How to Clean a Turtle Tank

by Carl Crane | Updated: December 28, 2021

Caring for your turtle isn’t too demanding, but requires a lot of little things to be done.

Feeding, providing heat and light, amongst other things are very essential in having a healthy and happy turtle.

As with other living things, hygiene is important for good health, and as your turtle swims and drinks from its tank water, you have to ensure the tank is clean.

This will go a long way to prevent infection to the turtle and to you.

The frequency at which you clean your turtle tank depends on how messy your turtle gets.

For dry tanks, you can clean them every few months, but wet tanks require cleaning more often.

Below is a schedule you can follow in keeping your turtle tank clean:

Every day: your daily routine in ensuring that your turtle tank stays clean is to make use of a net to remove any waste in the form of droppings, or uneaten food from the water.

Your filter should be running daily as it helps to filter the water, keeping it clean.

Every other day: checking the water pH to ensure that it is within acceptable limits is another routine that ensures the water is safe for your turtle. Generally, the pH should be between 7 and 8 on a 14 point scale.

Once a week: take out some of the tank water and replace it with fresh water. This is to control the ammonia and nitrate content of the tank.

Every two or three weeks: clean the entire tank and change the water completely. Clean all equipment and refresh the filter.

Cleaning the Turtle Tank

Remove the Turtle and the Contents of the Tank

Before you begin thorough cleaning of the turtle tank, you have to first empty it.

This involves safely removing your turtle and other equipment to a temporary location.

The secondary container where you would temporarily keep your turtle could be a bucket or a bowl.

It should have enough water to accommodate swimming, and a rock or other form of a platform for your turtle to climb on.

Note that the secondary container should be specifically used to temporarily house your turtle.

This is because turtles carry salmonella and could make you and your family sick if care isn’t taken.

Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your turtle.

After removing your turtle, take out every other content of the tank.

It’s wise, to begin with, the electrical components of the tank like the heaters, filters, and light fixtures.

Once removed, place them in a safe container.

The next items to be removed are other contents like the rocks, plants, basking platforms, and any decorations you have in the tank.

This category of contents should be placed in a separate container.

Note the positions of every tank content so that your pet doesn’t need to adapt all over thinking it’s been placed in a new environment.

After emptying the tank, you may need help taking it to the cleaning area depending on the size of the tank.

Can You Clean A Turtle Tank with Vinegar? How?

There are different cleaning solutions you can mix to clean your turtle tank.

A combination of 0.1 L of plain distilled white vinegar with 1 gallon of water makes a cleaning solution.

Alternatively, you can combine 0.1 L of chlorine bleach for every 1 gallon of water.

These cleaning solutions are preferable to household detergents and cleaners because the chemical residue from the latter are hard to remove and can be toxic to your turtle.

The use of vinegar or bleach cleaning solutions are harmful to plants and should be replaced with biodegradable plant-friendly cleaners from the pet store if cleaning will take place outdoors on the lawn.

To clean the tank, make use of coarse material like a sponge or a coarse rag.

Dip in the solution and scrub both the sides and bottom of the tank.

Pay particular attention to all corners of the tank as dirt gets caught easily in such spaces.

Rocks and other forms of substrate may get in your way as you scrub the bottom.

Tilt the tank to one side and scrub properly, then tilt the tank to the other side and scrub that half of the bottom too.

After which you scrub the substrate.

How to Clean Turtle Tank Rocks

If your tank contains substrates such as rocks, then you need to first rinse them before washing the tank.

Rinsing them is easy and you do this by filling the tank with water using a hose.

Empty the tank each time and then refill it again, repeating the process until the water becomes clear.

Emptying the tank is easier done when you begin from a squatting position, and then extending your legs as you raise the tank.

Ask for help if it’s too heavy for you alone and by the time the tank is in an almost vertical position the water should be fully drained.

After preparing the cleaning solution, allow the rocks to soak while you scrub the tank.

When you are done with the tank and other electrical equipment, scrub the rocks as well and rinse in running water.

Turtle Tank Vacuum

The use of a vacuum helps you keep the tank water clean and safe for your pet.

Each time you vacuum the tank, you partially change the water to regulate the ammonia and nitrate levels in the water.

You could use any affordable siphon vacuum cleanerthat comes with a hose and nozzle.

The hose is put in a bucket, while the nozzle is used in the tank to vacuum it.

The downside to this method is you will have to carry buckets of water.

If you are using a siphon type vacuum cleaner, never start the siphon using your mouth.

Turtles carry salmonella and using your mouth to start the siphon will get you infected.

Instead, make use of the squeeze bulb built into the siphon to start the vacuum.

How to Clean Calcium off Turtle Tanks

Calcium residue forms on your turtle tank when hard water is used. It’s not harmful to your pet but disfigures the beauty of your setup.

Just as with normal cleaning, do not use household soap or detergent to remove the calcium deposits.

Plain white vinegar can be used to take care of this problem.

Before you attempt to clean calcium off your turtle tank, the tank must be emptied.

Then fill the tank with vinegar and allow to sit for about 20 minutes after which you scrub using a sponge or cloth.

For the more stubborn build-up that won’t go off with the use of cloth or sponge, try using a razor blade or scraper.

Gently scrape off the calcium build up and then rinse the tank thoroughly before refilling with water.

How to Clean a Turtle Tank Filter

The turtle filter is where most of the dirt hangs on and so it’s important that it’s thoroughly cleaned.

To do this, you will have to take the filter apart into its separate components according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

After taking the filter apart, rinse it first under running water and then scrub with a cloth or sponge dipped in the cleaning solution.

The filter may have salmonella on it as well, so it would be wise to put on gloves before handling it as well as other parts of the tank.

If you have a cut on your hand, you stand a higher risk of getting infected so leave the job to someone else.

After scrubbing and rinsing the filter, allow it to dry before coupling and mounting back on the tank.


A clean tank makes a healthy turtle and with this guide, you have good knowledge on how to ensure your pet is comfortable at all times.

Having a routine and following it will ensure that the tank stays clean and that the pH is within safe limits.

Remember that in cleaning your turtle tank, you are not only saving your pet from being sick but you are also protecting yourself from sickness.

Carl, the reptile-obsessed creator of this website, got his first turtle years ago and he made a ton of mistakes along the way. His goal now with TheCritterCove is simple: help others to not make the same mistakes that he did!