Setting up your (first) turtle tank is not always easy, though: there is a lot of misinformation out there and the equipment choices are endless.
Contrary to popular belief, for example, turtles definitely need a filter set up in their aquarium. But what filters work best? Which type or brand is ideal for your turtle tank?
To make the choice a little easier we’ve collected 7 of the best turtle tank filter options. Additionally, we’ll explain why a filter is so crucial to keeping your turtle healthy and how you can make sure your filter stays up and running for years to come.
Best Turtle Tank Filters: Our Top Picks
Looking for the perfect turtle filter? Here are our top picks!
1. Penn Plax Cascade 1500 Canister Turtle Filter
- CASCADE 1500 CANISTER FILTER: Without effort, the...
- STATE OF THE ART FEATURES: In addition to the push...
- FILTER MEDIA: This Canister Filter comes standard...
If you want to go for a canister filter but feel the price of an Eheim or Fluval is a little too much for you right now, don’t worry. The Penn Plax Cascade might have a bit less room for filter material, but it’s still a great choice if you want some serious filtration on your turtle tank. In fact, it’s one of the most popular aquarium filter options in the market!
The Penn Plax Cascade 1500 is rated for aquarium up to 200 gallons with a maximum flow of around 350 gallons per hour. This makes it the largest of the Cascade series – perfect for a turtle tank!
2. Eheim Pro 4+ 600 Filter
- This product is easy to use. This product adds a...
- These filters can handle aquariums between 30-160...
- As with most EHEIM filters, the Pro4+ comes...
Eheim Pro is a series of canister filters. We happen to love canister filters for turtle tanks: they have a much larger container for filter media than most other filter types. Eheim in particular is a good choice. This German brand is known for its durability, which comes in handy as canister filters are not the cheapest filter type. You won’t want yours breaking within a few months!
The Eheim Pro 4+ 600 is rated for aquariums of up to 160 gallons and has a maximum flow of around 330 gallons per hour. Its design is sturdy and, as an added bonus, Eheim canisters are known for being among the quietest options.
3. Penn Plax Cascade 300 Hang-on
- QUIET & EFFICIENT: The Cascade 300 Power Hang-On...
- ACCOMMODATING: The adjustable flow knob allows for...
- EXTREMELY BENEFICIAL: This Cascade filter utilizes...
Although hang-on filters are not our absolute first choice for turtle tank filters, we still want to discuss the Penn Plax Cascade 300. Why? Contrary to many other hang-on filtration systems, this model delivers a lot of power and has quite a bit of room for filter material. As the name suggests it produces a maximum flow of 300 gallons per hour, which is quite impressive for a hang-on.
Two of these filters (rated for a maximum of 100 gallons) could make a perfect main filtration system for a turtle tank. Alternatively, a single Cascade 300 would be a good choice to use in conjunction with a canister filter or to keep a quarantine or grow-out tank crystal clear.
4. Pond Boss FM002P Filter Kit
- Ecofriendly Filter kit
- Energy efficient
- Quiet operation
Many turtle keepers like to move their shelled friend outside during the warm summer months or even keep it outdoors year round in warmer climates. Alternatively, a few lucky readers might even have some indoor pond action going on! An easy option for a small turtle pond would be the Pond Boss Filter Kit.
This kit filters 320 gallons per hour and comes with filter material included. As an added bonus, the set contains a water spray nozzle so you can have your very own little fountain in your turtle pond.
5. Fluval Canister Filter
- Multi stage filtration for healthy fresh &...
- Suitable for aquariums up to 100 gallons. Flow...
- Sound dampening impeller design for a quieter...
Alright ladies and gentlemen, we’re pulling out the big guns with a canister filter that moves up to 560 gallons of water per hour. If you keep big turtles in big tanks, the Fluval FX6 might be the filter you’re looking for. Fluval is considered one of the top brands when it comes to aquarium equipment and their super durable FX6 is no different.
This filter has 1.5 gallons of room for filter media, which means you can fit plenty of (biological) filter material in there. This unit is known for being easy set up and completely silent , two things that can’t exactly be said for all canister filters. Seems like a great choice to us, and it’s rated for tanks of up to 400 gallons.ƒ
6. SunSun 5-Stage External Canister Filter
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Turtle keeping on a budget? Chinese aquarium equipment brand SunSun has got you covered with their HW-704B. Impressive, considering its maximum output of 525 gallons per hour which makes it suitable for aquariums of up to 150 gallons.
Now, let’s be clear about this: buying cheap means having to give up on some aspects that the big brand canisters do have. SunSuns are notorious for not being the easiest to set up and the material quality of their canisters seems a little lower. Still, they’re a popular option and definitely do the trick. Perfect if you don’t want to take the step up to something like a Fluval or Eheim just yet.
7. MarineLand Magnum Polishing Internal Canister Filter
- INTERNAL CANISTER FILTER: Submerged motor for...
- VERSATILE FILTRATION: Two refillable chambers...
- MICRON WATER POLISHING: High-efficiency polishing...
As we’ve concluded by now, external canister filters are probably the most practical way to keep your turtle tank clean and healthy. Not everyone likes canisters, though, which is understandable. Some can be difficult to set up, and what if they leak? If you don’t want to go the external canister filter route, how about an internal canister?
The MarineLand Magnum Polishing Internal Canister Filter is a very powerful internal filter with similar properties to an external canister. The fact that it goes inside the tank makes it easier to set up (no priming needed!) and eliminates the risk of your filter leaking all over your living room. While you might need two of these filters running on your turtle tank to provide enough filtration (they filter a maximum of 290 gallons and are rated for a maximum of 100 gallons), they still make a great choice if you prefer an internal filter.
Do Turtle Tanks Really Need Filters?
All aquariums need a filter to keep the inhabitants happy and healthy. Contrary to what some turtle keepers believe, this includes turtle tanks. The reason filters are so important is not just because they keep the water clear; you could do this with just water changes if you had the time.
You need a filter because without it, the ammonia your turtle expels when it poops stays in the water until you do a water change. This can quickly damage the health of your turtle, as even small amounts of ammonia and short exposure can be dangerous. Something that immediately converts ammonia to the less toxic nitrate is needed, so the nitrate can then be removed during regular maintenance.
How does a filter convert ammonia into nitrate, then? The process is called the nitrogen cycle and a filter allows it to happen because beneficial, ammonia converting bacteria thrive in filter media. Obviously this description is a bit simplified: for a full article on the nitrogen cycle you can click here. If you have no idea what it is yet, definitely be sure to read up on the subject before getting your turtle.
Choosing the Right Size Filter
Because a turtle tank filter has to work pretty hard to keep the water clean, we recommend going for something quite powerful. A good trick is to have a look at what aquarium size the filter you’re interested in is rated for. Ideally, that should be twice or even three times as much as your actual tank size.
Something that also works well is to buy two filters rated for your aquarium size, if possible. That way you can be sure you’ve got plenty of power and it comes with the added bonus of having a plan B at all times in case one filter fails.
Note: I like to use one canister and one powerful internal or hang-on filter. I’ve got an Eheim Pro and something similar to the Marineland Internal Canister running on my own largest tank.
Types of Turtle Filter Material
Most aquarium filters come with filter material included, but it’s still important to know a little about what all the fluffy and flossy stuff actually is. After all, not all filter material has the same purpose. There are actually three types: mechanical, biological and chemical filter material.
Mechanical filter material
These materials, mainly sponges and filter floss are used for the dirty work of removing particles and dirt from the water. Although beneficial bacteria will grow in mechanical filter material it’s not the ideal medium for this purpose.
As we’ve explained a few times turtles are notoriously messy eaters and, on top of that, they poop a lot. This means plenty of mechanical filter material paired with a strong filter flow is a good idea if you want to keep your aquarium water clear. Layer sponges from coarse to fine and end with a layer of filter floss to get rid of even the tiniest particles.
Biological filter material
Although sponge does hold some beneficial bacteria, it’s a good idea not to rely on your filter sponges entirely to keep your cycle going. Especially not with high-waste animals like turtles that produce a lot of ammonia which needs to be converted to safer nitrate to prevent issues!
To make sure your aquarium cycle is strong and stable, which is crucial to the health of your turtle, you can include biological filter material after your layers of sponge. There are many types of biological filter materials available, but what all of them have in common is that they’re very porous. This makes for a large surface area that plenty of beneficial bacteria can settle on. Try ceramic rings, bio balls or even crushed lava rock.
Chemical filter material.
By this we mean all media that is meant to alter the water beyond just keeping it cycled. Activated charcoal removes pretty much any substance that’s not water, peat makes the water softer, zeolite absorbs ammonia, etc.
All this sounds very handy and chemical filter material is often included in standard filter kits. Activated charcoal is especially common, but is it really needed or even safe in the long run? Most chemical filter materials are actually best used only for emergencies. For example, while charcoal is ideal for removing any traces of medication from the water it also removes beneficial substances, which is the opposite of what we want. Thus, it’s a must-have for your emergency kit but not something to use on a permanent basis.
Turtle Tank Filter Maintenance
If you chose a high-quality filter like the ones we recommended at the top of this article, all the messes your turtle produces should usually be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. Particles get sucked into the sponge and ammonia is converted to nitrate (which is removed by you during your weekly water change so the level doesn’t rise too high).
What some (beginning) turtle keepers tend to forget is that because the filter sucks up so much waste, it needs regular maintenance to keep working efficiently. If you don’t clean your filter often enough all that dirt will eventually start to clog it, which can severely reduce its output and efficiency level. This can eventually lead to water quality issues, as less water flows past the beneficial bacteria and ammonia isn’t removed from the water as effectively any more.
Luckily keeping your aquarium filter working as it should is not too much of a challenge. We usually recommend doing some filter maintenance every other week. Take the filter apart and toss the filter floss if it’s dirty. Then squeeze and swish the sponges in a bucket or two of tank water until dirt stops coming out. That’s it for now! You can leave the biological filter material alone as it shouldn’t have caught much dirt at all, that’s what the sponges are for. Put everything back together, place some new filter floss and you’re good to go.
If your turtle tank has been running for a while you might start to notice the filter flow staying lower than usual even after a good cleaning. This is a sign it’s probably time to start replacing your sponges: they last for a good long while, but eventually the insides are just too dirty and broken down to work efficiently any more. Don’t replace all sponges at the same time or you’ll risk damaging your cycle. Instead, try to replace ½ or ⅓ at a time, with a month or two between each replacement. Once all the sponge has been replaced you should be set for quite a while again. Easy!