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Do Turtles Smell?

All animals smell, even turtles. Just like your dog or your cat, turtles do have a smell. This smell isn’t strong and in the wild most turtles usually have a more natural smell.

The foulness of the smell is generally down to their environment. As such, it is made worse if their enclosure isn’t kept clean. If the water in which the turtle live has a foul smell, this will be transferred to the turtle.

In captivity, a foul-smelling turtle is evident of a dirty environment. While the smell alone wouldn’t harm the turtle, the dirty environment is a breeding ground for harmful pathogens.

Why Do Turtles Smell Bad?

Pet turtles don’t normally stink. If they do, then the enclosure within which they live isn’t clean. This is quite the opposite for turtles in the wild. Here food particles and other organic material stuck on them can eventually give off a bad smell.

To ensure that your pet chelonian doesn’t smell bad, then it is important to maintain a clean environment. Proper husbandry is needed if you don’t want a foul-smelling reptile. Here are some causes f foul smell among pet chelonians.

Molted Shell Skin

Turtles like other reptile sheds. Turtles in particular will regularly shed the outer layer of their scutes. The scutes make up the shell. These shed skin does contribute to clogging the filter media in the filter and over time can cause a nasty smell. Bio-filter media, as well as carbon filter media, are important here as they help to get rid of bad smells caused by organic materials.


Compared to fish, turtles produce a lot more waste, if your turtle isn’t pooping then there may be an issue. The main issue is that the aquarium filters on the market are produced with fish in mind. What this means is that a filter marked for a 50-gallon aquarium wouldn’t adequately be able to filter the waste produced by a turtle in the 50-gallon tank. You need to acquire a filter marked for a 100-gallon to 150-gallon tank.

Rotten Food particles and Other Organic Matter

When uneaten bits of food are left in the tank, these will rot and cause a bad smell. Food particles aren’t the only culprits. Other culprits include algae and even decomposing bit of plants kept in the tank. Algae growth is due to excessive heat within the enclosure. There are several ways to control algae. One of them is through the use of  UV water sterilizers.

A Dirty Tank

As already mentioned, it is essential that the enclosure be clean. A dirty tank will almost certainly lead to a fouls smelling enclosure and a foul-smelling turtle. Culprits here include turtle waste (such as excrement), old substrate, and all manners of organic material.

Keeping your tank turtle clean can make the differenct.


Harmful bacteria is one of the reasons why the tank and the occupants start to stink. These bacteria grow in large numbers when the conditions within the tank are unhygienic. It is necessary to spot clean and to also clean the entire tank with a 5% bleach solution every now and then. This can be once a month or once every two months.

Changing the water within the enclosure frequently as well as using a powerful filter with a bio-media will help keep harmful bacteria in check. UV water sterilizers can be also used to kill microbes and algae within the tanks. These UV water sterilizers also kill beneficial bacteria. 

How to Rid Your Turtle of Foul Smells?

Keeping a clean enclosure should ensure that your turtle doesn’t smell bad. However, it may be too late at this point. If this is the case, how then do you rid your turtle of this foul smell? Let us look at some possible solutions.

Solution #1: Bathe Your Turtle

Turtles already live in water but that alone shouldn’t be enough to eliminate the foul scent. If the scent is quite bad then you should consider bathing the turtle.

Materials needed

Here you need just:

  • A toothbrush with soft bristles, 
  • A small container such as the SAMMART Plastic Washtub, and 
  • Lukewarm dechlorinated water. Use an aquarium conditioner such as API if you have to. In fact, the water in the turtle tank also needs to be dechlorinated.


The brush and the container should be used only for the chelonian. As you know, turtles carry salmonella bacteria which can lead to illness if it enters a human’s body. This is why you need to wash the turtle in a container and not the kitchen sink, a bathroom sink, or a bathtub. Also, it is essential that you do not use soap, shampoo, or any cleaning agent as this can injure the turtle.

Use the brush to gently scrub the scutes and the plastron. Make sure you remove algae and dirt built up between the scutes.

While cleaning the turtle you may as well check for injuries. Injuries can even be the cause of the foul smell. Look out for cracks, cuts, bruises, wellings, discolored patches. In fact, just look for anything that isn’t regular.

An infected injury can have a foul smell. Superficial cuts and bruises may be treated with iodine/betadine solution. But anything serious should be inspected and treated by a reptile & amphibian vet. My advice is to contact a vet if you aren’t an experienced turtle caretaker.

Solution #2: Move the Turtle to a Bigger Tank

Acquiring a larger tank is something to consider if your turtle is stinking. What is the size of the current tank and is it large enough for the turtle. The tank should be able to hold 10 gallons of water for every inch of the turtle.

As such a 5-inch turtle should be kept in 50 gallons of water. If you have several turtles, this rule applies to the first turtle. For each additional turtle add about 5 gallons of water for every inch of the turtle.  We go into details on how to select the tanks for your turtle in our turtle tank setup article.

Solution #3: Get A Good Filter / Clean Your Filter

Cleaning your current filter can be a tricky situation. Most of the best filters have bio-media which contains helpful bacteria. If you clean this filter media, you risk killing these helpful bacteria. If you must, then rinse the filter media with dechlorinated water as chlorine will kill the good bacteria.

The filter can also be the source of bad odor. To prevent this, change the filter media regularly. Some recommend that you change the filter media once every two to four months.

If the filter being used is not powerful enough this will lead to bad smells. You should address this by getting a powerful filter. There are several filter brands on the market. This can make finding the right filter tough.

Here are some of the best filters on the market.

Selecting the right filter can be tough, if you need help doing so this article will help – Best Filters for Turtle Tanks.

Solution #4: Clean the Turtle Tank

You’d be surprised what a simple cleaning can accomplish. You should be cleaning the turtle’s tank every other month or every month depending on how bad the tank seems to stink up. A clean tank will ensure that the turtle itself doesn’t smell bad.

Cleaning the turtle involves the following steps.

  1. Emptying the enclosure – make sure that you put everything back into its original position. Moving objects about can end up stressing.
  2. Next, clean or change the substrate if you have some. You can disinfect gravel and stones.
  3. Use a 5% bleach solution to thoroughly clean the tank, making sure to clean all the surfaces.
  4. Return all the content of the tank and add some clean dechlorinated water. 
  5. Place the turtle back into the enclosure. 

We have an article on cleaning the enclosure called How To Clean A Turtle Tank.


Why do turtles smell?

Naturally, turtles do not have strong scents. They do smell but this is quite faint. However, when kept in a dirty environment they can develop a pungent smell. Additionally, infected injuries and other infections can cause the turtle to smell.

How often should you clean the turtle’s enclosure?

I recommend cleaning the turtle tank on a monthly basis. I know this can be tough for people who are usually busy throughout the month. If you cannot clean the tank monthly, make sure to clean it at least once every 2 months. If the enclosure tends to stink up rather quickly, then you have no choice but to clean the enclosure once a month.

Why does the turtle tank smell bad?

If the tank smells then it is dirty. Cleaning it may not be enough. The smell could be from the filter or the enclosure is just too small. For instance, if you keep three adult turtles in a 20-gallon tank, no matter how what you do, the enclosure will start to smell after just a few days. This smell will be horrible.

Do you need to clean your turtles as you do dogs and cats?

Turtles, unlike dogs and cats, do not need to be cleaned. However, there are situations when you have no choice but to. For instance, if the turtle smells bad, then you have to clean it. Also, you may want to clean the algae off a turtle’s shell.

Can you use soap to bathe the turtle?

Never use soap or any cleaning agent when washing the turtle and its shell. The turtle may ingest the cleaning agent which can be harmful to the turtle. The best route to take is to use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently remove any dirt and algae from the turtle’s shell and skin.


Turtles can smell bad. This is generally down to an unhygienic enclosure. If your turtle smells bad, then you may want to clean it. That is not enough. The most important part of the process is to solve the root cause of the problem.

Keeping a clean enclosure involves acquiring an enclosure that is large enough for the turtle(s). Additionally, you need to have a powerful enough filter installed. I recommend a canister filter as they are generally more powerful. You can even install additional filters if you already have a filter installed. You can also install a UV water sterilizer.

When cleaning the turtle do so with just a toothbrush with soft bristles and dechlorinated water.

Add comments if you have any extra information to share. Additionally, if you can any questions, you can ask them.

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