, check out our tank cycling guide. For all nitrogen cycling efforts, make sure you have a good water parameters test kit on hand. This guide contains the scoop on water parameter kits.

  • Add a small amount of turtle food to the water. The food will start to break down, releasing ammonia.
  • Depending on your tank, a big spike in ammonia levels will occur, followed by a spike in nitrates. This typically takes a few days to two weeks. When you see this change, you will know that the beneficial bacteria are beginning to colonize.
  • After several weeks of this process, the ammonia and nitrate levels will level out and decrease to zero.

Before adding any turtles or fish to your tank, below are your water parameter targets. You want to achieve these numbers for five days straight:

  • Ammonia: 0 ppm (parts per million)
  • Nitrites: <0.5 ppm
  • Nitrates: <40 ppm

As you can tell, this isn’t an overnight process. It takes time so be patient. If you shortchange this process, you will stress or potentially kill any aquatic critters you add to the tank.

How To Clean A Turtle Tank

The belief that turtle aquariums do not need to be cleaned if they are equipped with an aquarium filter is a widespread misconception. A filter cleans the water but it can’t capture all of the debris and waste, which is where your work comes into play!

Keeping your turtle’s tank clean is necessary for health reasons and also to help maintain a natural setting.  Regular water changes, removing excess food, and using a strong filter and pump are the secrets to success for a clean turtle tank.

turtle eating salad in turtle tank

If your turtle tank’s water is cloudy, that is a sign you need to clean. A dirty environment means sickness and stress spread more easily.

Forming habits around cleaning make the whole process easier to remember. Here is a cleaning schedule we recommend:

Daily

  • Remove uneaten food
  • Refill water bowl
  • Scoop out any waste 

Weekly

  • Replace 25% of the tank water with tap water treated with a water conditioner
  • Test ammonia and nitrite levels  

Monthly 

  • Deep clean (Important note! Do not rinse your filter media with fresh water (chlorinated) or soap, as this will kill your colonies of beneficial bacteria)

Common Problems with Turtle Tanks

Turtle tanks are not super difficult to maintain but it is important to be aware of potential problems so you can spot them quickly. Here are common problems you will need to watch for:

  1. Turtles get sick or die due to water quality problems that arise from poor aquarium maintenance practices.
  2. Tank is too small

Turtles need a lot of space, especially when compared with other reptiles like snakes or lizards. Remember to provide at least 10 gallons of water per inch of turtle shell. Tanks that are too small will stress your turtle and get dirty quickly, especially if you keep more than one turtle per tank.

You also need to keep up to date on your turtle tank maintenance. Regularly cleaning the tank, doing partial water changes, and testing the water parameters is a requirement for good health.

Conclusion

Turtles are a popular pet, with many different species to choose from. Each species has their own requirements, including basking room, swimming space, and plenty of room to relax. Also consider getting some turtle toys to get your pet entertained! If you’re considering getting a turtle, make sure that you have all of the right tank equipment before bringing one into your space! We’ve included the best turtle tanks out there so take a look at these options if you want to know what type of tank will work best in your living environment. What types of turtles do you have? Tell us about them below in the comments section!

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