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How To Clean A Turtle Tank

While caring for a turtle is not as demanding as caring for other pets such as dogs and cats, a lot goes into ensuring they are healthy and happy.

You got to feed them well-balanced meals and given nutrient/mineral supplements, provide the needed UVB lighting & heating, take them for regular vet check-ups, and provide & maintain a suitable habitat.

In this article, we will be looking at how to clean and maintain your turtle’s tank.

For starters, you must change about a quarter of the aquarium’s water weekly, and clean the entire enclosure monthly (ideally every 3 to 4 weeks).

Here are the steps to take as you clean the turtle tank.

Turtle Tank Cleaning Guide

1. Remove The Turtle

Pick up the turtle and move it to another container with water such as a bucket, bowl or any small container.

This secondary container can even be the one you feed the turtle in if you feed it in a separate container. There should be enough water for the turtle to swim in and a platform such as a rock which the turtle can climb on.

This container should be used for temporarily housing the turtle and nothing else. Of course, you should wash your hands thoroughly before handing the turtle.

Additionally, you can wear a pair of gloves before you handle the turtle. Remember, turtles carry salmonella.

2. Remove The Contents Of The Turtle Tank

empty turtle tank

Start by removing the electrical devices such as the heater, light fixtures, and the filters. Turn them off first. Once you remove these place them in a container to be cleaned later.

Next remove large items such as basking platforms, rocks, plants, and other decorations. Place the decorations and other content into a separate container (and not the same container you placed the electrical devices in).

Ensure, you remember where each component is situated for when you have to return them. This ensures the turtle isn’t disoriented when returned. You want to keep the enclosure the same so the turtle knows it’s returning to the same environment.

Depending on the size of the tank, you may need help moving it to the cleaning area (where you plan on cleaning the tank).

I recommend that you remove some or most of the water in the tank before carrying it to the cleaning area. This ensures the tank is as light as possible.

Python No Spill Clean and Fill Aquarium Maintenance System, Complete Ready-to-Use Gravel Cleaner and Water Changer for Fish Tanks, 25 Foot

You can use the Python No Spill Clean and Fill Aquarium Maintenance System. This allows you to easily remove water and swap out the water. If you have substrates such as gravels, you can remove them after pouring out most of the water.

This significantly reduces the weight of the tank. You can return gravel and rocks can be returned after cleaning but replace any organic substrate. Alternatively, you can leave substrate such as rocks in the tank.

Since turtle tanks can be heavy, an additional pair of hands to help you carry it to the cleaning area is welcomed. Lift the tank from below with both hands. Tip the tank over to empty the remainder of the water.

3. Rinse the substrate (optional step)

If you use substrates such as rocks for the turtle tank, you need to rinse it before cleaning the tank. With the help of the bathtub faucet or a hose, fill the tank to about a quarter full with water.

Empty the tank and then refill it with water repeat this process about 4 times or until the water in the tank is considerably clearer.

You can use the Python No Spill Clean and Fill Aquarium Maintenance System to empty the tank but this is quite slow.

  • To empty the tank slowly lift the tank and one end using your legs to lift and not your arms or back muscles. Ensure you drain out all the water in the tank each time.
  • You can always ask for help if the tank is too heavy to empty.

Cleaning The Tank And The Content

1. Mixing the cleaning solution

Use a bleach solution to clean the tank.  I recommend a 5% chlorine bleach solution (approximately 30 parts water and 1 part bleach). For every gallon (3.8 L) of water, add half a cup (120 ml) of bleach.

Remember to wear gloves before you commence the cleaning process. Alternatively, you can use distilled white vinegar. Use the same measurement, which is half a cup of vinegar for every gallon of water.

  • If you are cleaning the tank on a lawn, bleach and vinegar can kill the grass and plants so you need to use a plant-friendly tank cleaner such.
  • Another choice of cleaners to use include turtle-safe tank cleaners.
  • You should never use household cleaners as the chemical residue left behind is near impossible to remove. This chemical residue is harmful to turtles.

2. Scrubbing, cleaning, and rinsing the tank and its content

Using a clean rag, scrub the entire tank with the solution. Scrub all the sides and pay attention to the corners as debris tends to build up here. This solution is sure to kill the buildup of harmful microbes.

Tilt the tank so the substrates move to one side and scrub the bottom. Every inch of the enclosure must be scrubbed down. Scrub the rocks after cleaning the enclosure.

Allow the solution to sit for about 10 minutes.

As the solution sits on the tank, clean the decorations and other components

  • Follow the instructional manual when cleaning the filter. Take the filter apart and clean each component separately.
  • Similarly, clean the outside of the heater.
  • Scrub and clean all decorations, wood, plastic plants, and rocks.

Rinse the tank thoroughly with clean potable water. Ensure you remove all cleaning solution residue and leftover debris. If you can use a clean cloth to wipe down the entire enclosure. Wiping down the outside is a must. When rinsing the enclosure ensure there is no scent of bleach or vinegar on the enclosure.

3. Returning The Clean Tank To Its Display Area

I recommend carrying an empty tank to its display area before filling it with water as it is lighter and easier to carry this way.

Alternatively, you can fill the tank before moving it to its display area.

If you are filling the tank with water before moving it back to its display area, ensure that you wipe any water residue off the outside of the tank so you can have a firm grip on the tank as you carry it. Have another person help you carry the tank so it’s easy to carry.

Next return the decorations, filter, and other content back into the tank. Ensure everything is placed in the same positions. When reinstalling the heater and filter, do so properly.

Getting The Water Conditions Right

1. Dechlorinate The Water

Natural Rapport Aquarium Water Conditioner - The Only All-in-1 Water Conditioner Fish Need - Naturally Detoxifies and Removes Ammonia, Nitrite, Chlorine, and Chloramine (16 fl oz.)

You can fill the tank with mineral water. This doesn’t have chlorine and is safe however, the cheaper and more convenient option is tap water. This contains chlorine or chloramines which are harmful to the turtle.

Dechlorinate the water with a water dechlorinator which is designed for aquatic pets.

I recommend the Natural Rapport Aquarium Water Conditioner. You can also use any animal-safe dechlorinator available at pet stores.

2. Ensure the water temperature is right

VIVOSUN 1-Pack LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer Fish Tank Water Terrarium Temperature with Suction Cup for Turtle

The water temperature has to be right for your turtle. As different turtle species have different temperature needs, ensure the temperature is in the needed range for your turtle.

For most turtles, the water temperature needs to be 72 to 75 F.  Using a thermometer, ensure the water temperature is at the right temperature.

If the water is too cool, allow for about an hour for the temperature to rise to the appropriate temperature. If you use a water heater, turn it on.

3. Test and correct the chemistry of the water

API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, White, Single, Multi-colored

With the help of a testing kit, ensure the pH level, nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia levels are right.

Maintain the following levels.

  • Ammonia level of 0
  • Chlorine level of 0
  • Nitrate level of 0 to 40 ppm
  • Nitrite level of 0 to 0.5 Ppm
  • pH level of 6.0 to 8

4. Add a little non-iodized salt (Optional)

Add about a single teaspoon of salt per every gallon of water. This helps regulate the presence of harmful microbes. Ensure your turtle thrives in brackish water before doing this.

Return The Turtle

Baby red eared sliders swimming in tank
Baby red ear sliders in tank

Finally return the turtle to its enclosure, ensuring you place it on its favorite resting spot. If everything is placed in the same position, the turtle will be none the wiser to the cleaning process.

Unlike other aquatic pets, turtles don’t mind a sudden change of the water in the aquarium. If you house the turtle with other aquatic pets, ensure they are also okay with sudden water changes.

How To Keep A Turtle Tank Clean

While you clean the turtle tank every 3 to 4 weeks, you have to maintain the water quality of the tank between cleaning. Here are the most important things to do to keep the tank clean.

Use an adequate sized tank

SeaClear 20 gal Acrylic Aquarium Combo Set, 24 by 13 by 16

A small tank tends to get dirty much quicker than a large tank. When acquiring a tank ensure you get one which is of the right size for the turtle.

The larger the turtle the larger the tank needs to be. For a 10-inch turtle, a 75-gallon tank is a must. For a 5-inch turtle get a 50-gallon tank.

For tiny turtles, get a 20 to 25-gallon tank. Also, for each additional turtle increase the capacity by 20-gallon.

A large tank is both expensive and more difficult to maintain. A powerful filter can make up for the space needed if the tank is slightly smaller.

Use a powerful filter

SunSun HW-3000 UV 9W 5-Stage External Canister Filter 793gph, White

To ensure the water in the tank is always kept clean, use a filter marked for an enclosure twice the size. There are many filters out there but it’s important to get a powerful and capable one.

My favorites include the SunSun  HW-3000, MarineLand Penguin and Polar Aurora External Aquarium Filter.

Remove leftover food after each feeding

PENN-PLAX Quick-Net Aquarium Fish Net – Durable, Strong, and Safe – Color May Vary (Blue or Green) – 4” x 3” Net – 10” Handle

With the help of a net such as Penn Plax Aquarium Fish Net, remove all leftover food after feeding. When done fastidiously, the aquarium will be cleaner for longer.

Vacuum the aquarium

Python No Spill Clean and Fill Aquarium Maintenance System, Complete Ready-to-Use Gravel Cleaner and Water Changer for Fish Tanks, 25 Foot

Use a vacuum cleaner such as the Python Aquarium Maintenance System to frequently clean the aquarium.

Monitor the chemical levels

API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, White, Single, Multi-colored

Ensure the water chemistry of the water is always within the right ranges. With the help of a water test kit, you can easily monitor the chlorine, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH levels. (Refer to the section entitled ‘Test and correct the chemistry of the water’ to check the right ranges.)

Change the water in the aquarium regularly

Change about a quarter or a third of the water in the aquarium every week. After changing the water, check the water chemistry, and correct any imbalances.

Of course, you need to dechlorinate the water before adding it to the aquarium, the Python Aquarium Maintenance System makes swapping the water in the aquarium simple.

Fixing Cloudy Turtle Tank Water

There are many reasons why a turtle tank water may be cloudy. If the tank is clean and the water chemistry is right, then this shouldn’t last. This is usually called new tank syndrome. Treat this by dechlorinating, aerating and properly cleaning the water filter. This should clear in no time at all.

If your aquarium is always cloudy, then the water filter may be broken or underpowered. Poor water maintenance is usually the cause of constantly cloudy and smelly water. Scrub down the aquarium and follow proper tank maintenance practices.

Cleaning Algae Off The Turtle Tank

Mud turtle with algae on shell

This is how to get rid of algae in a turtle tank. The best way is to clean the tank regularly and ensure the water chemistry is right. Ensure the UVB light is not long throughout the day.

Also, use algae scrapers such as the API Algae scraper to remove algae off walls. You can also scrape algae off decor if it bothers you.

A net and a vacuum cleaner can be used to remove algae in the water and substrate.

Lastly, don’t stress over algae too much. They are good for turtles. And you can never get rid of all algae. They even add to the natural aesthetics of the tank.

Oily Film On Water In Turtle Tank

Oil on top of water in turtle tank

As with algae, you need to know when too much is bad. A small amount won’t harm the turtle, however, a build-up can prevent oxygen from entering the water. Here are some of the causes.

  • Oil from your hands.  Our hands are oily, and that can end up getting into the water. To prevent this wash your hand thoroughly before tackling the tank.
  • New filter. Believe it or not, new filters may produce oil slicks. This oil may be from the lubricants used on the filter during the manufacturing process. To minimize this, properly wash down a filter before installing it.
  • Dead organic matter not removed. These can include uneaten food, dead fish, and many more. Remove unwanted organic matter frequently and timely.
  • Poor tank location. Oils from airborne grease from cooking, aerosols, and perfumes can end up settling on the water.
  • Turtle food and poop. If you feed the turtle oily food, it can result in an oily film on the water. Feed the turtle foods low in fat and don’t overfeed the turtle. A powerful filter also ensures the water is as clean as it can be.

How often should you clean a turtle’s tank?

The frequency of cleaning a turtle tank can depend on several factors, including the size of the tank, the number and size of turtles, and the efficiency of your filtration system.

As a general guideline, a partial water change (about 25-50%) should be done every 1-2 weeks. A full tank clean, where you thoroughly clean the tank, filter, and any decorations or accessories, should be performed every 4-6 weeks.

It’s important to monitor the water condition and cleanliness of the tank regularly. If the water becomes murky, smells bad, or if algae growth becomes noticeable, it may need to be cleaned more frequently.

What cleaner can I use to clean a turtle tank?

When cleaning a turtle tank, it’s important to avoid harsh chemicals that could harm your turtle. One of the most effective and safe cleaners for a turtle tank is a solution of white vinegar and water (typically a 50/50 mix).

The acidity of the vinegar helps remove hard water stains and mineral deposits, and it is safe for turtles as long as it is thoroughly rinsed afterward. Specialized reptile tank cleaners are also available on the market and can be used according to their instructions.

Always make sure to rinse the tank thoroughly after cleaning to remove any residual cleaning solution. Never use bleach or other strong household cleaners as they can be toxic to turtles.

How do you change the water in a turtle tank?

1. Remove the turtle and decorations: Place the turtle in a secure, temporary container with water, and remove any tank decorations.

2. Use a Vacuum/Siphon: Use an aquarium vacuum, like the Python Aquarium Maintenance System, to clean the substrate and remove the water at the same time.

3. Remove and add water: For a partial change, remove and replace 25-50% of the water; for a full change, nearly all of it. Refill the tank with dechlorinated water of the same temperature to avoid shocking your turtle.

4. Return decorations and turtle: Put back the decorations, and gently return your turtle to its home.

5. Test the water: Use an aquarium water test kit to check parameters like pH and ammonia.

Remember that regular water changes and an efficient filtration system are both crucial for a healthy turtle tank.

How do you clean turtle waste?

Cleaning turtle waste primarily involves regular water changes and effective filtration. For spot cleaning, use a net or an aquarium vacuum like the Python Aquarium Maintenance System to remove visible waste.

This vacuum can also clean waste hidden in the substrate. For thorough cleaning, remove the turtle, drain the tank, clean the substrate and tank walls with a safe cleaner like a 50/50 white vinegar and water solution, then refill with dechlorinated water.

A good filtration system is key as it continuously removes waste particles from the water. Remember to clean or replace the filter media regularly as per the manufacturer’s instructions.


The tank of an aquatic turtle needs to be cleaned every 3 or so weeks. This ensures the water is clean enough to swim in and drink. Keeping a clean tank is crucial to the turtle’s health.

To clean the tank, you need to remove all items and decorations, scrub and rinse the tank and all its content, return the tank’s content, fill the tank with water and ensure the water chemistry and temperature are on point.

This maintenance routine should take but a few minutes and ensures the turtle is healthy. In between cleaning, change a third of the tank’s water every week.

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