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Home > Turtles > How to Get Rid of Turtle & Tortoise Odor: 3 Ideas & Tips

How to Get Rid of Turtle & Tortoise Odor: 3 Ideas & Tips

Midland Painted Turtle on the rock_Brian Lasenby

When you’re considering bringing a turtle or tortoise home as a pet, you might be wondering if they smell. The good news is that these reptiles don’t have a naturally unpleasant odor, but their enclosures can get smelly over time.

If you’re a seasoned turtle or tortoise owner, you might already be combating the smells. In this article, we look at the reasons that turtles and tortoises can start to smell swampy and what you can do to get rid of these odors.divider-turtle

The 3 Ways to Get Rid of Turtle & Tortoise Odors

1. Uneaten Food

tortoise eating broccoli
Image Credit:
taniadimas, Pixabay

Turtles don’t always eat all their food. Some of this can float in the water and clog your filtration system, quickly causing the water to smell bad. Pellets, feeder fish, and brine shrimp can disintegrate in the water and start to decay.

Tortoises tend to drag their food with them to other parts of their enclosures to eat in solitude. If they don’t finish it all, the leftover vegetable matter can start to rot. The warmth and moisture in a tortoise enclosure will exacerbate the smell.

What to Do

Use a skimming net every day in your turtle tank to remove as much leftover floating food as you can. You can choose to feed your turtle from a dish to keep the food contained. Check your tortoise enclosure for hidden food in their hideaways, corners, and under rocks. Remove all the food that you find.

2. Dirty Food and Water Dishes

Water dishes can quickly become scummy, and as this scum builds, it starts to stink. Dumping the dish and refilling it with fresh water aren’t enough to get rid of the smell. Food dishes can also grow bacteria and have residue left in them after your turtle or tortoise finishes a meal. Even if they eat everything that you offer them, the dish isn’t clean when they’re done.

What to Do

At least once a week, if not more often, thoroughly clean the food and water dishes. Don’t use soap, as even a bit left behind can harm your reptile. You can soak the dishes in hot water and white vinegar for a few minutes and then scrub the dishes to remove any slime or debris. Thoroughly rinse them before using them again.

3. Unhygienic Enclosures

Wild Florida chicken turtle
Image Credit By: Chase Danimulls, Shutterstock

When ammonia levels in the water rise, your turtle’s enclosure will produce a smell that is unique and familiar to reptile owners. The most common reason your turtle smells is not that they themselves stink, but the water does.

For tortoises and turtles that use dry enclosures, their substrate can become dirty and damp. This can quickly become smelly.

What to Do

Make sure your filtration system is strong enough to handle the size of the enclosure. If the water becomes cloudy after a few days, you likely need a stronger filter.

Do a partial water change once a week. Remove a quarter of the water, and replace it with non-chlorinated water that is the same temperature. Check the water levels regularly to maintain the proper parameters.

In tortoise enclosures, use a reptile sand that can be scooped every day. Replace damp substrate before it has a chance to breed bacteria and start to stink.

Keep the enclosure at suitable temperatures. If an enclosure is too hot, it can grow algae and mold quickly. It can also cause shell rot. The appropriate temperature is necessary to avoid unpleasant odors and keep your reptile healthy. divider-turtle

How to Keep a Tortoise Enclosure From Stinking

Cleaning the enclosure regularly will drastically reduce any smell associated with your tortoise. Tortoises themselves don't stink. They have a natural musky odor, but otherwise, they smell like the substrate in their enclosures. If you notice unpleasant odors, like rot or mold, the enclosure should be cleaned.

Sift the substrate daily. Remove uneaten food and clean the food and water dishes. These are simple tasks, but they can cut down on unwanted odors. Clean the entire enclosure and everything in it once a month. Replace the substrate. With regular maintenance, your tortoise won’t smell bad at all.

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How to Keep a Turtle Enclosure From Stinking

Turtles, like tortoises, have a natural reptile smell. If you notice strong, unpleasant odors coming from the enclosure, it’s not the turtle but their surroundings that need to be cleaned.

Clean water is necessary for turtles to smell fresh. Removing food waste and poop helps reduce odors and so does replacing the water regularly.

Every month or when the smell becomes overpowering, the tank should be thoroughly cleaned. Algae and food residue should be completely removed.

If you notice any algae, slime, or debris on your turtle’s shell, gently remove it using clean water and a soft toothbrush.

person carrying an Eastern Box Turtle
Image Credit: Lisa Holder, Shutterstock

What If It Doesn’t Work?

Well-kept turtles and tortoises don't smell bad. If you've done everything that you can to reduce odors and it's not working, it could be a sign of disease or infection.

Unpleasant odors coming from your reptile’s body should always be checked by a veterinarian.

Check around the reptile’s limbs, tail, and neck for signs of redness or sores. This could be an infection. Check the shell for any cracks, holes, or soft spots. If the infection is under the shell, your vet can properly treat it and get your turtle or tortoise feeling and smelling better quickly.

If any unpleasant smell is coming from your reptile, it’s always best to have them seen by a professional who can diagnose and treat the issue.

Eastern Mud Turtle
Image Credit By: Frode Jacobsen, Shutterstock



Healthy turtles and tortoises don’t naturally smell bad. If they start to develop odors, chances are that their enclosures need to be tended to or thoroughly cleaned.

By keeping their homes clean, their dishes sanitized, and their shells free from algae and bacteria, you won’t have to worry about bad odors.

If you do all this and your reptile still smells, a trip to the vet is required to rule out any health issues.

Featured Image Credit: Brian Lasenby, Shutterstock

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