Can You Keep Turtles in A Tub? Setup Guide

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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When you plan to have turtles, you must provide a healthy living space for them. Since turtle tanks are typically made of glass, they can be quite expensive. But you can look for cheaper alternatives like plastic tubs. So, can you keep turtles in a tub?

You can keep your turtle friends in a plastic tub. Turtle tubs are available in pet stores, or you can use a safe plastic container. But make sure the tub/container is large enough to accommodate the turtles and the equipment for making the habitat.  

In this article, I will tell you why plastic tubs can be a great alternative to glass tanks for your turtles. After that, I will tell you what you will need for a turtle tub and how to build one in easy steps. 

Why Plastic Tubs Are Suitable for Turtles?

Plastic tubs or large plastic containers are an excellent alternative to glass aquariums if you do not mind having a non-transparent habitat for your turtles. They are cheap and much more durable than glass aquariums. 

If you have large turtles, a tub is a better choice. They can be spacious enough for the turtles to swim around freely. Tubs come in various sizes ranging from 50 gallons to 300 gallons.

As a plastic tub can have a lot of space, you can decorate it with many things and add all the necessary equipment such as water filters, heaters, and different lighting systems. 

Besides, a plastic tub is easy to clean compared to glass tanks. You can move around a large size plastic tub/container without the fear of breaking them. If transparency is an issue, you can choose a clear plastic container.   

When you use a plastic container as a tub, make sure it has the ideal width and depth for your turtle to swim comfortably.  

How Do You Make a Turtle Tub?

Deciding which type of vessel you choose is just the first step of building a turtle’s habitat. You have to plan carefully to set up the perfect living space for your aquatic or semi-aquatic pets. There should be both water and land area for the turtles. 

First, gather all the essential things to make a turtle tub. Here is what you will need: 

  • A large and deep tub with enough space to hold water for your turtles. 
  • A stand for the tub if you want the tub to be elevated from the ground. 
  • A water hose or bucket to transfer water in the tub.
  • A basking platform. It can be an artificial or a natural log, plastic platform, or any commercially made turtle dock
  • A proper lighting system to provide UVA light, UVB light, and heat for the basking platform of the tub. 
  • A non-glass water heater. Or two water heaters if you have a large tub. 
  • Water filters to keep the water clean as long as possible.
  • Water testing strips or kits to check the chemical level of the tub water. 
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Apart from these essential things for the turtle tub, you can add other items to decorate the tub. Here is what you can get:

  • Sand, gravel, or Flourite to line the bottom of the tub. 
  • Artificial plants for decoration. 
  • A cave to let the turtles hide. 
  • Live plants. 
  • A tub cover 
  • A turtle ramp

If you want your turtles to live a long life, you cannot ignore anything from the essential list. The turtles will need heat and light along with the space to swim. You can choose not to decorate your tub, but some of these items can keep your turtles occupied and not get bored. 

How to Setup A Turtle Tub?

Now that you know what you need to make the turtle tub, you should know how to set up everything. Here is how you can build an ideal habitat in a tub for your turtles: 

Step 1: Choose The Right Tub 

Just because you can use a plastic tub or container does not mean you can pick whatever size you want. Your turtle will need a good amount of water in the tub to swim around freely. So, choosing the right size tub is important. 

  • For a 4 to 6 inches turtle, choose a 50-gallon tub. 
  • Medium size turtles of 6 to 8 inches need a 75-gallon tub.
  • If you have a turtle of over 8 inches, choose a 100-gallon tank. 

The tub size can also depend on the number of turtles you have. You should use a large size tub as a habitat for multiple turtles.

It is always better to choose a large tub because a small tub will get dirty faster than a large tub. Also, if your turtle is still young, it will grow. Then you will have to transfer it to a large tub. So, it is better to let it grow up in a big tub. 

Now, how deep should the water be in the tub? The tub must have more depth than its width. Turtles can get upside-down while swimming in the water, so they will need the depth to flip back to an upright position. It cannot flip over in shallow water and then drown in the water. 

The length of the tub should be three to four times larger than the length of the turtle. The width should be at least twice bigger than the width of the turtle. Finally, the height of the tub must be two to three times the length of the turtle. 

Step 2: Clean The Tub, Substrates, Or Decors

You may want to clean the tub before setting everything in it. Then do it with hot water. Do not use soap or detergent to clean the tub. The detergent residue left in the tub can be dangerous for your turtles. 

You may want to use sand or gravel to line the bottom of the tub. Since tubs are not transparent, you can skip decorating with any substrates. Sands and gravels make it a bit difficult to clean the tub. 

But many turtles love to dig sands when they get bored. So, you can put some sand in the tub. If you have soft-shelled turtles, it is better to avoid gravel as your turtles can get scratched. 

Depending on where you get the sand or gravel, it can be dirty and full of debris. Make sure to wash the sand or gravel thoroughly to clean any dirt or debris that can harm your turtles. 

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Step 3: Set The Tub In A Safe Place

Once everything is cleaned and ready, it is time to set up the turtle tub. First, you need to decide where you want to position the tub. You can choose a corner of your house where you can easily keep an eye on your turtles. 

You can put the tub on the ground. However, it can be risky if you have children or other pets in the house. Use a stand to elevate the tub from the ground. The tub will be full of water, so it is going to be heavy. The stand should be sturdy and unshakable. 

Also, do not place your turtle tub too close to a window. You will be using the heating and lighting system for the tub. The extra heat and light from the sun will increase the temperature of the tub. Thus, it will be difficult for the turtles to control their body temperature. 

Step 4: Decorating The Tub

After placing the tub where you want, you can start decorating it. First, pour in the sand or gravel. Spread the sand or gravel evenly on the bottom of the tub. 

Next, place decorative items like artificial plants and caves on the sand/gravel. Many people like to décor the tub with natural tree logs and rocks. If you want to use natural things, you must make them safe for the tub. 

Natural wood and rock contain bacteria, algae, and chemicals that can affect the pH level of the water. So, clean and boil the wood piece for several hours before placing it in the tub. It will remove the unwanted bacteria and tannins from the wood. 

If you want to use natural rocks, make sure they will not crumble in the water. Clean the rocks with a brush and soak them in the water for several days. If they do not crumble or flake, they are safe to use in the tub. 

Artificial or natural decorative items are helpful when your turtle gets shy and wants to hide for some time. The decorations make the tub more comfortable for the turtles. 

Many people like to put live plants in their turtle tub. It is a good idea as natural water plants can absorb the excess ammonia and nitrates produced in the tank. So, you can decorate with some aquatic plants after the complete setup of the tub. 

Step 5: Fill The Tub With Water

First-time turtle owners are often confused about where to get the water for their turtles. You are allowed only to keep freshwater turtles. So, freshwater from your water faucet is just fine. However, tap water is often mixed with chlorine and other chemicals to kill the bacteria and make it safe for us.

These chemicals are harmful to the turtles. Therefore, you should de-chlorinate the water before putting your turtles in the tap water. The easiest way to prepare turtle water is by mixing water conditioners. You will see how much conditioner to mix per gallon in the bottle. 

You can mix the conditioner before or after pouring the water into the tub. Use a hose to fill the tub with water. You can also use a bucket, but you have to be gentle as you can mess up the décor.  

Step 6: Fix The Water Heater And Filter In The Tub 

Turtles are cold-blooded reptiles. So, you have to keep the water at an ideal temperature in the tub. For that, get an aquarium heater and put it on one side of the tub. Also, buy a thermometer to check if the water is at the ideal temperature for your turtle species. The water temperature should be between 75 to 85 degrees F (24 to 29 degrees C). 

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Turtles can be messy eaters, and they produce a lot of waste. Hence, you will need water filters for your tub. A single water filter is enough for a small size tub. But for tubs with huge water capacity, use two water filters. 

Step 7: Setup The Basking Area

Both aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles need a land area to bask under the light. So, you should provide at least 50 percent land area in the tub for the aquatic turtles and 25 percent land for the semi-aquatic turtles. 

Your turtles need this land area to dry themselves. It works as a basking area for the turtle to absorb heat and light for their healthy life. 

You can buy a turtle dock online or from a pet supply store. You can also use logs and rock. Use a stand, wires, or glue to attach the basking platform to one side of the tub. Sometimes, it is difficult for the turtles to climb on the basking area. You can fix a turtle ramp to the dock to let your turtles climb easily. 

Step 8: Get The Lights 

The environment in the tub should be similar to your turtle’s natural habitat. Turtles need UVA and UVB light from the sun to stay healthy. The UVB light is crucial for producing Vitamin D3, which is required for the turtle shell and bone health. 

Get a light that provides both UVA light and UVA light. You should also get a heating lamp. Install the lights over the space of the tub, which you specifically choose as the basking area. 

You can use a light stand to attach the lights to face down the basking spot. The lights should be at a safe distance from the turtles based on how much heat they produce. 

Compared to the water temperature, the temperature of the basking area should be higher. Depending on the turtle species, it should be 85 degrees F to 95 degrees F. Use an Infrared Thermometer to check the basking area heat. 

Step 9: Introduce Your Turtles To The Tub 

Finally, when you have completed the setup and everything seems to run well, put your turtles in the tub. They will take some time to adjust to the new surroundings. 

They may not eat for the first 48 hours in a new tank. But once they get comfortable, they will start their usual activities. Monitor your turtles for the first few days to see if they have any health problems. 

You can cover the tub with a tub cover or lid because turtles may attempt to escape. Besides, the tank cover will protect the tub from external threats. 


So, can you keep turtles in a tub? As you can understand now, a tub is an excellent habitat choice for turtles. It might not look as attractive as a glass tank. You can get it at a much cheaper price. 

Now that you are sure about keeping turtles in a plastic tub, follow these instructions from this article to build your first turtle tub. 

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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