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The Best Substrate for Turtles – A Detailed Buying Guide

by Janet
Best Substrate for Turtles
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Are you looking to add substrate into your turtles’ tank and are wondering what to use? There are several materials recommended for this, ranging from sand to pebbles. 

One of the most important factors to consider when trying to decorate and fill up your turtle’s tank, apart from the aesthetic value, is safety and comfort for your pet. Seeing as turtles are pretty easy pets, there are many substrate options you can choose from that would ideally serve the same purpose; keeping your pet comfy and the tank pretty. So, what products are best and why?

The Best Turtle Substrate Comparison Table

Product Name
ZooMed 26084 Eco Earth Loose Bag
Coconut fiber
24 Quart
Exo Terra Turtle Pebbles 
Natural river pebbles
10 Lbs.
Stoney River White Aquatic Sand 
Aquarium sand
5 Lbs.
Carib Sea ACS05820 Supernatural Moonlight Aquarium Sand
Aquarium Sand
5 Lbs.
Seachem Fluorite
15.4 Lbs.
Carib Sea Crushed Aquarium Coral 
Crushed coral 
10 Lbs.

The Best Turtle Substrate – Products Review

The Best Turtle Substrate

If you have land turtles (such as box turtles) and are looking for something comfortable and that helps in maintaining the level of humidity in their tank, this product is likely the best match for you. 

Key features

  • Made using coconut fiber
  • Great for many reptile species
  • Superior moisture control
  • Ideal texture for burrowing
  • Comes in a 24 Quart bag

Finding ideal substrate for land turtles can be tricky since most people expect that the material they need should always be water proof. Unlike other reptiles that need a completely dry environment, box turtles and other land turtles need to be in an environment that is partially humid. This is where coconut fiber comes in. When being spread in the turtle tank or enclosure, it needs to be dampened using water to make sure that the environment does not get completely dry. Moisture is important for turtles because it helps in maintaining their health and preventing complications that could lead to death.  

One of the reasons why coconut fiber makes an ideal substrate for turtles is that it is a completely natural product that is devoid of harmful chemicals such as extractants, preservatives and dyes. Aside from being safe, it also adds a natural aesthetic to the tank, allowing your turtle to feel like it is in is natural habitat. In addition, it also keeps your animal comfortable as a result of its soft texture that is better than that of sand and pebbles.

If your turtle also likes to burrow, this ZooMed 26084 Eco Earth Loose Bag substrate will come in good handy since it also allows for easy burrowing. It is soft and light, and has ideal burrowing characteristics for turtles and other reptiles. The bag is also quite large, and you can be sure it will last you a decent length of time. 


  • It is an all-natural product
  • Soft and comfortable
  • Great for regulating moisture
  • Ideal for burrowing pets
  • Comes in a large package


  • Not ideal for wet enclosures


For pets that prefer moderate humidity in their environment, this product proves ideal since it provides them with superior moisture regulation as well as comfort. On the upside, it can also be used by pets that prefer completely dry environments since all you have to do is lay it dry without dampening it first.

natural river pebbles

Natural pebbles are an ideal choice for turtles since they provide the most natural feel and they also stay clean for a long time, allowing for a healthier environment for the pets. 

Key features

  • All natural river pebbles
  • Great for aquariums
  • Pebbles have mixed colors
  • Pebbles measure 0.3 to 0.4 inches in diameter
  • Comes in 10 Lbs. bag

One of the most ideal substrates for turtles is pebbles since they are the main material that can be found in their natural habitat out in the wild. The best thing about pebbles is that they do not need any form of special preparation before they are laid in the turtle aquarium. All you have to do is remove them from the bag and lay them on the aquarium floor. 

These particular pebbles come with specific measurements, measuring 0.3 to 0.4 inches in diameter. With such a size, you can be sure that your turtles will not eat them and possibly choke on the same. Ideally, they are considered safest for turtles that are at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) in diameter. 

Pebbles are also pretty easy to clean as they hardly ever produce any debris, but they can host bits of food, so it is important to have a proper water filter in your aquarium. In addition, they are pretty smooth, making sure that your turtle does not sustain injury too easily. 

To facilitate a natural look in the turtle tank, the pebbles come in multiple colors that are natural, allowing your turtles to feel as though they are in their natural habitat. As a major advantage, pebbles can be used and re-used multiple times since their consistency does not change.


  • Can be used and re-used multiple times
  • They have a characteristic natural look
  • Easy to clean
  • Safe for turtles
  • They are all-natural


  • Not ideal for burrowing


Pebbles are probably the most economical substrate for aquarium turtles. They are inexpensive, and they stay clean for long periods of time, reducing the frequency of cleaning, and they can also be used multiple times.

turtle substrate

If you are having trouble finding substrate that does not affect the pH balance of your aquarium, this sand substrate will likely be a great product for you and your turtles. 

Key features

  • Fine consistency
  • Neutral pH
  • Ideal for fresh water aquariums
  • Natural white color
  • All natural

Even though it is not an aspect that is often put into consideration, the pH balance in your turtles’ aquarium is actually very important. You want to find a substrate that will maintain it all through without altering it at all. The Stoney River White Aquatic sand makes an incredible choice since it does not trigger any changes in the pH balance of the water. 

Seeing as it is also an all-natural product, it makes a safe substrate for not just turtles, but other aquatic animals that use similar aquaria. Being all-natural means that it is devoid of chemicals such as dyes, preservatives and extractants that could prove potentially harmful to your pets. Bear in mind, however, that this sand has a non-toxic coating that poses no threat to your animals. 

Just as the name suggests, this sand has an all-white color that mimics the natural habitat of turtles, making them feel as though they are out in the wild. Seeing as it has a fine texture, this sand proves safe for turtles. Large rocks and pebbles have the tendency to cause injury, and this threat is significantly reduced by the use of fine sand. 

The main downside to this substrate is that it is pretty difficult to change, especially because of its extremely fine consistency. However, it can be re-used, making it pretty economical. 


  • It has a fine consistency
  • Mimics turtles’ natural habitat
  • It is all-natural and non-toxic
  • Helps to maintain an ideal pH balance
  • Can be re-used


  • Difficult to clean


One of the reasons why sand makes an ideal substrate is that it proves ideal for multiple pet species including fish and turtles. Also, it mimics the natural habitat of these animals’ habitats, and maintains the optimum pH in the aquarium. 

With its fine texture and versatile use, this product makes an ideal buy for pet owners who have multiple species and who also keep both fresh and salt water species. 

Key features

  • Comes in a 5 Lbs. pound
  • White in color
  • All natural
  • Helps to maintain pH balance
  • Can be used in fresh and salt water aquaria

As an all-natural substrate, the Carib Sea ACS05820 Supernatural Moonlight Aquarium Sand comes as a safe choice for multiple aquatic species. It is a product that comes with no additives such as preservatives, extractants and even dyes, making sure that your turtles are completely safe around it. 

It comes with a white color that largely mimics the sandy beaches of most oceans where turtles naturally live. Aside from this, the white color makes for a pretty beautiful aquarium, especially when combined with other decorative material of other colors. 

As an un-reactive material, this aquarium sand does not in any way affect the pH balance in the aquarium. This characteristic is largely what makes it ideal for using in both fresh water and salt water aquariums.

Since it has very fine texture, the Carib Sea ACS05820 Supernatural Moonlight Aquarium Sand proves ideal for turtles since the chances that they would sustain injuries from being around it are near minimal. Stones and pebbles have a higher likelihood of hurting these animals, but sand is relatively safer. 

Sand ideally does not go bad, and this is what makes it pretty economical. It can be used multiple times, meaning that you do not have to use a new or fresh batch with each water change. However, its fine texture makes the job all the more harder, and you ideally have to work harder to get it all out of the aquarium than you would when removing pebbles. 


  • All natural
  • Does not alter pH
  • It is beautiful
  • Can be re-used
  • Safe for turtles


  • Its fine texture makes it difficult to remove


With its natural color and consistency, this sand proves ideal for using with turtles and other aquatic creatures. As an added advantage, it is pretty economical and comes in large quantities. 

Seachem Fluorite

If you have a planted aquarium for your turtles, this material is the best and most convenient substrate to use. 

Key features

  • Made using porous clay
  • Best for fresh water aquaria
  • Ideal for planted aquaria
  • Does not alter water pH
  • Does not need replacing

One of the reasons why fluorite makes an incredible material for using in your turtles’ aquarium is that it does not need replacing. This means that you an have the same batch for years and years, and you will never have to worry about its safety and quality as neither of these characteristics change. 

Fluorite is essentially a form of porous clay that is light, and that makes an incredible addition to a planted aquarium. Also, it has a natural brown color that works with many other colors such as greens and decorative blues that are essentially found in aquaria. 

As one of the biggest considerations, the safety of substrate is very important. Fluorite is a largely inert material that does not react with turtle and fish excrement, meaning that it will not have any effect on the pH of the water. Since it is a natural material made of clay, you can expect it to develop a bit of dust, especially in transit. For this reason, it is recommended that you add water into the aquarium very slowly to keep it from clouding up. 

If, however, you notice cloudiness in the aquarium during and after adding water, you can use mechanical filtration to rid the water of the cloudiness. Filter floss does a good job at this. 


  • It is inert and does not change water pH
  • Can be used for many years since it does not need replacing
  • All natural
  • Ideal for planted aquaria


  • May get cloudy when water is added


Aside from ensuring that the product you have chosen is economical, it is important to find a substrate that is also completely safe for your animals, and this fluorite product guarantees just that. 

turtle substrate crushed coral

If you are looking for a pH buffer for your turtles’ aquarium, this product makes an excellent choice. 

Key features

  • Made entirely of crushed coral
  • Makes an effective pH buffer
  • It is beautiful
  • Can be used and re-used
  • Can be mixed with other substrates

The Carib Sea Crushed Aquarium Coral makes an excellent choice for people who shy away from sand and pebbles. The fact that it is actually obtained from the sea floor makes it an ideal choice for people who have multiple aquatic species. 

One of the most unique aspects about coral is that it actually acts as a pH buffer. It is rich in a substance called aragonite that essentially comes with many minerals which include calcium. The aragonite encourages higher pH levels which are ideal for many aquatic creatures such as turtles. 

When it comes to size, the crushed coral is actually screened to make sure that it is neither too large nor too small. This way, turtles such as the diamond back terrapin are allowed the luxury of breaking them with their beaks for leisure. 

To enhance the overall look of the aquarium, you can safely combine this substrate with others to come up with a more detailed or defined look for your aquarium.  


  • Contains aragonite
  • Acts as a pH buffer
  • Can be mixed with other types of substrate
  • Makes for a beautiful aquarium


  • The water pH may get to high if unregulated


For certain pets such as diamond back terrapins, it proves beneficial to provide for them substrate they can crush from time to time with their beaks. Coral substrate makes an ideal choice, and the fact that it can be mixed with other substrates makes it all the more beneficial. 

Buying the best substrate for turtles – What you need to consider

Here are a couple factors to consider when buying substrate for your turtles


As a rule of thumb, you need to make sure that the environment where your turtles live is healthy and safe. Pick a substrate that does not affect the overall safety of your pets by ensuring it is natural and that it does not produce any toxic compounds. You also want to make sure that it will not cause them any physical injury. 

Natural look and feel

A good substrate should essentially make your pets feel as though they are in their natural habitat. For this reason, it is recommended that you pick one that closely resembles where a turtle would naturally reside.


To make sure you save on coinage and get good value for money, you definitely want to go with a product that can be used many times by many turtles. Try to also go for substrate that keeps the tank mostly clean. 


Turtles are actually easy pets that hardly demand much from their owners. However, it is important to make sure that they are comfortable and in an environment that keeps them happy. Substrate is essentially what determines the comfort of their environment, and this is why you should only pick the best and safest. 


Can nut shells be used as substrate?

This is highly discouraged since, apart from causing injury, the shells rot over time when they interact with water, proving harmful and unhygienic. 

Are pebbles safe for terrestrial turtles?

No, these are not comfortable to walk on and could cause injury to your animal. Pebbles are only ideal for use inside water since your turtle will swim above them. 


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