If you have your habitat set-up correctly, regular cleaning of your pet turtle’s shell will not be necessary. Under certain circumstances you may need to however. Here is how to clean a red-eared slider’s turtle shell.
In most cases, you simply aren’t going to need to clean your red-eared slider’s turtle shell. In certain situations however, you may need to, and in many cases, that is a signal that there is something wrong with your tank or habitat.
Common Reasons Why You Will Need to Clean Your Turtle’ Shell
Excluding the rare occasion where you let your turtle outside and it gets covered in dirt or mud and needs to be cleaned, generally I have found that if you need to clean your turtle’s shell regularly, it is usually due to 3 reasons:
- The tank has hard-water.
- Your aquarium has too much algae.
- Your turtle has shell rot or a fungal infection.
Below, I will quickly spell out how to identify all 3, and how to clean your turtle’s shell based on each situation.
If you suspect your turtle to have shell rot or a fungal infection, I would recommend reading this part of an article I wrote on this topic for a bit more depth.
How to Clean a Turtle’s Shell Due to Hard Water
It’s pretty easy to tell whether or not your tank water is hard. If it is, your turtle’s shell will look a bit dull and will be covered in what looks like fine white dust or chalk when it’s dry.
It looks quite unsightly, but it isn’t harmful at all for your turtle. Even though it looks like your turtle’s shell is dried out, that’s just the residue from dissolved minerals.
Most of the tap water in the United States is considered “hard” because of the dissolved minerals in it, mostly just magnesium and calcium. It’s perfectly healthy to drink and will not hurt you nor your turtle.
Steps to Take
If you suspect you have hard-water, here is how to clean your turtle’s shell:
- Get a bowl, and fill it with a few cups of distilled water.
- Empty a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into the bowl and mix it with an old, soft-bristled toothbrush.
- After your turtle is completely dry, take the toothbrush, dip it into the mixture and lightly brush your turtle’s shell.
- Lightly brush your turtle’s shell for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure you scrape every section of the shell.
- Let your turtle dry-off, and then place it back into your tank.
There is one more step you need to take however, and it’s absolutely critical:
Gradually replace your tank’s hard-water with treated or distilled water.
You should do this gradually because you don’t want to disturb or mess up your tank’s natural biological habitat that has been built up over the span of several weeks and months.
You can do one of 2 things here:
- Temporarily put your turtle into a safe container or box outside of the tank and use a water-conditioner or water-softener to eliminate the minerals (any generic conditioner or softener from your local pet store or Amazon will do).
- When you do your weekly tank changes, use distilled water instead of whatever you have been using.
You’ll need to do one of these so that your turtle’s shell stays clean and glossy going forward.
How to Clean a Turtle’s Shell Due to Too Much Algae
In the wild, a small bit of algae-growth on a turtle’s shell is quite normal. For the most part, if you have an indoor-tank, you really shouldn’t see algae-growth on your red-eared slider’s shell. A little bit of the stuff in your tank is OK, but often times this is indicative of a bigger problem.
Generally, there are 2 types of algae, 1 of which is really bad:
- Long, stringy, slimy disgusting algae.
- Green, spongy, carpet-like algae.
If you see the first type, that’s a BAD SIGN.
What this is telling you is that there is something REALLY WRONG with your tank. Usually, this signals that:
- The water temperature is too hot (or possibly cold).
- Water filtration system is not strong enough.
- The biological cycle of the tank’s water is off.
And that’s not the worst of it.
Algae-growth, if not taken care of, can lead to shell infections and even shell rot, both of which can be fatal.
If this is your problem, let’s discuss ways to fix it.
The first thing you will need to do is to wipe away all that slimy, disgusting algae off your turtle’s shell.
An Easy Way To Clean An Algae-Covered Shell
I have found that the easiest method to do this is to:
- Put your turtle in your sink or a bucket, keep the plug un-drained and turn on your faucet to warm. Make sure that the water isn’t too hot or too cold.
- Let the water run over its shell.
- Take an old, soft toothbrush and gently wipe away the algae. Your turtle will probably not like this, and will want to run away. This is normal. Keep it in place with your other hand and gently scrub its shell for no longer than 2 minutes.
- Sanitize your sink (or wherever you washed your turtle) to be safe from salmonella.
- Let your turtle dry-off somewhere safe.
Fix the Algae-Producing Problem in Your Tank
Next, you will need to correct your tank’s algae problem, checking and fixing the following:
- Make sure the water temperature is between 76 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Ensure that your basking dock or area temperature is between 80 degrees and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Be certain that your water filter is strong enough to handle all the water in your tank. This means that if you have a 55-gallon tank, your water filter should be rated at 110 gallons. The reason for this is that turtles produce an insane amount of waste, much more than fish, which are what most filters are designed for. This is an extra load on your filter.
This is why I always recommend getting the best filter you can. Not only will you better be able to keep your tank clean, but a stronger filter will produce a lot of moving water.
Moving water does wonders for limiting and removing algae from your tank. The more moving water you have, the better.
If you have done all of the above, and still have a problem with algae, consider moving your tank if it is directly in or under any sunlight. Sunlight aids and speeds up the growth of algae, so removing that as a source of growth will help to keep it under control.
You can also add a few pinches of salt to your tank every week or 2. This won’t hurt your turtle, and will also help keep your algae under control.
How to Clean Shell Rot or a Fungal Infection
Here’s the thing about shell rot or a fungal infection:
Both shell rot and fungal infections (to a lesser degree) are the result of bad habitat conditions + lots of time.
Both of these things don’t develop overnight, so that means if your turtle has either, something has been going really wrong for a long time.
So, how do you fix it?
Here’s the good news. If you can catch either of these at an early stage, they can be quite easy to treat.
Symptoms of Shell Rot or Fungal Infections
So, what should you be looking for?
- Shell rot is basically a fungal infection of the shell, and is usually caused by poor lighting, poor water temperature and poor habitat conditions.
- Early onset shell rot will generally appear as white patches on the shell. It can also look like indentations or bits of shell missing. The infected part will often be soft to the touch, and in severe cases you can actually start to see bits of flesh.
- Skin fungal infections can look similar, and will often look like bits of white patches. Generally, your turtle’s skin should be bright, and any colors very prominent. Dull or grey colors for sliders is a sign of a bad diet and/or a fungal infection.
How do you treat shell rot and fungal infections?
The first thing you will need is either a bottle of povidone iodine 10% solution or betadine, some Q-tips, tissues and a spare box or container to put your turtle in.
- Make sure your turtle is completely dry.
- Use a Q-tip, dip it into the iodine or betadine solution and then smear it on any infected areas of your turtle. Make sure to spread an amount larger than just the infected area, just to be safe.
- Be careful! Do not get any iodine or betadine in your turtle’s eyes, ears or mouth. Stay clear of its head at all times.
- After you have treated all the infected areas, place your turtle into your spare container or box. Make sure you have a UV-light set-up there. Let your turtle bask in the UV for a few hours.
- I would not recommend keeping your turtle in the water throughout the day, however it’s still a good idea to put your slider into your aquarium for about an hour, just so it will not dehydrate. If your turtle has shell rot, keep it in a separate container away from water for most of the day.
- Do this daily until the fungal infection and shell rot is completely gone.
If you don’t see any signs of improvement after a week or so, or your turtle’s shell rot or fungal infection worsens, you will need to take your animal to the vet ASAP for stronger medication and treatment.
How to Keep Your Turtle’s Shell Healthy
Good husbandry practices and preventative care is 90% of the battle when it comes to keeping not only your turtle’s shell, but its overall health in tip-top shape.
You may have seen various shell treatments at your local pet store or from different websites, but I would not recommend them. These simply treat the symptom, and not the cause of the problem.
Furthermore, from what I have read, they can possibly be DANGEROUS, as some of those ointments or gels trap bacteria in the shell and do not allow for it “air out”.
Instead, do the following:
- Make sure your tank and tank water is clean and that you have a big enough aquarium (shoot for a minimum of 80 gallons for a red-eared slider).
- Use a strong enough filtration system, ideally with a mechanical, biological and chemical filtration system to keep the water moving, clean and free of algae-growth.
- Make sure you replace your UV light at least annually.
- Make sure that you have a dry basking dock area, with a temperature of 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lastly, and specifically for the health of your turtle’s shell, I would recommend feeding your slider Hikari Koi wheat germ pellets once a week.
These won’t necessarily replace your normal pellets, but these are more of a supplement. They are extremely good for your turtle’s shell, and will help keep it glossy, bright and clean. They are loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin E.