How to Make Tap Water Safe for Turtles?

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how to make tap water safe for turtles

Water conditioners are sometimes used only by turtle owners who aren’t satisfied with their tap water. They work quickly and effectively, and they’re readily available.

It is important to make sure your turtle has clean water and this can be a difficult task, especially if you have well water or tap water with high chlorine content.

The most common mistake people make in caring for their turtles is using tap water that contains too much chlorine or other contaminants.

These chemicals can cause health problems long-term for the turtle if the water is not treated.

In this article, we will explore how to make tap water safe for turtles and some other water options you may have when it comes to adding water to the turtle tank.

RELATED READ: How to Care For a Red-Eared Slider Turtle

Making Tap Water Safe for Turtles

baby turtles in aquarium
baby turtles in aquarium

So how do you treat tap water for turtles? A lot of people wonder if they can use tap water for their turtle tanks.

The thing with tap water is that oftentimes the water treatment plant will add chemicals like chlorine and chloramines to make it safe for humans to use. Those chemicals can potentially be dangerous for turtles long term.

The first way to deal with tap water is to leave it outside for at least 48 hours in some containers, allowing the chlorine to go through its natural dissolving process.

If you add an air stone you can make that as short as 24 hours.

This method aerates all the chemicals out of the water and those should evaporate.

The second method to treat tap water is to use a water conditioner to dechlorinate the water.

Water Conditioner for Turtles 

The best method to treat tap water is with a water conditioner, especially if you don’t have the means to leave the water outside to sit. Water conditioners are inexpensive and safe to use

Water conditioners are sometimes used only by turtle owners who aren’t satisfied with their tap water. They work quickly and effectively, and they’re readily available.

Something very important to know is that there is chlorine in the water we drink and bathe in, and most people use that very same water to fill and add to their turtles’ homes.

This chlorine will kill the bacteria as you add it. In the case of an established bacteria base in an existing aquarium, chlorinated water will kill or seriously damage the existing bacteria living in your tank.

So how do you prevent this? Add to the water, a dechlorinator product that’s safe.

You should let the water set once it has been treated for about 2 minutes before adding it to your aquarium.

For already established tanks, it is much easier. Water will evaporate and that can not be helped, but adding water a little at a time and treating it with one of the various chemicals to remove the chlorine, will keep your friendly bacteria safe and secure.

RELATED READ: How to Keep Turtle Tank Clean?

Is Tap Water Safe for Turtles?

Tap water may harm your turtle’s eyes and induce other health issues if it is too heavily chlorinated.

Turtles are generally more hardy than fish. However, it does not imply that you should put your turtle in danger by exposing it to a large amount

A lot of people have reported that tap water seems safe for their turtles but it really depends where you live.

Most of the time city water is where you will find the most negative chemicals added to the water.

You can inquire with your city about an annual testing report that shows what has been added and what is found in the water naturally.

Is Bottled Water Safe for Turtles?

Turtles can sometimes drink nasty water in their natural habitat and be perfectly fine but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to give them bottled water.

The thing with bottled water is that it often has a higher pH level and this can be dangerous for turtles over time.

What’s more, bottled water often contains too much sodium and this can also be bad for turtles.

Is Distilled Water Safe for Turtles?

Distilled water has had all of the impurities removed so it is safe for use with turtles.

RELATED READ: How to Clean a Turtle Tank

Turtle Water Quality

red eared slider swimming
red eared slider swimming

It is just as important to take care of the water quality in your turtle tank as it is to make sure they are eating a healthy diet.

Water that is not clean can cause many problems. It can lead to health issues and even death if it is not caught in time.

There are 4 things that are important to monitor when it comes to water quality. If these things are not monitored and kept under control, bad things can happen.

1. pH

pH is how acidic or alkaline your water is. This scale goes from 0-14, with 7 being neutral. Anything below 7 is acidic and anything above 7 is alkaline.

pH levels are important for turtles because different types of turtles require different pH levels. For example, Diamondback Terrapins need a pH level of around 7.5, while Mata Matas need a pH level of about 5. If the pH level isn’t right for your turtle, it could cause some problems.

A more acidic pH is desired because it can prevent certain strains of bacteria and fungal outbreaks. The lower the pH, the less likely certain types of these bacteria will survive. The higher the pH rating, the more these bacteria can develop and thrive in the turtles’ habitat.

Most people’s tap water at home is about 7.5-8.5 on the pH scale. This will work for most North American turtle species, but if you have a more exotic turtle, you will need to pay close attention to the pH levels.

For North American turtles, you can lower the pH levels to about 6.2 in order to help prevent shell infections, but if you have a softshell, I would not go any lower than 6.5 for fear of burning the softy.

How to Test Turtle’s pH Level

There are a number of test kits that you can buy that gives you fast, easy, and accurate results.

2. Ammonia

Is a chemical that is released when organic matter breaks down. Ammonia levels should always be at 0 because high levels can cause respiratory problems and even death.

If your turtle is constantly swimming up to the surface, it may be trying to get away from the high levels of ammonia in the water. Ammonia is often caused by too many turtles in a tank, overfeeding, or not enough filtration.

3. Nitrates

Nitrates are the product of ammonia and nitrites combined. They are not as harmful as ammonia or nitrites, but they should still be at a level of 0.

High levels of nitrates can cause the water to turn cloudy and it can also cause the turtles to develop shell rot.

Nitrates are usually caused by a lack of filtration, overfeeding, or not enough water changes.

4. Nitrites

Nitrites are produced when ammonia levels get too high. They are very poisonous to turtles and can cause death.

If you see your turtle swimming near the surface, he may be trying to get away from the high levels of nitrites in the water.

Nitrites are often caused by overfeeding, a lack of filtration, or not enough water changes.

Feeding The Turtle Outside Turtle Tank

Feeding the turtles is best done in a separate container. This makes it easy to clean and keeps the tank cleaner.

Food residue can cause bacteria, fungus, and ammonia levels to increase. Make sure this container is not used to prepare or store food for humans.

Use a Water Filter

A water filter is a must for any turtle tank. It not only makes the water look cleaner, but it also helps to keep the levels of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites down.

There are a number of different water filters on the market that will work for a turtle tank. Just make sure to get one that is rated for a tank that size.

There are 3 types of filtration: biological, mechanical, and chemical:

  • Biological filtration is the process of bacteria turning toxic ammonia into nitrite. Nitrite is only slightly less toxic than ammonia, but the process is known as nitrification. This happens when there is enough oxygen present in aquatic habitats and soils.
  • Mechanical filtration is the physical removal of particles from water. This is done by trapping particles of a certain size, depending on the filter material. A mechanical filter must be cleaned regularly or else bacteria will grow and start breaking down the dirt. This will set minerals free into the water and make it harder to clean. Nitrifying bacteria grow naturally in water and they will colonize any suitable filter media. Once a biological filter media has been established, you should not disturb it too much because the bacteria colony will stay active based on the amount of bio-load present in the system.
  • Chemical filtration uses chemicals, specifically active carbon, to absorb organic material like the remains of fish medications and organic toxins. It is also effective in removing oxidation products that are formed when you ozonate seawater (adding a little chlorine and bromine). Active Carbon should be replaced regularly because it gets saturated and bacteria will start to grow on it, which will eventually make it work as a regular biological filter.

Change the Water Regularly

You should be changing the water in the tank at least every other week. This will help to keep the levels of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites down.

It will also help to keep the tank cleaner and make it more aesthetically pleasing.

RELATED READ: Best Filters for Turtle Tanks

Nitrogen Cycle

When you have a firm grasp on the fundamentals of the nitrogen cycle, maintaining the water clean will make more sense.

The nitrogen cycle is the process by which nitrogen is recycled and reused in the environment.

Nitrogen cycle
Nitrogen cycle

The process consists of five phases: nitrogen fixation, ammonification, nitrification, denitrification, and return to the environment.

  1. The conversion of nitrogen into a useable form is known as nitrogen fixation and this can be accomplished through natural means, such as lightning strikes.
  2. Ammonification is the conversion of nitrogen to ammonium through a method called ammonia fixation. This may be accomplished naturally, by way of biodegradation, or with human assistance.
  3. The process of converting nitrate back into nitrogen gas is called denitrification. This can be done through natural processes, like when bacteria break down the nitrate. The process of returning nitrogen to the environment so it can be used again is called return to the environment.

Ammonia is a by-product of turtle waste and urine, which must be changed into nitrite before becoming nitrates.

Your filter’s biological filtration is responsible for the development of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. This will be your ceramic rings, sintered glass, and carbon in combination.

The good bacteria colonies will develop on all of those surfaces and turn the ammonia into nitrite. After that, other bacteria colonies will eat the nitrite and turn it into nitrogenates.

So to have a successful aquarium, you need adequate biological filtration.

RELATED READ: How to Set Up a Turtle Tank


Tap water can be used to safely house turtles as long as the pH levels are monitored and adjusted as necessary.

The water should be changed regularly and a water filter should be used to help keep the levels of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites down. Feeding the turtles in a separate container helps to keep the tank cleaner.