How to Clean a Turtle Tank in 15 Steps

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how to clean a turtle tank

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

If you have a pet turtle, it’s important to keep its tank clean. Turtles produce a lot of waste, and if left uncleaned, the tank can quickly become polluted and unhealthy for the turtle.

In this article, we will show you how to clean a turtle tank and what tools to use in doing so.

Important note: After cleaning, feeding, or coming into contact with the turtle’s surfaces, wash your hands.

1. Have Water Prepared

water buckets

Make certain you have room temperature water on hand. Fill some buckets with cold tap water and wait two days if you don’t.

Do not use warm tap water, as it contains chemicals and these are harmful to turtles.

2. Get Prepared To Make A Mess

water splash

You will want to lay out some towels or napkins in front of the tank since you will need to start to remove stuff from the turtle tank and filter out the dirty water.

3. Place The Turtle Safely

turtle safe

Remove the turtle from the tank and place him in a secure location away from other animals, as he will attempt to climb out by utilizing nearby objects.

When removing him, grasp the middle of his shell firmly.

4. Scoop Out Debris

scoop out debris

If there is any large debris, use a fish net to remove it. It’s a good idea to mix the water up to make the trash more apparent.

RELATED READ: How Much Does a Turtle Cost?

5. Remove The Filter Media

filter media

Remove the filter’s mechanical filter media. If your filter has stopped functioning, move the small propeller located below the sponge with your finger to restart it.

Rinse the filter media under running water several times to wash away any debris build-up.

6. Clean The Basking Area

bask area clean

Depending on what type of basking area you have to take it out to scrub thoroughly if it looks dirty, or if gets in your way of cleaning.

7. Siphon Out All The Water

siphon water

Have some buckets ready near the turtle tank and get a cleaning tube (we recommend the ones from Python).

There are two ends to the cleaning tube, one large and one small. You should fill the tube with water from the big end. To prevent water from leaking out of the smaller end, insert a finger in there.

Keeping the small end of the tube within the big end as you fully immerse it into tank water is important. To release air, tilt the end opening slightly upward while fully submerged.

Bring the large end to an upright position. Hold it up straight while aiming the smaller tip of the tube towards a bucket.

When you are ready to let the water flow, remove your finger from the smaller end of the tube. The tank water will begin to be sucked out into the buckets. Move the large end around the stones to suck out the waste between them.

Empty the buckets and rinse them after you’ve done getting the water out of the turtle tank.

RELATED READ: African Sideneck Turtle Care

8. Remove Substrates (If You Have Any)

turtle substrate

Remove all of the gravel from the tank using a tiny square net and place it in another bucket after all of the water has been removed.

Then wash the rocks-filled bucket carefully with water until it is absolutely clear.

9. Remove Decorations and Equipment

Remove all decorations and equipment from the aquarium (large rocks, cave, basking spot, plants, heater, filter) and clean them with warm soapy water before rinsing in cold water.

You can also place resin ornaments, pebbles, and rocks in a pail with 1 part tap water and 1 part vinegar to clean them.

Leave the decoration to soak in the solution for at least 10 minutes and then set everything aside after that and let them dry.

Remove the filter medium from your filter unit, fill a small bowl with tank water, and soak it. Take the device apart and soak the components in a solution of tap water and vinegar for 10 minutes.

All of the components in the filter unit should be rinsed clean and thoroughly in clean, flowing water. Reassemble the device, replace the filter media, and restart it.

10. Scrub The Turtle Tank

scrub tank

Using a sponge dampened with tap water, clean the inside and outside of the tank and an old toothbrush to scrub the corners of the tank.

The goal is to loosen and remove some of the algae as well as dissolve any calcium deposits.

Take the same sponge, moisten it with water, and sprinkle some table salt on it. Wipe down the entire fish tank once again.

Remove stains from the tank by carefully scrubbing them. Allow a few minutes for the salt to sit but don’t allow it to dry completely and after that rinse out the tank thoroughly.

As an extra step, you can also scrub the tank with vinegar and tap water by pouring it onto a sponge until the remaining algae and calcium stains are gone.

Don’t forget the clean the glass on the outside too and of course rinse the tank thoroughly after with clean tap water.

11. Put Everything Back

Put all the substrate, decorations, and equipment back into the turtle tank.

As a tip, while placing the objects back, you can change things around to make the tank a little more interesting for your turtle, but don’t do it too often or you will stress the turtle out.

12. Add Clean Water

Use the water stored from step one and add it to the tank until the water level reaches the edges of the basking area.

If your tap water isn’t clean enough for your type of turtle species you can use an animal-safe water de-chlorinator. It is also optional to add waste degrader to help keep your turtle tank clean.

14. Check Water Temperature

water temps

The tank water’s temperature should be around 70°F to 75°F.

This is about the average room temperature, so if the water is too hot or cold, wait half an hour and check it again. If the water is too chilly, you may use a heater to raise its temperature.

15. Test Water for Chemical Levels


It’s crucial to ensure that your turtle’s pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels are within acceptable limits. The pet store sells testing kits for each of these factors. Testing usually entails combining a tiny quantity of tank water with a solution in a test tube to create an end result that looks like watercolor in the tank.

For most turtles, the ideal pH level is generally between 7 and 8. However, some turtles have their own particular pH needs to fulfill.

Make sure you research the precise pH level your turtle species requires when purchasing from a pet store instead of guessing based on its size or age.

If the chemical levels are not correct, you may purchase chemicals to raise or decrease each component.

RELATED READ: How to Take Care of a Baby Turtle

Items You’ll Need

Before starting you will need to have at least the items mentioned here:

  • Sponge
  • Old Toothbrush
  • Cleaning tube or outdoor hose
  • Cleaning solutions, such as vinegar, salt, or any turtle-friendly cleaner from pet stores
  • pH test kit
  • Thermometer
  • Buckets


The steps for cleaning a turtle tank can be daunting, but following the tips above will help you avoid any major mistakes.

A few things to keep in mind while doing so are:

  • Make sure your pet water de-chlorinator is safe and animal friendly.
  • Never use bleach or detergent on your turtle’s tank as they may kill it.
  • Always check that the pH level of your water is within the range recommended by experts before adding anything else into the mix.

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.