How To Make A Turtle Tank Smell Better? 6 Simple Tips You Can Try

Oct 12, 2021

How To Make A Turtle Tank Smell Better

Turtles are messy, pals, and will cause your tank to stink if left unattended. This pungent smell doesn’t go away even after changing the water. The stubborn odor can leave your entire room in a reeking state even after tidying the tank. 

A smelly turtle tank shouldn’t come as shocking news for turtle owners. We all have experienced this ordeal, but it’s the turtles who suffer the most.

How To Make A Turtle Tank Smell Better?

Feed your turtles in a separate container, and install biological filters to keep your turtle tank smelling better. Besides that, get tank mates like suckerfish and Amano shrimps to keep your tank free from leftovers and algae. Regular cleaning of the turtle shell also aids in making a turtle tank smell better. 

Why Does The Turtle Tank Smell?

For a problem to be solved, you should first know the root of the problem. Here’s why your turtle tank has a foul odor. The reasons behind smelly turtle tanks are many – from leftover food and poop to bacteria and filter mishaps. 

Leftover Food

Turtles do not use their claws or flippers to hold their food while eating. Instead, they simply lash onto the food with their mouth wide open. And when their tiny mouth breaks down the food into several pieces, there will be some fallen heroes that won’t make it inside the tummy.

All the remaining food will sink to the bottom of the tank. And these residues, when uncleaned for days, will start giving off a stale odor. 

This is just how turtles eat, and this happens with every kind of food you feed them.

Decomposing Skin

Every living being sheds, and your turtle is no exception. The water ecosystem houses several other creatures in the wild who would readily feast on the turtle’s skin peels. Also, there are several good bacteria in the water that decompose the shed skin effectively. 

But in an aquarium, the shed skin will accumulate, decay, and give off a nasty odor.

Too Much Algae 

Another reason for a smelly tank is algae. Usually, turtles eat algae and fulfill their fibrous needs from it. That being said, there are certain algae kinds that turtles deter.

Algae proliferate and can coat the entire aquarium in an instant. They will even cover turtle shells before you realize it. So, too much algae could be the suspect behind a smelly turtle tank.

Technical Issues Like Filter Breaking Down 

Filters, when clogged with decayed residue, give off a foul smell. So check and clean the filters regularly, but don’t overdo it and kill good bacteria. 

If your filter is broken, it is probably best to get a new one rather than fix it. They cost little and will offer an immediate solution.

Turtle And Fish Waste 

Accumulation of poop produced by your turtle and other residents of the tank will inevitably smell. 

I make sure the turtles poop in the eating container before putting them back in the main tank. They usually take about 30-45 minutes to digest the food after eating. 

Lack Of Biological Filter 

Suppose you have done everything correctly, but the tank still smells awful. In that case, you may lack a biological filter for your turtle tank. Biological filters help to convert ammonia to nitrate. And this isn’t just important to get rid of the unpleasant smell and curb the toxic buildup in the tank. 

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How To Get Rid Of The Smell In The Turtle Tank?

A turtle tank will not smell if you maintain it regularly. You need to focus on the feeding style, add biological filters, and introduce tank cleaners like suckerfish and Amano shrimps to eliminate the smell.

Here’s how you can get rid of the smell in the turtle tank:

Change The Feeding Style 

Turtles are messy eaters. They will leave out about 10% of food while eating. They have to eat underwater – so the food will dissolve or crumble and reach the tank bottom. Next, it’s only a matter of time before these gunks reek. 

So, what can you do about it? First, we suggest you change the feeding style.

Here’s how you can do it. 

Take a separate clean container and pour water from the turtle tank into it. Fill it to the point where your turtle can dive and eat the food. You need to know that turtles only eat when they are inside water. So you need enough water for your turtle to submerge entirely. 

Using the same water they were kept in ensures they don’t get shocked by the sudden change in the environment. This will prevent any incoming complications.

Next, put the food in the container. After lunch time is over, take your turtle out of the container and put it back in the tank. Drain the water you used while feeding your turtle. Rinse the container and keep it dry. 

Turtles carry salmonella and other bacteria, which can transmit into our bodies, causing illness.

 So, the container should not be used for any other purposes.

In the meantime, while your turtles are eating, you can add fresh water to your turtle tank. 

Install Biological Filters in Your Turtle Tank

Biological filters are critical to transforming ammonia to nitrite—which eventually turns into nitrate. The presence of ammonia is the number one reason turtle tanks often smell even when you have a clean, leftover-free tank. 

Biological filters have a substrate, which provides a suitable habitat for nitrifying bacteria to grow. 

These bacteria turn ammonia into nitrite – a lesser toxic element – in a turtle tank.

However, newer tanks still smell despite having a biological filter. There’s a reason behind it. 

It takes about 4-6 weeks to develop necessary bacteria in a biological filter. 

So, a minter filter is less effective in converting ammonia to nitrite. Here’s something you can do to boost good bacteria growth in your biological filter:

Bacteria supplements, also known as the “bacteria starters,” are available online and in pet stores. They act as catalysts to increase good bacteria growth time in your filter’s substrate – thus, removing smell in a new aquarium.

Here’s one by API I use:

Add Tank Cleaners 

Another way to make a turtle tank smell better is by adding tank mates famous for their sanitary benefits. They will keep your tank free from waste and prevent a putrid smell. 

You can choose between fishes that can keep your tank spot clean or shrimps, who too are voracious debris eaters.

Fish like suckerfish can be an excellent tank mate for your turtle. They are hardy fish that feed on algae, turtle waste, leftovers, dead plants, etc. Some even feed on the white spots of a turtle shell, cleaning turtle shells of shell rot.

The spines on their back make them an uneasy meal for turtles, so they will be safer in a turtle tank. 

Another great choice to keep alongside turtles will be the Amano shrimps. These shrimps are excellent at scraping leftovers and keeping the tank spot-free. 

But Amano shrimps are small, and your turtles can prey on them. So, have your tanks filled with plants to allow more hiding space for shrimps.

Get A Bigger Tank

A congested tank can give off a foul odor because of the quick accumulation of waste. So, a bigger tank comes in handy to maintain a clean environment for your turtles. 

A bigger tank has several benefits. Besides being less temperamental than smaller tanks, they offer plenty of space for all creatures living there to establish their territory. 

Ammonia has a foul odor and can be hard to control in a small tank. However, larger tanks prevent overstocking and can withstand the ammonia released in the tank. 

Clean Your Turtle’s Shell

Turtles too produce a foul smell if they aren’t clean. Leftover food and debris from the aquarium get stuck on their shells and smell if uncleaned for several days. 

Often, these leftovers accumulate and cause shell rot. Therefore, clean your turtle’s shell if you see any signs of an oddity.

However, do not use soap and water to clean the turtle shell. Inflammation is a common side effect when soap is used. Instead, only use dechlorinated, lukewarm water for cleaning your turtle. 

Keep your turtle in lukewarm water for about 15 minutes, and use an old soft-bristled toothbrush as a scrubber. Next, clean both carapace and plastron, and wash them with dechlorinated water. 

Chlorine has terrible effects on turtles – so, you should dechlorinate the tap water first. 

Here’s a water conditioner that I use for dechlorinating my red-eared slider turtle tank:

Check And Clean Filters 

Turtles shed their skin while molting. These molts can clog the filter and disrupt its functioning—producing a funky smell. 

Other debris and waste can also clog up filters, making the filter ineffective once again. So, check it repeatedly and clean it at least once a month. 

There are several kinds of filters, and the cleaning frequency differs accordingly. For example, if you have a hang-on filter, you need to clean them fortnightly. 

A sponge filter also needs to be cleaned once every 2 weeks. So if you are using a canister filter for your turtle aquarium, you can clean them every few months. 

Final Words On How To Make A Tank Smell Better

Turtles are smelly creatures. Snapping turtles, in particular, are the smelliest ones. But it doesn’t always have to be that way, does it?. You can adopt simple ways to remove the foul stench from a turtle tank. 

You can place your turtles in a separate container while feeding. Usually, the leftovers from the turtle food are the reason turtle tanks give that foul odor. Regular filter maintenance is essential too.

Last, suckerfish and Amano shrimps can be an impressive addition to your turtle tank. They will eat the leftovers and turtle wastes and help in removing the awful smell.

Happy Reading! 🙂

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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.