One of the most overlooked aspects of pet ownership is the fact that some species can naturally produce some truly pungent and off-putting aromas, just ask ferret owners.

This stinky pet problem is not limited to people who own exotic pets like ferrets or hedgehogs, cat owners and dog owners will know that their pets can rile up a stink if not properly taken care of.

Well, turtle owners find out that their pets can stink as much as any other animal if left alone. Turtle tanks can get so stinky with a swampy and rotten odor, that many people end up regretting their decision to get a turtle in the first place.

That is why we’re going to cover the reason why turtle tanks can smell so darned strong in the first place, and, most importantly, how to prevent your tank from smelling bad.

Reasons Why Turtle Tanks Smell Bad

The first thing you must understand about turtles is that they don’t have a naturally offensive smell. In fact, they don’t have much of a smell at all.

However, turtles are relatively messy pets, and they produce a surprisingly large amount of waste. The myth that turtles are intrinsically smelly creatures is caused, much like the myth that hedgehogs are stinky, by poor upkeep and a lack of adequate care of the turtle tank.

A dirty turtle tank will smell bad

So, if you find yourself with a foul-smelling turtle you need to understand why it is happening and identify the root cause so that it can be addressed directly.

In this regard, turtle tanks will start producing unpleasant odors due to these reasons. 

Decaying Leftover Food

Turtles eat a diet based on a balanced mix of animal protein, vegetables, and fresh fruit. These are all things that tend to decompose rather quickly, so you may end up surprised to find that uneaten leftover food particles from a recent feeding have decomposed and started to produce a rotten or putrid smell.

Waste Buildup

Like all pets that are kept in small to medium enclosures, turtles will produce enough waste per day that it can easily build up to detrimental levels. This sort of waste includes things like fecal matter, dirt, scute (shell) sheddings, and other bits of organic matter.

After enough of this detritus has built up inside your turtle tank, it will very likely start to give off a noticeable scent that most people will find off-putting.

Clogged Filter

Clogged filters are one of the most common reasons behind smelly turtle tanks. Filters are one of the most important components of your turtle’s tank setup. The filter is going to be responsible for keeping the tank’s water free of turtle feces, urine, and other organic compounds that promote the growth of foul-smelling bacteria.

Use a filter to clean your turtle tank

Turtle tank filters work hard, harder than fish tank filters, for example. So, when the filter gets a clog, the difference between a filtered environment and one that isn’t is monumental.

Dirty Tank

A lot of people are very diligent when it comes to keeping their turtles fed regularly, clean, and in good health. However, a lot of people also forget that the aquarium itself is an important aspect of the overall well-being of their pets.

f the sides of the tank are allowed to get scummy, or if the substrate inside the tank is neglected, the tank will end up stinking up any room you place it in.

Keeping your turtle tank smelling fresh should be one of your priorities as a turtle keeper.

Now that you know what to look out for, follow the tips and tricks below to make sure that your turtle tank stays smelling as fresh and clean as possible.

Tips To Keep Your Turtle Tank From Smelling

Here is an undeniable fact that will make your life as a turtle owner much easier: well-kept turtle tanks don’t smell bad. So, follow the tips and tricks below to mitigate and reduce as much as possible any foul or unpleasant odors in and around your turtle tank.

Remove Leftover Food

Remove leftover food bits. This is the first thing I recommend people do when they complain to me about their stinky turtle tanks. As soon as you get into the habit of cleaning out any leftover food floating around you will notice a noticeable improvement in the smells of your tank.

Feed Your Turtle Outside Of The Tank

If you want to take this even further, you should probably start feeding your turtles outside the enclosure altogether. Get a container large enough to hold your turtles comfortably, then add some water (from their tank preferably) and their food.

Keep food out of your turtles tank

Once the turtles are done eating, you can simply take the container, dump the water (with any leftover bits), and, voila, you have now eliminated the risk of leftover food decomposing inside your turtle tank.

Clean Your Tank

Clean your tank every few weeks. I would recommend that you do so once per month at least. Make sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect any items that sit in your tank between cleanings. This includes all of the substrate, the turtles’ habitat, rocks, the thermometer, any UV light bulbs, the heat lamp, etc.

Use a solution of warm distilled water and bleach to make sure that you kill any stinky bacteria that have started to grow on the surfaces of your tank.

Change The Water

In between tank cleanings, you should be vigilant to change the water. I recommend a partial change at least once per week. This means that every week or so, up to ¾ of your tank’s water should be replenished with fresh, non-chlorinated water.

Wait If Your Tank Is New

If your setup is brand new, you may notice that it starts smelling after a couple of days. While it may seem counter-intuitive, you may want to wait a few days before you follow any of the tips above. You see, brand new filters will be completely free of bacteria and this can contribute to your tank developing a foul smell early on.

A clean turtle is a happy turtle

If you wait a few days for good bacteria to populate the filter, they will eat up the many nitrates and other organic compounds that generate that characteristic swampy, sulfur, or ammonia smell.