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When setting up a turtle tank a filter should be one of the first pieces of equipment you consider. Filters are important because they maintain the health of your self-contained ecosystem. Many problems begin with inadequate filtration and just as many are solved by buying the right filter from the start! Let’s get to know filtration and why it’s essential for turtle tanks!
My Top 6 Turtle Tank Filter Recommendations
- EHEIM Classic External Canister Filter
- Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter
- OASE BioMaster Thermo 600
- Fluval 407 Performance Canister Filter
- Penn-Plax Cascade 700 Canister Filter
- Fluval FX6 High-Performance Canister Filter
Why is Filtration Essential for Turtle Tanks?
As we turtle keepers know well, turtles are exceptionally messy animals. Since they eat and poop in their water it’s challenging to keep the tank clear and free of noxious smells. In order to do so, we need to understand how filters work and what kind are best for turtle tanks.
Failing to provide a proper filter has several consequences. For one, it’s very harmful to the turtle. As waste accumulates the water will become loaded with harmful, rot-inducing bacteria. These germs constantly tax the turtle’s immune system and will immediately latch onto any open wounds, causing infections that are difficult to treat.
Ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates also accumulate and remain unprocessed, which are all harmful to aquatic organisms in high concentrations.
Unfiltered turtle tanks are also harmful to you, the keeper! You may remember that in the early 90’s, baby turtles were incredibly popular in the United States as pets. The problem was that pet stores were selling turtles in small bowls with no filter. Turtles are natural carriers of salmonella bacteria. A rash of the illness spread like wildfire until authorities realized the source.
Turtle Tank Filter Reviews – My top 6
EHEIM labels their filters “Classic” for good reason. The brand has been around since 1949 and their line of canister filters is decades old. The EHEIM Classic line has been well tested by millions of aquarists and the units are known to last up to 10 years without major issues.
Each comes complete with foam media for mechanical and biological filtration capacity. EHEIM also includes a fine-sieve polishing media pad. Pre-filters are very useful for removing the heaviest particles before they reach the interior compartments.
However, the fine-sieve design is meant for the tiny particles fish create. This pad is too fine and it will tend to clog very quickly because turtles create loads of particulate waste.
Some turtle keepers may disagree but I’m not a fan of the single-compartment media chamber. Since you place all of your media into the interior with no separation, filter media can get rearranged or displaced. However this is rarely an issue unless you’ve been lax on your maintenance and the media is clogged with material.
EHEIM has also ensured these filters are compatible with their line of spray bars and other devices turtle keepers tend to use!
- Tried and true design
- Popular; parts easily sourced
- Powerful yet affordable
- The EHEIM 150 doesn’t have space for custom media
- Polishing media pad clogs too quickly
- No separate filtration stages
Water bypass is a constant issue in canister filters. Fortunately, Marineland has designed the Magniflow to ensure water is forced through each of the media compartments without bypassing. The interlocking sealed media trays channel water through each stage. These media compartments can also be lifted out via the Tote Handles for fast maintenance.
Magnum uses a top-sealing gasket design which ensures the unit remains tightly sealed despite the pressure inside. Also, the included media covers each stage of the filtration process (mechanical, chemical, biological).
The largest model (Magniflow 360) has a water turnover rate of 360 GPH. It has ample space for the media you’ll need to keep your turtle tank looking crystal clear. The Magniflow 360 is rated for aquariums up to 100 gallons while the smaller Magniflow 160 is perfect for 30-gallon tanks.
While canister filters are typically well designed and rubberized to minimize noise, the Magniflow is not as quiet as some of the competitors. The hum is low but continually audible and can be an issue if placed in a wooden cabinet or other vibration-amplifying area.
- High turnover rate (360 GPH)
- Specifically designed compartments to avoid water bypass
- Spacious, well-separated media compartments with Tote Handles for easy maintenance
- Included media covers all three filtration stages
- Not the quietest filter
- Large even for a canister filter
As the name suggests OASE includes a heater built into the canister filter itself! Integrating the filter and heater has a couple of benefits. For one, that’s one less piece of equipment cluttering up the interior landscape. OASE offers the BioMaster in the Thermo 250 (250GPH), Thermo 350 (300GPH), and Thermo 600 (350 GPH).
Classic hand on the side heaters are also notorious for uneven heat distribution in aquariums with low flow. By heating the water from within the filter the water is kept uniformly warm. The filter’s thermometer setting is also extremely reliable; when tested the aquarium stays within .1 to .2 degrees F of your desired temperature.
The OASE BioMaster uses a four-stage filtration design; the first is a pre-filter screen module that can be customized using OASE’s Coarse 30 grain, Fine 45 grain, Ultra-fine 60 grain, or activated carbon 45-grain filter foams. Since the prefilter catches so much particulate matter it increases the lifespan of the other media within.
The OASE BioMaster is also incredibly quiet; oftentimes only the visible outflow into the aquarium gives you any indication that the unit is running! OASE filters are known for being very easy to prime as well. The units detect and purge air with little hassle or having to remove air bubbles beforehand.
As you might expect, you are paying a little more for not only a high-end canister filter but an integrated heater powerful enough to heat a large turtle tank. I prefer this design, though, because turtles are notorious for knocking around interior decorations. Large turtles can sometimes shatter fragile glass heaters, often with fatal results.
- Integrates heater and filter into a single unit
- Four-stage filtration process
- Easily primed
- Near-silent operation
- The heater uses a separate cord
- Not inexpensive
What I like about the Performance line of filters is that they’re designed to maximize every square centimetre of space for function. Despite being smaller than most of the competition they perform just as well!
The Fluval 407 utilizes every square inch of available canister volume and positions the media resourcefully to maximize water contact space in a compact design. This is the largest of the Performance series and is rated for turtle tanks 50 to 100 gallons in volume. The water circulation rate is 245 GPH.
The flip side of this is that there isn’t as much space for filter media. Unlike the gigantic Magniflow unit the Fluval 407 contains at most 1.6 gallons of filter media. If loads of specialty media are important to you the Fluval 407 may not be ideal.
As a multi generational product, Fluval has spent years perfecting the ease of use and efficiency of the Performance line. Improvements over the older generation include more secure Aquastop Valves and greatly reduced power consumption! The smallest 107 and 207 units only consume 10 watts of power, equivalent to a single light bulb, while the 407 operates on only 23 watts!
- Very quiet operation
- Designed with energy consumption, size, and noise in mind
- Smaller media compartment
- Pricey despite being smaller than most canister filters
The Cascade 700 is rated for aquariums up to 65 gallons in volume (185 GPH). The Cascade is available in the 1500 model which is good for 200 gallons, but I like the 700 for smaller turtle tanks. The interior compartment uses a classic, simplified design that’s extremely quick to set up and perform maintenance on. Two media baskets are separated from one another by mechanical foam filters and provide space for any loose media you wish to use.
Unfortunately, the media included with the unit isn’t the best. Especially the “biological media,” which is a coarse sponge foam that doesn’t provide nearly enough surface area for bacteria compared to ceramic bio media.
Think of this as a second stage mechanical filter instead and clean it accordingly since the Cascade 700 doesn’t have bypass reduction mechanics to force water through clogged media.
One subtle yet handy feature is the squared tip-proof base. If accidentally knocked over canister filters can sometimes unlatch, spilling large quantities of water onto the floor. Anyone who has done this (like me) knows just how handy this feature can be!
Priming the unit is also extremely easy. Instead of having to suck or fill the filter and hoses manually, there is a dedicated priming button that channels water into the filter. Considering how effective yet inexpensive this unit is the Penn-Plax Cascade is one of the best filters around for medium-sized turtle tanks.
- Good option for smaller turtle tanks
- Tip-proof base
- Simplified design for fast maintenance
- Included media not the best
- No bypass-reduction design
If your turtle tank is especially large then you’ll need a canister filter to match. The Fluval FX6 is unmatched in sheer water turnover capacity. With up to 925 GPH of flow, this unit moves enough water to create significant current.
However, you can adjust the flow as needed for a gentle current or none at all. The FX6 is ideal for turtle tanks 75 gallons or larger and is rated for setups up to 400 gallons in size.
The internal media capacity is impressive at 1.6 gallons. However, the Fluval FX6 doesn’t need to hold so much media because it’s constantly bringing water into contact at a rapid pace!
Fluval’s Smart Pump system ensures that the unit doesn’t simply pull maximum power at all times. The motor contains a computer that constantly monitors flow, power consumption, and optimizes itself for maximum efficiency. In fact, the newest FX6 uses 10% less power than the older Fluval designs.
The unit even includes a digital reminder of how long it’s been since the last time you opened it, ensuring maintenance happens in a timely manner.
Being a high-end canister filter the FX6 deserves its very own in-depth review page. If you’d like to learn more take a look at out Fluval FX6 Review.
- Extremely high turnover rate for optimal flow (up to 563 GPH)
- Quiet despite being so powerful
- Moderate internal capacity for such a large unit
- One of the priciest canister filters on the market
My Top Pick For The Best Turtle Tank Filter
Having discussed what makes for a good turtle tank filter and breaking down six of the very best canister filters on the market, the best is undoubtedly the Marineland Magniflow Canister filter.
The Magniflow is spacious, inexpensive, includes three well designed media compartments, and is designed to prevent water from bypassing any of these stages. While on the larger side and not as quiet as some of the others this is my turtle filter of choice.
If the Magniflow is not to your liking, then I recommend the OASE BioMaster Thermo 600. While it was hard deciding between it and the Fluval FX6, I find that the interior heater design is perfect for even heat distribution and safe from being knocked by clumsy turtles.
The pre-filter module is also ideal for extending the lifespan of filter media by screening out the coarse to fine particles turtles create.
Still, flow and other features are less important than sheer filtration media capacity for turtles and the Magnum has twice as much as the other filters here! This ensures you’ll be able to fully break down all waste products and provide enough surface area for loads of nitrifying bacteria to do their job!
The Three Types of Filtration
There are three distinct types of filtration that are needed to keep your water clean . These are mechanical, chemical, and biological.
Mechanical filtration is the initial stage for most filter designs. As the water enters the media compartment, particles are physically screened out.
Mechanical filtration is most commonly accomplished using cotton media bags. However plastic foam, mesh screens, and even diatomaceous earth can be used to ensure floating particles stay trapped within the filter until bacteria digest them or you clean the unit.
Chemical filtration typically uses solid agents that bind to dissolved chemicals. Black charcoal (activated carbon) is what’s most often used because it’s very effective at absorbing dissolved organic molecules.
These molecules stay in place until bacteria consume them or you remove them from the filter. Some chemical media can be purged and recharged but most need to be replaced over time.
Biological filtration is the stage that gets the least amount of attention in turtle setups yet is one of the most important. We’re typically taught that all bacteria are bad and that we should be living in a sterile environment. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in the turtle tank.
While bacteria are partially responsible for some of the smells that can arise if we’re lax in cleaning, there are many bacteria species that are not only helpful but essential to keeping our tank clean. These bacteria are responsible for what is called “The Nitrogen Cycle” in our aquariums.
Nitrifying bacteria eat ammonia, one of the byproducts of leftover food and turtle waste. Ammonia is highly toxic but these bacteria convert it to nitrite, which is less so. Other bacteria then eat nitrite and convert it to nitrate, which is relatively safe. This nitrate can then be broken down further or simply removed with water changes.
By using ceramic bio-wheels and other micropore media we ensure these bacteria have a place in our filter where they can constantly consume and break down ammonia!
Types of Turtle Tank Filters
When shopping for a turtle tank filter the first thing you’ll notice is that there are a lot of choices out there! The styles, brands, and sizes can be a bit overwhelming so I think it’s important to first discuss what type of filters are typically used in turtle tanks!
Sponge filters are probably the most common filters new turtle owners purchase. Unfortunately, they are also the worst. Sponge filters provide plenty of space for mechanical and biological filtration. However, turtles create so much mess that the filters don’t do a good job of detoxifying ammonia and other waste byproducts. Sponge filters are best for smaller fish-only aquariums.
Power filters are the hang on the back models you see most aquarists using. They have significantly more flow and a media compartment that includes chemical filtration; essential for the turtle keeper.
However, power filters are typically relatively weak flow-wise unless you buy a unit far larger than the rating on the box. The media compartments aren’t especially large in most brands either and may not be able to accommodate custom media.
Canister filters are the largest and most powerful choice for turtle keepers. The high water turnover rate ensures water is constantly being treated by the filtration media. And the expansive interior space has baskets that allow for all three stages of filtration to take place.
Canister filters are also ideal if you have specific issues you need to treat, like continually high ammonia, or phosphate issues that are causing algae blooms. Ammonia and phosphate absorbing resin packages usually won’t fit in a power filter but are perfectly sized for canister filters.
If you’re unfamiliar with the insides of a canister filter and how to choose media for one, take a look at this informative Youtube breakdown!
Finding the Right Canister Filter for Your Turtle Tank
While canister filters are the best choice, not all are created equally. They vary wildly in media compartment volume, gallons per hour (GPH) flow, customizability, and other factors that you’ll need to consider.
Aquarium Volume Rating
Let’s start off with the most obvious. In order to provide the cleanest water we need a filter that is rated for the volume of our aquarium. Turtle tanks aren’t typically filled to the brim as we need space for land.
However, as messy as turtles are, I recommend choosing a filter close to or at the rating for your aquarium size. Too much capacity is never an issue but too little can be.
Gallons Per Hour
It’s important to realize that there is no hard and fast rule for how many GPH you should have for a turtle tank. More is typically better, with 2:1 GPH to volume being the minimum recommended. This means that your filter should be able to cycle all of the water in your aquarium twice in 1 hour. For instance, a filter that has a GPH rate of 100 will cycle the water in a 50-gallon aquarium twice in one hour.
The ratings for both GPH and the size of your aquarium depend on how long water stays in contact with the media. A relatively low GPH filter (like many high-end canister filters) can still have a high aquarium volume rating as a result.
GPH also affects water outflow strength. If you want a medium to strong current and you don’t want to purchase a separate powerhead, you’ll need a high GPH filter.
Media Compartment Design
As I said earlier, canister filters provide the best space for customizable filter media. Make sure you know what the interior layout looks like. Most canister filters have internal baskets that can be lifted out of the unit and kept separate from each stage.
Some canister filters lack these compartments, requiring you to place all of your media into a single large space. If you aren’t careful on how the media types are arranged, water can sometimes bypass stages and not be effectively filtered. I also prefer well defined media compartments because they ease maintenance.
Hopefully you’ve found this guide to turtle tank filtration easy to understand and have discovered the right filter for the job! Let me know if you have any questions or have some thoughts on what you’ve read!