How Often Do You Have to Clean a Turtle Tank
Copyright: anyka / 123RF Stock Photo

If you own a turtle, you know that they are messy. They can quickly turn your clean tank into a muddy-mess. Here is how often to clean a turtle tank.

Note, this article is quite lengthy, so check out the table of contents below and click to go directly to the section that is most appropriate for you. I also included a short summary at the bottom of the article.

How Often Do You Have to Clean a Turtle Tank?

The short answer is that you should do some sort of cleaning nearly every day. Deep cleans, where you clean everything inside and including the tank, should occur roughly every month or so. It will really depend on how well you maintain your tank.

How often you will need to clean your tank really depends on several factors, such as:

  • How well you maintain its day to day cleanliness.
  • If you have a turtle or tortoise.
  • How powerful your filter is.
  • Whether or not you have any substrate or other things in your tank.

The most important factor, your daily maintenance, matters most, however.

Your goal ideally should be to keep the tank as clean as possible on a day to day basis without needing to do deep-cleans often. A deep-clean is when you take everything out of your tank, including the water, wash everything down, let it dry and put everything back in.

In order to achieve this, I would recommend following some sort of cleaning schedule to reduce the number of deep cleans.

My schedule is as follows:

How Often To Clean A Red-Eared Slider Tank?

Every day: Use a small net to scoop out any visible feces as well as any uneaten food or gunk that you see. This will drastically reduce the speed at which gunk and junk builds up in your filter and tank.

Every week: Replace some of the water in the tank, typically around 25% or so. What you are doing here is 2-fold; you are replacing some of the old water with new water and lowering the level of ammonia and nitrites in the water. Ammonia is colorless to us but irritates turtles’ eyes.

Every few weeks: Do a spot clean. This is where you look for dirty areas of your tank and clean them up a bit.

Also, test the pH level of your turtle’s swimming water; it should be between seven and eight on a scale of 1-14.

What Is A Good pH Level For Turtles?

I personally use the API Freshwater Master Test Kit. They are quite cheap and will last a long time. Best of all, they allow you to test:

  • pH levels.
  • Mid-range pH levels.
  • Ammonia levels.
  • Nitrite levels.

All you simply do to test is pour a little bit of water into the vials, put a drop of solution into each and match it’s color shade to a color-shade chart to see what range your levels fall into.

Ideally, for most aquatic species, the following ranges are ideal:

  • A pH level of between 6 and 8.
  • An ammonia level of 0.
  • A nitrite level of 0.

Both too low of a pH level as well as too high of a pH level can be problematic for your turtles. If you ever notice your turtles spending less time in the water, for instance, it could be because the pH level is too low. Low pH levels are also associated with increased chances of your turtle getting sick.

Basically, keep your levels in that range and your turtles will be healthy.

Every month or two. Do a deep clean and do a proper cleaning of your filter.

How Often To Clean A Box Turtle Tank?

Box Turtle Content

If you are lucky enough to have a tortoise or box turtle instead, congratulations! Your job just got A LOT easier!

Because tortoises and box turtles aren’t living in tanks full of water, and instead living on land most of the day, you’ll be doing a lot less cleaning.

Here’s a schedule I follow with my box turtle.

Every day: Clean the turtle or tortoises’ water bowl and/or any shallow water area for the turtle you may have. If you just have a drinking bowl for a tortoise, you can replace it with distilled or de-chlorinated water. If you have a land-dwelling box turtle, which should have a bit more water in its tank, I would recommend simply using a net to clean the water area.

Every month or two: Do a deep clean. Clean and change the substrate.

How regularly you will need to do cleanings really simply depends on the type of turtle you have and how diligent you are about maintaining the habitat’s cleanliness.

The important point though is that if you have good maintenance habits, you will need to do deep cleans much less often. 

How To Clean A Turtle Aquarium

This section is fairly straight-forward, as you will probably have most of these materials on hand already.

The basic materials you will need:

  • Warm water.
  • Disposable gloves.
  • Something you can use to do the actual cleaning, like an old rag or brush.

There are several cleaning ingredients that you need to be very careful about using. 

They are:

  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Detergent cleaner
  • Bleach

You don’t want to ever use these products to directly clean a turtle because a turtle’s shell is made up of living tissue that still needs access to sunlight and oxygen. Soaps, shampoos, and detergents may contain waxes, oils, and other chemicals that interfere with or block your turtle’s shell from receiving both sunlight and oxygen.

You can use them to clean your turtle’s tank and habitat, but you should never use them to clean your turtle’s shell or give it a bath.

How To Spot Clean An Aquarium

Spot cleanings are very simple and quick, but they can go a really long way in maintaining the cleanliness of your tank.

Spot cleanings are basically what they say they are, you simply clean the outside of the tank with a few napkins and some window cleaner.

I also try to look for anything that I may have missed during my daily passes with my scooper. It’s pretty common to miss a few pieces or chunks of feces, uneaten food or other types of gunk down on the bottom, around the filter or down and around anything else you have in the tank.

Look around, see if you missed anything big, and that’s really all there is to it.

How To Deep Clean An Aquarium

Doing semi-regular (every month or two) deep cleans are what is really going to max out your tank’s cleanliness.

Everyone hates doing them, but they are necessary.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Remove your turtle and place it into an appropriate temporary container.
  2. Take out the filter and DO NOT CLEAN IT.
  3. Take away any rocks and other large objects.
  4. Clear away any substrate.
  5. Remove the water.
  6. Clean the tank and any rocks you may have appropriately.
  7. Sit and let dry.
  8. Put everything back to their original spots.

And voila!

It sounds like a TON OF WORK, and it kinda is, but after you get the hang of it it doesn’t take long at all.

I’ll break these steps down as quickly and succinctly as I can.

Remove Your Turtle

Remove your turtle or tortoise from your tank, remembering to cup him or her in your hand and then place your pet into a temporary container.

Any container will do, but remember that you will need to clean this container VERY CAREFULLY after you are finished, as turtles easily spread salmonella and other bacteria.

It’s best to use a container only for this purpose, just to be safe.

Take Out Filter And DO NOT CLEAN IT

Remove whatever filter you are using, be it canister or power, but most importantly, DO NOT CLEAN IT.

Here’s why.

If you clean your filter under your house faucets, you’ll kill off all of the beneficial bacteria that have spent weeks building up. Once you place your filter back into your tank, your tank’s water will need to cycle through again, and this process can take around a month or so.

Instead, take some of your old tank water, place it into a separate container and USE THAT to rinse and clean your filter. This way, you can keep a lot of that beneficial bacteria and drastically speed up the water cycling process.

Take Away Any Rocks

This part is pretty self-explanatory. Just remove all of the rocks, large objects, caves or anything else you’ve got in your tank.

It is OK to clean these with regular tap water and a cleaning agent.

Clean Substrate

Remove your substrate.

As with the rocks and other large objects, you can also clean these with regular tap water.

For land-dwelling turtles and tortoises, it’s probably a good idea to replace a bit of the substrate with a new substrate.

Remove Water

Lastly, you’ll want to remove the water.

Now, if you’re like I used to be, you’re probably tired of walking back and forth carrying buckets full of water between the toilet or sink and to your tank.

I’ve found a great solution to drastically make this entire process a whole lot easier.

It’s called a Python No-Spill, and it works really simple. You simply hook up one end up to your sink, put the other in your tank, and then drain (or add) water. That’s it. No more buckets of water.

They come in different sizes, from 25 feet to well over 50 feet, and they are decently priced.

Use some cleaning agents or bleach and clean any of the rocks or stones you may have. You’ll probably have to scrub these, as they can really easily collect algae and slimy gunk on top of them.

With the tank, you’ll have to be a bit more gentle. I usually use bleach-solution. It pretty quickly cleans everything out.

Let Dry

This phase is vital. You want to let EVERYTHING DRY. Ideally, for at least half a day or so. Better yet, let them dry in the sun for half a day.

It is imperative that they dry out COMPLETELY, as you want every last drop and fume of any bleach, soap or cleaning detergent that you used to dissipate and disappear.

Put Everything Back Correctly

After everything is completely dried out, it’s time to put everything back in.

Simply put everything back in in the reverse order that you took it out.

A few important notes here:

  • If you can re-use ANY of your old water, do that. This will help drastically speed up the water cycling process.
  • You should probably test your tank’s pH, ammonia and nitrite level before putting your turtle inside. The numbers will likely not be where you need them, but it will give you a good idea of how long it takes for your water to cycle.
  • Any disposable gloves or containers you use, use them solely to be used for this and this alone. You don’t want to spread bacteria, especially if you have any children in the house.

How Do You Keep Algae From Growing In A Turtle Tank?

One of the biggest culprits of a messy, dirty turtle tank is algae. If you can put prevent it from growing in your tank, it will go a long way in helping to keep everything nice and clean.

Algae usually spawn pretty quickly in turtle tanks because of all the poo that turtles produce. Their feces contains tons of nutrients for algae to use to grow.

There are 4 things that you can do to either prevent algae from growing at all or to severely limit it:

  • Use a big enough tank.
  • Don’t keep your UV light on all the time.
  • Have a strong enough filter.
  • Use an aerator.

Make sure that your tank meets the general “10 gallons per inch of turtle shell” rule. You might think that in a smaller tank, your water quality will be easier to maintain, but the exact opposite is true. Water quality is easier to maintain in a bigger tank simply because of how messy turtles tend to be.

Algae needs UV light to grow, and if you keep your UV light on for too long, this could also contribute to its growth. All you need to do here is to make sure you don’t run your UV light for more than 12 hours a day. Certainly, don’t keep it on continuously!

A powerful enough filter actually does 2 things to help prevent algae from spreading:

  • It filters out waste.
  • It keeps the water moving.

Both of these factors have a huge effect on stopping the spread of algae.

Strong Turtle Filter

Make sure that your filter is rated at a level that exceeds the number of gallons that you use. Ideally, use a filter that is rated at double or triple the amount of gallons you have in your tank.

Another thing you can do is to use an aerator. This is basically a small device that pumps little oxygen bubbles into your tank. An aerator is not necessary to help prevent algae growth, but it is just one more thing you can use to combat it (it also makes tanks look nicer in my opinion).

If you’ve already got algae growth in your tank, you will need to do a bit of cleaning.

You’ll need a scrubber, and you’ll need to scrub any:

  • Rocks or large stones, algae loves to accumulate here.
  • Any decorations you may have in the tank, algae also grow here quickly.
  • Wash the insides of your tank.

Don’t put any type of chemical into your water, as this could hurt your turtle.

That’s basically it.

Summary

  • Get into the habit of cleaning your tank every day.
  • Do a deep clean every month or two.
  • Remember not to wash your filter with regular tap water, use the old tank water.
  • Make sure everything is bone dry before putting it all back to prevent any soap or chemical-residue from affecting your turtle.
  • Prevent algae from growing by using a big enough tank, keeping the UV light from exceeding 12 hours a day, and using a powerful enough filter and possibly an aerator.

About the Author

Hi, I'm J and I'm the chelonian-obsessed creator of this website. Feel free to leave a comment below, as unlike a snapping turtle, I promise I won't bite!

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