Why Does My Turtle Tank Smell? [7 Sneaky Reasons]

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Once, I visited my friend’s turtle collection, and the tanks were stinking. Thank God that I didn’t throw up! I know exactly where my friend went wrong that made his turtle tanks this miserable. Of course, I corrected him, and now I want to share those tips with you. At least you can save your turtle tank from stinking.

Turtle tanks smell bad when turtle poop and leftover food start to decompose. An algae outbreak in the aquarium also leads to foul odor. Irregular tank water replacement and habitat cleaning can also make the terrarium stink. Finally, a poor filtration system may cause a putrid smell in the tank.

How to remove this bad smell from the turtle enclosure? Will it affect the turtle’s health? Let’s find out.

Key Takeaways

  • Decomposition of poop, leftover food, plant debris, and sludge makes the turtle tank stink.
  • Low capacity and uncleaned filters can not process the dirty water properly. Hence, the aquarium water looks cloudy and smells terrible.
  • Monthly thorough clean-up is necessary for all turtle enclosures.
  • Natural tank cleaners (fish and shrimp), commercial sludge cleaners, and bio-filters can keep the water clean and odor-free.

7 Things That Make My Turtle Tank Stink

When I took a closer look at my friend’s turtle tank, I immediately saw that the filter was not working right. We removed the device, and guess what? I was right.

The filtration basket was clogged with debris and dirt. It was the source of the stinky smell in the tank.

Yes, a clogged filtration can be why your turtle tank has this putrid odor. But there are more reasons to explore. Let me tell you one by one.

1. Yesterday’s Leftover

My turtle is a messy eater, and I am sure yours is too. It will not touch the meal unless I toss the items in water.

Eating when bathing must be fun for turtles, but not for me. My little devil leaves behind tiny food scraps in the water. Those leftover chunks are almost invisible to my eyes.

So, these scraps float in the water for hours or days and soon start decomposing. While the fresh items break down faster, the processed food remains intact for days. As the leftovers decay, they will spread a putrid odor.

2. Is Your Turtle Shedding?

Skin and shell shedding is natural for turtles. This is a sign that your pets are growing. However, there can be situations when you spot frequent and abnormal shedding in these creatures.

Such type of shedding is definitely unhealthy. Feeding the turtles excessive protein and infectious diseases are responsible for it.

You will notice flakes in the tank water when the turtles shed.

Anyway, I am not concerned about these doffed skin. It is because the tank ecosystem is built in a way where the existing bacteria will feast on the flakes. So, your tank barely stinks due to the shedding.

But in many cases, the skins get stuck into the filter, interrupting the filtration. As a result, there will be an imbalance in the enclosure, and you can sense the damp decomposing odor.

3. Yes! It Is Definitely Poop!

Turtles release their waste when in water. Eventually, poops will settle at the bottom, enticing bacteria, fungi, and other organisms. Soon, the particles will start decomposing and spread a foul smell.

4. Is It An Algae Outbreak?

Oh, algae! I am literally pissed at these tiny green organisms. Eliminating these can be a nerve-wracking journey as algae grows rapidly. I suffered from an algae outbreak at the beginning of my turtle-keeping journey.

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These organisms help by absorbing carbon dioxide. But they also come with an unpleasant damp smell. Hence, your tank can really stink.

5. Not The Filter I Expected!

A filter capacity plays a huge role in maintaining tank hygiene. For instance, installing a device with low capacity can neither filter out the filth nor kill the bacteria. Thus, you notice the never-ending foul odor in the aquarium.

6. When Did You Last Cleaned The Filter?

It is clear that filters pump and circulate water constantly to trap the filth. Where do you think the dirt goes? Yes, they stay in the filter baskets.

Not cleaning the filter regularly will only process dirty water. So, of course, there will be the stinky smell too.

7. You Are A Lazy Cleaner!

When was the last time you changed the turtle tank water? Also, how often do you deep clean the pet habitat? I am sure that you are not a regular. If you were, the tank would not be smelling this bad.

Unclean water includes dirt and filth of all kinds. Besides, the enclosure becomes the breeding ground of numerous bacteria, fungi, and microorganisms. No wonder the tank smells like a dead rat.

8. The Tank Is Just Too Small!

I can not expect my large turtle to thrive in a small tank. Experts always advise providing these reptiles with spacious habitats. Congested homes affect their growth and mental stability. You will also notice a degradation in the tank hygiene.

Forcing the turtles to adjust in a small tank, especially in the case of community habitat, brings no good. Instead, bacteria and fungi disperse at a rapid rate in such setups. It is because the congested tank with more elements gets dirty quickly., spreading a foul odor.

turtle tank smell causes & solution: infographic

Want to get a printable version of this infographic? Click here!

How Can I Get Rid Of My Turtle Tank Smell?

To be honest, I do not blame my friend. Like him, there are thousands of other owners who make the same mistakes again and again. In this section, I will write exactly what you can do to avoid blunders and keep the tank hygienic.

1. Why Don’t We Focus On The Food Scraps?

I can not change the way my turtles eat, nor can you. But yes, you can bring a little twist to it. During mealtime, I take my turtles out to a separate tank. Now, the pets can be as messy as they want.

What if you can not afford another tank? A container or even a plastic tub will also work. Just keep the turtle under observation so that it can not escape.

How much and how often should you feed a turtle? You will find the details in my previous blogs.

Now, some turtles will refuse to eat in the new tank. It is natural only as the change of environment affects their appetite. However, if you are consistent with the meal place, the turtle will catch up with the habit soon.

Well, many owners are not excited about buying an extra tank. The most convenient option for them is to use a net to remove the food scraps after each meal.

Sometimes, the food particles are small enough to trespass the net. Applying a commercial sludge remover can remove both the leftover and foul smell.

2. What To Do With The Poop?

Most of the time, turtles eat and shit at the same time. It stands true for my pets. Thus, feeding the turtles in a separate container definitely helps me.

Of course, there is a narrow chance that your turtle will not poop during the meals. You can not control their bowel movements after all.

In such cases, use the same net to remove the feces from the water.

3. Algae Killer

You can not just stop the unexpected popping up of the algae. But you need a strategy for that.

My first move was to limit the direct sunlight. This is because algae multiply when exposed to more sunlight.

Next, I installed a UV sterilizer. It effectively killed the algae strains.

My moves were on point and fruitful. You can try them out and see whether they work for you.

4. The Right Filter Can Change The Game

There is a difference between buying the right filter and the quality one. Sure, you will get the top-class filter if you spend extras. But will the device fit your turtle tank? That is the main question.

From my experience, I have realized that you need a filter with a higher capacity than your pet aquarium. It means for a 50-gallon tank, a filter capable of processing 100 to 150-gallon water is more appreciable.

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This way, the turtles can access fresh water, and you can not smell anything terrible from their enclosure.

What happens otherwise?

Well, as mentioned, the filter will not be enough to process out the filth. Hence, you get a stinky turtle aquarium at home.

5. I Deep Clean My Tank Every Month

In a captive turtle tank setup, regular water change is mandatory. The ideal rule is to replace 25% of existing water with fresh water. Siphoning is the best way to deal with replacement procedures.

Besides, dump the entire tank water at least once a month and refill the aquarium. Monthly deep cleaning is also necessary.

Such regularity will definitely help you maintain hygiene in the habitat and remove the horrible smell.

Do not use commercial detergent, soap, or shampoo to clean the tank. It may add a strong fragrance but will cause skin and eye irritation in turtles. A green cleaner or certified commercial turtle cleaning agents are recommended.

6. Clean Up The Filter

Quality filters do an excellent job of removing debris, dirt, and filth from the tank water. The advanced filters offer multi-stage filtration.

Here, the large particles and debris are filtered out via the mechanical basket. Later, the chemical stage ensures that the circulating water has an ideal and suitable composition. Yes, the harmful germs and bacteria are also eliminated.

Finally, the charcoal removes the bad smell, adding a freshness to the water. There are bio-balls to promote beneficial bacterial colonies, too.

I clean the filter baskets once every month. In the aquariums, where there are fewer elements (live plants), clean every other month. Occasionally, I change the bio-balls and charcoal on the media baskets. Also, I replace the filtration pads when necessary.

7. Upgrade The Tank

When buying a tank or building an indoor pond, I always consider my turtle’s size. Ideally, 10-gallon water for each 1 inch of turtle’s carapace is enough. But I always opt for more because I add live plants to the aquarium.

Remember, when you add elements to the habitat (plants and other pets), you have to upgrade the housing. Consider a bigger tank, especially when you house multiple turtles together.

Spacious tanks will not get dirty as quickly as the congested ones. So you can avoid the terrible odor. And yes, the bigger tank will demand a more powerful filter.

8. Have You Heard Of Natural Tank Cleaners?

I had this great idea of putting fish and shrimp in the turtle tank to clean off the filth. Yes, some fish species actually live on algae and scraps. Sucklefish and spines are excellent choices for tank cleaners. The sucklefish even scrape off the algae and white spots from the turtle shells.

Even though fish and shrimp are fantastic tank cleaners, they barely survive with turtles. Our little innocent reptiles are mostly omnivorous and love to hunt. So, I will not be surprised if my turtles devour the fish and shrimp overnight.

Experts suggest selecting agile fish that turtles can not catch. For example, the spine fish have a stiff back, and turtles will not bite them. But you know, there is no guarantee.

Turtles are territorial species. Forcing them to live with fish and shrimp can stress them physically and mentally. Here are some fish that might survive in a turtle tank.

Why Is My Turtle Tank Cloudy And Stinky?

There can be multiple reasons why the turtle tank water looks cloudy. For example, right after you change water in the pond, it seems a bit hazy.

No! The water is not dirty. It is just that the good bacteria are yet to colonize in the habitat. Within a few days to a week, the water turns crystal clear.

But only one factor is to blame when the cloudy water comes with a foul smell. Yes, the tank is just filthy. The haziness you witness are the food scraps, debris, and turtle poop. Irregular tank cleaning and water changes are responsible for this scenario.

In a deeper investigation, owners may discover that the filter is also out of order. Dirt accumulation on the filtration chambers will fail to circulate freshwater. Hence, the tank water will look cloudy.

I have explained the cloudy turtle tank water phenomenon along with the fixes in this article.

Can The Smell Of A Turtle Tank Make You Sick?

A stinky turtle tank can make you throw up. That’s all.

But can this make you admitted to a hospital? Hell, no!

However, you can not just allow the aquarium to stink. Right? It is not only unhygienic for the turtles but also unhealthy for you and your family.

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Handling the filthy turtle and returning to your daily chores without washing your hands will cause stomach aches. Also, you may suffer from food poisoning.

Not to mention, the putrid odor ruins your home ambiance. It really puts off the homely vibe in front of the guests.

Why Does The Turtle Tank Smell Like Rotten Eggs?

A filthy turtle aquarium can smell like rotten eggs, ammonia, and whatnot! The leftover food particles are responsible for this terrible odor. Likewise, the poop and urinate in the water are to blame for the ammonia-like smell.

When you go without cleaning for weeks and months, the leftovers, feces, and debris will turn into sludge. During the decomposition period, these will spread a stinking smell.

Why does my turtle tank smell like sulfur?

If your turtle tank smells like sulfur, it could be due to anaerobic bacteria breaking down organic matter in the tank, producing hydrogen sulfide gas. This gas has a distinct rotten egg smell and can be harmful to both turtles and humans.

Other possible causes of a smelly turtle tank include food particles, algae, poor filtration, small tank size, and turtle waste.

To get rid of the smell, it is important to clean the tank regularly, remove uneaten food and waste, and ensure proper filtration and water quality.

why does my turtle tank smell even after cleaning?

If your turtle tank still smells even after cleaning, it could be due to several reasons.

One possible reason is that the filter is not working properly or is not strong enough to handle the tank’s size and the turtle’s waste.

Another reason could be that the tank is overcrowded, leading to an accumulation of waste and uneaten food.

Additionally, if the tank is not being cleaned properly, there may be a buildup of organic matter that is causing the smell.

To address this issue, it is important to ensure that the filter is working correctly, the tank is not overcrowded, and that the tank is being cleaned thoroughly and regularly.

can i put baking soda in my turtle tank?

Yes, you can use baking soda in your turtle tank. Baking soda is safe for turtles and can be used to clean the tank as well as to elevate the pH level in the water.

However, it is important to use baking soda in moderation as it can significantly impact the pH level of the water.

If you have other aquatic animals in the tank, such as fish or invertebrates, it is important to monitor the pH level closely and ensure that it does not rise to a level that could harm them.

why does my turtle tank get dirty so fast?

Turtle tanks can get dirty quickly due to several reasons.

One of the primary reasons is the lack of understanding of the role of filters. Filters play a crucial role in maintaining the water quality in the turtle tank by removing uneaten food, feces, and other debris from the water, which can quickly build up and make the water dirty and unsuitable for turtles.

Another reason is overfeeding. Feeding your turtle more food than it can consume leads to uneaten food decomposing in the tank, which can cause the water to become cloudy and dirty.

Additionally, small tank size can also contribute to the tank getting dirty quickly as turtles produce a lot of waste, which can accumulate quickly in a small tank.

To prevent the tank from getting dirty quickly, it is important to use a filter that is appropriate for the tank size, feed your turtle the right amount of food, and ensure that the tank is large enough to accommodate your turtle.

why does my turtle tank smells like poop?

If your turtle tank smells like poop, it is likely due to the accumulation of turtle waste in the tank. Turtles produce a lot of waste, and if it is not removed regularly, it can quickly build up and cause the water to become dirty and smelly.

Additionally, uneaten food can also contribute to the smell in the tank as it decomposes and releases organic compounds that can break down into ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, which can produce unpleasant odors.

Before You Go…

A smelly tank can make you and your turtle throw up! Installing a powerful filter is one of the best ways to eliminate the foul odor. While Canister filters are perfect for indoor tanks, you need an upgrade for the ponds. I have discussed pond filters for turtles in the attached article below.

What Is The Best Filter For Indoor Turtle Pond?

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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