Best Filter for Turtle Tanks: 2019 Buyer’s Guide and Reviews

Turtles make adorable pets, but like any aquarium pets they need a healthy living environment to thrive. Compared to fish, turtles require extra care – you have to have a somewhat larger tank, keep the water a bit cleaner, and ensure that the water is continuously circulating.

Thankfully, a good filter designed specifically for turtle tanks is capable of handling these requirements with ease.

Choosing the best filter for your turtle tank can be hard, especially if you don’t know what to look for in a filter.

That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to turtle tank filters. We’ll cover everything you need to know about how to choose the best filter for a turtle tank and highlight eight of the best filters for keeping your aquatic reptiles healthy and happy.

Do Turtle Tanks Need a Filter?

Without a high-quality filter, it wouldn’t take long for your turtle tank to become a sludgy green mess.

That’s not nearly as aesthetically pleasing to look at as a clean tank, nor is it a healthy environment for your turtle. Just as for fish, it’s important to clean debris and waste out of your turtle tank frequently and to maintain the chemistry of the water.

Cleaning is doubly important for turtles, in fact, because they create more waste than most fish. Turtles eat more food and also expel more feces and pee, which if not removed from the tank can quickly cause problems for your pet.

While adding plants and fish to your tank can play a role in keeping up the water quality, there’s no substitute for a filtration system when it comes to turtle tanks.

How to Choose the Best Filter for a Turtle Tank

So what type of filtration system is best for your turtle tank? If you’re a first-time turtle owner, the sheer number of aquarium filters on the market can be overwhelming.

To help you find the best filter for your turtle tank, let’s take a look at how these filtration systems differ from one another and what that means for your aquatic reptile.

Size and GPH

If you only had fish in your tank, you could potentially get away with a slightly underpowered filtration system and still create a healthy living environment.

But that’s not the case with turtles – these reptiles are bigger and produce more waste, so if water isn’t constantly circulating through the filter water conditions can deteriorate rapidly.

Having a powerful filter system is doubly important if you have more than one turtle in a tank, or if you have other fish and plants in the tank along with your turtle.

The capacities of most canister filters are rated for fish, so you need to scale up when choosing a filter for a turtle tank. In general, you should get a filter that offers two to three times as much filter capacity as the size of your tank.

So, if you have a 50-gallon turtle tank, you should get a filter that offers at least 100 gallons of capacity and ideally closer to 150 gallons. If you use a filter specifically designed for turtles, you just need a filter with enough capacity for the size of your tank.

The other thing to think about is the flow rate of your filtration system, which is typically measured in gallons per hour (GPH). Your filter should be able to filter the entire volume of your tank at least once every hour.

If you follow the sizing recommendation above of buying a filter that’s rated for two to three times more capacity than your turtle tank, flow rate won’t be a concern.

Mechanical, Biological, and Chemical Filtration

Every filter system used for a turtle tank should have at least mechanical and biological filtration stages, and ideally a chemical filtration stage as well.

These different filtration stages each perform different tasks, and it takes all of them to ensure that you’re not only removing waste from the tank but also maintaining water chemistry.

Mechanical filtration is the most straightforward stage of filtration and probably what you think of when you think of a filter.

Essentially, the mechanical filtration stage strains out any particulate gunk – like turtle feces, uneaten bits of food, and algae – that is floating around in your tank’s water.

Mechanical filtration alone will make your tank water look cleaner, but it won’t perform the important role of maintaining water chemistry. When your turtle pees, it releases ammonia into the water – and this ammonia can’t simply be strained out with a mesh filter. That’s where biological filtration comes in.

Biological filtration consists of a substrate media that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria.

These bacteria are ammonia oxidizers – they convert the ammonia that your turtle released into the water into nitrate, which can then be taken up by plants in your tank and removed from the water.

Keep in mind that even nitrate can be harmful to turtles if enough of it builds up in the tank water, which is part of the reason why you have to change out the water from time to time even if you have a high-quality filtration system.

Chemical filtration isn’t as essential as mechanical and biological filtration, but it can further increase the effectiveness of your filtration system and extend the time in between water changes.

Chemical filtration can include different types of media, each of which is able to clean up a different component of that mechanical and biological filtration frequently miss.

For example, activated carbon is effective at breaking down dissolved organic matter in the tank water, while ammonia removers can help break down ammonia that slipped through the biological filtration stage.

Ease of Maintenance

No matter how good your turtle tank filter is, at some point you’ll need to clean it out or replace the filter media. When that time comes, you’ll thank yourself for choosing a filter that makes maintenance simple.

The best sign of a filtration system that’s easy to maintain is that it has a simple cabinet system for filtration media. That way, you can simply pull out filter, throw out the old media, and add new media.

Or, for mechanical filtration stages, you can pull out the filter, wash it off or discard the mesh, and replace it. Ideally, accessing the filter media shouldn’t require taking apart the entire filtration system and definitely should not require digging around past the pump system.

One additional thing to think about when considering maintenance is whether two filters is better than one. If you have two filters, you can leave one running while pulling out the other one to clean it and replace old media.

This isn’t essential, but it can help prevent ammonia from building up in the time that you’re cleaning the tank filter. If you do opt for two filters, their combined capacity should sum to the total filtration capacity that you need.

Stay Away from Undergravel Filters

Undergravel filters are popular for fish tanks, but they absolutely should not be used for a turtle tank. There are a number of problems with undergravel filters and turtles.

The first is that undergravel filters require gravel substrates on the bottom of your tank to work. But turtles and gravel don’t mix.

Turtles mistake gravel for food particles and will try to eat the rocks, which obviously isn’t healthy for your turtle.

In addition, turtles like to dig. That means that an undergravel filter is likely to get clogged. Worse, gravel often collects unfiltered bits of poop and food debris, and turtles will occasionally kick up all of this undegraded debris into the tank and cause a mess

So, it’s always a good idea to avoid undergravel filters when choosing a filtration system for your turtle tank.

Best Filters for Turtle Tanks Reviewed

Now you have a better understanding on what to consider when looking for a turtle tank filter, you can use these review to make an informed buying decision.

1. Aqueon QuietFlow

This four-stage filtration system from Aqueon offers impressive cleaning power. The filter consists of mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, all preceded by a wet/dry diffuser grid that acts as an effective pre-filter to prevent clogging.

The chemical filtration stage consists of activated carbon, which gives your water a clean and crisp look by removing dissolved organic matter.

The QuietFlow is virtually silent, as its name suggests, which is useful if your turtle tank is in a main area of your home.

Better yet, the pump doesn’t require any priming and will start up automatically if the power goes out temporarily. The adjustable outflow nozzle is also a nice feature for keeping up water circulation throughout your tank.

The filter is available in a range of sizes from 10 to 40 gallons, each with a flow rate of 155 gallons per hour. The relatively small sizes mean that you’ll need two to three of these filters for a moderately sized turtle, which is good and bad.

On the one hand, it’s more expensive than buying a single large filter. But on the other hand, having multiple filters ensures that you always have filtration even when you’re cleaning out one of the units.

Four-stage filtration system
Activated carbon filter gives water a crisp appearance
Adjustable outflow nozzle for circulation
Quiet pumping

Only available in small sizes


2. Eheim Classic 2215

This high capacity filter from Eheim is suitable for a wide variety of turtle tanks and offers enough durability to match the lifespan of your turtle. The filter is rated for 95-gallon tanks, meaning it is suitable for turtle tanks around 45 gallons or smaller.

It is designed to produce an impressive 165-gallon flow rate, which is more than enough to ensure that your tank water is continuously circulating through the filter and there’s no stagnation in the tank.

The filtration system includes only mechanical and biological filtration stages, although it does come with everything you need to get started filtering right away.

Setup can be a bit complicated for new aquarists since this filter is designed to be placed outside of the tank, but Eheim’s instructions are well-written and all tubing is included with the filter.

One thing to watch out for with this filter is the polishing pad. This fine mechanical filter is great for making your tank water look crisp and clear, but because it’s so fine it clogs every few days.

So unless you plan to clean the filter at least once a week or more frequently, you’ll be better off swapping out the polishing pad for a coarse filter.

Impressive 165-gallon flow rate
Comes with all filtration media and setup tubing
Durable construction
Enough filter capacity for larger turtles and tanks

Polishing pad can cause clogs if not cleaned frequently or removed
No chemical filtration stage


3. Penn-Plax Cascade

The Cascade filter from Penn-Plax is one of the most capable external filtration units on the market today. The filter is available in capacities ranging from 30 to 200 gallons, so it’s ideally suited for the high-capacity filtration needs of turtle tanks.

Plus, the maximum flow rate of 350 gallons per hour is among the most intense we’ve seen in a filter of this size.

There are a few well thought out features that make the Cascade filter stand apart from its competitors.

First, the large media trays are easy to slide out of the filtration canister and you can fill them with any media you like. This does mean that you’ll need to have some knowledge about what types of filter media can achieve the necessary combination of mechanical and biological filtration.

But, for experienced aquarists, having control over your canister filter is a major advantage.

In addition, the construction of the canister itself is noteworthy. The hard plastic exterior is durable, and all of the valves are able to rotate 360 degrees.

That means it easier to put the canister in a tight space beneath or behind your aquarium and still have the included tubing reach into the tank.

Still, for many users, all of these benefits can be outweighed by a single flaw – the filter is quite loud. Unfortunately, there is no way to decrease the noise by changing the flow rate or cleaning the filtration system more frequently.

Suitable for larger turtle tanks
350-gallon per hour flow rate
Customizable media trays
360-degree rotating valves

Requires experience with customizing filter media

4. Fluval FX6

The Fluval FX6 is a massive filter designed specifically for large turtle tanks. The 400-gallon capacity features a flow rate of 560 gallons per hour, so you can be absolutely certain that the filtration system won’t disappoint when it comes to cleaning up after your large turtle.

Of course, all that capacity comes with several downsides as well – this filter is quite expensive and takes up a huge amount of space beneath your tank.

The design of the canister is one of the best aspects of this filtration system. A series of durable clamps keeps the system airtight, yet are easy to remove when it comes time to replace the filter media.

A vertical tray pulls out of the canister and holds multiple large filter trays that can be filled with custom media of your choice. Aquarists will also appreciate the purge valve at the bottom of the canister, which can be opened when it comes time to change out the water in the tank.

Another unique feature of this filtration system is the smart pump technology. The pump turns off briefly every 12 hours in order to allow air bubbles to evacuate themselves from the system. This ensures that the filter is optimally circulating water at all times, without requiring you to open up the canister.

Massive 400-gallon filtration capacity
Durable and easy to maintain canister design
Customizable media
Purge valve for easy water changes
Smart pump technology

Requires understanding of custom filter media combinations
Bulky and heavy


5. JackSuper Turtle Internal Filter

This unique filter from JackSuper is specifically designed for tanks in which you have a low water level to accommodate amphibious turtles.

The filter sits upright in your aquarium tank and can draw from as little as 0.6 inches of water at its base. The filter pumps water upward and produces an aesthetically pleasing waterfall effect at its outflow.

The filter is compact and surprisingly quiet, which makes its inexpensive price tag all the more attractive. With a height of just over six inches and a flow rate of around 50 gallons per hour, this filter is primarily intended for small tanks with only one or two small turtles.

In addition, it’s important to note that this filter does not offer biological filtration – it is solely good for removing solid waste from your turtle’s water, so you’ll still need to replace the water relatively frequently.

Also, it’s important to ensure that the bottom of this filter is always submerged when it is running. Otherwise, you will quickly burn out the pump. If you normally have a low water level in your aquarium tank, it can be easy to forget this and ruin the filter.

Accommodates amphibious tanks with low water levels
Pleasing waterfall effect at outflow
Surprisingly quiet operation

Only suitable for very small tanks
No biological filtration stage
Easy to burn out pump if you forget to turn off pump when water is too low


6. Fluval 206

The Fluval -06 series adapts the highly capable design of the Fluval FX6 filter into a smaller set of units. The 206 is rated for a capacity of 45 gallons, while the -06 series of canister filters is available in capacities from 25 to 100 gallons.

The 206 has a flow rate of around 200 gallons per hour, while the higher-capacity 406 (100 gallons) has a heavy-duty flow of up to 380 gallons per hour.

These canister filters include four filter baskets that can be filled with your choice of media, and the filter is provided with everything you need to get started with biological and chemical filtration in addition to mechanical filtering.

The square design is unusual, but it’s a major step forward in filtration – the square shape of the filter canister means that the canister can hold up to 40% more water at one time than a comparable round canister.

While the canister as a whole feels solid, the tubing can be difficult to connect securely and we’d recommend changing out the tubing before even setting up this filter.

The sound-dampening impeller is a major plus for this filter, allowing it to run nearly silently. However, watch out for issues with the impeller – it’s not uncommon for it to simply stop working within a year of use.

Thankfully, this is covered by Fluval’s three-year warranty.

Available in multiple capacities up to 100 gallons
Four customizable filter baskets
Sound-dampening impeller allows silent operation
Square shape allows the canister to hold more water
Three-year warranty

Tubing doesn’t work well and should be upgraded immediately
Quality-control issues with impeller

7. API Filstar XP

This large filter from API offers durability and simple maintenance, making it a favorite among experienced aquarists. A simple quick disconnect valve also makes it easy to remove the filter from your system for cleaning.

Although the filter pump isn’t completely silent, it’s quiet enough that most aquarists won’t be bothered by the noise.

The canister includes three filter media trays so you can conduct mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration.

The trays can simply be pulled upward out of the canister when it comes time to replace media, and you have the freedom to completely customize what’s in the trays to adapt to the needs of your aquarium. Note that while the filter comes with media, it’s actually not enough to fill the trays so you’ll need to buy more.

One unusual aspect about the Filstar XP filter series is that it flows water from the bottom of the canister to the top. This allows gravity to aid in the filtration process by settling large particles to the bottom of the canister.

The square shape of the canister increases the surface area of the filtration media to improve debris capture and biological filtration, while also ensuring that no water leaks through the system.

The XP series is available in sizes ranging from 45 gallons to 265 gallons. Flow rates vary, but the 265-gallon capacity filter offers an impressive 450 gallons per hour of flow so you never have to worry about dirty tank water.

Available in a variety of capacities up to 265 gallons
Simple cleaning and maintenance
Three customizable media trays
Water flows from bottom to top to settle out large particles

Doesn’t come with enough media to start filtering immediately
Not as quiet as other canister filters


8. Fluval Advanced Aquarium Filtration System

This high-tech tank filter from Fluval offers a lot of bells and whistles, which can be attractive for the aquarist who is willing to spare no expense for their turtle.

An LCD screen on the front of the filter allows you to constantly monitor the flow rate, as well as offers information about water temperature and your maintenance schedule. Between the maintenance schedule and flow rate alerts, it’s always easy to tell when it’s time to clean the filter trays or to replace the filter media.

The inside of the filtration system is a lot like other Fluval tank filters. It features two customizable media trays that can be used for biological, and chemical filtration. However, there are two important differences.

First, the inside of the canister is double walled so there is almost no noise whatsoever coming from this filter. Second, the mechanical filter is a pleated cartridge, so it filters out smaller particles than most other canister filters. Keep in mind that this does mean that you’ll need to clean the filtration system more frequently.

The biggest downside to this filtration system is, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it’s one of the more expensive tank filters on offer.

The Advanced Aquarium Filtration System is available in two sizes – the G3 has an 80-gallon capacity and 185-gallon per hour flow rate, while the G6 has a 160-gallon capacity with a 265-gallon per hour flow rate.

LCD screen monitors flow rate and maintenance schedule
Double-walled canister for silent operation
Two customizable media trays
Pleated cartridge for fine mechanical filtration



Deciding on Your Turtle Filter

Choosing the best filter for your turtle tank ultimately comes down to the filtration capacity you need, your desired filtration setup, and your budget.

Canister filters like those from Fluval, API, and Penn-Plax offer a highly customizable filtration setup that can be used for mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration and adapt to meet the needs of your aquarium even if you change its residents over time.

However, canister filters are more expensive than an internal filter like the Aqueon QuietFlow and typically require more maintenance. High-tech solutions like the Fluval Advanced Aquarium Filtration System can offer convenience and advanced monitoring tools, but there’s no need to break the bank to get a high-quality filtration system.

No matter which filtration system you choose, be sure to opt for one with enough filtration capacity for your turtle tank. With the right filtration system in place, your turtle can live healthy and you can enjoy the beauty of a clean turtle tank.

Christopher Adams

Hey there, my name is Christopher and I'm the creator and editor of this site. I've owned successful aquariums for the past 23 years. My mission is to educate, inform, and entertain on everything that's fish.

Last update on 2019-10-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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