How to Change Water in Turtle Tank? Things to Consider

Maintaining a hygienic turtle tank goes beyond regular cleaning. You will have to change out the water in the tank periodically. This ensures your turtle has a healthy environment that does not reek. Unlike fish, turtles produce a lot of waste, and the water in their aquarium must be changed regularly.

Changing the water in your turtle tank is a complicated task that needs special tools and a little work. This article will share everything you need to know about cleaning your turtle tank.

Read on to learn more about:

  • Tools and materials you need to keep clean the turtle tank
  • How to change the water in the turtle tank
  • How often to change the water in the turtle tank
  • How to sterilize the water in the turtle tank

1. Ensure Your Tank Size is Appropriate

Having a tank that is large enough for the size and number of your turtles is crucial. A small or overcrowded tank will get dirty quickly and must be cleaned very often. On the other hand, a tank that is too huge will need a lot of time and energy to keep clean. Selecting the correct tank size is vital to make cleaning and changing the water as painless as possible.

A rule of thumb is multiplying your turtle’s length by ten to fifteen gallons to determine the correct tank size. A three-inch turtle should be housed in a tank between thirty and forty-five gallons. You could buy a large tank that your turtle will grow into or start with a small twenty-gallon tank that you can switch out later.

If you have more than one turtle, ensure the tank is half as big as the initial calculation for each extra turtle. Where one turtle would need twenty gallons, two would need at least thirty.

2. Move Your Turtle

After determining the fitness of your tank size and whether you need a replacement, you are ready to begin cleaning. Pick your turtle from the tank and gently place it in a transparent bowl, bucket, or carrying case you used to carry it from the store. The container should be big enough for your turtle to turn around. It should not have been used for anything other than to protect your turtle from harmful pathogens.

3. Remove Heaters, Filters, Large Objects, and Leftover Food

Next, unplug the filters, heaters, and large objects, then remove them from the tank. Ensure you note how they were set up because it is best to return them in the same setup to avoid disorienting your turtle. Store them separately for cleaning and reinstallation later on.

Removing leftover food is the best way to ensure the aquarium’s waters remain clear and odor free. Leftover food in the tank raises the nitrate and nitrite level, which causes the tank to smell bad and risks your turtle’s health. It is essential to remove all leftover food using a small fish net as soon as you are done feeding the turtle.

If your tank has gravel at the bottom, you must vacuum it at least once a week because food particles will likely get trapped between the rocks. Vacuuming once a week is also necessary if the water produces an odor within a few days of cleaning. When shopping for an aquatic vacuum cleaner, select one with a nozzle long enough to reach all corners of the tank.

4. Transfer the Tank to the Cleaning Area

After emptying the tank of its contents, you must carry it to a good cleaning area, e.g. a bathtub or grassy spot. Ensure you have help carrying the tank to avoid an accident. Each person should have a short side of the tank, and both of you can slide it slowly off the table so you can lift it from beneath.

5. Changing the Water Manually

Pour out the water from the tank by squatting and lifting one end with your knees. Do not engage your back and arms when lifting heavy objects because you may sustain serious injury. If your substrate is organic, e.g.nutshells or peat, discard the old layer. Where the substrate is inorganic, e.g. gravel, you rinse it out and leave it in the tank.

6. Changing the Water Using an Aquarium Maintenance System

As mentioned above, food leftovers and your turtle’s waste increase the water’s nitrite and nitrate levels after decomposition. These substances are toxic to your turtle and must be eliminated before they accumulate to deadly levels. Installing a filter ensures the nitrates, nitrites, and chlorine do not build up to harmful levels, but eventually, you must remove all traces by changing out the water.

The more often you change the water, the better it is for your turtle. Unlike fish, turtles do not suffer shock after a change in their aquarium’s water, so you can change it as often as you would like. Purchasing an aquarium maintenance system that empties and refills with no spills will make changing your turtle tank’s water easy. These systems ensure that you can remove the water without uninstalling the tank.

Changing half or a third of the water in your tank about once a week or whenever it begins smelling is advisable – whatever happens sooner. Complete water changes should be done once a month after cleaning the aquarium. Clean your aquarium with 5% bleach solutions before refilling the tank. Ensure you do not leave any traces of bleach in the tank because it could kill your turtle.

7. Scrub the Tank

Use a 5% bleach or vinegar solution and a sponge to scrub the tank. Ensure you scrub the tank’s surface thoroughly, especially the corners, bottom, and seams where panels join, as debris tends to build up here. When done scrubbing, rinse the tank. Ensure you remove all the debris, bleach, or vinegar you used in the cleaning solution. Ensure no traces of bleach or vinegar are visible before letting the tank dry.

When done with the tank, clean the substrate, decorations, and other devices. Ensure you disassemble the filter and clean the pieces with regard to the instruction manual. Clean your heater, substrate, and any other decorations you removed from the tank. The filter bag should be replaced at least once a month.

8. Refill the Tank

After your tank dries, return it to the display area and replace all the items you had earlier removed. Avoid carrying the tank while wet because it is more likely to slip through your fingers. Ensure the electric components are reinstalled securely. Do not change up the arrangement of the tanks because it may disorient your stress or disorient your turtle.

If you want to refill the tank using tap water, you must dechlorinate it using a safe de-chlorinator for animals. Most pet stores stock a variety of pet-safe dechlorinators. Using a little dechlorination may be a good idea because it neutralizes any bleach that may have been left over while rinsing it out.

9. Check the Water’s Temperature and pH.

Now that your tank finally has some water, you must ensure the conditions are perfect for your turtle. The recommended temperature range is between seventy and seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit. If you use tap water, you should also test the water’s pH, nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia levels. Pet stores stock test kits for these chemicals. You only need to pour some tank water into test tubes to produce a color change indicating the purity level.

The recommended pH range for turtles is between seven and eight. If the pH levels are not within this range, you can buy chemicals that lower or raise the pH as necessary. Adding a teaspoon of non-iodized salt for each gallon of water in the tank is a handy hack that prevents bacterial buildup and protects your turtle from shells and skin diseases.

10. Sterilize the Water Using a UV Light

UV light is crucial to your turtle’s health for two significant reasons. The first is its ability to eliminate bad smells and keep the water free of pathogens. It kills algae and bacteria, which are crucial culprits behind the foul odor. The second is providing the environment necessary for synthesizing vitamin D3, which is crucial for calcium absorption.

If the UV water sterilizer does not curb the smell, ensure it is powerful enough for your turtle’s tank size. Should the sterilizer be underpowered, you can purchase a new one online or at your local pet store. Alternatively, you can power up and use a germicidal UVC light bulb.

11. Return Your Turtle to the Tank

Now that your tank is set up, you can return your turtle to the tank and clean your hands thoroughly.


Ensure you partially change the water in your turtle tank once a week partially and empty it once a month. Changing the water in your turtle tank is not hard, and it is guaranteed to get easier every time you do it. Cleaning the tank periodically and changing the water will ensure your turtle remains in excellent health.