My Turtles Shell Looks Dry main pic

If your turtle’s shell looks dry, it’s probably because of one of these three reasons. And fortunately, they are all easy fixes!

Why Does My Turtle’s Shell Look Dry?

Let’s get straight to it.

If your turtle’s shell looks dry, it’s likely going to be because of one of 3 reasons; hard water mineral deposits or retained scutes or the wrong humidity. Luckily, they are all relatively easy to fix. Here’s how.

Let’s start with hard water mineral deposits.

Your Turtle’s Shell Is Dry From Hard Water Deposits

Hard water is essentially water with a relatively larger amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in it.

It is often found in the Western half of the United States, in states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, and Nevada, but can be found in parts all over the country.

A lot of the water found in wells is also quite hard.

Now that being said, hard water is completely safe to drink. For you and your turtle.

In fact, there is some evidence that hard water may, in fact, be good for your health. There are very few studies on the effect hard water has on the health of animals, however, according to this study, rabbits who drank from hard-chlorinated water had less plaque build-up in their arteries than rabbits who drank from distilled water.

Potential health benefits aside, it just looks bad.

So, how do you know hard-water is the reason your turtle’s shell looks dry?

If it’s from hard-water, you’ll be able to see white residue on your turtle’s shell when it dries off. This can be especially pronounced after recent water changes. If you lightly scratch it, it should come off.

Now, how do you fix it? You’ll need to take a couple of steps.

  1. Start putting mineral spring water in your tank OR
  2. Treat your water with a conditioner first. You can get this turtle water conditioner for $3.

Once you start doing that, your turtle should be exposed less often to hard-water, however, it still probably has that chalky residue stuck on its shell. A method I recommend is:

  • Mix some apple cider vinegar (a few tablespoons) in a bowl with mineral spring water.
  • Use an old toothbrush and lightly scrub your turtle’s shell.
  • Let your turtle dry off completely, and then put it back into your aquarium.

I wrote a more in-depth article on specifically hard-water and turtle shells, which you can find here if you’re interested.

Your Turtle’s Shell Looks Dry From Retained Scutes

Retained scutes could be another reason for your turtle’s dry shell. A “scute” is just another part of your turtle’s shell.

To the untrained eye, these are a bit tougher to spot, however, if you know what you are looking for you can easily tell.

Retained scutes are basically scutes that refuse to fall off. As your turtle grows and sheds, the outer scute will fall off and be replaced by the underneath scute.

With a retained scute, the outer old scute simply refuses to fall off.

You can tell your turtle has retained scutes when parts of your turtle’s shell look very brittle. These areas will look like they will break or shatter when you press on them (but they probably won’t). They should have a white, clear quality and you might be able to see your turtle’s healthy scutes underneath.

Retained scutes usually happen due to improper nutrition or a faulty UV-light.

Whatever you do, don’t force your turtle’s scutes off! Even if they look really brittle and thin, if they refuse to budge, don’t force them to. This will end up causing more damage than just keeping them there.

Now, how do you fix retained scutes?

First of all, you need to be patient. It took a while for your turtle to develop its retained scutes. It is going to take a bit of time to get rid of them.

Basically, you’ll need to make sure that your turtle’s living environment and diet are all correct.

  1. Replace any old (older than 6 months to a year) UV bulbs. UV-bulbs lose their ability to produce UV rays quite fast. This is called the “rate of decay”. Without adequate UV, your turtle won’t be able to produce vitamin D3.
  2. Make sure your basking spot is completely dry. A turtle that cannot 100% dry off its shell is a turtle that is just asking for a bad health condition.
  3. Make sure your turtle’s diet is on point. Ensure that it is getting its needed nutrients almost every day. Good vegetables too. Good questions are greens, kale, red-leaf lettuce, cooked carrots, and sweet potato.
  4. Start feeding your turtle wheat germ Koi pellets (click here to see the current price on Amazon) at least once a week. This will help speed up your turtle’s shedding process. Turtle owners use them specifically for this reason. They are totally safe and are chock full of nutrients and vitamins.

It’s Dry Due To A Lack of Humidity

If your turtle’s shell isn’t dry because of hard-water or retained scutes, it could be from the wrong temperature settings.

In my experience, this happens more often with box turtles, but it can also happen to semi-aquatic species like sliders as well.

In my experience, this is a lot less likely, however, humidity is one of the most overlooked aspects of proper turtle care.

If the humidity in your turtle’s habitat is at the wrong setting for long enough, it could pose health risks beyond a mere dry shell.

Below is a table contained the most popular pet turtle species and their required humidity setting. Make sure when you take the temperature that you also take the humidity setting as well.

Species NameBasking TemperatureAir TemperatureAir Humidity
Red-eared slider85 - 95 degrees Fahrenheit70 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit60-70%
Painted Turtle 85 - 95 degrees Fahrenheit70- 85 degrees Fahrenheit70-80%
Box Turtle70 - 80 degrees Fahrenheit85 - 90 degrees Fahrenheit60 - 80% (depending on species)


  • If your turtle’s shell looks dry, it is mostly due to hard water mineral deposits or retained scutes, especially if it is an aquatic species.
  • For box turtles, it could also be due to incorrect humidity or environmental settings.
  • Make sure your UV-light bulb is up-to-date and you are feeding your turtle a nutritious, balanced diet.

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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