How To Fix Cloudy Turtle Tank Water (What Causes a Cloudy Turtle Tank)

It happens sometimes. You wake up one morning and realize the water in your turtle’s tank has gotten cloudy. At first, you’re dumbfounded. You pride yourself on providing a stable, healthy environment for your friend, and always try to keep it as tidy as possible. 

It could be that you’ve overlooked cleaning it for a while, it could be that something went wrong.  There are a multitude of reasons your turtle’s water could have gotten cloudy. But now that you see it, it has to be dealt with. 

Turtles, in the wild, get away with living in filth. It’s why, if you’re going to keep goldfish and turtles together, it’s critical that you get a proper filter installed, as fish can’t survive naturally being a turtle’s roommate. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss the many reasons your turtle’s tank has gotten cloudy, as well as how to make it clean and fresh once again so that your friend can flourish. 

What Causes a Cloudy Turtle Tank

 Before addressing how to best clean out the water in your turtle’s tank, you first have to know what’s causing it. There are three very common causes of cloudy water in your turtle tank. They are:

  • Bacteria
  • You haven’t properly maintained your tank. 
  • Your tank filter is dirty.


Bacteria is the most frequent reason for your tank’s water becoming cloudy. If you start to notice your water getting hazy, then congratulations on your recent purchase. 

It’s true. The majority of cloudy water cases reported come from owners who have recently set up their tanks for the first time. And after setting it up, you likely added fresh, clean, bacteria-free water. 

But turtles don’t live in fresh, clean, bacteria-free water. And though you thought you provided a proper environment for your new friend, you made the common mistake of further removing them from their natural state. 

What you want to aim for is to try and recreate a small slice of their own world in yours. In nature, the waste a turtle excretes is broken down by millions of tiny bacteria. These helpful bacteria break the ammonia in the waste into a less dangerous chemical, nitrite, and finally turn it into nitrate. 

This biological process is called the nitrogen cycle. The nitrates in the air are then absorbed by nearby plantlife. In captivity, the nitrogen cycle is equally important in eliminating harmful ammonia. And the living plantlife in the tank will also benefit by absorbing the nitrates. 

But recently set up turtle tanks don’t come with their own bacteria. Without the bacteria necessary to colonize and start reproducing, the waste the turtle excretes will make the water cloudy. It’s simply the bacteria trying to break down the waste in the water on its own. 

Poor Tank Maintenance

If you’ve had your tank set up for a long time, but for some reason start to experience cloudy water, another possible cause may be poor tank maintenance. This is not to say that you are lazy, clumsy or inept at caring for your pet. It can be difficult to upkeep when life gets busy on occasion. 

But more likely, it’s not that you’re intentionally or unintentionally slacking off, but more that the way you’ve been maintaining your tank is incorrect. 

Aquatic turtles, in particular, are some of the most unkempt creatures in nature. Not only do they excrete large amounts of waste, but they’re sloppy eaters as well. Even if you’re trying to stick to pellets for convenience, the turtle may spit it out, only finish half and throw the rest away or rip it apart. 

In general, they produce a large amount of food waste and particles that are going to be floating around in your turtle’s tank. 

If you choose to feed your turtle inside of its tank, it could easily be what’s causing the water to get cloudy. It’ll also emit a foul odor and create a film atop the water’s surface. This is most likely a build up of protein from the undigested food you gave to your turtle. 

The water quality can seriously deteriorate. This can lead to damage to the turtle’s eyes and eventual health problems. 

Dirty Tank Filter 

There are three possible causes for your tank filter to get dirty. The first is obvious; you aren’t cleaning it very well. The second is that you may not be cleaning it at all, which is a major problem. But the opposite may also be possible; you may be cleaning it too well. 

The best practice for tank filter clearing is to do it only two times a month. No more. No less. 

If you don’t clean out your tank’s filter at least once a month, it will create a buildup of waste and other organic matter. The waste will start to rot after a little while, which can create algae and produce a horrible odor. Eventually, the water will also get cloudy. 

If you regularly clean your filter, then you should consider how often you do it. Too often can be a problem, but not as bad as never or not enough. 

Some of the bacteria necessary for the nitrogen cycle live inside your tank’s filter.  Cleaning it out thorough can kill some of the bacteria the process needs to complete. This is why twice a month is the recommended practice. 

How To Fix Cloudy Water In Your Turtle Tank

As there are three causes of cloudy water, there are three solutions to the problem. But knowing what caused the water to become cloudy will help you know which solution will work best. 

  • If you’ve recently set up your tank, don’t do anything. Fresh, clean water or a recently set up tank may be the cause. 
  • Rather than allow your turtle to make a mess of his meal and tank, take them out to eat. Not only will they enjoy a little trip out, the tank will remain cleaner. 
  • Make sure you’re properly cleaning your tank and tank’s filter. 

Solution #1: Did You Recently Set Up Your Tank?

This is the easiest thing in the world to fix, as it literally requires you to do nothing. If you’ve recently set up your turtle tank, then the best thing to do is wait it out. 

You must let a little time pass for the bacteria to properly colonize your tank, maybe even up to a few weeks. This is known among turtle owners as “New Tank Syndrome”. The biochemical environment for which your turtle needs to thrive has yet to be properly established. 

It’s not just the bacteria that needs to colonize, there are several different biochemical processes that need to put themselves in place before your tank is properly established. When it is established, there will be a balance in the nature contained within. 

You may first see the cloudy water and instantly assume you did something wrong. But the last thing you want to do is remove and replace the cloudy water in the tank. This will only mean the bacteria is going to take even longer to establish itself, and if you keep doing it, you’ll never have a proper ecosystem for your turtle. 

The change from cloudy to ordinary looking, clear water should happen overnight, however it may take a while to finally happen. It’s important not to panic. This is a perfectly natural part of the process. 

If, however, the water remains cloudy for an abnormally long period of time, you may want to check the pH levels or tank your tank to a professional turtle technician to make sure.

Once clear, though, it should remain clear provided you maintain both your tank and filter properly. 

Solution #2: Poor Tank Conditions Caused by Feeding 

We hope we’ve given you an accurate picture of just how messy an aquatic turtle can be as an eater. Not only does it make a mess, the smell isn’t exactly pleasant either. Worse still, the food left undigested can lead to fungus that can infect your friend and make them very sick. 

Most commercial diets for turtles are full of nutrients. These nutrients break apart, polluting your turtle’s water. If you decide to continue feeding your turtle within its enclosure, you’ll need to upgrade the filters and bioload to help take on the massive waste and thrown around food. This should help keep your water clear and increase the quality of your turtle’s tank water.

But there are other, less expensive, much easier ways to cope with your turtle’s eating habits. One might consider feeding it outside the enclosure. Feeding your turtle outside the tank will prolong the length of time between water changes and in general make your turtle’s tank a cleaner place to live.  

How To Feed Turtles Outside Of Their Tank

  1. Take a container approximately half the size of your turtle, fill it with some water from your turtle’s tank. You’ll want to fill it halfway, and make sure it’s a container from which they cannot climb out. 
  2. Add some food you would normally give your turtle in the feeding tub. 
  3. GIve your turtle about ten minutes to enjoy its meal. Usually after about ten minutes, they will have had their fill. When they’re done, take them out of the feeding tub and return them to the tank. 
  4. Get rid of the water either outside or in the sink or toilet. Rinse it out and put it where you normally keep it. 

Solution #3: Clean Your Filter

The solution to not cleaning your filter enough, or ever, is painfully obvious. Simply clean it more frequently. But it’s very important that you don’t overclean. As we mentioned, cleaning your filter too often can kill some very necessary bacteria in your tank.

But a lot of people take to cleaning their tanks on a weekly or even bi-weekly schedule. Overall, this is a perfectly acceptable practice. Filters are there to keep the water clear, and a lot of owners will clean their filters when they particularly notice a buildup of gunk. 

But you really don’t need to clean your filter more than twice a month. Keeping to that schedule is the best tip about filter cleaning professionals have to offer. 

Filters are also important in the biochemical process that break the waste down into less harmful chemicals. So it’s important to keep your filter clean enough to work well, otherwise the waste could cause health problems in your turtle. 

How to Clean Your Tank Filter

  1. Remove the filter from the tank. Canister filters will have a different process. 
  2. Take the filter either outside or to your sink. 
  3. Remove the filter media, but be careful not to completely erase the biological media. Scrap that off into some turtle tank water that you will later re-pour into your tank.
  4. Rinse freshwater through the filter. This is to get rid of any leftover waste, not the biological matter. You may entirely replace the filter’s interior if you choose. 
  5. Put the filter back together.
  6. Return the filter to the tank and plug it back in. 

How To Prevent Future Cloudy Water

Keep a Filter Cleaning Schedule

You’ll want to clean out your tank’s filter regularly. This will mean cleaner water and less chance that it will get cloudy in the future. 

It’s also important that you don’t remove the biological material that’s developed in your filter, otherwise the process must begin all over again and your water will get cloudy. You don’t want to use tap water to clean your filter, as that will effectively kill the bacteria. 

Feed Turtles in a Separate Container

The easiest solution to avoiding buildup of leftover food that can lead to cloudy water is to simply feed your turtle elsewhere. It’s not much of a hassle, and you can have fun with your turtle while it eats. Some of turtle ownership’s most adorable moments occur when watching them eat a fruit or a green leaf, struggling to get it down. 

It will also help maintain the water quality in your tank. Otherwise, the quality will severely degrade, eventually becoming cloudy. 

Food particles are no friend to your filter, either, which can easily cause waste and other fungus to build up. This can lead to algae and your turtle could suffer infections. 

You might also mitigate this by adding a few small fish to eat the food up, such as guppies. 

Use a Gravel Vacuum to Clear Debris

If you have gravel in your turtle’s tank, make sure to use a vacuum. Gravel and pebbles can cause waste to get stuck and not find its way to the filter as it should. The waste breaking up in the water can make it cloudy, so it’s always a necessary purchase. 

Fortunately, they’re relatively inexpensive. 

Here is video on how to vaccum turtle tank. 

Why Do Turtles Need Clean Tank Water?

Turtles may keep their place filthy, but their habitats in nature usually have very clean water. As you are trying to recreate a similar environment, it’s important to keep the water quality very high. This means the water has to be clear of ammonia and have the least amount of nitrates in it as possible. 

Using a filter and cleaning your tank properly are the most important things you can do to maintain your turtle’s wellbeing.

How Often Should I Clean My Turtle’s Tank?

A turtle’s tank should be cleaned at least once a month, but that may increase depending on a number of factors. How strong your filter is will give you a good idea of how often it needs to be cleaned, but you should also consider the size of your turtle, your tank, and what kind of turtle you have. 

The bigger the turtle, the messier it’s going to be. 


How long does it take for a cloudy tank to clear up?

In a turtle tank, it can take anywhere from a few days to a full week for the water to go clear. Patience and not panicking are important. When you see cloudy water, fight your first instinct to change it instantly. 

Is cloudy water bad for turtles?

If it’s abnormal, yes. If your tank is new, it may take a few weeks for the water to properly achieve the bacteria it needs to be a stable environment for your turtle. However, if it’s occurring well after you’ve had the tank a while, it could be due to other reasons such as poor maintenance to the tank or the filter. 

If that’s the case, the cloudy water could damage your turtle’s eyes and eventually lead to other health problems. 

Why does my tank look cloudy?

There are three main reasons your turtle’s tank has become cloudy. The first is that your tank is brand new, and has no bacteria in it yet. It needs time to establish itself. 

The second reason may be due to poor maintenance. Particularly if you’re feeding your turtle in its tank, the water can deteriorate due to food particles being left inside. 

The final reason may be that you aren’t cleaning your tank’s filter or you are cleaning it too well. 

If you don’t feel any of these reasons apply to you, speak to a professional about your turtle’s water. 





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