How to Clean Turtle Shell? The Organic Way to Clean a Turtle Shell.

Apr 21, 2021

How to Clean Turtle Shell

If you think your turtle is inside the water all the time and there’s no need for him to be washed, you are wrong. Turtles, too, need to take a shower and be scrubbed – especially their shells. The turtle’s shell has a large surface area, which attracts impurity deposits from the tank. These kinds of deposits for more lengthened periods have dire consequences on the turtle’s health.

That is why you need to clean the turtle’s shell when it gets dirty. Let me tell you how to clean turtle shells.

But first,

3 Reasons Behind Dirty Turtle Shell

While there are several reasons behind dirty turtle shells, the three most recurrent ones are a strong presence of minerals in the water, algae outbreak in the tank, and fungal infection.

How to clean a turtle shell
A turtle shell

Presence Of Minerals in Water

The tap water that we have access to at our homes is most probably hard. Thus, there’s no doubt that it’ll contain considerable deposits of minerals and calcium. And prolonged use of this kind of water in your turtle tank will lead to the deposit of these minerals in the shell.

Tank Has Too Many Algae Blooms

Having algae isn’t bad, but too much of it comes with few downsides. Algae stick in a turtle’s shell easily. Sometimes, algae even cover the whole of the turtle’s shell. In adverse cases, this even increases the turtle’s body weight, causing them discomfort while swimming. Algae also create a suitable ground for bacteria and fungus to grow on the turtle’s shell. Therefore, you need to clean the turtle’s shell when there’s frequent algae outbreak in the tank.

Your Turtle Has A Fungal Infection On Its Shell

Shell rot and fungal infection occur when the turtle’s habitat isn’t well equipped to fight the impurities. Once developed, these fungi and shell rot quickly spread all over the shell and make it brittle and weak. A softshell means degradation of your turtle’s health. So, to treat fungal infection and shell rot, you need to clean your turtle shell.

Now that you know the three main reasons, let’s look at their solutions one by one.

Cleaning Hard Water Spots On Turtle’s Shell

Before cleaning, you need to know whether the tank water is hard or soft. To know, fill a plastic bottle with water halfway and close the lid. Next, shake it for 5 seconds and see whether the water bubbles form or not.

If there’s a bubble in the upper half of your bottle, then it is soft water. And if there’s significantly less amount of bubble in the upper half, along with cloudy water in the bottom part, it is hard water.

The hard water’s minerals and calcium get mixed while shaking, resulting in cloudy water.

Now, if you are using hard water for your turtle’s tank, white spots will inevitably develop on your turtle’s shell. Keep the turtle in a dry area and see which color the shell forms. If the color is dull with a white texture, that’s hard water spots that need cleaning.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on cleaning spots formed by minerals:

  • You need to get a plastic tub that is large enough to fit your turtle. Fill it with a few cups of distilled water. The temperature of the water can be anywhere from 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • We recommend you do not use any conditioner, soap or products for cleaning. These manufactured products often have coats like wax, which traps the deposits inside while glowing outside. Also, the turtle’s skin can react badly to the chemicals present in the soap, causing irritation and sickness. So, just a few drops of vinegar with water is enough to act as a detergent for cleaning the turtle’s shell.
  • Use an old toothbrush with a soft bristle to avoid any harsh contact with your turtle’s shell. Turtle’s shell is a part of their body, and they can easily sense your touch.
  • Now gently scrub every area with the brush. You can rub these spots for about 2 minutes. A prolonged period of scrubbing can cause the natural coats of its shell to fall off.
  • After the brushing, pour water over your turtle to clean off the scrubbed areas.
  • Turtles have salmonella bacteria in their body, so wash your hands after touching a turtle. The water you used for treating and keeping turtle needs to be flushed immediately. This way, you keep you and your family safe from salmonella bacteria.
  • Now, you also need to change your tank’s hard water with distilled or treated water. Keep in mind that the tank’s water has been built over several weeks or months. So, your turtle is already habituated with it. You need to replace the tank water gradually, allowing your turtle to adapt to treated water.
  • To change the hard water, you need to take out your turtle from its tank and put it in a plastic tub. Use a water conditioner to treat the minerals of the hard water. Here’s a water conditioner that I use for treating my turtle’s tank water.

What I like the best about this conditioner is that it’s specially formulated for turtles – making it possible for them to remain in the tank when using it.

You need to know the ratio of the conditioner and water before using it. Usually, 1 ml of conditioner per 0.5 gallons is recommended by the manufacturers. If your turtle’s tank houses 30 gallons of water, you will require 60ml of conditioner to treat it.

Benefits Of Using Conditioner

One of the most prominent benefits of the water conditioner is that it eliminates and breaks down the water’s organic matter. These organic matters like ammonia and nitrate have an adverse effect on your turtle’s health. So partial weekly treatment of water is necessary for your turtle to thrive in its habitat.

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Cleaning Turtle’s Shell Algae

Most often, algae growth in a turtle’s shell is expected in the wild. But if you see algae growth in your captive turtle as well, don’t worry – it’s quite normal too. However, too much algae growth hints at a more significant problem in a tank.

There are two types of algae that you may see in your turtle’s shell. One is the long and slimy algae, and another is the carpet moss-like algae.

As I mentioned earlier, algae’s presence in a turtle’s shell is an invitation to bacteria and parasites. Mainly, the longer and slimy algae are fatal than the short carpet-like algae. These algae make the shell moist and prevent your turtle from absorbing heat while basking.

So why do these kinds of algae grow in your turtle’s shell?

First, they are present in your tank, which is why they have attached themselves to your turtle’s shell. Turtles like deep diving and passing through plants inside the tank. During this deep dive, the weeds and algae attach to the turtle’s body and stick there.

There’s constant movement in the water in the wild, so the water’s current washes away these algae attached to the turtle’s body. However, things are different when there’s no current in the flow strong enough to wash away these algae. So you need to scrub off these algae from the turtle’s body.

How to clean a turtle shell

How to Clean Algae Off The Turtle’s Shell?

  • Take your turtle out from its tank and place it in a plastic tub. Place the tub in the kitchen sink. Make sure the water is luke-warm before pouring over the turtle.
  • Now, open the faucet and let the water run over your turtle’s shell.
  • Use an old, soft toothbrush to scrub over the turtle’s shell. Be gentle while scrubbing because turtles can feel even the slightest touch on their shell. Hold him as he will try to escape while brushing. Do not overdo the brushing part because it might scrub away its natural scutes from the shell.
  • Again, turn on the faucet and clean the shell.
  • Sanitize the kitchen sink and flush the washed water down the toilet drain to prevent salmonella.

How to Clean Off Algae From Your Turtle’s Tank?

If your turtle tank has too much algae growth, it’s an obvious sign something is wrong with your tank. Wrong water temperatures – either it is too hot or too cold – can cause the growth of algae in the tank.

You also need to check on your filter. Sometimes, due to wear and tear, filters do not function properly, causing profuse growth of algae in the tank. The impurities in the tank water make the water cloudy, and algae growth gets boosted. Clean the filter at least monthly.

Here’s how you can clean your tank to prevent algae growth:

  • Take an algae scraper and algae pad. Scrub the algae stains with it. It would help if you got a plastic razor blade for the stubborn algae mark. Using the blade, carefully scrape algae off the glass.
  • Next, move unto cleaning the aquarium gravel. Use a water siphon to vacuum away the debris. The vacuum will stir up the debris, and algae will float. Then the vacuum will remove the algae without soaking up the substrate.
  • If you use large rocks as decors, take them out and clean using bleach and dry them thoroughly before putting them back into the tank.

Why Do Turtles Suffer From Shell Rot?

Shell rot in turtles happens because of fungal infection in the turtle’s shell. The most likely causes of shell rots are poor water condition, poor lighting, poor diet and algae deposition on the turtle’s shell.

How Do You Know If Your Turtle Has Shell Rot?

In the initial phase of shell rot, you will notice white spots on the shell. Gradually, the shell’s texture becomes soft, and you will see some parts of the shell missing. Eventually, in a severe rot shell, the skin of the shell becomes visible.

How To Treat A Shell Rot In A Turtle?

Shell rot is a catastrophic illness in a turtle. It would be best to treat it immediately once you encounter the first signs, like white spotting on the shell.

Use a turtle shell saver to treat your turtle’s shell. Here’s one which has been highly recommended in turtle forums.

If the improvement is not seen even after weeks, then you should do the following.

  • First, take your turtle out from its tank and keep it completely dry.
  • Get a povidone-iodine 10% solution or a normal Betadine.
  • Use a Q-Tip to dissolve into the solution and spread it on the infected spots.
  • Be mindful that you do not spread it into the turtle’s eyes, ears or mouth. It can irritate your turtle. So, spot treatment should be followed.
  • After treating with Betadine solution, keep your turtle in a dry basking area for a couple of hours to let the solution be soaked into the shell. Using UV lights speeds up this drying process.
  • A rotten shell needs to be kept dry as possible. If you see your turtle yearning for water, keep it at least for an hour so that the treatment is fully effective.
  • Continue this process until the shell rot is completely treated.
  • While you are treating your turtle for shell rot, you also need to research and make amends about your turtle’s habitat and dietary plan.
  • For habitat, make sure the turtle has enough space for swimming. Horizontal length in the tank is preferred over vertical depth. Opt for better filtration to prevent the growth of algae in the tank.
  • As for basking area, put a UV light which emits both UVA and UVB ray. Unlike us, turtles benefit significantly from the UVB rays. If your UV light is older than a year, it’s time that you replace it with a new one. Make sure that the basking area is arid for your turtle to fully rest without getting its shell moist.
  • For diet, provide an all-around enriched nutritional diet that’ll help with the overall development of your turtle. Include Kale, meat, pellets, shrimp feeds and other high nutrition value food in your turtle’s diet.

Final Words On How To Clean Turtle Shell

A turtle’s shell is your turtle’s haven. A turtle’s shell isn’t a distinct part of its body. Whenever a turtle’s shell is hurt or damaged, it has severe repercussions on its health. This is the reason why cleaning a turtle’s shell regularly is key to its health.

Relevant Readings:

Why Do Turtles Dig Holes? 7 Surprising Reasons Your Turtle Is Digging Holes

Does Box Turtle Bite? Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes!

Why Are My Turtles Stacked? 3 Shocking Answers and Solutions

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.