painted turtle tank setup

Painted turtles are a great option if you want an aquatic turtle. They are very good swimmers and have beautiful patterns on their shells. Today’s article will focus on everything you need for a painted turtle and how to set up a painted turtle tank.

Painted turtle tank setup

Your painted turtle tank will need to be the right size and include a basking platform, basking light, heater, filter, and ideally a substrate.

If you are more of a visual learner, you should check out my video that goes through everything you need for a painted turtle tank setup.

Now let’s start with the most important item, the tank.

Painted turtle tank size

For a painted turtle, I suggest you get a tank that is at least 75 gallons. I know it’s hard to imagine a small little baby turtle growing so much, but painted turtles are one of the largest aquatic turtle species and can grow up to 12 inches.

baby painted turtle

Therefore, you will need to a tank that can accommodate their size and need for swimming. If your tank is too small, it can cause a lot of stress for your painted turtle, which can make them more vulnerable to diseases.

While tanks can get pretty expensive, I have found that Petco has the best deals for painted turtle tanks. They sell 75 gallon tanks ranging from $150-$250. You can check them out here.

Now let’s talk about what goes inside your painted turtle tank.  

Basking platform for painted turtle habitat

basking platform for painted turtle tank

While painted turtles spend the majority of their time in the water, it is important that you provide a dry land area, or “basking platform” for your turtle. You need to make sure it is easily accessible for your turtle to climb onto it from the water. You also need to make sure that the basking platform can accommodate the size and weight of your turtle.

If you are looking for a premade basking platform, I would suggest this floating dock from zoo med. It’s reasonably priced and easy to install in your tank.

basking dock for painted turtle tank

You can also make your own basking platform out of rocks and decorations. For example, you can just stack up a bunch of large rocks so that the top rock is out of the water. If you go this route, it’s important to make sure your turtle can easily climb onto the top rock without falling or tipping over.

Basking light

basking light for painted turtle

A basking light is another essential component for your painted turtle aquarium setup. This basking light should emit both UVA and UVB light and should be able to achieve a temperature between 85 and 95 degrees fahrenheight.

It is important that your basking light points directly at the basking platform where your turtle dries off. If you don’t have a proper basking light, it can be detrimental to your turtle’s health. It can lead to metabolic bone disease and will also make your turtle susceptible to respiratory infections.

Here are a couple of my recommend products for a painted turtle basking platform.

Penn-Plax Basking Platform

    Price: ~$20

Check Price On Amazon
UVA UVB Turtle Basking Light

    Price: ~$20

Check Price On Amazon
UVA UVB Replacement Light Bulb

    Price: ~$22

Check Price On Amazon


Your painted turtle tank will also need an underwater heater. Luckily these aren’t expensive and there are plenty of options for under $20. You want to make sure that you get a heater with enough wattage to heat up the water in your tank.

You want to aim for a water temperature range between 75 and 85 degrees fahrenheight. If your water is too cold, it can stress out your turtle and reduce their appetite. Your turtle will likely develop a respiratory infection if they are exposed to cold water for an extended period of time.


Another essential component for your painted turtle enclosure is a turtle tank filter. While filters can be one of the more expensive accessories, you need one to help prevent bacteria from building up in your tank. While there are a bunch of different filters out there, the most important thing is to make sure your filter is strong enough for the size of your tank.

The main thing to look for is the GPH (gallons per hour). You will want to choose a filter that has a GPH of at least two times the size of your tank. For example, if you have a 75 gallon tank, you will want a filter that has a GPH of at least 150.


substrate for painted turtle tank

While it isn’t necessarily a requirement, I do suggest that you add a substrate to your tank. In the wild, there is always some form of substrate in a painted turtle’s habitat, so adding one to your tank will certainly make your turtle happy. It will also improve the aesthetic of your tank it and makes it appear more realistic.

The two best substrate options for a painted turtle habitat are river rocks and sand. If you go with river rocks, make sure they are bigger than your turtle’s mouth, so they don’t accidentally eat one.

Other things to keep in mind when building a painted turtle aquarium

Conditioner: When you fill up your painted turtle tank with water, it is important that you condition the water. This is because tap water usually contains chlorine and other minerals that can be harmful to your turtle over time. Luckily water conditioner is cheap, and you can simply just add a couple drops of it after you fill up the tank with water.

Plants: If you want to make your painted turtle habitat even more realistic, you can certainly try adding plants to your painted turtle tank. Just keep in mind that there is a good chance your turtle will nibble on them, so they might not last a long time.

Toys/Decorations: Another thing to consider for your painted turtle are decorations. While they aren’t required, they will make your tank look cooler and provide enrichment for your turtle. Some good decorations include large rocks, driftwood, or artificial decorations. A good option for a toy is a turtle ball feeder. While some fish can live with turtles, I wouldn’t add any to your tank because your painted turtle will likely eat them.

Painted turtle habitat

Now that you know how to set up a painted turtle habitat, the hard work is done! Make sure that you check up on your turtle a couple times per day to make sure everything in their tank is functioning properly. It is also important that you provide your turtle with the right diet. If you want to learn more, you can check out my guide on the best diet for a painted turtle.

Thanks for reading my guide and reach out if you have any questions about setting up your painted turtle tank aquarium.

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