5 Best Turtle Substrates In 2021 (Buying Guide & Review)


A substrate is any item you place on your pet’s enclosure floor, which can also serve as decoration. Owners are often troubled when picking the safest materials to use for their turtle tank. As much as you want to be creative and make the enclosure as appealing as possible, you still need to find a suitable product such as the SACKORANGE Aquarium Gravel. Luckily, there are many products for you to choose from based on your preference. This article will give you the tips you need to find a suitable substrate, and we will suggest some of the best options for you.  

In this article, we’re going to review the following turtle substrates:

Best Turtle Substrates
Photo of a small green creeping terrapin

5 Best Turtle Substrates Reviewed

We have selected some of the best substrates in the market to suit any aquatic or terrestrial turtle. They are safe, natural-like, and perfect for aesthetic purposes. Read on as we delve into more details.

1. Caribsea Super Naturals Sand

Your turtle would love for its tank to look and feel as natural as possible; the Caribsea Super Naturals manufacturers had this in mind when they made this product. It is locally-made from fine sand that will serve your aquatic turtle without you worrying about any side effects. Going for it ensures your pet’s safety, and you will find it attractive and easy to use. First, the sand is well crushed and refined to enable your pets to walk on it safely. 

Unlike other products that lose their color when in water, this sand retains its original attractive white look for a long time. Therefore, it will be in use for long, and you won’t have to replace it frequently. Since your pet will spend a significant part of its life in the water, your substrate should not wash off and cloud the water. Similarly, you want to maintain a clear view of your pet and use the enclosure as an artistic piece of décor. 

This product will not fade into the water, and the tank will remain intact. An added advantage is that it doesn’t interfere with your tank’s pH since it is neutral. Also, the product doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals or dyes, making it environmentally safe for your aquatic friends. 

Pros

  • It has a natural attractive white color 
  • It has a neutral pH  
  • It is a fine sand and safe for your pet

Cons

  • It tends to compact hence not fit for burrowing
  • A strong filter can scatter the particles and cloud the water

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2. SACKORANGE Aquarium Gravel

Nothing stands out better in your tank than multiple colored rocks. This product will be great for anyone who uses the turtle tanks as a statement piece or décor. The bag carries various colored attractive pebbles that will spruce up your pet’s home. The rocks look natural, polished, and resemble the stones you would find at the seashore. You can find red, brown, white, and black rocks in the pack, which are more striking than other single-colored alternatives. 

They are not prone to fading with frequent use, meaning that they will serve you for a long time. Your pet will glide smoothly against them as it swims; hence, you don’t need to worry about them hurting your pet. Another feature we love about these rocks is their multi-functionality. Since the sole purpose is décor, you can use them indoors for your plants or other tanks and outdoors on your walkways or swimming pools. They form a beautiful cover wherever you place it, and you can reuse them in different places for decoration.

Note that you need to compare the rock sizes to your pet since giant turtles are known to try eating tiny pebbles in their tanks. You can get more enormous rocks instead, and the advantage is that it is easy to clean bigger chunks. They blend well with sand, primarily when you use them for plants, to help the soil retain moisture. 

Pros

  • The rocks are multi-functional and great for indoor and outdoor decoration 
  • The pieces are polished and come in multiple colors

Cons

  • Small rocks are a health hazard to your pets
  • There are concerns about the quantity being too small for the product’s price range.

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3. Seachem Flourite Turtle Aquaria

Seachem is porous gravel made from clay; it operates best as a sole substrate. You can also mix it with other gravels if you want to make the tanks more attractive. This substrate contains fluorite, a pure substance without chemical coating; hence, wouldn’t harm your pet or alter the water acidity levels. Furthermore, it is friendly to aquatic plants because it supplies them with nutrients for growth and development. 

Seachem Flourite is a preferred substrate since it possesses many unique qualities. It is long-lasting, making it worth the price tag, given that it doesn’t need frequent replacing. It doesn’t break down to form mud like some substrates, which cloud the tank due to dirt build-up. Seachem is a premium planted aquarium choice, but it has certain downsides. First, the bedding is relatively compact, making it tedious to dig or plant in.

It can also be cloudy when you first install it and may take some days to clear up. In that case, you can use a sponge filter to wipe the cloudiness after about every eight hours or let the substrate rest for some time. Alternatively, you can use the filtration system to clean the tank automatically. 

Pros 

  • It doesn’t break down to form mud in the tank
  • It is suitable for planted aquaria

Cons

  • It can get cloudy during the first installation or when you disturb the water.

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4. Mosser Lee Desert Soil Cover

This substrate comes in handy when you’ve just finished setting up your turtle’s enclosure and are wondering how to give your gravel bedding a refined and sleek finishing touch. It makes the tank look appealing, and, most importantly, gives your buddy a comfortable, healthy home. Other than improving the terrarium and home’s aesthetics, this soil enhances water drainage. When the pet pees on it, the liquid seeps through and leaves the surface dry. This feature ensures that your pet is always dry to avoid any complications associated with wet environments.

The desert soil cover works efficiently in aquariums and terrariums, although it is originally for indoor plants. It also retains moisture well, making it ideal for terrestrial turtles and saves you from frequent misting. Furthermore, the substrate is convenient for aquatic turtles, especially avid diggers, to improve their health. One safety concern is that the small particles from the substance can enter a turtle’s eyes, causing irritation, and stressing them. 

Pros

  • It has better drainage; hence, best for terrarium
  • It enhances your turtle’s habitat decor

Cons

  • It cannot support live plants 

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5. Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding

We have already discussed the best products for aquatic turtles, and it’s time we look at one substrate suitable for terrestrial ones like the box turtles. The land turtles are explorers who love burrowing their floors; therefore, they need a dry and soft substrate. The best choice is a natural material that is kind to their skin and helps regulate their temperature. The Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding is one such natural substance made of cypress mulch. Given that it is a natural product, it mimics your turtle’s home in the wild and makes the enclosure feel homey. 

It can retain moisture for a long time, making it suitable for your pet if it needs a humid environment. To make it wet, you only need to spray it occasionally whenever it dries up. Your turtle will be comfortable moving on the substrate because the material is soft. Additionally, it is one of the most affordable substrates in terms of initial and maintenance costs since it lasts long before requiring replacement. The most significant advantages of such a natural product are that it is non-toxic; hence, entirely safe for reptiles.

Pros

  • It is affordable
  • It is 100% natural

Cons

  • It cannot work for aquatic turtles

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

How To Select The Best Turtle Substrate

Picking a substrate is a critical decision that needs careful thought because it directly affects your pet. The material acts as a cushion to keep your turtle comfortable, and, if it loves to burrow, it can dig into the material. On the other hand, some owners take advantage of that and use it as décor to spruce up the tank. Therefore, the best product will be beneficial to you and your pet, which is why we compiled a guide to selecting an excellent turtle substrate. 

Texture

The first thing to consider is your pet’s safety and comfort. Turtles are sensitive creatures and can detect any changes in their environment. Therefore, if you have a terrestrial turtle, you should consider an option for your turtle to walk on without getting hurt. On the other hand, aquatic turtles are okay with having rigid substrates at the tank bottom since they swim over it. Some turtles are also avid diggers who love rummaging through their substrate; hence, it is best to provide a soft material kind on their flippers.   

Appearance

Most people use their turtle tanks and aquariums for aesthetic reasons. They pick the best toys and plants to improve the aesthetics and make the enclosure as beautiful as possible. Besides, your turtle feels more comfortable when its environment mimics that in its natural setup. They love plants, shells, and other items commonly found in the oceans. Consequently, their health improves, and you will notice that they are calmer. When choosing a substrate, always go for natural products like sand, fibers, or pebbles. Not only will your tank look like extraction from a scenic ocean, but your pet will also feel at home, and you will likely notice. 

Additives

You will likely come across toxic substrates in your search for the best materials. Some manufacturers clean and treat their products with harmful chemicals while trying to decontaminate them. Similarly, others add toxic dyes for coloration, which are lethal to your pet.

Therefore, it is advisable to conduct more research on the product you are about to purchase to ensure it is non-toxic. They may not affect your pet immediately but can kill your pet slowly, and the danger is that the symptoms may not necessarily show. It is best to get natural substrates and clean them thoroughly before placing them inside the tank for your pet’s safety.

Safety

Some owners find it cheaper and convenient to use household items as substrates instead of buying them. The most common items are newspapers, nutshells, and plant materials. Although they are easy to find, they are not worth risking your pet’s comfort and health. First, they are rough and can hurt your pet while it burrows into them. Secondly, most homemade options contain toxic substances that can affect your pet’s health.

Turtles are also known to eat the items around them due to their experimental nature, and they won’t hesitate to take a bite of items such as papers and tiny pebbles. As a result, your pet will suffer impaction, which can be fatal unless treated.

Types of Substrate To Consider for Your Turtle

We researched the most attractive, safest, and most comfortable materials suitable for use as turtle substrates. Here are our findings. 

Sand

This bedding is one of the most preferred among pet parents because it is affordable and readily available. Most of these products look great and go a long way to improve the enclosure’s aesthetics. Furthermore, digging turtles will find them fun materials to rub against because they are smooth and harmless, especially the soft-shelled turtles. You have to be cautious with these substrates before placing them in the tank. First, fine sand can block the water filter, which tampers its functioning.

Secondly, there is the risk of your pet inhaling tiny sand particles when they dig, which can eventually affect their health. Some people also believe that a thick sand substrate can facilitate the growth of bacteria in the tank and leave the turtle vulnerable to infections. Thus, it is best for your bedding to be only two inches or less to hinder bacterial growth and further raise the tank’s filter to avoid clogging it.

Gravel

Gravels and pebbles are one of the most attractive substrates for your turtle’s aquarium. They are effective if you need a striking material that appeals to the eye, mainly if you use your tank as the room’s decorative piece. It is also famous among turtle owners because they don’t create a mess in the aquarium like other alternatives. However, one downside is that it cannot support aquatic plant life because it lacks the essential minerals for plants. 

Sadly, turtles are adventurous creatures and can try to eat the rocks. The only way to stop this is by using pebbles that are larger than its mouth or ensure that they are slippery to slide off whenever they try to grab one. This substrate won’t get in your filter’s way; hence, your water will stay clean and safe for the turtle.

Rocks

A turtle’s habitat contains rocks; thus, adding them to your pet’s setup provides a more natural touch. A large stone is also safer than tiny pebbles since your pet will not attempt to eat it. Moreover, since you can only place a few rocks in the tank, you won’t need to worry about frequent cleaning. One concern among most buyers is whether their pets will be safe given the rocks’ rough texture. 

Manufacturers address this by polishing the rocks such that your pet will not get scratches while they move close to them. However, you need to be extra cautious if your pet is the burrowing type because it will likely try out its skill on the rocks’ surface. Secondly, heavy stones are not ideal for delicate aquariums.  

Corals

Since there are salt and freshwater turtles, it is wise to be sensitive enough to give your pet an environment it is accustomed to while in the wild. Corals are suitable for turtles whose natural habitat is the ocean. The crushed corals can also stabilize the pH in freshwater enclosures due to their high calcium levels. You can use it solely for freshwater turtles or complement it with another substrate. Unfortunately, corals cannot support live plants; hence unsuitable if you wish to add some plants in the enclosure.  

Wrap Up

Safety is the primary concern when selecting a turtle substrate. You also need to find one that suits your pet’s needs since each reptile is different. For aquatic turtles, we advise the SACKORANGE Aquarium Gravel as a suitable substrate. It is unique, poses no grave health issues to your pet, and you can use it to improve the tank’s aesthetics. We particularly love its multi-functionality given that it can work indoors and outdoors as a decor. On the other hand, the Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding is our selection for terrestrial turtles, given that it is natural and affordable.

Harvey Wells

I am an intense cool pets lover. I have tortoises, tarantulas and a few other exotic pets. And I would love to share what I have learned.

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