sand for turtle tank

Sand for Turtle Tank | Is it a Good Substrate for a Turtle Tank?

Last Updated on January 14, 2020 by John B. Nelson

Turtles make very cool pets. They are easy to bond with. They won’t also pose any safety risks to your loved ones. Turtles are easy to feed. Their diet is manageable and you won’t have to spend so much on their upkeep.

But like humans, pets also need to be happy and turtles are no different. To keep your pet turtles happy, there are several things that you must do. Some of them include giving the turtles a safe home and keeping them clean.

However, one significant choice that you can make when designing a home for the turtles is to add a good substrate. One thing that many people don’t understand is what type of substrate to use.

In fact, one of the common concerns when it comes to substrates is whether to use sand for turtle tank.

What is a Substrate?

A substrate is a substance that is used to line the bottom of a turtle’s tank. Substrates can also be used in an aquarium. Some of the best substrates that you can use for turtle tanks include the following:

  • Gravel
  • Caribsea
  • Pebbles
  • Flourite

Substrates are good for turtle tanks if the turtles love to live from it. They are also great if you want to plant live plants or any other thing with roots in it.  

NOTE: Substrates can be used in turtle tanks. However, not all turtle species our substrates. In case you want to use substrates, you can do so for turtles that love to dig. These are turtles such as the soft-shell turtle.

Can You Use Sand for Turtle Tank?

Sand like gravel or pebble will work so well as a substrate for the turtle tank. I have used sand for a turtle tank for over five years and I have loved it. The sand substrate has so many advantages that you will love. They include the following.


Unlike the other substrates that you might know, sand is affordable. You will spend very little and get a good amount of sand. This means that you can spread the sand over a long time without having to buy any substrate.

Easy to Clean

I have used many other substrates, but sand is the easiest to clean. I clean my sand substrate every two days and I find it easy. I use a 5-gallon bucket and a vinyl hose and it takes about 5 minutes and I am done. It is that simple.


Like the huge tanks that you see in mega zoos that use sand or bare bottom tanks, a sand substrate at home is that good too. It is fluid and looks very professional. It adds beauty and color to your turtle tank and will be wonderful to gaze at.

Top Reflection

Sand is the only substrate that reflects the light better. This makes it easy to take photos with your pet turtles. It also maximizes visibility for the turtles. They can see better and have a great time too. When you use sand as a substrate, you won’t see any shadows underneath your turtles too.

New Touch

If you are the on-fish guy, say the turtle guys, using sand doesn’t seem such a conventional idea at all. Instead, it seems like a new thing and will give you some nods. It is the best chance to brag.

Disadvantages of Sand Substrate

While sand makes for a better substrate, it is not entirely perfect. Sand also has a few disadvantages that you might encounter along the way. Some of the disadvantages that I have experienced with sand as a turtle substrate are these.

Bad for Filters

When you use sand in a turtle tank, you will realize that your filters will wear out faster. What this means is that you have to replace the filters often. This experience can be quite costly especially for people with mega tanks.

Gets Dirty Easily

When it comes to using sand as a substrate, you must be prepared to wake up to a dirty tank. Sand leaves all the dirt to sit on top of it. This makes the tank look dirty easily. However, I find this to be lovely since I can easily clean the dirt out.

Shorter Lifespan

Sand has a shorter lifespan when used as a substrate. Compared to gravel or pebbles, sand has to be taken out every two weeks. Nonetheless, you can also do it when changing the water too. If you do that, you will make your work easy.

How to Clean Sand Substrate

Contrary to what many turtle keepers think, the sand substrate is easy to clean. To clean the sand substrate, you need to just get your PVC water hose pipe and just run the water through the sand. It is easy and you won’t get wet at all.

Additional Tips

Apart from what we have seen, here are some additional tips that you should keep in mind when using sand in a turtle tank .

Tip I

Sand like any other substrate when used in a turtle tank will only accumulate the uneaten food. It will also retain waste too. When this happens the turtle tank will get dirty quickly and give out a foul smell. However, with routine cleaning, you should be good to go.

Tip II

Not every type of turtle needs a substrate. The turtles that need substrates are the digging turtles such as the soft-shell turtle species. The other turtle species will require a bare bottom tank and still be happy.


If you keep a box turtle, you should mix your sand with some soil. Box turtles don’t love fully-dry areas. A semi-moist area will also give them cool touch that minimizes dryness under the belly.


From what we have seen, sand is an okay substrate for turtles. It is easy to clean and it will leave your turtles with easy digging time. Nonetheless, it requires routine cleaning to prevent any forms of bacterial buildup that might harm your turtle pals.  

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