The Best Filter for Turtles Main Picture

If you have an aquatic turtle you’ll need a filter. After many turtle canister filters, I would pick this as the best filter for turtles.

I’ll get straight to the point.

If you have an aquatic species of turtle, such as a red-eared slider or a painted turtle, I would highly recommend getting a canister filter. They are perfect for larger aquariums and sit under or next to them, which maximizes space. The best canister filters for turtles that I have used are the Fluval series filters.

The Best Filter for Turtles

Based on my experience, this is how I would rank the best turtle filters.

Do Turtles Need A Filter?

Absolutely!

The two most important reasons you will need a filter for your turtle is so that:

  • Your aquarium water is clean and healthy.
  • It saves you a ton of time and work manually cleaning the water yourself.

Turtles are messy creatures. In fact, they are much messier than most other pets.

Because of this, many pet turtle owners think that dirty, muddy water is somehow “natural.” And while turtles are able to live in such water, this isn’t healthy.

Now, before you go out to buy just any tank filter, you need to be aware of a few key things.

Follow this rule! You need the biggest tank you can get. Unlike fish, turtles do in fact outgrow their enclosures. Just because you bought a 30-gallon tank doesn’t mean your turtle will remain 4 inches for the rest of its life. And the bigger your tank, the more powerful the turtle filter you need.

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

The three most common types of filters for turtles are:

  • Canister filters
  • Undergravel filters
  • Power filters

Although they are large, bulky and a bit expensive, canister filters are far and away the best investment you can make for indoor aquariums that house aquatic turtles.

Here’s why:

  1. Indoor aquatic turtles need the largest possible aquarium you can afford, and canister filters are really the only type of filter that can handle this much water.
  2. Canister filters typically sit underneath or next to your aquarium, which maximizes space.
  3. Canister filters have multi-level filtration systems that are necessary to clean up the huge amount of waste that your turtle produces.

What kind of turtle canister filter will meet all of your needs?

  • One that is powerful.
  • A turtle aquarium filter that has 3-stage filtration.

Why You Need A Powerful Canister Filter

Here’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to narrowing down your list of canister filters.

Find the approximate number of gallons that your aquarium holds. Get a canister filter that pumps out double that per hour.

What does that mean?

If you have a 55-gallon tank, get a canister filter that is rated for 110 gallons per hour.

You need the full capacity, times two. If you can’t double your aquarium water capacity, at least find a canister filter that is rated HIGHER than how many gallons are in your tank.

The reason for this is because most canister filters are designed for fish, not turtles. However, turtles are not only messier than fish, but they also put a higher load on your filter. A canister filter that is powerful will be able to easily handle all the turtle goop and half-eaten pieces of gunk left around in your aquarium.

Why Your Filter Needs Biological Filtration

This is the most important part of the filter process.

Turtles excrete a ton of ammonia because of their frequent pooping.

If not treated and filtered, that ammonia then builds up quickly in the tank and is harmful to your turtle.

In a biological filtration system, ammonia is sucked in through the filter and run through a sponge that contains a good bacterial colony that breaks it down into something called nitrite.

Now, nitrite is also harmful to your turtle but in a biological filtration system, it is then broken down into something called nitrate. Nitrate is relatively harmless to your turtle.

This is also why it is so important for you to regularly do partial water changes, even when you have a biological filtration system.

Why Your Filter Needs Mechanical Filtration

Mechanical filtration is what most people think of when they think of filters.

This type of filter cleans up all the particulate matter in the tank. This is stuff such as:

  • Animal waste.
  • Crud and gunk.
  • Excess or decaying food.

Basically, it makes your turtle tank water look clean.

Mechanical filtration works best when you don’t have any sand or very small stones or pebbles that can be sucked up into it.

Does Your Filter Need Chemical Filtration?

To be perfectly honest, chemical filtration is not necessary. It does have advantages, however.

What chemical filtration does is use a chemical media to break down any excess material that gets sucked up through it.

Two common examples of chemical filtration are:

  • Activated carbon. This helps break down organic matter.
  • Ammonia removers. These help break down ammonia.

What chemical filters really excel at is making your tank water look very clear and crisp.

What is NOT the Best Filter System for Turtles?

Try to avoid these types of filters.

Undergravel filters.

They might be OK for fish, but for turtles, they are a no-no. These work by sucking down particulate matter through the bottom, cleaning it, and then releasing it back to the top.

The biggest two problems with these filters is that:

  • They typically won’t be powerful enough for larger aquariums that have turtles.
  • You can’t use them if you have a substrate on the bottom of your tank.

Filters made for fish and small tanks.

Steer clear! Quite honestly these should not be used by fish, but people still, unfortunately, buy them because they are cheap. They clean up large particulate matter, but that’s about all they do.

My Turtle Tank Filter Recommendations

Like I said if you are looking to get a filter for your turtle, look at canister filters. A turtle canister filter is typically much more powerful than other types of filters and will maximize space.

The biggest disadvantage, on the other hand, is typically the price. Canister filters tend to be more expensive than the other types.

So, with that being said:

Only purchase a filter that comes with a warranty!

With the exception of your aquarium, your filter is probably going to be the most expensive thing that you buy for your turtle.

So, you don’t want to fork over your hard-earned money for a product that is just going to break after a few months or worse yet, arrive with a broken part.

Filters, just like anything else that is built with a lot of moving parts, sometimes break.

This is why it is crucial for you to only choose a filter that comes with a warranty. And the stronger the warranty, the better.

I have found that you have to be careful even with the warranty. Sometimes companies will provide warranties, but they will only apply to things like the motor.

Or, the customer service line is manned by workers who are not fluent in English or don’t know much about the product.

So, it is important that whatever filter you choose, it comes with a good, reliable and preferably multi-year warranty.

Fluval Series of Filters

In my opinion, Fluval Canister Filters (click here to see the current price on Amazon) are the best canister filters for turtles.

The Fluval series of filters are my personal favorite for a few reasons:

  • They come in a ton of sizes (from 25 to over 100 gallons).
  • They come with filter media already (with lots of options for extras).
  • Best of all, they come with 3-year warranties.
  • They all have multi-stage filtration processes.
  • They have a self-priming feature that automatically vacuums out any excess air every 24 hours.
  • They’re very powerful filters. The 106 model starts filtering at 145 GPH (gallons per hour) all the way to the 406 models, at 383 GPH.
  • They have a selection of higher-powered filters for much larger tanks, from 100 gallons all the way up to the 400-gallon FX6 Filter.

The biggest downside to Fluval filters is the price. They are a bit pricier compared to the other brands.

So, if you are looking for the best filter for a 100-gallon tank (or bigger), then I would strongly suggest looking at Fluval’s series first. The bigger your tank, the more you’re going to need to invest in a high-quality filter.

TableUsed for this many gallons
Fluval 10625 gallons (suitable for a 10-15 gallon turtle tank)
Fluval 20645 gallons (suitable for a 20-25 gallon turtle tank)
Fluval 30675 gallons (suitable for a 30-40 gallon turtle tank)
Fluval 406 100 gallons (suitable for a 50+ gallon turtle tank)

Here’s how the Fluval filters work.

Water flows through 3 sets of foam filters, which filter out most of the particulate matter. The inside pump then pushes water through whatever media stacks you have chosen for your aquarium (any combination of biological, chemical, and additional mechanical filtration) and viola! Crystal clear aquarium water!

The Fluval series of filters are my personal go-to and if someone asks me what is the overall best, Fluval would be that.

If you are looking for something that is just as high quality but not as expensive and for a little smaller of a tank, check out their 406 model, which is great for up to 100 gallons.

Now, if you are looking for something a tad bit cheaper but still reliable, I would suggest any of the Penn-Plax Cascade series.

Penn-Plax Cascade Filters

In my opinion, the Penn Plax Cascade – (click here to see the current price on Amazon) filters are excellent alternatives to the Fluval series. Here’s why:

  • They have large capacity stackable trays to allow for multi-stage filtration.
  • There are also a ton of options for additional media filtration.
  • They have filters for nearly every sized tank from 30 gallons all the way up to 200 gallons.
  • These filters have quick and easy push-button primers.
  • They have 3-year warranties.
  • The water flow valves are adjustable.
  • They have a customer support line operated by Americans.

These filters come in the following sizes:

NameUsed for this many gallons
Cascade 50030 gallons (suitable for a 15-20 gallon turtle tank)
Cascade 70065 gallons (suitable for a 30-40 gallon turtle tank)
Cascade 1000100 gallons (suitable for a 50-60 gallon turtle tank)
Cascade 1200150 gallons (suitable for a 75 to 90 gallon turtle tank)
Cascade 1500200 gallons (suitable for 100+ gallon turtle tank)

EHEIM Filters

If you don’t recognize the EHEIM brand, you probably haven’t been around the pet world for a while. EHEIM is known for its good quality.

However, I would recommend that you look first at the Fluval and Penn-Plax brands first, simply because you will have a lot more options.

The EHEIM series of filters come with a 2-year warranty and starter filtration media, but the biggest downside is that they don’t have as many choices in terms of sizes.

The EHEIM Classic series of turtle aquarium filters are great starter canister filters that will be reliable and easy to work with. These filters:

  • Can filter from 42 to 92 gallons.
  • Are cheaper than the Fluval filters but still effective.
  • Come with starter filtration media.

These filters run from $70 to  $120.

NameHow many gallons
Classic 4040 gallons (suitable for anything lower than 25 gallon turtle tank)
Classic 6660 gallons (suitable for a 30-35 gallon turtle tank)
Classic 9292 gallons (suitable for a 40-50 gallon turtle tank)

Sun Sun Filters

Next down the list are SunSun Filters – (click here to see the current price on Amazon). Compared to Fluval filters, they are quite a bit cheaper. They are also cheaper than the Penn-Plax filters as well. Sun Sun filters start at $40. Other benefits are:

  • They have sizes for tanks anywhere from 50 to 150 gallons.
  • They come with a ton of filter media such as sponges, rings and bio-balls.

Sun Sun turtle filters have been greatly recommended among pet turtle enthusiasts for a while now.

If you are looking for something that is just as high quality but not as expensive and for a smaller tank, check out their 406 model. This is a great option for tanks up to 100 gallons.

Stay clear of the 104-5 and 204-5 models as they are not powerful nor have as many stacks as the Fx6 or 405-6 (although they will do fine for fish).

These filters run from $40 to over $100.

If the turtle filter comes broken, Sun Sun will replace it for free. However, as Sun Sun is a Chinese company, you will have to deal with their sometimes spotty customer support line.

NameUsed for this many gallons
HW-302 Pro75 gallons (suitable for anything less than 40 gallon turtle tank)
HW-303B100 gallons (suitable for a 50-60 gallon turtle tank)
HW-304B150 gallons (suitable for a 75-100 gallon turtle tank)
HW-702B75 gallons (suitable for anything less than 40 gallon turtle tank)
HW-704B150 gallons (suitable for a 75 to 100 gallon turtle tank)

The Best Internal Filter for a Turtle Tank

An internal filter is, like its name suggests, basically a filter that does not connect to any tubes running into a canister that sits outside of the tank. With most models, you simply submerge it underwater and attach it to the side of your aquarium, plug it in and you’re good to go.

Personally, I would not recommend using an internal filter in most cases unless you have a small turtle in a small tank.

Assuming your aquarium is 40 gallons or smaller, here is what I would recommend as the best internal filter for turtle tanks:

Fluval Underwater Filter 

The Fluval Underwater Filter – (click here to see the current price on Amazon) would be my first recommendation for an underwater filter, as:

  • It is available for different types of low-gallon tanks (Up to 15 gallons, 12-30 gallons, 24 to 40-gallons, and 34 to 65 gallons).
  • This filter is extremely quiet.
  • It has a 3-stage filtration system process that includes biological media.
  • It has an adjustable flow-control valve.

As I noted above, Fluval filters also come standard with 3-year warranties, which in 2020 is quite exceptional compared to their competitors!

While this is a pretty powerful, reliable filter for the smaller tank sizes, I would suggest that if your tank is close to or above 40-gallons and you have other fish or plants, move up to a canister filter or something a little beefier.

Summary

Canister filters take a little bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of them, they will easily last for years as a strong filter system.

There are other options as well, but if you are looking for something that has a proven track record of working well, I would urge you to check out either Fluval, Penn-Plax or Sun Sun first, based on the size of your tank.

You might be tempted to go with a generic brand for your turtle aquarium filter, but I would actually advise against that, for a number of reasons.

  1. Generally, customer support is not nearly as good with generic brands vs. brands such as Fluval or Sun Sun. That is if you can even reach them. Secondly, most generic, cheaper brands lack any type of warranty or use an extremely limited one.
  2. User experience. A good Fluval filter is going to be expensive, yes but there are also thousands of people who have bought these products, and thousands of people who have reviewed them and understand them well. With a more generic filter, this doesn’t exist. Everything is up in the air, so getting help or getting someone to answer even a basic question of yours is often problematic.

If you are looking for the best filter for turtles, it’s best to make a little investment and just go for a Fluval or Penn-Plax, you really can’t go wrong with either.

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About the Author

Hi, I'm J and I'm the chelonian-obsessed creator of this website. Feel free to leave a comment below, as unlike a snapping turtle, I promise I won't bite!

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