How to clean a turtle tank the right way

Whether you have a terrestrial or aquatic turtle, you’ll notice he messes the place up pretty quickly. There are a few things you can do to keep the dirtiness down, such as getting a feeding tank for mealtimes, but no matter what, you will find yourself tidying up (more often than you would prefer, we expect). It’s important to clean your pet’s home frequently to keep away smell and sickness. This might not be the most pleasant part of pet ownership, but you’ll be happy you did it.

Young girl holds her turtle

How often to clean your turtle tank

There are two types of cleaning when it comes to your turtle’s tank. Just as you spot-clean your house or apartment, you should include routine maintenance in your daily schedule. For your turtle, this will take the form of a partial water change (for aquatic species) or removing dirty bits of the floor (like soiled newspaper) if you have that as part of your substrate. You should perform this task about once per week but take out any obvious poop or food daily. Note, even if the water looks OK, it may have extra chemicals in it, like nitrates, so do the change anyway and test the water. For a full-scale cleaning, you need to set aside some time and put this on the calendar every four to six weeks, depending on what kind of mess your little friend makes.

How to clean a turtle tank

Deep cleaning may seem daunting at first, but after the first go, you’ll easily add tank scrubbing to your chore chart. The one thing you always need to be careful about is using pet-safe materials. Try not to introduce any unwanted chemicals into the habitat or you’ll risk hurting your turtle and disrupting your little ecosystem.

Turtle pokes his head out of the water in his tank

Remove everything

Starting with your turtle. You don’t want to work around him or have him come into contact with any of the cleaning accouterments. If you have a separate feeding or travel housing, bust it out and put him in there.

Scrub down the tank

Use a pet-safe cleanser or a diluted bleach solution to get into every nook and cranny of your turtle house. Remember to get the top of the tank and into the corners since those can hide gunk or invisible germs. Leave a long time to dry — a few hours — to ensure there’s no smell or tiny particles left.

Clean your accessories

You’ll mostly replenish your substrate, so toss out the old material and have a big bag of new substrate waiting. But rocks and toys can go right back in after a little cleaning. Some items from the pet store may even be dishwasher safe; otherwise, you can wipe down as necessary. Wood will eventually rot and fall apart, so get new sticks or bark now and then.

Turtle on rocks in his tank

Replace substrate and water

As mentioned, you’ll use new substrate when you do a deep clean since chips and paper both soil easily. For terrestrial and aquatic tanks, water needs to be completely fresh, and you want to mind your source for impurities as well. Run your full testing kit whenever you do a clean.

Change things up

Just as you redecorate your home every so often, your turtle will love a new place to explore occasionally. Make sure you keep a space for “sunning” even if you shift it a bit one way or the other. Introducing new objects can serve as stimulation for your animal, too.

Give him a treat

Now’s a good time to reward your reptile with a little turtle treat. You don’t want to dole these out too often, but the occasional dessert will keep him happy. Buy commercial treats from the pet store or figure out his favorite snack, maybe a banana for a box turtle or a feeder fish for a red-eared slider.

All these tips should act as guidelines. Pay attention to your terrarium so you can spot when it gets especially dirty and needs a thorough cleaning. Remember, too, that many of these turtles can live decades, which is a lot of deep cleanings over a lifetime. Only bring home a little fella if you’re in it for the long haul.

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