Cloudy Turtle Tank Water? Don’t Make These 4 Mistakes!

Apr 18, 2021

cloudy turtle tank water

Your new, expensive filter is up and running. You just performed a water change a couple of days ago. 

But the small fog that formed in the corner is now slowly enveloping the tank. And you already know what’s next. So, frustrating, right?

Don’t worry – today, I’ll dissect the reason behind cloudy turtle tanks and tell you exactly how to solve this recurrent problem. 

The Truths Behind Cloudy Turtle Tank Water

The unbalanced water level is the number one cause behind cloudy turtle tank water. In a newly established or an upset tank, if the nitrogen cycle isn’t yet formed or is unstable due to ammonia and nitrite, it leads to a spike in the number of harmful bacteria and their by-products – giving the tank a cloudy appearance. 

To be honest, turtles aren’t the cleanest reptiles we know. They feed and poop in the water – polluting the tank so very often. And if you fail to take proper cleanliness actions on time, things can go south pretty quickly. 

Let’s discuss the leading causes behind the cloudy tank to see which one’s the culprit in your case. 

Top 4 Mistakes That Cause Cloudy Turtle Tank Water 

As I explained above, the most common causes behind this cloudy ordeal are new tank syndrome, an ineffective filtration system, and a poor tank environment. These 3 events lead to the destruction of good bacteria – leading to a spike of harmful gasses like nitrite and ammonia. 

New Tank Syndrome

If your newly set up tank is getting cloudy, most probably you’ve got a case of New Tank Syndrome (NTS). And by newly set tank, I don’t just mean a brand new one. This term also applies to tanks that just had their water changed. 

So, this happens when the biochemical properties of the tank haven’t been established yet. Several processes like chemical balance, beneficial bacterial colonization, and natural cycles have to be completed before the tank is finally ‘established.’ 

And once your tank completes all these processes, substantial growth of good bacteria colony will break down ammonia and nitrite into relatively safer nitrate that can be removed with water changes. 

However, this doesn’t mean you should perform another water change. The best thing to do is leave the tank to its own devices. This process can take anywhere between a few days to a couple of weeks. The time duration depends on your filter’s strength, the tank’s size, the tank’s population, and so on. 

If you perform water changes every time the tank gets cloudy, you’ll be establishing new cycles again and again. The key here is to wait and just wait. 

And once the good bacterial colony is established correctly, the cloudy water can turn crystal clear overnight like magic!

Poor Tank Environment 

Unfortunately, cloudy turtle tank water isn’t just exclusive to new tanks. It can be a persistent problem in old setups as well. And the reason behind this is the poor tank environment.

A dirty turtle tank
A dirty turtle tank

To begin with, turtles are super messy creatures. They poop only twice or thrice a week, but they do poop in good volumes. 

And on top of that, turtles also prefer eating in water. Chewing, spitting, floating bits – the tank will inevitably get dirty in just a few days.

This just doesn’t contribute to cloudy formations but also pungent smell and slimy films at the top. 

As you have already guessed by now, this is due to the protein buildup from uneaten and digested food and poop floating around in the water. Next, before you know, nitrite and ammonia levels rise, and your tank will look cloudy once again. 

Frequent Water Changes 

Performing water changes frequently is an innocent attempt at getting rid of a cloud tank that almost always backfires. Initially, the water will look clean and clear. But within a few hours or so, the clouds will once again start engulfing your tank.

Why?

Because when you are performing frequent water changes, you’re wiping out all the good bacteria colonies. And by now, you already know what that leads to, right?

Inefficient Filtration 

The last culprit behind cloudy turtle tank water on our list today is an inefficient filtration mechanism. Since turtle tanks are almost always big in size and these reptiles can get quite messy, any ordinary filter won’t do. 

Here’s an excellent value-for-money filter by Penn-Plax that is suitable for tanks ranging from 30 to 200 gallons. 

The flow valves that rotate 360 degrees can clean the gunk from even the smallest nook and cranny. And on top of that, there are 3 large media baskets you can customize to meet your tank’s needs precisely. 

On the whole, this seems like a great product. If you don’t take my word for it, don’t forget to check the reviews on Amazon! 

Now that being said, no filter is the one-stop solution for cloudy and dirty tanks. You need to clean the filter around two times every month. 

Otherwise, the buildup of waste and other decayed materials on the filter will promote algae growth, foul odor, and cloudy tank!

Even worse, when overrun, the filter will push out the waste it is supposed to contain and pollute your tank. 

So, from my own experience and knowledge, these are the top 4 mistakes responsible for cloudy turtle tank water. What do you think is the case for you?

Since it’s clear that unbalanced water levels, triggered through different mistakes, is the root cause of cloudy turtle tank, let’s find out what the ideal water level look like?

Suggested Readings:

How Do Turtles Breathe? Butt-Breathing to Breathing Without Oxygen: A Turtle’s Unique Respiratory Abilities

Do Turtles Eat Goldfish? What Happens If They Do?

Can Turtles Get High? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Get High in Your Turtle’s Presence

What’s The Best Water Parameter For Turtles?

When the water’s pH level drops below 6, ammonia cannot metabolize properly. Thus, the ideal pH level for your pet turtle’s tank should be between 6 to 9. Likewise, nitrite level should be below 0.5ppm, and nitrate level should be less than 40 ppm. And you should try to achieve null levels of chlorine and ammonia. 

Swimming in water with a high concentration of ammonia will burn your turtle’s eyes. The same is the case for chlorine. 

And not just eyes – wrong water parameters can pave the way for other health complications like respiratory and ear infections, shell rot, etc. 

That’s why you should build a habit of regularly checking the tank’s pH levels. You can either buy pH test strips or get a digital pH tester for that. 

Personally, I love the latter because it also displays the water temperature.

Now let’s look at some practical solutions to treat cloudy tanks. 

5 Ways To Treat Cloudy Turtle Tank Water 

Although prevention is better than cure, there are many ways to treat cloudy turtle tank water. Using a vacuum, UV sterilizers, and bacteria supplements can treat the water once the damage is done. On flip side, instilling habits like feeding in a different area and cleaning the tank regularly are two key preventive measures. 

Sea turtle
Sea turtle

Feed Your Turtle In A Different Area

You know how unsightly the tank looks after your turtle’s feeding and pooping session. Thus, one effective way to keep your tank cleaner and cloudless for a long time is to feed your pet reptile in a different watered container.

Turtles prefer eating and excreting in water because it helps them with chewing and digestion. Hence, you shouldn’t deprive them of water during these processes. But what you can do is transfer your pet into another small tub or container and keep them there until they’ve eaten and pooped. 

I assume you know the answer to how long does your pet take to poop after eating. It can take anywhere between 5 minutes to an hour. 

But if you think it’s a hassle to move them every time, you will need to upgrade to a filter that can tackle extra waste and bio-load. This is because most commercially available turtle foods break apart easily and quickly pollute the water. 

Introduce Working Fish 

Working fish are a great natural alternative to tackle cloudy turtle tank water. They can eat up algae and leftover bits of food. However, adding fish to a turtle tank is tricky and sometimes taxing work.

First of all, not all fish go well with turtles. Your pet will try to eat anything smaller than them. And even bigger fishes can end up with torn, nipped fins and tails. 

Fish like Otos and Plecos can be good options since they excel at eating algae and scavenging leftovers from the tank’s bottom. If there are enough hiding places in the tank, Ghost Shrimps also make a great candidate. 

Irrespective of what fish you add, just make sure that there’s plenty of hideouts, stones, and plants to take refuge in.

And just add a couple of fish in one go. If there’s a big school of fish, the tables will turn. Your turtle will be at the receiving end of bullying. 

Also, there are a couple of other things you should do before adding fish. Make sure the water is well-aerated and the water parameters are acceptable for the fish. Adding a fish to a highly cloudy tank and expecting it to clean it up won’t work well. 

Clean Your Filter Regularly

Everything else you do to get rid of the clouds will go to waste if you don’t clean your tank often. Most people clean their tanks every week or every other week. The frequency depends on the tank’s size, population, and filtration system in place.

Filters assure that there’s a proper flow of biochemical processes to break down the waste into less harmful forms. However, you still need to manually get rid of the debris that gets collected. Doing this regularly will undoubtedly help to reduce the appearance of a cloudy turtle tank. 

Here’s a quick 5-step explainer on how to clean your filter:

  • Remove the filter from your tank. The processes are different for submersible and canister filters. 
  • Wash the filter thoroughly outdoors or in the sink.
  • Take out the filter media. But make sure you don’t forget to keep the biological media in a small bucket of the tank water, so the good bacteria don’t get destroyed. 
  • Wash the filter media thoroughly to remove waste, gunk, and debris until water begins to run clear. If the media is too old or torn, you can simply replace it with a new one. 
  • Keep the media back in the filter and assemble. 

Use An Aquarium Vacuum 

If you use gravel substrate in your turtle’s enclosure, you might want to invest in a gravel vacuum that will suck up all the debris trapped underneath the surface. However, vacuums also perform partial water changes every time you use them. So, make sure you don’t overuse it. 

These vacuums are particularly well suited for tanks above 70 gallons. 

I don’t personally use one as I don’t have gravel substrate, but here’s one I picked from Amazon for those of you who do.

An excellent value for money, this vacuum by Luigi offers a 100% moneyback guarantee and has some rave reviews by real customers. 

Add Bacteria Supplements And UV Sterilizers 

If there’s a recurrent cloudy turtle tank water problem, maybe it’s time to explore other avenues like bacterial supplements and UV sterilizers. 

Bacterial supplements usually come in tablet form and dissolve in the tank. And they work by removing chlorine and ammonia to some extent. These are very cheap yet super trustworthy.

These tablets by Tetra last for up to 60 days. 

Another great option is a UV sterilizer. 

I bought one a couple of years back, and I must say, it was quite worth it.

These sophisticated machines work by eliminating and damaging the reproductive potential of algae, viruses, and bacteria through the UV light that passes through the water. 

They’re best suited for bigger tanks.  

These compact, ready-to-install sterilizers from SunSun don’t need any additional tubing or the circulation pump. Moreover, the built-in pump directs waterborne organisms past the UV-C lamp for pristine results. 

Conclusion On Cloudy Turtle Tank Water

That was quite a long article, wasn’t it? But I wanted to make sure that you don’t consume only half the information.

Here’s the final recap of all the essential bits:

Cloudy turtle tank water is a common occurrence all turtle owners face from time to time. The main reason behind this is water unbalance in the tank.

And the reason behind this water imbalance can be many. For instance, in a newly established tank, good bacteria aren’t well-formed and flourishing. Thus, they can’t get rid of ammonia and nitrites.

Likewise, constant water changes, incapable filtration systems, and poor tank environments are also to blame for this.

While cloudy tanks aren’t right away harmful to your pet, long-term exposure can lead to complicated infections and rots.

Thus, make sure that you keep the tank clean, the filtration system is fine, and be patient. If cloudy tanks are recurring problems for you, you can upgrade your filter or buy a suitable UV sterilizer to help you out!

Relevant Readings:

Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp? This is What Happens if They Don’t Have One

How Often Do Turtles Poop? Everything You Need to Know About Turtle’s Poop

What Do Box Turtles Do in the Winter? Here’s How You Can Help

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.