The Best Turtle Substrate (2021) | Buying Guide and Reviews

Larry Mills
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With the turtle habitat out of the way, let’s move on to the most important part of keeping a turtle, the turtle substrate!

The main advantages of the different substrates are as follows:

  • Substrate Advantages Disadvantages Sand Easy to keep clean
  • Provides grip for your pets
  • Prevents slipping
  • Good for shell health Hard to replace
  • Chewable Soil Affordable
  • Safe for your pet You need to know how to maintain it properly
  • It’s hard to clean
  • Good for small to medium sized turtles Dirt Cheaper
  • Easy to maintain Needs regular watering
  • Provides poor grip for the turtle
  • Contains harmful parasites within
  • What is Turtle Substrate?

Turtle substrate is the flooring material that you put on the bottom of your turtle habitat.

Most turtle substrates are similar to soil, but they’re more complicated in their structure. For example, you would not want to use sand in your turtle’s enclosure because it’ll get everywhere and cleaning it may be very difficult.

Zoo Med ReptiSandBest OverallZoo Med ReptiSand
Royal Imports 5lb Large Decorative Polished Gravel River Pebbles RocksBudget PickRoyal Imports 5lb Large Decorative Polished Gravel River Pebbles Rocks
Zoo Med Reptisand Natural Terrarium SandUpgrade PickZoo Med Reptisand Natural Terrarium Sand

1. Zoo Med ReptiSand

Our rating: 9 / 10

Zoo Med ReptiSand

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  • Large quantity of sand for little price
  • Can be used in a variety of reptiles’ tanks
  • Ideal for arid reptiles like Bearded Dragons, desert farmed species of turtle and tortoise, desert and rainforest species of skinks, desert species of geckos, etc.


  • Sand itself gets dirty easily
  • A lot of work to clean
  • Not a desirable material for aquatic turtles

If your pet has sand anywhere on its body, like on the face or legs, then it should be removed and cleaned. It is not recommended to use sand for turtles with webbed feet or those who swim. Sand can also get buried into their shell, so this is not a good choice for even desert species.

Add some water to your turtle’s tank at least once a day. It is a good idea to keep the temperature within the ideal range and monitor the tank regularly to ensure that it is not being overfed. Keeping these tips in mind along with Zoo Med ReptiSand, 10 Pounds, Desert White will help your turtle thrive in its environment.

2. Zoo Med Reptisand Natural Terrarium Sand

Our rating: 9 / 10

Zoo Med Reptisand Natural Terrarium Sand

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The ReptiSand Natural Terrarium Sand comes in either 6-quart or 12-quart bags. You might need more than one bag if you have a large aquarium.

This sand is porous and you can vacuum it through a coarse sponge to get it clean. The pores prevent toxic gases from arising.

As with any sand, you will have to stir it on occasion if you use a power filter with a waterfall. It can also be rinsed with water if you need to clean it from time to time.

3. Carib Sea ACS00120 Crushed Coral

Our rating: 8 / 10

Carib Sea ACS00120 Crushed Coral

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  • Comes in two separate containers
  • Ceramic agent is an ideal substrate for turtles as it can keep the water’s pH level stable without having to add an organic material


  • Works best when used in large reptile tanks
  • May not work perfectly depending on the water in your location

This is one of the recommended products that are best for turtle aquariums. It is made of crushed coral that comes in two buckets making it easy to transport. The product is a great substrate for aquatic turtles and other reptiles as it can accommodate the animals’ body heat. Using this product is highly advised if you want your turtle’s water to maintain its pH level. The crushed coral is also harmless to the animals and will not kill them at all.

This product is also made of organic materials meaning that it does not produce harmful chemicals that can hurt the turtle or ruin the water. It is also a mixture of calcium and magnesium which are crucial elements for the turtles’ needs. It is also made in such a way to ensure that any plant growth does not turn the water into harmful chemicals.

Carib Sea is a high capacity crush content substrate that is ideal for most aquatic turtles.

4. Royal Imports 5lb Large Decorative Polished Gravel River Pebbles Rocks

Our rating: 8 / 10

Royal Imports 5lb Large Decorative Polished Gravel River Pebbles Rocks

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  • Huge package that can last a few years
  • Affordable price
  • Available in many sizes
  • Doesn’t contain harmful chemicals
  • Easy to clean up
  • Rocks can be used for other purposes, too, like a decorative arrangement


  • Depending on your tank there’s a chance this can be too big
  • You may need something smaller than 5 pounds for a smaller tank

You can use these rocks to create a habitat that will match the natural environment of your beloved fish and impress all visitors who come to your house to see them.

Since they are designed for aquariums and fish tanks, these decorative pebbles are safe for the aquatic life in your tank. They are made of high-quality natural river rock and polished to a high gloss.

They are safe for fish, plants, and for most other aquatic animals. You can use these rocks to create the most beautiful and sophisticated aquariums in your house.

5. Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate

Our rating: 8 / 10

Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate

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  • Good value
  • Doesn’t cause excessive algae growth
  • Improves oxygenation in the tank


  • You cannot use this in an undergravel filter system
  • Not as attractive as some other substrates

Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate is a mixture of pearls and sand. It is 100% organic and contains no chemicals. What you can expect as a result of this product is an improvement in your water quality. It will result in clearer water, less algae, and less ammonia buildup in your tank.

There are literally dozens of other products on the market that can make the same claim. However, this is made by Carib Sea and it is a proven brand.

Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate can be used for many applications other than in just a turtle tank.

6. Flourite, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs

Our rating: 7 / 10

Flourite, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs

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  • Completely safe for turtles
  • Reliable brand
  • Good absorption and water flow
  • Neutral PH
  • Great durability
  • Can be re-used


  • Expensive
  • Too much can reduce water flow
  • Not great if you have a lot of fish

The Flourite product is a great option for your turtle. The substrate gives good water flow and maintains the correct Ph level. It’s completely safe because it is completely inert.

Flourite is built to last as a turtle tank substrate so that you can re-use it in the future.

It will supply your turtle with the nutrients that it needs to grow properly.

7. Nature's Ocean Aragonite Gravel

Our rating: 5 / 10

Nature's Ocean Aragonite Gravel

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  • Great price
  • Coral safe

Although this product does not have the longevity of the SeaChem Flourite substrate or the aesthetic appeal of the Kaytee's EcoCaribbean Natural Rock and Gravel, it is a great starter substrate for turtle tank owners looking to economize.

The Coralife aquarium substrate is a great low-cost substrate choice for turtle tank owners looking to save a few bucks on the cost, while still creating an interesting aesthetic in the entire turtle tank setup. This size option also is considerably cheaper than the 1/2-pound size jar sold by the company. It also may be more economical in larger turtle tank setups. With its low price, you can also afford to purchase a larger jar and since the product is sold by the pound, you also can buy in bulk.

The consistency of the product is very fine, making it easily workable in even the smallest turtle tanks. It also is very light and so it can be used in larger turtle tanks without weighing down the floor of the tank.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the best substrate for a turtle tank?

The most commonly used substrate for turtle tanks is “play sand.”

Play sand is pretty cheap and can typically be found at your local hardware store. It's usually stored in big bags that weigh 60 pounds or more each. When picking up your sand, it's a good idea to ask the workers to help you remove the bag from the bottom of the pile before loading it onto your cart so you don't have to drag it home.

Once you get home, do yourself a favor by using a dolly (or your hands) to transport it from the driveway or cart to your home. Play sand doesn't make a very good mess but it can be a bit of work to clean if it gets into your carpet.

Is sand or rocks better for turtles?

Do turtles like both?

I thought I knew the answer to this question a few years ago but was proven wrong by Sheldon.

When he was a baby, I bought a turtle which required rocks as the substrate. I thought the rocks would allow him to easily climb in and out of the water and I could easily see when he was swimming, which he actually rarely did.

What I did not know at the time was that there were some species of turtle that were more prone to pneumonia and was suffering that fate. I was told by the pet store that sand was inherently better for turtles but I could not find any solid evidence in support of that claim. After reading more, I learned it best to pick one substrate, not alternate between sand and rocks.

What live plants are good for turtles?

Turtles are reptiles and are cold-blooded, so they need a temperature gradient to climb in and out of the water and their basking area also needs to be heated. Turtles like to bask in the sun and/or light bulbs. They also need a heat lamp over their basking area to get them warm enough.

Live plants can help keep the basking area warmer because they take in energy (light energy from the light bulbs) and give off heat. Clay and ceramic heat rocks are good too. They also provide moisture for the turtle. A small water dish is necessary for the turtle to get water because turtles are amphibians.

To help keep the humidity up, you can purchase a humidifier, water vaporizer, or "bio-filter" (bacteria culture that converts the ammonia the turtle releases into plant nutrients). Be sure to monitor the levels of moisture and humidity because too much can be fatal.

What do you put on the bottom of a turtle tank?

Turtle tanks are unique because their immense weight compels owners to find a new material for the tank floor.

What they are willing to do is something that many owners are not. An absolute must is the use of a substrate of some sort, and there are a couple accepted options.

A common substrate is Eco Wool; a pH neutral and hypoallergenic substrate that is made from 100% recycled wool. However, even less common than that is the use of Glass Tile, which is a practical way to add a nice aesthetic quality to your turtle tank. Glass Tile is generally not the most attractive material, but it has a very interesting appeal to those who choose to use it.

If your goal is to add a new layer of life to your turtle tank, then consider using a decorative substrate to provide an extra layer of interest.


If you’re thinking about buying a turtle as a pet, you’re probably wondering what type of substrate is best for your new pet. When purchasing turtle substrate, one of the first things you should do is to decide whether you want to use temporary (or disposable) substrate, permanent (or reusable) turtle substrate, or a combination of both.

Our Recommendation

Zoo Med ReptiSandBest OverallZoo Med ReptiSand
Royal Imports 5lb Large Decorative Polished Gravel River Pebbles RocksBudget PickRoyal Imports 5lb Large Decorative Polished Gravel River Pebbles Rocks
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