Pro's and Con's

 by Ari B. 

          As the popularity of turtles in the pet trade rapidly grows, people are searching for effective, easy to clean, and less expensive enclosures to house them in.  The most common enclosure is the glass aquarium, which comes in many sizes, but can be very pricey.  However, a more economical, equally effective alternative to the aquarium, known as the “Rubbermaid tub,” has been on store shelves for years, staying nearly unnoticed.   

          Just some clarification: Rubbermaid tubs are plastic tubs, coming in a variety of sizes and colors.  They serve a wide array of purposes, from storage to housing turtles along with other reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals.   They are typically made by “Rubbermaid,” but other companies often have almost identical products.   An aquarium is a usually topless glass box that is used to house many animals.  They, too, are available in a wide variety of sizes.  Both Rubbermaid tubs and aquariums are typically measured in gallons.   

The following are pro’s and con’s of using a Rubbermaid tub vs. an aquarium:




  • Very aesthetically pleasing.  A well decorated aquarium adds a nice touch to a living room, family room, even bedroom. 

  • Allows easy viewing of the contents.  Related to the aesthetics component.

  • Should be sturdy.  A well-made aquarium is typically sturdy; won’t bow out.

  • Come in larger sizes.  Aquariums come in sizes anywhere from 2 gallons to hundreds, even thousands if you have the money and space.  (Less than 10 gallons is DEFINITELY not recommended for a turtle for any extended period of time – see “How to Set Up Your First Turtle Enclosure” by Richard Lunsford for aquarium size details.)  Remember – 10 gallons per every 1” of turtle is recommended!


  • Can crack/get damaged easier.  Aquariums are made of 5 pieces of glass sealed together at the sides, forming the 4 sides and bottom, which hold the water.  If the glass is not thick enough, the water pressure may be too much for the tank to hold, and the results will NOT be pretty. (HINT: you will have a soaked carpet.)  The sealant between the pieces of glass can get punctured or somehow else broken, resulting in a leak.  Also, the glass can not only be cracked, but completely shattered if the impact against another object is hard enough.

  • Turtles think they can swim through the sides.  This might sound funny, but its true.  They don’t always notice that they’re in an enclosed space, and may try to swim THROUGH the glass.  This isn’t always a big problem, but hey, it can happen.

  • Heavy.  Glass is heavy.  Therefor, a glass aquarium is heavy.  A ten gallon aquarium full of water is one thing, but a 20, 30… 100, 200 gallon aquarium full of water could put a lot of stress on your floor, especially if you live in a relatively old house.  Also, unless you want to use cinder blocks or sit it on the floor, you’ll need a stand for the aquarium which can be pretty expensive.  Larger aquariums can be too heavy to be placed on top of a shelf or table.  It can also be quite hard to move an aquarium around the house, load it into the car, etc…

  • Expensive.  This is the part that hurts.  Aquariums are expensive.  Just to give you an idea, a ten gallon only runs around 10 bucks, but you’ll be lucky to find a 100 gallon for 225$, which is around what you will need for an adult female Red Eared Slider, or for a few smaller turtles. 

  • Can be hard to clean.  It’s not easy to clean a big, heavy glass box.  They are hard to lift, turn, flip, etc. which you have to do during cleaning.  I’m sure you can imagine…

  • Difficult to store.  They can’t exactly be stacked comfortably… Again, I’m sure you can imagine.




  • Very light.  When empty or with just a little water, they are very easy to move around.  This also makes cleaning easier. 

  • Cheap.  They can be found everywhere for cheap.  You can get a 50 gallon for 15$, versus the potential 100$ for a 50 gallon aquarium.

  • Easy to clean.  They are light, therefor during cleaning, they can be turned, lifted, flipped, etc. using minimal effort. 

  • More realistic for turtles, fish, etc.  Whatever you have in the aquarium can't see out of the “sides” of its natural habitat.  As far as I know, the “sides” of ponds and lakes are NOT see-through.  In my opinion, turtles most likely feel more hidden and secure in a Rubbermaid.

  • Won't break easily.  Unless you take a knife, scissors, or another sharp object, you, your turtles, AND everything else in your house will have a tough time breaking a Rubbermaid tub. They’re made of a tough plastic.

  • Won't crack.  They just won’t.  You could throw one out of a second floor window and even then I can’t imagine it Rubbermaid cracking. Obviously, they’re very strong.

  • Pretty easy to store.  If you have one, it’ll take up just about as much room as an aquarium.  But if you have more than one, they are stackable, saving you lots of room. 



  • Not very aesthetically pleasing.  It’s not exactly attractive seeing a big tub full of water sitting in the middle of a room.  But if you can’t afford an aquarium or just don’t want one, this shouldn’t be a problem. 

  • Can't view turtles through the sides.  The clear Rubbermaid tubs only come in smaller sizes.  I have yet to see a clear one larger than 13 gallons.  Plus, even the “clear” don’t come near the transparency of glass.

  • Caves out a little bit.  Since they are made of plastic, when filled with water, they can “bow” (cave out) a little, and if the water level is high enough, this can cause some to overflow.  But this can be solved by doing the following (It’s explained the best I could…) :

Ø     Get two wooden posts that are 2” longer than the width of the tub (Measure the tub when it is not caving out.)

Ø     Cut two notches into the posts so that when you orient the posts correctly, the notches will fit right onto either side, holding the two sides together. 

Ø     Place the two posts on top of the tub about a foot apart, so that the notches rest on the side of the tub.  They don’t have to be a foot apart, the distance between can be smaller or greater depending on the size of the tub.  When you fill the tub with water, the posts should keep the sides from bowing.  You can screw the posts onto the sides just in case. 

  • Rubbermaid tubs don't come in sizes any bigger than 50 gallons so this limits what kind of turtle or how long you can keep a turtle in it for.  They are perfect for hatchling turtles up to 5” turtles.  Any bigger than 5” would be pushing it.  A full grown female RES, for example, would be way too big for a 50 gallon Rubbermaid, but a Map or Painted turtle 5” or smaller would fit just right. 

  • Required accessories for turtles don’t always “work right” with Rubbermaid tubs.  One problem I have had was that suction cups, such as the kind on some basking spots and thermometers, don’t stick to the plastic that Rubbermaid’s are made of.  Also, aquariums can be bought in lengths such as 20”, 36”, 48”, etc., which are the sizes that fluorescent lights fixtures are sold in.  So if you buy a 36” long aquarium and a 36” long light fixture, the fixture will fit perfectly on the top of the aquarium.  On the other hand, even if a Rubbermaid is 36” long, the sides are typically slightly rounded, so a 36” fixture wouldn’t fit right.  You’d need to experiment in order to solve this problem. 


          Hopefully now you can decide whether a Rubbermaid tub or an aquarium is best for you.  In the case that you choose to settle with an aquarium, it is still a good idea to have a Rubbermaid or two on hand just in case.  It won’t hurt.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me, and check out the “Habitat Information” section of Austins Turtle Page.