How To Keep Turtle Tank Water Clean?

If you didn’t know already, turtle tanks are notoriously hard to keep clean. Aquatic turtles are very messy pets. If you aren’t keeping an eye on your tank, the dirtiness will soon creep up on you. Before you know it, the water has become cloudy and the tank may start to smell like rotten eggs.

It really doesn’t matter how on top of cleanliness you are, the tank will undoubtably become dirty again very quickly. However there are some secret tricks you can use to keep your tank cleaner for longer periods of time.

Through this article we will delve into methods on how to keep turtle tank water clean. The secrets which most people are unaware of, and the techniques you should be using. So let’s begin.

Upgrade your filtration system

Most aquatic turtle tank set ups are based on keeping costs low for the buyer. However when this becomes the case, usually the quality of the product is reduced, and this really isn’t something you should be trying to save money on.

Filters will commonly be a standardised system for both fish and aquatic reptile use. This is great for the producer who is trying to sell a singular product, but not that great for the buyer as they’re getting a very generic product.

Canister Filters are the best filtration systems to tackle how to keep turtle tank water clean. They are usually bigger than your average filter, however this means they have a much larger filtration capacity. Having a larger filtration capacity means more water can be filtered over a set period of time, cleaning and purifying the water much quicker than a standard filter.

Setting up a canister filtration system will massively reduce the amount of times you’ll need to manually clean your turtle tank every year. The water won’t have to be changed as often and any waste products will be filtered out quicker due to the capability of this better canister filter system.

Food Leftovers

Waste product is the number one factor which makes your turtle tank water dirty. This may seem obvious, but the correct management of waste product will improve water cleanliness dramatically. Waste food causes water to become polluted with ammonia. High levels of ammonia can be extremely toxic to aquatic pets, which should be be closely monitored.

Bacteria in the water works fast to break down the leftover food, and in turn covering it to ammonia. You’ll want to vacuum the waste food out of the tank before the bacteria has chance to break it down into harmful products.

A hand pressured water pump is the best way to siphon out the waste food from the aquariums floor. They are easily manuverable, meaning you can reach the less accessible parts of the aquarium with ease. The water pump the sucks up all the waste food debris from the floor substrate and regards it into a waste bin ready to pour away once the process is completed.

Hand water pumps are reasonably cheap compared to high end electric pumps, and have exactly the same functions. There’s no need to spend big on this product, so follow the link to view our recommendation.

Dechlorinated water changes

How to keep turtle tank water clean? You can do this by adding dechlorinated water changed into the cleaning cycle will help to improve the cleanliness of tank water for longer periods of time. Dechlorinating tap water before you add it into your turtles tank will condition the water to withstand harmful bacteria. 

An aquatic tank has a nitrogen cycle which occurs naturally. Bacteria in tap water will convert ammonia in to nitrite, which is then converted again into nitrate.

Now, nitrates are relatively harmless to aquatic animals, however ammonia and nitrite is very harmful. So you’ll want to avoid having these in the water for too long. Chlorine in the water will eventually kill both the good ad bad bacteria in the tank water.

Dechlorinated water still allows the good bacteria to survive whilst killing off all the ammonia and nitrite in the tank water.

Products such as Seachem Prime, condition and dechlorinate the water prior to putting it in your turtles tank. Remember if you are siphoning out the food waste from the bottom of your tank, you are also removing some of the dirty water with it. This needs to be replaces anyway, so this isn’t any extra work, but more in co-ordinance with each other. Refilling the tank needs to be done, so you may as well do yourself a favour and add dechlorinated water to help with the water cleanliness.

Add freshwater plants

Adding floating freshwater plants into your turtles aquarium is a great idea on how to keep turtle tank water clean. Not only that, but it looks great too. Aquatic plants thrive of ammonia and nitrate, using them as a source of food. 

Submerged aquatic plants absorb less carbon dioxide as they aren’t open to the natural elements underwater. The plants need CO2 as it is essential for the nutrient exchange. The more CO2 the plant is exposed to, the more it can extract the harmful ammonia and nitrite.  

If you don’t have a big enough tank to add loads of floating aquatic plants, there are some alternatives that will ultimately do a similar job. These plants are, water lettuce, Hornwort and Duckweed. You’ll have to magian these plants as they may become a light snake for your turtle, so may need replacing after a while.

Ghost Shrimp for cleaning 

Ghost shrimps are known to be some of the best cleaners in the aquatic tank world. These tank mates are great for keeping the place tidy whilst you’re not there. Ghost shrimps are algae eaters, and its this algae which turns the water green and also stains the tank glass green too.

Although the water itself may be green, the build up of algae will give the illusion of dirty water. (Even if it is just the glass). Ghost shrimps will feed on the hard to reach surfaces which may be missed when cleaning.

I recommend Ghost shrimp as these algae eaters will usually become turtle food, so these are the least expensive cleaners, and they don’t offer much in tank mate aesthetics, unlike some bottom feeder fish.

Why your turtle tank smells like rotten eggs?

This may not sound very pleasant, and it’s not, however why your turtles tank smells like rotten eggs is an issue that needs sorting, quick!

If you have come across your turtle tank smelling like rotten eggs, then you’re probably a fairly new turtle owner. Unfortunately this is a very common experience for new owners and one which you probably don’t know the answers to. But that’s fine, we’ve got everything you need to know covered.

How to keep turtle tank water clean and not smelling like rotten eggs?

So what’s the causes of rotten egg smells?

There are many reasons why your turtle tank may smell like rotten eggs. Turtles are notoriously messy, and are known to be a nightmare to keep their environments clean. With that said, the main reason for bad smells is because of FOOD. Waste turtle food is the number one reason why your tank will start to smell like eggs. Turtles need a specific diet which mainly consists of commercial pellets. These are great, however if they go uneaten and are left laying at the bottom of the tank, bacteria will start to break them down and produce further waste products which kick up a stench.

Other factors can sometimes create the same rotten smell, these factors include Algae, Skin, Plantations and Water quality. Let’s take a closer look at these factors so you can clearly and correctly identify the problem.


If you’ve ever walked past a bin then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Food starts to decay pretty quickly if it hasn’t been consumed, and this is no different for turtle food. Unfortunately turtle food is usually put into the water, therefore when the bacteria starts to decay the food, the only place for its waste smell to go is into the surrounding water also.

To stop the rotten egg smell from forming I would suggest to vacuum the bottom of the tank so you clean up all the waste foods before they start to decay. The bacterias in the water start decaying food from the moment it’s submerged, so you’ll need to vacuum the waste every other day. This is a lengthy process, but it will keep the bad smell away.

Alternatively you can monitor how much your turtles are eating. This is more time consuming at the start, but will save you a lot of time over all. You’ll have to measure out the amount of food you are giving your turtles, then adjust this every day until you have the perfect amount in which they fully consume. This way your turtles eat the majority (if not all) of the food, meaning there’s no food waste left in the water. 


I’ve stated this before, and I’ll say it again, algae thrives in untreated water. It forms quickly and needs to be tamed. A little bit of algae isn’t the end of the world. Turtles do eat algae, however in a small aquarium it will reproduce quicker than its being eaten. It forms in all corners and crevices of the tanks and can sometimes be missed when the tank is being cleaned.

It’s easy to tell when there is too much algae in your turtles tank. The water starts to become murky, green almost. This may be the case, or it may be that the algae is forming on the aquariums glass. Either way, if the water looks green then there’s too much algae present.

To reduce or eradicate the rotten egg smell in this situation would be to buy a stronger filtration system. The filters you usually get with set up tanks are generic to any aquatic tank, not specific for turtles. Having a Canister Filter is a much better option for turtle aquariums as its capable of filtering more water than a standard filter.

An alternative for this would be to buy some shrimp. Ideally Ghost shrimp as they are the best cleaners and algae eaters. They are cheaper to buy than a higher powered filter system, however they may become turtle food, so could need replacing much more often.


Did you know that turtles shed their skin every so often? No. Well it’s no surprise really as most animals shed their skin to a certain extent. Reptiles shed their skin regularly as they grow in size and this is no different for turtles. In fact, a turtle is capable of shedding their shell too. 

Mind blown right? 

Skin and Shell particles will usually be too heavy for the filtration system to siphon, and they will commonly just sink to the bottom of the tank and stay there until bacteria decays it, or it’s manually cleaned out. If you’ve ever smelt a dead animal or rodent before then you’ll know how mad defying skin can be.

I would suggest getting a hand water pump to siphon out the pieces of dead skin so it’s not just laying in the bottom of the tank. 


Having aquatic plantations in your turtles aquarium has its benefits and advantages, but it does also have a draw back too. Aquatic plantations are quite hard to keep alive and healthy, so it’s not always easy to tell when they have died. Plantations which have died don’t usually look dead until the rotten egg smell has already arrived.

One way you can tell if your plantations are healthy is through their colour. Unhealthy or dead plantations will become brown in colour and once this happens they are already beginning to smell. The water will become contaminated which will bring the smell to the surface. 

Take these plantations out of the aquarium and change the water. Check the rest of your plantations to make sure none of the others have started to die before putting them back in.

Water Quality

Water quality is very important for a turtle tank. Normal tap water can be used and will be completely fine, however it does contain a lot of chlorine, which increases the rate in which water becomes contaminated.

Using dechlorinated water reduce the amount of chlorine in your tank, therefore meaning it stays clean for longer periods of time. Reducing the chlorine levels means bad bacteria can’t grow as quickly as it can in standard tap water. 

You can dechlorinate water (prior to putting it in the tank) by using Seachem Prime, which is a water conditioner. This naturally dilutes all the chlorine to a much healthier, reduced level for your turtles tank.


Well there you have it, everything you need to know on “how to keep turtle tank water clean”. Remember the 5 main factors and solutions, and you can’t go wrong. You’ll have the best chance of keeping your turtle tank clean and healthy without all the time consuming maintenance.

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