Why Does My Turtle Tank Smell?


If your housemates have been nagging you about your Turtle tank’s smell, you’re not alone. This is a common problem among many Turtle keepers but that still doesn’t make it normal. Today, let’s find out how to keep your Turtle tank from causing that homemade air pollution.

Why Is My Turtle Tank So Smelly?

Turtles produce a lot of waste. Plus, its tank will naturally grow algae and sludge from rotting uneaten food. Coupled with the fact that you keep your Turtle tank indoors, it’s bound to stink.

That smell might compound if you have more than one Turtle in the tank as more waste producers are living in that space.

Turtle water naturally has a mild briny smell, but it shouldn’t be too noticeable much less overpowering. Once it starts to smell like a swamp, there’s something wrong.

Why Is My Turtle Tank Cloudy And Smelly?

So let’s get to the causes of that irritating rotten egg smell.

Cause #1: Waste and bacteria

Turtle poop and uneaten food break down, creating ammonia. If you have fish in the tank, they do defecate, too, and that adds to the decomposing waste.

Turtles also naturally have salmonella, which is why you need to wash your hands after you handle them (keeping you safe from infection). These bacteria come out in the Turtle’s poop. If the enclosure isn’t cleaned regularly, it will, of course, stink.

An aquarium is a closed system. Unlike the bodies of water that Turtles live in in the wild, there’s no fresh water coming into the tank. This is the purpose of having a filter and doing water changes.

Cause #2: Clogged or too small of a filter

But what if your filter isn’t doing its job properly?

This problem is more obvious when your tank starts to smell again only a couple of days after cleaning. Your filter might not be strong enough to keep the water clean against the amount of waste being added to it or something’s clogging it, preventing it from working correctly.

Why Does My Turtle Tank Smell?
Why Does My Turtle Tank Smell?

Filters should not only remove those floating things in your Turtle tank (mechanical filtration), but they should also grow helpful bacteria that eat up the waste your pets produce (biological filtration). But there are times when this isn’t enough. This is when too much waste isn’t broken down properly  into nitrites and eventually into nitrites, but instead stays as ammonia.

Cause #3: Ammonia spike

Ammonia is one of the smelliest substances to come out of aquarium water.

But please note that when you’re starting to cycle water, ammonia blooms are normal. This is necessary so that nitrifying bacteria can develop. Your water may turn cloudy and smelly at this point but will recede in a few days until the cycle completes.

If you already have cycled water, an ammonia spike indicates that your bioload is too much and that there are not enough nitrifying bacteria to eat up the Turtle’s waste. Aside from a weak or clogged filter, it might be because you don’t have enough water.

Cause #4: Your tank is too small

Less water in the tank means faster waste accumulation and eventually, smell. You can easily solve this by getting a bigger tank.

Can The Smell Of A Turtle Tank Make You Sick?

The smell itself shouldn’t make you sick unless you’re very queasy. Contracting a disease from the stink is highly unlikely, but you must clean the Turtle tank regularly.

Nobody’s going to the hospital just because of your Turtle tank’s smell. It’s sanitation that’s the issue. So for your sake and the Turtle’s, clean up.

How Do You Keep A Turtle Tank From Smelling?

Now that we know the causes of these odors, let’s prevent them.

How do you keep a Turtle tank from smelling?
How do you keep a Turtle tank from smelling?

Tip #1: Don’t overfeed your Turtle

Just like we said, too much waste creates too much ammonia (and fecal matter). It will also cause health problems for your Turtle.

Tip #2: Get a bigger sized tank

We highly recommend you get a tank that’s at least 55-gallons long or is 10 times the length of your Turtle. This is to give it wiggle room to swim around and explore its surroundings, and of course, avoid smelling funky real quick.

Tip #3: Upgrade your filter

We’ve already discussed this in our article, “Can You Keep A Turtle Without A Filter?”. This is a good read if you’re selecting filters for your Turtle tank.

Our recommended filter has at least 3 times a capacity of your tank. If you have a 100-gallon tank, you should have a filter with the capacity of 300 gallons per hour.

If you can afford it, the best is a canister filter for your pet because it provides powerful mechanical and biological filtration for the whole tank. If you have a limited budget, you can double the sponge filter you have now and add activated charcoal for chemical filtration. This substance helps reduce the smell greatly.

Tip #4: Clean regularly

Please stick to your cleaning and water change schedule. If you skip one, change more water the next time you’re available to do it.

Don’t just gravel vac the substrate. Other things in your tank like fake plants and ornaments may hold gunk and decaying material, causing the smell. Rinse them off before you do the water change.

If your water looks cloudy, especially if you can see particles floating around, check your filter for clogging and clean appropriately.

Tip #5: Provide a separate tub for feeding

Turtles need water to feed. If you have a separate tub that you can place some tank water in, this is a good place for your Turtle to eat. And because Turtles poop while they eat, having this separate tub enables you to keep the main tank cleaner from all that waste and food particles.

Once your Turtle is disinterested in food and has already pooped, you can put it back in the main tank.

Most people who use this method use a light-colored tub so they can see if their Turtle is eating properly.

Tip #6: Check your water chemistry regularly

Your Turtle needs cycled water just like a fish does. You can check out our previous posts on the nitrogen cycle and cycled water basics for this. It’s a possibility that your water is still cycling, thus, the bad smell.

Also, check for nitrogen cycle crashes. Keep a water testing kit as part of your hobby tools to see if there are any irregular levels (ammonia spikes). Keeping them constant keeps the bad smell away.

Tip #7: Try aquarium water cleaning products

There are sludge removers and water conditioners that help remove funky smells and water cloudiness like API’s Turtle Sludge Destroyer or Fluker’s 43000 Eco Clean All Natural Reptile Waste Remover.

These products are made of beneficial bacteria that can break down waste faster for a cleaner, fresher aquarium. They’re pretty inexpensive, too.

Fresh And Clean FTW

It’s okay to experiment, but we advise not to put chemicals in your tank as they can be harmful to your pet. Use only natural products to keep them safe and healthy.

Somebody asked before if Turtles can smell themselves. With the amount of gunk they produce, that is highly probable with their keen sense of smell. So go ahead and clean that enclosure from all that yucky stuff before it accumulates.

Oh, and hey, don’t forget to air out that room where you keep your Turtle tank once in a while.

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