How To Clean A Turtle Shell

TheCritterCove is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. See more here.

how to clean turtle shell

Cleaning your turtle shell is just as important as cleaning the turtle enclosure since it can be a real health hazard for your turtle if not done properly, not to mention, a dirty shell just looks icky.

Most people don’t think they need to clean their turtle shells because turtles are most of the time in the water.

They’ll tell you that the dirt on a turtle’s shell is natural and it provides them with extra protection. While this may be somewhat true, there are still many reasons why you should clean your turtle’s shell regularly.

Knowing how to clean a turtle shell is also important if you want to keep your turtle healthy and stress-free.

Most of the time dirty shells can conceal shell issues like shell rot or retained scutes and can even block UVB from his basking.

Supplies For Cleaning A Turtle Shell

Before you begin, make sure you have the following items on hand to clean an aquatic turtle, such as a red-eared slider:

  • A dedicated toothbrush, preferably soft-bristled (don’t use the toothbrush for anything else because of the risk of salmonella transmission).
  • A plastic container or a tub dedicated just for bathing your turtle (don’t ever use the plastic container or tub for anything else just).
  • You will need some lukewarm water (rain or distilled water) that’s safe for your turtle and has the right pH levels. If you are using tap water, you can use a water conditioner for it to make it safe for your turtle.
  • A cup or scoop for rinsing the turtle with warm water.
  • You can also use a turtle shell conditioner that can help your turtle have a healthier shell, but this is optional.
  • Some kind of gloves to protect your hands in case you have open wounds or cuts while handling the turtle.

Are Shampoos Or Soap Safe For Turtles?

It’s not advised to use any kind of soap or shampoo when cleaning your turtle. This can irritate your turtle’s skin and even strip away the natural oils that keep his shell healthy.

Water and a gentle brush should be enough to clean your turtle’s shell. If you feel like you need to use something more, your local veterinarian may prescribe a turtle shell cleaner specific to your turtle’s needs.

RELATED READ: How to Keep Turtle Tank Clean?

Steps To Clean Your Turtle Shell Safely

Steps To Clean Your Turtle Shell Safely

Once you have all the tools ready to clean your turtle you can start by placing your turtle into the cleaning container (do not clean the turtle in the sink or bathtub) with just enough water for the turtle to be fully submerged:

  1. Take the dedicated toothbrush run it over the back of the turtle’s shell and press down as gently as possible with it, without applying more force than is required.
  2. While doing this rinse the turtle with water when needed using the cup of water.
  3. Repeat until you see that all the remaining algae or dirt is completely removed. If you see some white spots that won’t go away with brushing, don’t worry they will usually go away until the turtle sheds.

It’s an excellent time to check your turtle for any wounds or abnormalities while performing these procedures.

If you discover anything odd, we recommend visiting the herp veterinarian for a thorough examination.

RELATED READ: The Best Live Plants for Turtle Tanks

Cleaning Up After The Bathing

After you’ve returned your turtle into its enclosure, you need to make sure that you clean properly after you.

  • Pour the water you used to clean your turtle down the toilet, flush it, and then wash the toilet just to be safe. Never pour any of the water into a sink or bathtub since this may expose you to harmful bacteria like Salmonella.
  • Clean the dedicated bathing container carefully with a disinfectant or bleach solution, and then rinse it thoroughly. Don’t use the container for anything else just cleaning your turtle.
  • Sanitize or boil the toothbrush used for future cleaning.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after you are done.

RELATED READ: How to Make Tap Water Safe for Turtles?

Algae In The Turtle Tank

Algae In The Turtle Tank

If you see that you have algae in your turtle tank, it shouldn’t worry you because algae is a natural thing that develops in any aquarium.

Algae is almost like any kind of plant and can be beneficial depending on how you look at it. Algaes do take nutrients out of your water and can also serve as a sign that there is some kind of imbalance in your tank.

This algae of course can cover your turtle shell which you will need to clean off. An overgrowth of algae can also be harmful to your turtle so it’s best to keep it under control.

The best way to prevent an algae bloom is to do regular water changes and keep the tank clean. If you have live plants in your turtle tank, they can also help with keeping the algae in check.

Another method of preventing algae is to add an algae-eating animal like a pleco or snails into your turtle tank. These animals help keep the algae in check and can also be a fun addition for your turtle to interact with.

What Causes Algae?

Algae usually form when there is an imbalance in the turtle tank. This can be an imbalance in lighting or in nutrients, which algae need to survive.

If there is too much or too little of each of the two, it can cause an algae bloom.

Too much light will cause algae to grow very quickly since they need light to photosynthesize just like any other plant. If there isn’t enough light, the algae won’t be able to grow as quickly and will eventually die off.

The same goes for nutrients, if there is an overabundance of one or more of them then algae will start to grow. This can be caused by overfeeding your turtle or by having too many fish in the tank. Fish produce ammonia and nitrates which are nutrients that algae love to feed on.

If you are seeing algae bloom in your turtle tank, try to find the source of the imbalance and fix it. This will usually take care of the algae problem.

Regular water changes can also help to prevent algae from forming.

RELATED READ: How to Clean a Turtle Tank

Hard Water Spots On A Turtle Shell

If you are seeing white spots on your turtle shell that just won’t go away with brushing, it’s probably because of hard water spots.

Hard water spots are caused by minerals in the water that bond to the turtle shell. The best way to remove these is with a soft cloth and a vinegar solution.

Soak the cloth in the vinegar and then gently rub it on the spots. The vinegar will help to break down the minerals and make them easier to remove.

You can also use a toothbrush to help scrub off the spots if they are especially stubborn.

Once you’ve removed the spots, rinse the turtle shell off with clean water and then dry it.

You can also prevent hard water spots from forming in the first place by using a water conditioner. This will help to keep the minerals in the water from bonding to the turtle shell.

RELATED READ: How To Bathe A Tortoise

How to Maintain A Healthy Turtle Shell

When it comes to preserving your turtle’s shell and overall health, good husbandry practices and preventative care are absolutely essential.

Here is a list of things you can do to maintain your turtle shell in a good condition:

  • Provide your turtle with a proper and varied diet that is rich in calcium.
  • Give your turtle access to full-spectrum lighting or UVB lighting.
  • Provide your turtle with a basking area where it can bask in the heat and UV light and completely dry off.
  • Keep the water in your turtle tank clean and change it regularly.
  • Use a filtration system to help keep the water clean.
  • Take your turtle to the vet for regular checkups and to have its shell inspected.

If you notice any damage to your turtle’s shell, take it to the vet as soon as possible.

RELATED READ: How to Set Up a Turtle Tank


Cleaning a turtle is important to keep it healthy and free from bacteria and algae. It’s also necessary to take precautions when cleaning a turtle, such as using gloves and washing your hands afterward.

If you follow these steps, you can be sure that your turtle will stay healthy and happy.