How Often Do You Clean A Turtle Shell?

How Often Do You Clean A Turtle Shell
Written by Emma Watson

The cleaning of turtles especially its shell depends upon the type of the turtle. Semi-aquatic turtles are most likely to be petted by owners than others.  

Semi-aquatic turtles and tort require shell cleaning on regular basis to prevent exogenous growth on it. Ideally, you should clean your turtles shell every fortnight. However, doing it once a month is also good.

To understand every aspect of cleaning you can go through the following tables:

For Turtles


You can change the water of the tank at least 25%
Every week

Regular Cleaning

Removal of the visible wastes leftover food, and dirt
Every day by skimming procedure

Deep Cleaning

Either the cleaning of the turtle’s shell or the tank
Once or twice a month.
For Tortoises

Box Cleaning

Changing of the substrate (replace the rocks). Habitat cleaning
Every month

Regular Cleaning

Removing waste Leftover food (if present)
Every day.

Shell Cleanliness In Land Turtles

Tortoises and semi-aquatic turtles require shell cleaning. You can do this by using a toothbrush.  Just simply take lukewarm water and brush the shell to clean it. Avoid using any cleaning agents because it is hazardous for turtles’ health. Maintenance of land turtles is very easy-going. Mostly you have to clean the waste of your tort.

Shell Cleanliness In Aquatic Turtles

Aquatic turtles do not require frequent cleaning. As turtles are in water all the time shells are continuously cleaning by themselves.  

But when it comes to cleaning their habitat. It is a bit difficult to maintain your pet turtle’s cleanliness. You must have to be careful because of the following reasons:

  1. Maintaining the pH balance.

Water has a pH of 7 which is neutral. The pH of substances less than 7 is acidic and more is basic. The water for turtles must have a pH between 6 to 8. Otherwise, your pet turtle cannot survive.

  1. Removing their waste which is floating in the water.

This can cause the bacteria in the waste to spread all around in the water.

  1. Dechlorinated water must be used.
  2. The use of any detergents and soaps can harm them.

Why Does My Turtle’s Shell Look Chalky White?

This happens when you have not cleaned your turtles’ tank. Water gets hard because of the minerals, calcium, salts, impurities, and waste. These minerals deposit on the shell of the turtle making it white. You can clean the shell by scrubbing it with the help of a soft-bristled toothbrush.

Hard Water / Mineral Deposits

Hard water can contains higher levels of minerals and metals.If you have hard water you may experience this more often then others.While generally not harmful it often looks unattractive and worrisome to owners.

What Can You Do To Help?

  • Add Driftwood
  • Add Peat Moss
  • Try To Keep Evaporation At A Minimum By Topping Off Frequently
  • Treat Water With Reptisafe
  • Use A soft Bristled Toothbrush and warm water to Gently Scrub the Shell Weekly
  • Then twice a month using a white vinegar/Water mix

Tank Cleaning

As the aquatic turtles do not require frequent shell cleaning. So, as an alternative, you can also clean your turtle’s tank. Simply remove the turtle from the tank. Remove the water wash the tank. You can also use bleach water to kill the bacteria in the tank. Wash it properly. Again fill it with dechlorinated water. Put the turtle back in the tank.

Can You Get Sick If The Tank Is Not Cleaned?

The tank requires proper cleaning. You should clean your pet turtle’s tank twice or thrice a week. Water is contaminated by the waste of the turtle. As turtles contain salmonella which they can easily pass on to you. If the tank has not been cleaned the salmonella can spread in the tank and the habitat. Your turtle can fall prey to salmonella. If you touch anything present in your turtle’s habitat you will also get infected by it.

Can Tap Water Be Used For Cleaning Purposes?

No, it is strongly prohibited to use tap water. Turtle’s habitat requires dechlorinated water. The tap water contains chlorine and some other substances as well. This can upset the pH balance which is required by the turtle.

Can Vinegar Be Used For Cleaning?

Vinegar can be used both for cleaning the tank and the shell. Vinegar is a diluted acid with 5% of acid and 95% of water.

For Tank

Remove the turtle and the water from the tank. Take a brush and diluted vinegar.  Clean the turtle’s tank with the brush. Wash again the tank. The tank is now cleaned.  You can now add water and put back the turtle inside the tank.

Vinegar Scrub


  • To Cleanse Shell
  • To Remove Algae
  • To Remove Mineral Deposits
  • To Help Aid Shedding By Loosening Scutes


Mix a solution of 50% white vinegar and 50% water together.Using a soft bristled toothbrush, dip into the solution, gently scrub your turtle’s shell with the dipped toothbrush.Rinse your turtle with water when finished and then return to anclosure.

Vinegar For Turtle's Shell

Take a small amount of either the apple cider vinegar or the white vinegar. Make a diluted solution of 50% of vinegar and 50% of water in a small bowl. Give the mixture 2-3 minutes before cleaning. Dry your turtle. Dip the small brush in the mixture and gently scrub the shell. All the bacteria or algae present on the shell will remove easily. After that wash your turtle with clean water.

Tip: Handle your turtle with care while scrubbing. Keep your fingers away from your turtle’s mouth. When you puck the turtle, they get stressed and can bite you as result.


Shedding is the process in which most reptiles replace their old skin with a new one. The old skin detaches from the body and the new skin is developed. Fluid is also formed between the new layer and the body.

In Turtles

Turtles shed their skin off just like most reptiles. This is also known as molding. Aquatic turtles are all the time present in water so the molding process is quite easy. Water makes the skin soft and thus makes it easy to shed.

In Tortoise

Tortoises that live on land shed their skin. Tortoise shedding is a bit different from snakes. A snake shed his skin in a single move. Tortoises on the other hand shed their shell’s skin in smaller pieces.

Can I Wash My Turtle While The Shedding Process?

Yes, you can wash your turtle while they are shedding. The shedding process is slower when your washing is less frequent. The skin shedding from the scutes and scales becomes faster when your wash and scrub them.


Don’t scrub the skin so forcefully that it gets peeled off.

Bathing Tank

Pour some water into a separate tank. The quality of the water must be less for the tortoises. Put your turtle/tort inside the tank. Allow him to get comfortable in the water for a few minutes because the turtle will get stressed. After putting him in the tank simply splash some water on the turtle. Take a smooth bristled brush for cleaning. Clean the turtle’s body including neck, plastron, legs, and shell. Shell is a hard surface so it can be cleaned easily. But your need to be careful when it comes to neck, plastron, and legs. Remove all the dirt present on the shell. Dry your turtle with a cotton pad or a soft towel.

If your tort doesn’t like bathing in a tank you can just simply clean it a brush scrubbing instead of soaking process.

Can I Use Soap For Cleaning The Turtle’s Shell?

No, you can not use any kind of soap. The soap contains different chemicals. Your turtle can induce these chemicals in the skin causing inflammation. It will destroy your turtle’s skin.

So, you simply wash your turtle with only clean and dechlorinated water.

How To Prevent Algae From Growing?

The algae growth can be stopped by taking the following measure:

  1. Limit the exposure to direct UVB light.
  2. Keep the water moving.Algae grow in still water.
  3. Remove the waste.Have a cleaner water habitat.

What Is Shell Rot?

Shell rot is a disease in turtles that occurs when kept in a dirty environment. It occurs by the influence of bacteria which is usually significant from waste. Thus bacteria can affect both the plastron and carapace’s blood vessels. It causes septicemic cutaneous ulcerative disease (SCUD). If the bacteria come in contact with the organs of the turtle it can prove to be fatal. Thus disease can also pass on to other turtles that come in contact which the infected one.

It can be defined as fungal, bacterial, or algal infections in the turtle’s shell. It has two types:

  1. Wet:

It is the dangerous of two. It often stinks and discharges. It can also lead to septicemia.

  1. Dry:

It doesn’t discharge. It is in the form of white patches on the turtle’s shell.

Its treatment is done by applying antibiotic creams in the case of severe infection. An antibiotic named silver sulfazadine cream is given preference. Ceftazadine injections are also used.

If your turtle is suffering from mild rot shell. You can clean the turtle shell. In this case you can apply a mild soap to wash the shell of your pet turtle. Use a brush such as a baby brush or an old toothbrush for scrubbing. Gently scrub the shell otherwise it will cause further damage.

Why Does My Turtle Stink?

Turtles usually don’t stink on their own. Stinking is due to the following major reasons:

  1. Contaminated tank water.
  • Presence of waste material.
  • Presence of ammonia, nitrites.
  1. Presence of algae.
  2. Presence of molten shells of turtles.
  3. Still water always stinks.
  4. Your turtle might be infected by a rot shell.
  5. Presence of any rotting food.
  6. Turtles are messy aquatic organisms. They will mess up the habitat if not tamed.

Advantages Of Cleaning Turtle Shell

  1. By cleaning your turtle will be able to rehydrate themselves.
  2. Cleaning of shell removes the mineral deposit on their shell. In this way the basking of turtles is enhanced and more affective.
  3. Your turtle will never fall a prey to any disease.
  4. Their life can increase.


Cleaning a turtle’s shell is one of the rituals in your turtle healthy up bringing. I hope this article helped you get the deal done in the easiest way possible. In case of any further query, you may contact us or comment below. We would be happy to help.