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Red Eared Slider Turtle Tank Setup Guide

Setting up your red ear sliders tank is one of the most important steps in owning one. Size is a huge factor in this and ranges between 50 & 100 gallons. It’s important that the turtle tank is large enough and well-maintained.

This ensures that the turtle is healthy and happy. Setting up a turtle tank for a red-eared slider is a relatively simple process as far as you have all the needed information.

You need to consider factors such as tank size, temperature settings, UVB lighting, basking platform/site, and decorations. As far as you get these factors right, your turtle will thrive.

Steps To Create A Red Eared Slider Turtle Tank Setup

Choosing The Tank

empty turtle tank
Empty Turtle Aquarium

Aquatic turtles such as the red-eared slider can be kept in an aquarium or in a pond. Building a pond for a single turtle or even 2 to 3 turtles seems extravagant and expensive.

However. If you have a large community of turtles, then building a pond may be a good way to go. For this article, we will be looking at how to set up an aquarium/turtle tank for the red-eared slider.

The size of the tank will depend on the size of the turtle. However, a 75-gallon tank should be large enough for an average red-eared slider. The average size of a red-eared slider is 6 to 8 inches.

As a rule of thumb, provide about 10 gallons of tank capacity for every turtle inch. You need a tank with a capacity of 50 to 75 gallons. For extraordinarily large red-sliders, you would need a 100-gallon turtle tank.

While for juveniles and hatchlings, a 20-gallon tank will do, adults need to be housed in at least a 50-gallon tank.

Dos and Don’ts of Acquiring A red-eared slider Tank

Baby red eared slider being held in hand
  • Use a sturdy and well-built aquarium stand.
  • Make sure you have space for the turtle tank.
  • Don’t put the tank in direct sunlight. The tank needs to be in a shaded area of the room.
  • Don’t use a terrarium for a turtle even if it doesn’t leak. Terrarium tanks aren’t built to handle water pressure and can crack under the force exerted by the water in the tank.  On that note, get a tank with a glass thickness of 0.4 inches (10 mm) or more.
  • Plan for the adult size of the turtle. Rather than buying a setup twice, plan for the adult size of your turtle so you can buy everything once instead of having to upgrade later.
  • Provide enough space for the turtle to flip over if it is ever on its back. The water depth should be at least twice the length of the turtle.
  • Choose a larger tank if you plan on having multiple turtles. For every additional turtle add half the original tank capacity. Two red-eared sliders with lengths of 7 inches should be housed in a 100-gallon tank.

Minimum Dimension Requirement

Here are my minimum dimension recommendations.

  • The width of the water in the tank must be at least three times the length of the turtle.
  • The depth of the water must be at least two times the the length of the turtle.
  • The length of the tank should be at least five times the length of the turtle.

Typical size ranges from 50 – 100 gallons depending on the size of the turtle. There should be enough space between the basking platform and the basking light so the turtle doesn’t get burned. Turtles may pile up on each other so take this into consideration if you have or plan on having multiple.

There are many different ways to acquire a turtle tank. For personal service, your local pet shop may be a food option.

If you want to buy online, here are my favorite turtle tanks – Tetra Aquarium Kit (55-gallon tank), SC Aquariums Starfire Glass Aquarium (150 Gallon tank). We don’t recommend starting smaller because you will need to upgrade later regardless.


Penn-Plax Cascade All-in-One Aquarium Canister Filter – for Tanks Up to 100 Gallons (265 GPH) – Cascade 1000

The filter is a crucial component of the setup. A good filter ensures that the water in the tank is as clean as it can be. Since turtles produce more waste than fish, it’s important that the filter is rated for a tank with greater capacity.

For example, for a 50-gallon aquarium, the filter should be rated for a 100-gallon tank.

There are different types of filters on the market. Some are placed inside the tank, while others are placed outside the tank or hang on the back of the aquarium.

The type you choose is down to preference, although you should expect canister filters (ones that are placed outside) to be more expensive than submersible filters.

Another feature to consider is the flow rate which is measured in gallons per hour. The  Penn Plax Cascade CCF3UL Canister Filter is a perfect filter for 55-gallon turtle tanks since it is marked for 100-gallon aquariums.

For the 75 o 100-gallon aquarium, I recommend the Penn-Plax Cascade 1500 Canister Filter which is rated for aquariums up to 200-gallons. It has a flow rate of 350 GPH and works well. The Penn-Plax Cascade 1500 Canister Filter also has five media baskets.

The Marineland Penguin Power Filter (which is a HOB (hang-on-back) with a flow rate of 350 GPH) and the Marineland Magnum Polishing Internal Canister Filter (which is a submersible filter with a flow rate of 290 GPH)  work as well.

There’s plenty more options, but these are a few of the tried and true ones on the market.


UV Lighting
Different types of UV bulbs

You can’t use just any light for the enclosure. You need a lamp that produces UVA/UVB light. Like humans, reptiles need UVA/UVB to synthesize vitamin D, which is essential for bone and shell development.

Without adequate amounts of UVA/UVB, the turtle will suffer several health issues like metabolic bone disease. Uvb light bulbs need to be changed every 6 months and can be tested using these test cards.

The Reptisun 10.0 bulb and the ReptiZoo 10.0 UVB T5 HO Lamp are the best UVB lights for reptiles including the red-eared slider. You can also use heat-producing mercury vapor bulbs. Just take note of the amount of heat mercury vapor bulbs give off so as not to overheat the enclosure.

Most tanks designed for freshwater turtles come with preinstalled lamp fixtures that hold the heat lamp and the UVB lamp. However, if the tank doesn’t have a lamp fixture both the Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB Heat Lighting Kit and the REPTI ZOO 8.5 Inch Reptile Lamp Fixture work perfectly.

The UVB lights in the turtle’s enclosure need to be off during the night. Similarly, the lights in the room within which the tank is situated also need to be off. The lights need to be off for 10 to 14 hours every night in order to simulate day and night.


turtle tank heater
Aquarium heater on white background

The temperatures within the enclosure have to be carefully controlled to ensure that the turtle is healthy. For instance, if the water temperature is too high, the turtle will tend to bask less. This can lead to shell rot and other health complications.

The temperature of the water in the aquarium should be between 75 °F and 80 °F. This is warm enough to encourage swimming but cool enough to encourage a healthy basking habit.

If the water temperature is below 70 °F, uninstall an aquarium heater such as the Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater.

The basking temperature needs to be significantly warmer than the water temperature. A temperature of 85 °F to 95 °F is adequate. A mercury-vapor lamp can be used to heat up the basking spot and provide UVB light at the same time.

Also, a ceramic heat lamp can be used. This goes well with the fluorescent UVB lights. The Zoo Med PowerSun Bulb (160W) is one of the best on the market. Also, the Wuhostam 100W Infrared Ceramic Heat Emitter is an excellent ceramic lamp.

The temperatures of the basking site and the water can be monitored and controlled with a thermostat/temperature controller such as the INKBIRD ITC-308 Temperature Controller.

The air temperature (room temperature) should be around 75 °F.

Basking Site

Basking Red-Eared-Slider
Basking Red-Eared Slider

Red-eared sliders are serial baskers. To keep them happy, provide a wide and large basking platform. This will not only encourage them to bask. It also ensures that they fully dry off. This allows the turtle to avoid infections and keeps them warm.

Get a large basking platform for the turtle. If you have several turtles, then you may need to custom-build the basking platform. However, If you have just one or two turtles, a store-bought basking platform is the way to go.

The Penn Plax Turtle Topper platform and Zoo Med Turtle Dock are two ideal basking platforms.


Royal Imports 5LBS River Rocks Decorative Ornamental Pebbles, Garden Landscaping Stones, Gravel Filler for Plants, Vases, Succulents, Home Decor, Aquariums, Crafting, Animal Habitat - Large Natural

Substrate/bedding can add character to the turtle tank. Unlike with other reptiles, substrate isn’t a must for a turtle’s tank. For beginners, substrates simply add extra work to the cleaning process. The bedding can trap food particles and can be near impossible to clean properly.

There are many substrate choices to choose from. River pebbles are a popular choice as they are easier to clean and look nice in the tank.

The pebbles need to be large in order to prevent them from ingesting a rock. The pebbles should have a diameter of at least half an inch or 1.5cm.

Sand can also be used.

Accessories & Decorations

Red ear slider in aquarium on floating dock
Red ear slider in aquarium on floating dock

Accessories and decorations may not be needed for survival but they add to the ambiance of the turtle tank. They can also provide hiding spots for the turtle making them feel more comfortable.

Consider the following when getting decorations and accessories for the tank.

While plants are nice and add a natural aesthetic look, the turtles will likely feed on them. As such make sure that the plants are edible. Fake plants may be uprooted as well.

You don’t want the decorations to harm the turtle so make sure no decorations have any sharp edges.

Objects such as rocks and stones taken from outside need to be sterilized. Store-bought decorations don’t need sterilized. 

Don’t put things that are small enough for the turtle to ingest other than food or treats.

The best decorations and accessories for a red-eared slider enclosure include driftwood and large rocks.


Getting the tank right is absolutely important. For starters, the tank needs to be large enough for the turtle. This ensures there is more than enough space for the turtle and all the accessories that need to go into the tank.

A tank that may look big to you can turn out to be tiny after you have set it up.  If you are unsure what size to choose, check this guide, but you can always go with a larger tank to be on the safe side.

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Sunday 22nd of October 2023

Will my turtle eat a fake plant that is in the tank? Also if I am using river rocks as substrate, how to I keep the plants in place?

mike vella

Saturday 31st of October 2020

what are the water parameters that I should be looking for with my red ear slider, including nitrates, Thanks


Thursday 17th of September 2020

My red eared slider is about 10 yrs old so I know her eating habits very well and she seems to be clenching up after taking a bite of her food sticks, could she be having esophagus issues?