Note: Pet Educate is reader supported. If you make a purchase through a link on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission - at no extra cost to you. This includes links to Amazon.

Do Axolotls Need A Filter? [Is Filtration Necessary?]

If you’ve never kept an axolotl as a pet before and are thinking of getting one, caring for them can seem daunting at first. There’s just so much to consider! And water quality is one such area that you’ll likely have many questions about. Is a water filter even truly necessary? Here is what you need to know.

Do axolotls need a filter? While not essential, it is generally recommended to get a filter for your Axolotl’s tank. This is to prevent the buildup of toxic substances within the water over time that can be harmful to an axolotl’s health. Without a filter, more regular water changes will be necessary.

While there are many differences between these water-dwelling amphibians and a more conventional pet such as a cat and dog, looking after an Axotolol need not be any more complex. 

Once you understand an axolotl’s basic needs, you will be able to set up an environment that is optimal for their health and wellbeing, all while saving you time in the long run.

Axolotls are a relative of the salamander family. However, unlike their relatives, axolotls do not undergo metamorphosis into a land-adapted amphibian but instead remain aquatic their entire life. 

This means that your Axolotl will need plenty of water in its tank to swim and play. They cannot breathe out of water for very long, after all.

Most of their skeletal structure is composed of cartilage rather than bone, making them very fragile; axolotls shouldn’t be handled unless absolutely necessary, such as by a veterinarian for a routine check-up or when removing them from their tank while you replace the water. 

An axolotl’s skin is extremely thin and highly permeable; slight changes in their external environment can be catastrophic. 

Other than feeding your Axolotl 2-3 times a week and performing occasional water changes, they will be a very self-sufficient and easy pet to care for.

Water quality is of the utmost importance when it comes to providing the perfect environment for your Axolotl. 

It can literally mean the difference between life and death for your beloved friend. This article will cover how to ensure your Axolotl’s water is kept clean and fresh, allowing them to be as healthy as possible.

Why Do You Need A Filter For An Axolotl?

A water filter is recommended to prevent the buildup of toxic waste products within the tank that may harm your Axolotl. 

An axolotl’s metabolism is constantly converting the food it ingests into energy for growth and survival. 

However, this process also leads to the production of waste compounds such as ammonia. 

Ammonia is a very toxic substance when levels of the unionized form, NH3, build up. 

Ammonia is toxic to most aquatic animals, but axolotls are particularly susceptible due to their highly permeable skin. 

The nitrogen cycle is an important aspect to understand when it comes to maintaining the optimal environmental parameters in your axolotls’ tank.

A filter provides a biological medium for nitrifying bacteria to colonize. 

These bacteria slowly convert the toxic ammonia into nitrite (NO-2) and then into nitrate (NO-3). 

Nitrate is the final product of the nitrogen cycle and is relatively harmless to the health of your axolotls. 

Nitrate still needs to be removed, however, as an oversaturation of nitrate in the water will prevent additional ammonia from being broken down.

But thankfully, nitrate can be removed by any plants you place in the tank or by changing the water. 

This whole process is called biological filtration.

Biological filtration is not a process that occurs overnight; it takes time for nitrifying bacteria to colonize the filtration medium and for an equilibrium to be established. 

Therefore, it is important to cycle your tank before adding your Axolotl to ensure that the conditions are optimal once they are ready to settle in. 

This is sometimes referred to as ‘aging’ your tank; once you have set up your new tank by filling it with water and adding the filter, you will need to add ammonia to the tank.

This may seem counterintuitive, but the addition of ammonia provides a substrate for bacteria to thrive on and colonize the filter.

Over time the biological filter will be teeming with nitrifying bacteria that are already efficient at converting ammonia to nitrate. 

This whole process can take up to 12 weeks, however, using a seeded filter dramatically reduces this timeframe to 1-3 weeks.

A seeded filter comes with nitrifying bacteria already colonized on the medium, dramatically reducing the time required to complete this initial cycling process. 

You can monitor this process with an ammonia reader – a device that measures the levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate within the water. 

Once all the ammonia and nitrite have been converted to nitrate, the cycle has completed (i.e., 0ppm ammonia and nitrite). 

Nitrate should ideally remain below 40ppm; this can be achieved with weekly water changes of about 20%. 

Can An Axolotl Live Without A Filter?

While it is possible for an axolotl to survive without a filter, keeping the water conditions optimal will require a lot more conscious effort on the keeper’s part. 

Aquatic plants within the tank may help remove toxic waste products such as ammonia. Still, regular water changes will be essential to prevent the levels of these compounds from becoming toxic. 

For these reasons, it is highly recommended to use a biological filter in your axolotls’ tank; this will dramatically reduce the time and effort required to keep changing the water.

How Long Can An Axolotl Go Without A Filter?

An axolotl can survive surprisingly long without a filter if you are willing to perform regular water changes. 

You may have just got your first Axolotl and haven’t installed a filter yet, or perhaps your filter has recently broken. 

No matter how hard you try to provide the optimal conditions for your Axolotl, you can’t always predict the unpredictable.

In these situations, it is easy to panic and worry that your Axolotl may not survive without its filter.

Your Axolotl can theoretically survive permanently without a filter, although, as mentioned above, this will require regular water changes. 

It’s a good idea to use an ammonia measuring kit regularly to ensure levels don’t reach toxic levels; concentrations of ammonia at 1ppm or higher will kill an axolotl in days, and even prolonged periods below this will negatively affect your Axolotl’s health over time.

Thankfully these kind of kits are pretty inexpensive over at Amazon.  

Performing 100% water changes daily should keep your Axolotl satisfied in the short term.

What Kind Of Filter Do Axolotls Need?

As you can see, proper filtration is essential to keeping your Axolotl fit and healthy. The quality of the filter you use is therefore of utmost importance. 

There are many different types of filters available such as power filters, under-gravel filters, and above-board filters. 

The best filter to use is an external power filter such as a canister filter.

As a rule, you will want to oversize your filter in relation to the size of the tank that you keep your Axolotl in. 

Larger filters have more surface area within the biological medium to house more nitrifying bacteria, ensuring that waste ammonia is converted to nitrate as efficiently as possible, which in turn keeps water quality at its best. 

Larger filters are also better at the mechanical filtration process, whereby large debris and waste are removed from the water. 

However, be careful using a filter that is far too large for a small tank as this can lead to increased turbulence within the water.

The flow rate of the filter is also an important consideration. 

Turbulent water movement is one of the biggest stress inducers for an axolotl; axolotls are much more content in still, non-moving water. 

Therefore, choosing a filter with an adjustable flow rate is recommended to be able to keep water flow low. 

With all these factors in mind, look no further than the Fluval 07 Series if you are in the market:

Fluval 107 Perfomance Canister Filter - for Aquariums Up to 30 Gallons - Aquarium Canister Filter
  • Efficient Aquarium Canister Filter: Fluval eTEC technology delivers powerful pump performance and ultra-quiet operation; uses same energy as LED light bulb
  • Reliable Aquarium Filter: Powerful motor generates constant pumping power and pressure; ensures healthy and clean fish tank for your pet fish
  • Silent Fish Tank Filter: Precision-crafted pump runs up to 25% quieter than previously; perfect choice for pet owners looking for a peaceful fish tank enclosure
  • Convenient Fluval Filter: The EZ-Lift media baskets with new center handle allow media stack to be removed with just one finger; provides quick access
  • Innovation for Fish Keepers: Fluval innovates to foster a sustainable future where aquatic life and humankind can thrive in harmony

Besides, its the best filter for axolotl tanks according to my research.

If a canister filter is out of your budget, then sponge filters can be a good alternative. 

Sponge filters are powered by an air pump that draws water into the sponge, removing waste and impurities. 

These aren’t as effective as canister filters, but they’re much better than having no filter at all and will reduce the frequency of water changes required.

Hydro II Sponge Pro Filter - Up to 20 gallons
  • Experience crystal clear water, radiantly healthy freshwater or saltwater fish, and whisper-quiet, high flow filtration without constant cartridge replacements or a hazardous impeller
  • Quiet and easy to clean - simply rinse and squeeze in used tank water (not tap water!) to maintain nitrogen-fixing. Inner canister of filter can be filled with activated charcoal, carbon, or other media.
  • Hooks up directly to a powerhead or pump, and the diffuser can replace air stones. To set up, simply assemble, bury the base, and connect an air hose.
  • Soft foam filters across a wide surface area, creating bubbles to reduce protein buildup and increase oxygen. Ideal for low-current breeding, betta, discus, and turtle tanks.
  • Fast-cycle a new tank by transferring a filter sponge from old to new. For even more pristine water and longer filter life, combine with ATI Filter Max pre-filtration or try our Hydro-Sponge Pro line.

A spray bar is a fitting that can be attached to the outflow of the filter to disperse the flow, therefore reducing the water turbulence resulting in a happier axolotl.


As you can see, there are many benefits to using a high-quality filtration system in your Axolotl’s tank.

And although some filters may be costly, they can be thought of as an investment, saving you precious time performing regular water changes in the future. 

Axolotls are extremely sensitive to their environment and can detect subtle changes in ammonia level and pH. 

Therefore it is vital to regularly test the parameters within the tank to prevent toxins from building up. 

If you think your Axolotl isn’t thriving, and it should be, then poor water quality may be to blame.

Or it could actually be the lighting. Consider that too.

Want to learn more about Axolotls? Then my following guides may be of interest: