This is the Reason Your Turtle Tank Gets Cloudy
Copyright: famveldman / 123RF Stock Photo

You have a new filter in a tank with fresh-water and before you know it, the water is already dirty! This is the reason your turtle tank gets cloudy.

Why Is My Turtle Tank Water Cloudy?

Here’s the short answer:

Your turtle tank is cloudy because the water chemistry is unbalanced. This is usually caused by an excess of bacteria in the water. It can also be caused by your substrate.

And here’s the good news:

Unless you have done something wrong, your cloudy water will fix itself.

If you are more of a visual learner, you can check out my video that explains the main reasons why your turtle tank is cloudy.

Unbalanced water chemistry

When your turtle tank gets cloudy, it means that your water is unbalanced, however, depending on the circumstances, this could be due to different things.

Below are the two main reasons why your turtle tank is cloudy:

  • Your tank is new and it is experiencing new tank syndrome
  • There is a chemical imbalance in the water due to bacteria

How to fix a cloudy turtle tank

There are four main ways to fix a cloudy turtle tank. You can upgrade your filter, clean your filter, do a 50% water change, or use a water conditioner.

If you haven’t cleaned your filter in a while, I suggest you watch my video below:

While cloudy tanks don’t necessarily need to be fixed right away, you should take immediate action if your turtle develops a white substance on its shell.

turtle with white residue

I would suggest checking out one of the products below which can help improve your cloudy water’s chemistry.

Best Products for a Cloudy Turtle Tank

Fluker’s Eco Clean Turtle Tank Cleaner

This solution is awesome. It helps dilute organic waste and reduces odor in your turtle tank. It also helps your filter become more efficient.

API ACCU-CLEAR Water clarifier

If your turtle tank isn’t smelly, then this your best choice. It is designed specifically to clear up cloudy turtle tanks.

Turtle Sludge Destroyer

sludge destroyer for turtle tank

This is a great option if you have a lot of built up organic waste in your cloudy tank. I recommend this if you have a lot of live plants.

Can a Cloudy Turtle Tank Cause Respiratory Infection?

Unfortunately, a cloudy tank that has dangerous bacteria can cause a respiratory infection, as you can see in the video below:

However, you should know that it is very common for new tanks to have cloudy water initially. If you turtle tank has a bad odor, you should check out my article on Why Does My Turtle Tank Stink?

How Long Does Cloudy Water Last In A New Aquarium?

If you recently changed out your water, or you’ve just got a new tank and it shortly thereafter becomes cloudy, the reason is something called “New Tank Syndrome” or “NTS”.

how to fix a cloudy turtle tank

Regardless of whether you put tap water or distilled or purified water into your tank, that water isn’t coming from an environment full of fish, crayfish and other creatures and plants. You aren’t drinking water straight from a pond or lake. It’s bacteria-free.

Turtles, however, are incredibly messy creatures. This means that they poo. A lot. And make a mess of everything everywhere they go.

Everything begins with the turtle starting to produce waste in the tank’s clean water. This turtle poo will be consumed by beneficial bacteria that cultures and forms inside of your filter.

Like I noted above, however, turtles produce a lot of waste, and in the initial days and weeks, there just aren’t enough beneficial bacteria that have been built up in your filter to rapidly and properly consume all the turtle waste being produced. Your turtle’s waste simply exceeds the growth of the bacteria.

Ammonia and nitrite levels then start to build-up, and voila, you’ve got yourself a very cloudy tank.

So, what is the fix?

The best thing to do is to fix a cloudy turtle tank is to simply wait until the water can properly cycle.

This is going to take some time, however. It will generally take a few days up until a few weeks, depending on how much water you have, the size and power of your filter and other things.

However, if you’ve got everything working right, it will clear up as soon as the bacteria growth reaches a point where it can easily consume all the waste your turtle produces.

You should also know that sometimes having live plants in your turtle tank will make it more cloudy. If you suspect your live plants are causing the problem, you should consider getting fake plants. My favorite plastic turtle plants can be bought from Petco for under $6. You can click the photo below for more details.

How Long Does New Tank Syndrome Last?

  1. By using purified water or any water that isn’t treated with chlorine, such as tap water. Chlorine is wonderful at destroying bacteria. That’s why it is used in swimming pools and put into our water treatment systems. It is terrible for turtles (and especially fish) as it wipes out all bacteria, both beneficial and harmful. If you do use tap water, it will probably take a bit longer to cycle.
  2. Aerate your water. A low oxygen level is one of the things that will inhibit the growth of good bacteria in your tank, especially as ammonia and nitrite levels build up. By aerating your water, you can help speed up this process. An easy way to aerate your water is by getting an air pump. You can find some for under $10 here.
  3. Properly clean your filter. Make sure you follow the directions to a T when cleaning your filter. By cleaning your filter under a running faucet you are most likely destroying all of the beneficial bacteria that have built-up.

I always have a cloudy turtle tank?

If, on the other hand, your water or tank or filter isn’t new, and your water is continually cloudy, this suggests the problem isn’t NTS but recurring.

The first thing you should do is check your filter:

  • Is it powerful enough for your tank?
  • Is it working properly / is anything on it broken?
  • Are you cleaning it improperly?
  • If none of these are the problem, the problem may then be that you are performing water changes too frequently.

Here’s what happens.

You notice that the water is cloudy, full of ammonia and nitrites, so you either replace all or some of it. It looks clear and clean briefly, but then shortly goes cloudy again. This is because you are wiping out all of the good, beneficial bacteria that are starting to build up. The less water that you change, at least initially, the better. You need to give the bacteria time to build-up and flourish.

This is because your water’s pH water level probably plunged after your water change. This is why it is important to regularly check the pH level of your turtle tank. You can buy a digital pH tester that you can leave in your turtle tank. The digital tester is great because it also measures the temperature of the water.

When the pH level of your water drops < 6, ammonia is unable to be properly metabolized. And as your turtle keeps producing waste, and you keep changing too much water before the bacteria culture can really grow, the problem recurs. You can verify this by checking the ammonia and nitrite levels.

What Should The Levels Be In A Freshwater Tank?

If your tank water is properly-cycled, your water chemistry numbers should be as follows:

  • pH >6 <9
  • Chlorine and ammonia level of 0
  • Nitrite level of < .5 ppm
  • Nitrate level of < 40 ppm

You don’t want a high level of ammonia in your tank. Turtles are fairly hardy creatures and are able to endure quite a bit, but swimming and living in water with high levels of ammonia can burn their eyes and make them uncomfortable. If the level gets really high bad things can eventually start to happen.

High ammonia levels are even worse for fish, which are far more sensitive. Whereas turtles may be irritated by it, fish will simply die.

Here are a few things you can do to speed up the bacteria cycle and keep your water looking pristine and clear.

Use an Aquarium Vacuum

An aquarium vacuum is a great way to help keep your water clean. A vacuum actually does 2 things at once; it vacuums up bits of waste on the bottom of the tank and does a partial water change every time you use it.

To be honest, these are not really needed unless you have a big tank (as in 75+ gallons) and/or you have a lot going on in your tank. If your tank is rather bare, it’s not really worth it.

That being said, they do help to keep the water clean.

Add Working Fish

Working fish are fish that eat algae and consume leftover bits of food and waste in your tank. Some catfish do this, as do plecos, otos, and ghost fish.

These fish are great at KEEPING your water balanced, BUT there are a few caveats here.

First, your water needs to be already fairly well-balanced prior to putting them in. Fish are much more sensitive to ammonia levels than turtles. These fish tend to be a bit more hardy than other types, but if your tank is very cloudy, it could lead to their early death.

Ghost shrimp are probably not a good choice, as turtles love to eat them.

I would highly recommend only using one or two of these at a time, as the more creatures that swim and live in your tank, the more ammonia is produced. Adding a bunch at the same time is not a good idea.

If you do decide to add fish, you will need to aerate your tank first.

Secondly, you need to be very careful that they don’t end up as turtle food. Turtles will try to eat anything smaller than them, and even if something is bigger, they will probably still get in a nip or two.

Thus, you will need to have hideouts, stones or plants in your tank so that your fish can hide.

You should also avoid any type of fish that are armored or have defensive mechanisms that can injure your turtle.

Add Bacteria Supplements and/or UV Sterilizers

Water Conditioners / Bacteria Supplements

If your turtle tank gets cloudy, adding a water conditioner is one of the best things you can do to get your tank balanced. You buy very cheap water conditioners here.

These are tablets that dissolve in your tank and remove chlorine, so if you use tap water, these are a must. Some of them also remove ammonia.

Some of them also contain starter cultures of beneficial bacteria, which can really boost the bacteria balance in your tank.

These are good to use immediately after cleaning your tank filter or when doing a complete or half water change. You should use them while your turtle is in the tank, as the bacteria needs to consume your turtle’s waste in order to remain alive.

UV Sterilizers

Opposite to bacteria supplements and water conditioners, UV sterilizers are better at keeping your water clean, rather than doing the work of the initial tank cycle period. UV Sterilizers are very efficient and are a great way to keep your turtle tank water clean. If you are interested in getting one, I recommend buying this one from amazon.

These work by killing and damaging the reproductive ability of bad bacteria, algae, viruses and more than passes through the UV light that is produced, which is usually somewhere around the water flow. A lot of canister filters these days have them, such as the Sun-Sun line.

They work well for larger tanks.


  • Often a turtle tank gets cloudy because the water is unbalanced.
  • To combat NTS, you just need to be patient.
  • If the problem is recurring, check your filter, the ammonia levels and the type of water you use
    consider using UV sterilizers, water conditioners, bacteria supplements, aquarium vacuums and working fish to combat the problem.