How To Set Up A Painted Turtle Tank? [Step By Step Guide]


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

If you have made your mind to keep painted turtles as a pet, congrats! They are one of the most adorable species of pet turtles. However, before you bring them in your home, you have to set up their tank. That will definitely make them feel comfortable and relaxed after reaching their new home.

Let’s learn how to set up a painted turtle tank in this article.

Things you will need to set up a painted turtle tank 

Painted turtles are aquatic. To survive they need both soil and water. So you have to provide both kinds of places in your tank. To set up a painted turtle tank you need a few things first-

  • A tank
  • A basking place
  • UV light (produces UVA & UV-B light)
  • Water Filter
  • Water heater
  • Thermometers

 Remember, these are the “must-have” things in your turtle tank. You can add things if you want for you or your turtles’ comfort. For example, you can have a separate feeding tank or you can make a basking area on the above of the tank.


  • The tank is the first thing that you need to consider. There is no limit for improvisation, you can customize anything according to your wish, for the wellbeing of your turtle. I am here to talk about the basic things to consider. This is for the beginners, who are looking for information on how to set up a painted turtle tank.
  • Painted turtles are a semi-aquatic turtle they need water. In the wild, they live in an abandon of water. They choose their place to dwell. It is not possible to give that vast area of water in our house. Always remember the bigger the better.
  • However, let’s learn the measurement of the tank according to the turtle’s size. If you got a baby or a juvenile painted turtle, you have to arrange 10 gallons of water. Note that 10 gallons of water in a tank, not less than that.
  • If you got more than one baby painted turtle add 5 gallons of water for each baby. Remember babies are very active, they need space, don’t think that those tiny little turtles don’t need much water. They are active than adults.
  • For the adult turtle, you have to provide a bit bigger tank. Each adult turtle needs about 20 gallons of water. For each additional adult painted turtle, you have to provide 10 gallons of water
  • Remember these are minimum requirements. Don’t go for any less than the above-mentioned measurement.
  • Tetra Deluxe’s 20 gallon tank is a good choice for most beginners. It will be perfect for a baby painted turtle, well until it gets older. You can check the current price at amazon.


  • Don’t use reptile tank for your painted turtle. The glass is too thin to take the water pressure, it will eventually break. The glass thickness for painted turtle tank should be 10mm or more.
  • The most important thing to remember that make the tank deeper than its width. Sometimes accidentally turtles turn upside down. So that the turtle can flip to the right position you need to provide the deeper water.
  • Keep empty place one foot above from the highest point of the basking area to resist climbing out.

Basking Place

  • Painted turtles need a basking place where they can dry themselves up. Before setting up the basking place remember to set it up higher from water, no traces of water should not be there.
  • Either you can make basking place on your own or you can buy.
  • By driftwood, you can easily make basking dock. Make sure that they fit into the tank. You can tie up the dock with fishing wire to the tank. Make sure the wood is large enough for your turtle to comfortably bask on.
  • You can buy premade basking dock. Different premade basking places are available in the market. I recommend if you are a beginner you can go for that. Buy one according to aquarium size.
  • I think Penn Plax’s turtle topper is the best basking place for any turtle. If you want to know why, read my detailed review on this here.

UV lights:

  • UV lights are no less important for keeping turtles indoor. You have to provide a light that produces both UVA and UVB light.
  • UVA light helps the painted turtle to be active and that aids on their appetite. UVB light regulates their production of vitamin D3. That helps calcium absorption so their shell develops more healthily.
  • Painted turtle needs almost 12 to 14 hour of light each day like they used to have daylight in their natural habitat. You should consider keeping on the light for at least 12 hours.
  • Remember to turn off the light for a minimum of 12 hours. Provide them light and darkness according to the natural light circle.


  • You can keep the tank where there is abandon of natural light. Never keep them in direct sunlight, they will end up dying.
  • Never look directly to the UV lights, they are very harmful to the human eye. They can cause blindness.
  • Never cover the tank with a glass or plastic cover. The UV light cannot penetrate through glass or plastic. If you need to cover your tank try to cover it with metal cover.
  • My turtle basking light guide will be a wonderful source for you to learn more about basking lights for turtles.

Water filter

  • Are you ready to change the water every day? I guess no. That is hectic and waste of water as well. You need to install a water filter. The filter needs to be a stronger one. If you don’t know, you will be surprised to see the total amount of waste each day.
  • As they produce huge waste you will need a strong water filter for your turtle tank. Canister filters are best to use in painted turtle’s tank.
  • For painted turtle’s tank canister filters are the best filter to consider. This type of filters are expensive but in the long run, it will ensure benefit for you. It will not get clogged easily. As you will handle it less to unclog it will sustain for a longer period.
  • If you are not ready to use a canister filter, you can use an internal filter too. Make sure to use the largest one you can get. Try to use two internal filters that will put less pressure on the filter.
  • You will need to change the water in every 15days, even if you got the best filter. Monitor your tank, and change the water when even you feel the need to change the water even within a week.
  • Remember, Canister filters will keep your tank’s water more clean than any other filter. Your turtles will be healthy.
  • For a list of the best filters for turtle tank, read my detailed review here.


You will need thermometers to keep track of temperature the tank. They need a constant temperature. The sudden fluctuation of temperature can lead to lower appetite to different illness. Turtles need a constant temperature of around 75-78 degrees Fahrenheit in water. The temperature for the basking area should be in between from 85 to 95 degrees.

My personal favorite thermometer for using in a turtle tank is this one. It provided accurate result to me for years without any problem!

Water heater

  • As you are constantly tracking the temperature of the tank, you can easily guess the importance of the water heater. A water heater will allow you to adjust the water temperature when it is cold outside.
  • In the winter season, even in the wild, painted turtles easily get a respiratory illness. It is ok that you cannot take care of all the turtles in the wild but in your tank, you are ONE to make the decision. The water heater will reduce their chances of developing respiratory troubles in the winter season.
  • The better choice is to get a complete submersible water heater that will help you to maintain a constant temperature. You can easily attach them by suction cups in your turtle’s tank.
  • As Painted turtles are active swimmer they can encounter the heater anytime in the tank and can break it. It’s better to hide it, for example, you can hide it behind a wall. Or you can create an obstacle so that your painted turtles can’t get to reach there.

Here is a resource of mine where you’ll get plenty of information on the best water heater for turtles.

Installing the Tank

Installing the tank is a step by step process. Let’s see how to set up a painted turtle tank.

  • After getting the tank put the substrate in the tank. You have to make a slope to make a basking area. There will be one deep end, make sure the deep end is deep enough for your turtle. The turtle need to submerge, even deeper is better. Never forget painted turtles are the aquatic turtle.
  • However, fill up the tank bellow to the basking area. There should be no trace of water in the basking area. Fix the driftwood or premade basking dock on the basking area.
  • Setup the UV lights. You can use hooks that will hold your light and cover onto the turtle tank. You can also use a separate stand from where the light will be directed down to the tank.
  • Place thermometer to both the end of the tank. That will help you to measure water and basking temperature. Place the water heater underwater. Those heaters have suction cups. You can fix them on the wall of your aquarium. Try to hide it behind it a wall to avoid breaking as the turtle swims around the tank.


  • Many of us like to put gravel in tanks. You can put them in turtle’s tank too, just make sure that there is no piece of gravel is less than a ½ inch. Turtle can try to eat them. So it’s better to avoid any chance of hazard.
  • Never handle UV lights with power on.
  • Never use any rock or woods from here and there into your turtle tank.
  • If you want to decorate the tank, always try to choose the right decoration. For example, if you want to put any real plant in the tank make sure that the plant is non-toxic for turtles.
  • Don’t put a lot décor in the tank, they can create obstacles as the turtle keeps on swimming in the tank.
  • Wash your hand properly with soapy water before and after handling painted turtles.

Some Additional Options


  • As you will keep the tank of the painted turtles in-home you may want to beautify the tank. Usually, your turtles will not need a decoration in the tank to survive. Few of them can sometimes make them little comfortable for example you can put a real aquatic plant in the turtle tank. You turtle will like them as well. Just make sure they are not toxic for turtles.
  • You can put logs, rocks or even the non-toxic plant for painted turtles in the basking area. just make sure there is enough free space in the basking area.
  • Never put any decoration that has got sharp edges. You turtles can get injured.
  • Try to put store-bought decoration, they are sterilized. If anything from nature got your attention and you want to keep that in your turtle’s tank, make sure to sterilize before you place it in the tank.
  • Always avoid any decoration that is less than 1inch in any angle to avoid choking hazard. Do not make any tight place in the tank by adding decoration. That can trap your turtle.

Separate feeding tank

  • Some people find it comfortable to feed turtles in a separate tank. That will help to keep the water clean. You can have a separate feeding tank. As the turtle cannot eat anything without water. They need to be in the water to swallow food.
  • Usually you don’t need to put the turtles in separate feeding tank. You can easily scoop out leftover from the tank.
  • There are times when we feed them so messy food that we cannot scoop the leftover out. It will be wise to feed such messy food in a separate tank.

Basking area above the tank

  • You can also make the basking area above the tank. I highly recommend this kind of basking area, because it will help you to use the maximum area. Your turtle will get the maximum area for swim and bask.
  • You can fix it on the top of your tank, so that if you want you can make it bit bigger than your turtle’s tank.
  • There will be no water in adjacent to the basking area, you turtle will climb up there. Your turtle will be completely dry while basking, there is nothing to worry.
  • Overall the above tank basking area is a healthy choice for captive painted turtles.
  • You can either make it on your own or you can buy it.
  • I have used Penn Plax for years and here is my review on it. I think this is one of the best above tank basking platforms for turtles.


  • Many of us like to put gravel in tanks. You can put them in turtle’s tank too, just make sure that there is no piece of gravel is less than a ½ inch. Turtle can try to eat them. So it’s better to avoid any chance of hazard.
  • Never handle UV lights with power on.
  • Never use any rock or woods from here and there into your turtle tank.
  • Whenever you put any plant any décor in the painted turtle’s tank, always make sure that is non-toxic for turtles.
  • Don’t put a lot décor in the tank, they can create obstacles as the turtle keeps on swimming in the tank.
  • Wash your hand properly with soapy water before and after handling painted turtles.

To sum-up

I guess by now you have a clear idea of how to set up a painted turtle tank. Remember there is no limit of improvising the tank. You can do anything you like but always remember this: never keep anything in the tank that is toxic to the turtle. Wash the tank and change water 7 to 15 days interval according to the mess and filter type.

Active turtles with a good appetite will help you to determine that they are happy and well-kept in their captive home.



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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