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Home > Turtles > How to Safely Clean Your Turtle’s Shell & Skin: 5 Vet-Approved Steps

How to Safely Clean Your Turtle’s Shell & Skin: 5 Vet-Approved Steps

A red-eared slider turtle

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

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

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Many turtles spend most of their time in the water. So, you might think that they don’t need regular cleaning. However, a lot of pet turtles benefit from baths. The type of turtle and living conditions can affect how frequently you should clean them.

If you notice dirt or algae buildup or skin flaking on your turtle, it may be time to bathe them. Here’s what you need to know about giving a pet turtle a bath.


Before You Start

There are several materials that you need in order to properly clean a turtle. In general, you should have three basic supplies:

  • Plastic bathtub
  • Toothbrush
  • De-chlorinated water

You can dechlorinate water by purchasing a water conditioner, or you can boil the water for 20 minutes and let it cool before using it.

Since the purpose of cleaning a turtle is to remove algae and dead skin, you shouldn’t have to use shampoo on a turtle. If you notice excessive skin shedding, take your turtle to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can determine if your turtle needs any medicated shampoo.

The 5 Safe Steps to Clean a Turtle

1. Fill the plastic bathtub with de-chlorinated water.

Since turtles can carry salmonella, it’s important to have a designated bathtub for them to prevent the spread of salmonella. Therefore, make sure to avoid using your own bathtub or sink to clean your turtle.

You can use any plastic tub that’s shallow and wide enough for your turtle to rest comfortably inside. Then, fill the tub with enough de-chlorinated water so that your turtle’s chin can rest just above it. Check to ensure that the water is at room temperature before you place your turtle inside the tub.

puring water in plastic bath tub
Image Credit: kryzhov, Shutterstock

2. Use a soft toothbrush to scrub your turtle’s shell.

After the bathtub is all set up, wash your hands and place your turtle inside. Moisten a soft toothbrush with water and start scrubbing the shell gently. Be careful with scrubbing too hard because your turtle has nerves on its shell and can feel the pressure.

Once you finish scrubbing the top of the shell, you can scrub the bottom.

3. Inspect the rest of your turtle’s body.

After you’ve scrubbed the entire shell, move on to the rest of the body. You can use the toothbrush on the tail, neck, and legs. Just make sure to have an extra delicate touch because these parts are much more sensitive than the shell.

As you scrub your turtle, you can use this time to also check for any skin conditions or abnormalities. Be on the lookout for any swelling, discoloration, or abnormal discharge. If you notice any of these things, contact your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment for your turtle.

turtle on hand
Image By: nachalla, Pixabay

4. Rinse your turtle and return it to its enclosure.

Once you’ve completed scrubbing your turtle, take a pitcher of clean de-chlorinated water and slowly pour it over your turtle to rinse off any remaining debris. Then, transfer your turtle back into its tank.

5. Properly clean up your workstation.

The key things you want to focus on in this step are to properly dispose of the used bathwater and thoroughly clean the supplies you used.

Don’t pour the bathwater down your sink. Instead, flush it down the toilet to avoid the spread of bacteria. If you want to be extra thorough, you can wipe down the toilet with disinfectant wipes.

If you have a garden hose, you can thoroughly clean and disinfect the plastic tub outside before storing it away. Place the tub and the toothbrush in a spot that’s situated away from eating areas and food storage spaces.

Next, wipe down your workstation and disinfect it with wipes or a disinfectant spray. After you’ve wiped down and sanitized your workstation, don’t forget to thoroughly wash your hands.

woman cleaning table
Image By: Brian A Jackson, Shutterstock


Wrap Up

Cleaning your turtle can help prevent algae buildup on its shell, and it’s also a great way to regularly inspect your turtle for any signs of disease or discomfort. Aquatic turtles typically don’t need to be washed as frequently as semi-aquatic turtles and tortoises.

Bathing your turtle is typically an easy process, so make sure to add it to your care regimen if you’ve yet to do so. Although your pet turtle may not be able to vocalize it, it’ll appreciate feeling clean, healthy, and refreshed.

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Featured Image Credit: pukpui228, Shutterstock

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