The Best Turtle Tank Filters

You’ve decided to purchase a turtle and want to give it the best home possible. Unlike fish, turtles need extra care as they are higher maintenance and need a tank that they can grow into.

As well as a large tank, you also need to invest in a quality filter to ensure that the water and tank remain as clean as possible.

It’s important to consider purchasing a filter of the highest quality as this will improve your turtle’s quality of life and mean that you don’t have to do as much hands on maintenance than if you purchase a poor quality product.

Overall, it’s in your turtle’s best interest and your best interest to carry out as much research as you can to ensure you are buying the best filter you can find.

a turtle swimming in a tank

Well fear no longer, that is why you are here and we have got you covered. We’ve done all the hard work so you don’t have to and have compiled all of the information you will need before making your final decision.

So do turtles even need a filter? Yes! Turtles need a filter because of the amount of waste they produce. It’s important that you invest in a good quality filter otherwise the water and tank will get dirty which will make your turtles sick.

Depending on the species of turtle and its size, there are specific filters that are best suited for them. In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at what should be the best for your turtle.

In this article, we’ll be guiding you through the best filters on the market as well as the advantages that come with purchasing a filter for your turtle.

So whether you’re wanting to research a larger filter to cater for a bigger tank or an underwater filter for smaller turtles, we’ve got everything you need to know in this guide.

Advantages of having a filter?

There are two advantages to buying a good quality filter that can be the difference between your turtle having a long and happy life and them becoming ill quickly.

  • Firstly, as mentioned, it will keep your water and tank clean meaning that this is less maintenance for you in the long run. One misconception regarding turtle tanks is that the water should be dirty to reflect the ocean. However, it isn’t healthy for turtles to live among dirty water in this way due to the limited size of the tank compared to the ocean. The dirt will be in higher concentrations meaning that your turtle will be vulnerable and susceptible to illness and fatality if the tank and water are not kept clean. A filter simply does this automatically for you without the need of manual maintenance.
  • Following on the previous point, a filter will prevent your turtle from getting sick and allow them to adapt easily to their new environment, maintaining your turtle’s happiness and quality of life.
  • There are different model filters designed for specific species of turtles as well as being dependent on size so you can be assured that they are suited for your pet. An example of this would be that canister filters are perfect for more aquatic turtles such as painted turtles as they require a large tank. A canister filter can easily sit under or beside the tank.

When deciding what filter to purchase, it’s important to consider the tank that you already have. As mentioned in the introduction of this guide, turtles can easily outgrow their tank unlike fish so you have to make sure that you purchase the largest tank that you can find.

This will ensure that your turtle has ample space to swim across as well as some space above the water to give them the choice of habitat. The bigger your tank is, the more powerful filter you will need as it will have to purify a larger amount of water.

Also read: Best Sand and Substrates for Turtle Tanks

What Kind Of Filter Do I Need For A Turtle Tank?

When it comes to researching filters, there are three main kinds of filters that you need to look at. They are canister filters, power filters and undergravel filters.

We’ll be talking about what filter will be the best for your turtle depending on the species and size. Bear in mind that filters are a large and expensive piece of equipment but they will be worth it in the long run.

Canister filters

Canister filters are the most expensive of the three but boast a variety of features that the other two do not have. They are the most popular form of filter available for a variety of reasons including:

  • Canister filters are the best choice for larger tanks. For aquatic turtles that need the biggest tank available, canister filters are the only kind of filter that can purify a large amount of water.
  • They can easily sit beside or under your tank without taking up too much space.
  • They are built with a multi-level filtration system which cleans up all of the waste that your turtle produces.

What is the best filter for turtle tanks?

When looking at which filter is the best for a turtle tank, you want to look for a filter that has a very powerful canister that can purify the large amount of water.

It’s also handy to look for a filter that has a 3 stage filtration system to ensure that the water has been fully cleaned and there is no risk of your turtle living among its own waste.

Why You Need A Powerful Canister Filter?

So how do you know what filter is the best one to get for your tank? Find out how many gallons your tank holds and then go for a canister filter that can pump double that amount per hour.

If you are finding it difficult to find a canister filter that is double the amount of gallons then make sure that the canister has a higher rate than how many gallons are in the tank.

This is because canister filters are primarily designed for fish rather than turtles so you need to make sure that the filter is able to clean the water at a stronger and faster rate. This is because of how much waste and mess turtles cause.

Why does your filter need biological filtration?

As mentioned numerous times in this article, turtles create a lot of waste which releases lots of ammonia therefore, the water needs to be treated and filtered on a regular basis. If the water is left untreated then the ammonia will build up in the tank and can cause illness in your turtle.

The ammonia is sucked through the filter and ran through a sponge full of good bacterial colony and broken down into nitrite. Like ammonia, nitrite is also harmful but when it is processed in the biological filtration system, it is broken down into nitrate which is harmless to your turtle.

It’s always advisable to carry out partial water changes regularly to prevent any ammonia or nitrite gathering up and harming your turtle, even if your biological filtration system is working perfectly.

Why Your Filter Needs Mechanical Filtration

When it comes to researching filters, mechanical filtration systems are what often come up on the most popular search engines.

These filters clean up all particulate matter in the tank which includes: animal waste, decaying food and gunk among other excess materials. This helps to make your tank extremely clean and avoid any build of infectious substances.

If you are wanting to invest in a mechanical filtration system then try to avoid having a set up in the tank that contains a lot of sand or small pebbles and stones.

This is because they can easily be sucked into the filtration system and block it or ruin the purification system which can take a lot of manual maintenance to sort out.

Does Your Filter Need Chemical Filtration?

Chemical filtration is not a necessary investment but it is a very advantageous system to have.This is because it uses chemical media to break down any materials that get sucked up through the filter without the need for manual maintenance.

This can be a huge financial and convenient advantage for those who may not have a lot of time on their hands to worry about sorting out a problem that could have easily been avoided.

Examples of chemical filtration are activated carbon which breaks down organic matter and ammonia removers which break down ammonia.

Chemical filters make the tank water really clear and crisp meaning you can have peace of mind that your turtle is having the best quality of life they can.

What filters should I avoid for turtles?

Just as there are plenty of filtration systems perfect for turtles, there are also some that you should avoid when you’re carrying out your research.

Undergravel filters – these are perfect for fish but not for turtles as they suck the particulate matter through the bottom before releasing it back to the top of the tank.

This is an issue because undergravel filters are not powerful enough for larger tanks that house turtles. Also, they cannot be used if you have a substrate at the bottom of your tank which you need to have for turtles.

Therefore, they are completely unsuitable in any circumstance for turtles and should only be reserved for fish.

As they are cheap, a lot of people purchase undergravel filters because they think that they will do the job but as stated in the introduction of this guide, it is crucial that you are looking into the quality of the filter rather than just the price.

Those who buy undergravel filters for their turtles may have saved money in the short term but will be spending a whole lot more on maintenance and replacement supplies in the long run, as well as risking the health of their turtle and compromising its quality of life.

This is why you should be looking at canister filters as they have the capacity to clean the large space as they have a lot more power than any other kind of filter which will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Should I get a warranty for my filter?

When purchasing your canister filter, always ensure that it comes with a warranty and see what other perks they offer such as technical support and customer service in case you need it.

This is particularly necessary if this is your first filter purchase as you will likely encounter something you’re not familiar with at some point.

Bear in mind that your filter will be one of the most expensive pieces of equipment that you will buy for your turtle but you’ll get many years of use. To get as many years of use as you can out of the filter, make sure you have got some period of warranty.

As with any piece of functional equipment, there are chances that you will need to replace the parts at some point in the future. By having a warranty, you are guaranteeing that you can get the right spare parts without having to fork out a lot of cash to do so.

When you are checking to see what warranty packages are supplied with the filter, check what the warranty covers specifically. Sometimes, the warranty will only cover certain parts like the motor so you want to make sure that the warranty you have will cover every possible issue that you may encounter.

Even if your filter is the best of the best on the market, you want to make sure that the product comes with warranty because this will extend its lifespan.

As well as providing spare parts, warranty will also come with technical support and customer service who can assist with any difficulties you face over the phone or online should you need it.

Fluval Filters

If you want to invest in the best filter on the market then Fluval is the brand to look at. Designed and made from high quality materials, Fluval filters last a long time and will ensure that your tank and water remain clean at all times no matter the size of the tank.

Fluval filters boast a variety of advantages that you should consider when researching which filter is the best for your turtle.

  • Fluval filters are available in a variety of sizes so you’ll be able to find one that accommodates your tank
  • They are built with multi-stage filtration systems ensuring that the water will be thoroughly cleaned without any risk to your turtle
  • The system contains filter media and has a lot of extra options should you choose
  • Most of the models come with multi-year warranties to ensure that you are covered

The advantages outweigh the disadvantages by far but as mentioned above, the main disadvantage with Fluval filters is that they are pricier than the competition on the market.

However, it cannot be stressed enough that spending more in the short run will be worthwhile in the long run. Although they are more expensive, they’re going to last a lot longer than other brands because of the quality and strength that they have.

Fluval filters are the best brand to look at for larger tanks because of the amount of power they have. Bear in mind that the larger the tank, the more you will need to invest in a bigger filter that has the most power.

So how do Fluval filters work?

Fluval filters are built with a multi-filtration system so the water makes its way through 3 sets of foam filters to separate the particulate matter. The water then goes through the inside pump and filters through the media stacks you have selected.

This can be either biological, chemical, mechanical or a combination of them. Once that it does, the water is completely clear and void of any waste or ammonia.

Penn-Plax Cascade Filters

If Fluval filters are way out of your price range but you don’t want to miss out on a quality product then Penn-Plax Cascade is the brand to look at.

A great alternative to Fluval, Penn-Plax Cascade filters boast a fantastic price point whilst also providing a quality result.

The advantages of Penn-Plax Cascade include:

  • There are a lot of different size options depending on how big your tank is
  • You can add in a multi-filtration system and media filtration thanks to the stackable trays
  • They come with 3 year warranty
  • Penn-Plax Cascade filters are easy to use thanks to the easy push-button primers

Internal Filter

If you have a small turtle in a small tank then an internal filter may be the best option for you. Internal filters are filters that are not placed outside the tank but inside the tank underwater. They are not connected to any tubes so you don’t have to worry about spending lots of time setting it up.

If you have a tank that is 40 gallons or less, there are some fantastic filters to look into to ensure your turtle is getting the best quality of life.

Fluval Underwater Filter 

Our first recommendation comes in the form of Fluval’s Underwater Filter. Naturally, Fluval is the best brand on the market so it makes sense to start there.

The advantages of purchasing a Fluval Underwater filter are:

  • There is a selection of sizes available for smaller tanks so you can get a filter that fits in the tank perfectly
  • The engine in the filter is quiet meaning that you or your turtle are not inconvenienced
  • They are built with a multi-filtration system that can also process biological media


In conclusion, filters will take a while to get used to because you’ll have to learn how to set them up as well as knowing how to maintain them and check the conditions. However, it doesn’t take too long to get used to them and it will become second nature after a short while.

If you’re wanting to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth and as little manual maintenance as possible then it is best to look at Fluval and Penn-Plax Cascade because they may cost more financially in the short run but when you consider the warranty that comes with them, the quality of the materials and the results that they produce, they will actually save you a lot more money and time in the long run.

You’ll probably not have to worry about the condition of the filter as much because they are the best on the market so it is unlikely that any parts will break within a short time of installing it.

Another reason why you should consider buying a Fluval or Penn-Plax Cascade is that their filters are made for larger tanks meaning that they are designed with creatures like turtles in mind.

A lot of smaller filter brands are best for maintaining smaller tanks with fish. As stated earlier in the article, turtles produce a lot of waste which can be toxic due to the high concentration compared to fish so you need to ensure that the filters are extremely powerful and have multi-filtration systems to ensure that the particulate and ammonia is broken down properly.

Always bear in mind that the budget should not be the first thing to consider when you are looking at which filter is best for you. Fluval and Penn-Plax Cascade filters are hugely popular and boast the best reviews and ratings on the market because of how well they perform.

A lesser known brand or a more generic filter is not going to give you the performance you need. Because turtles are more high maintenance than fish, you need to ensure that you’re not just purchasing a generic filter with basic features just because it is a lot cheaper.

These filters are designed for fish and work best in smaller tanks to accommodate the fish however turtles need equipment that is going to give them the best quality of life that they can.

A filter can make a huge difference to ensuring that your turtle is safe from illness which also saves you from potential vet costs in the long run as well.

Have a look at Fluval and Penn-Plax Cascade filters when conducting your research and if you’re unsure which one is the best for you, always check with their customer service and technical support teams who are more than happy to help.

Dorothy Razo

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