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Home > Turtles > How to Give a Tortoise a Bath in 5 Simple Steps

How to Give a Tortoise a Bath in 5 Simple Steps

tortoise having a bath

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Veterinarian, MRCVS

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

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It might seem odd to think that your tortoise needs a bath. After all,you may not have seen them doing this in nature. But if you’re an experienced owner, you know that not only are baths beneficial and totally necessary—you’re little tortie loves them!

If this is your first time bathing your tortoise, you might wonder how to go about it. That’s where we come in! Here, we will explain exactly how to bathe your tortoise, along with other tips!


Friendly Warning About Bathing Your Tortoise

Before we get started, we absolutely have to stress that tortoises are not the same as some turtles—they cannot swim at all. Their bodies are not designed for the water and if they are submerged, they cannot resurface.

So, not only is it absolutely imperative that you constantly supervise them in the water, you should also be incredibly mindful about how deep the bath water is. An inch or two of water is sure to suffice, getting into all their nooks and crannies without risking drowning.

Never fill the tub near the height of the head. Ultimately, the amount of water will depend on the size of your individual tortoise but aim to just cover the plastron (underneath of the tortoise).

Red-Footed Tortoise
Image Credit: Brenda Carson, Shutterstock


How to Bathe Your Tortoise

Bathing your tortoise might be easier than you imagine. If you’re a first-timer—we have good news—it only gets easier from here!



It might seem silly. After all, you can stick your hand in the water and determine that it’s “lukewarm.” But the reality is, lukewarm might feel a little different to people. So, to avoid any chance of the water being too hot or cold, take the temperature.

Your tortie should enjoy temperatures between 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  You can find affordable thermometers on sites like Chewy to keep on hand.

Soft-Bristled Brush

For this one, you can literally use any suitable soft scrubber to get your tortoise clean. No need to buy anything special—an old toothbrush (that’s been cleaned) works wonders.

The soft bristles are gentle enough to keep your shelled buddy safe, but firm enough to deep clean all necessary areas.

Gentle Soap

You don’t usually need soap, just warm water but having a gentle, fragrance-free, natural soap to hand will work fine for more stubborn dirt. Regular Dawn dish soap is suitable, but be careful not to use too much. A little goes a long way. As they say—a dab’ll do ya’.

Drying Towel

Now, we aren’t trying to get too picky with after-bath care, but the truth is, your tortie has a sensitive shell. Abrasive towels or scrubbers can damage the shell surface which causes your pet pain.

To avoid any negative connotations relating to bath time, use a soft towel or cloth that is clean and free of any harsh detergents.

Cotton Swabs or Q-Tips

To get in the little pits of the soft tissue and other hard-to-reach areas, get a few Q-tips or cotton swabs to do the trick. They are safe, effective, and disposable, making cleanup a breeze.

Bathing Basin (Optional)

Humans and tortoises are quite different. We can use lots of products for our own bodies or household items that can be dangerous for our reptile friends. Likewise, our tortoise pals can carry potentially harmful bacteria, like salmonella, that can make us very sick.

For this reason, many people prefer having a designated bathing basin for their tortoises. If you choose to do so, you should only use it for your tortoise and nothing more.


Tortoise Bath: Start to Finish In 5 Steps

Now that you’ve gathered up all of your necessary supplies, it’s time to get the ball rolling.

1. Draw the bath at the appropriate temperature.

As we talked about in the supply section, adjusting the bathwater to the appropriate temperature is very important. Once you draw the bath, place your thermometer into the water to get an accurate reading.

Once you make sure the temperature is between 85 and 95 degrees, it’s time to go get your little guy out of the enclosure.

2. Gently place your tortoise in the tub.

When you place the tortoise into the tub, make sure to do so slowly so you can make sure the water height is optimal. The water shouldn’t come up over the shell or near your tortoise’s face. Just level with their plastron really.

giving red-eared tortoise a bath
Image Credit: Maks_Nova, Shutterstock

3. Let your tortoise soak for a few minutes.

After making sure all the conditions are right, let your tortoise soak for 15-20 minutes. This process will loosen up the dirt and debris from the shell while letting your buddy get used to the water. They also use this time to drink and it will help with hydration. Oftentimes your tortoise will toilet in the water so you may need to change the water before carrying on to the next step.

4. Clean, scrub, and massage your tortoise.

Don’t skip any areas—leave no stone unturned. Use the brush to gently scrub all the places bacteria could be hiding. Be very calm and patient, making no sudden movements or being too rough.

If you notice that your tortoise seems stressed, try to be thorough but quick. It’s crucial to make sure they are clean but get them back home as quickly as you can.

cleaning tortoise using brush
Image By: goosemagus, Shutterstock

5. Dry your tortoise completely before returning them to their enclosure.

Since your tortoise isn’t a natural water dweller, you shouldn’t leave any moisture on their shell or skin. Make sure to thoroughly dry areas like under the legs and where the shell meets the skin. Pat them dry.

Drying your tortoise completely will prevent any moisture from sitting on the skin to grow bacteria or fungus.

After you make sure that they are dry, let them get warm and cozy in their enclosure under their basking lamp.


General Husbandry for a Tortoise

Depending on your geographical location, you can keep a tortoise in an indoor or outdoor enclosure. For the sake of nature, having an outdoor enclosure is always more suitable, as it provides a natural habitat for your big or little guy so that they can bask, forage, and explore as they see fit.

However, sometimes, you have neither the weather conditions nor the space to provide an outdoor enclosure for your pet—and that’s okay! With proper care, a tortoise can live quite happily indoors.

No matter if they live outdoors or indoors, they need a clean living space with free access to fresh water.

Outdoor Tortoise Care

Many keepers provide their tortoises with the appropriate supplies to control their body temperature.

You might wonder how to really pinpoint if it’s warm enough for your tortoise. The general rule of thumb is that if you are comfortable outside in short sleeves, so is your tortoise—permitting, of course, that they have a warm place to go if temperatures drop. But you should research the optimum temperature for your particular tortoise breed as this varies.

Indoor Tortoise Care

If you have an indoor tortoise, the primary part of care will be making sure your guy or gal has a suitable environment for the species.

Providing proper basking and cooling areas in the enclosure is necessary so they can maintain an appropriate body temperature.

It is incredibly important to keep the enclosure clean, and free of debris and waste. If your tortoise lives in less than favorable or unclean living spaces, it can cause infection and issues with health.


Why Should You Bathe Your Tortoise?

Like us, your tortoise can get a build up in their creases. They can build up bacteria and all sorts of other debris on their skin, shell, and all places in between. To reduce any nasty stuff from forming, it’s crucial to give them a quick scrubbing from time to time.

But that’s not all. Tortoises also benefit from regular cleanings for a few other reasons. First, the lukewarm bath aids in hydration and easy elimination, meaning it provides the necessary moisture and helps them pass stool.

Plus, tortoises just seem to love the warmth and comfort of getting their tootsies wet from time to time. You might notice that they show signs of happiness or contentment during bathing sessions, which is expected.

Bathing your tortoise also washes away dead cells, promoting the growth of new cells that make the shell vibrant and healthy.

Lastly, it is just one more way you can bond with your pet. Grooming and hygiene are important in the animal kingdom and your guy or gal will be grateful for all you do—in their own way, of course.

bathing a Sulcata tortoise
Image By: Sutthiphong Chandaeng, Shutterstock

Health Issues from Unsanitary Living Conditions

If your tortoise lives in an environment that isn’t suitable, health concerns can flare-up. One of the most common conditions a tortoise can develop is called shell rot.

This disorder can spawn from a variety of triggers, but most commonly it’s from injury or an unsanitary living environment.

If the environment’s too dry, damp, or dirty, this painful condition can develop. It’s imperative to keep their enclosure at the ideal temperature to avoid potential problems.

Tortoise Shells Have Tons of Nerve-Endings

You might guess that your tortoise can feel sensations on their skin—specifically the legs, face, and tail (or all of the exposed soft tissue.) However, what you might not know is that their hard shell really has a ton of nerve endings. That’s right—a tortoiseshell can feel.

When you think of a tortoiseshell, you likely think of a protective barrier that is hard to penetrate. Most people think of these coverings as we would hair or cuticles—just an addition to the body that protects but feels no pain.

That’s simply not true. A tortoise’s shell is part of its skeletal system, connecting to the spinal cord. Anything that touches the shell triggers nerve endings that send messages to the brain. That means, they register physical touch and vibrations up to 100 Hz.

So, even though it might seem like the shell only serves the purpose of protecting the body from harm, it actually acts as a defense mechanism, detecting many potential warnings or dangers in the surroundings through vibration and touch.

Now that you know this, it’s no surprise that in addition to sensing the environment around them, your tortoise can also feel pleasure. When you are gently scrubbing your turtle’s shell, it relaxes and soothes them.

Female Russian tortoise on moss covered rock
Image By: Haoss, Shutterstock

How Often Should You Bathe Your Tortoise?

If you look around on the web, you’re likely to get some conflicting answers when it comes to tortoises and baths. Some claim it isn’t even a necessary process while other experts say that it’s greatly beneficial.

The main argument is that a tortoise in the wild doesn’t bathe, which is true. However, there are tons of other factors that come into play when a reptile is in captivity. Since they aren’t in their natural habitat, they can run into toxins, bacteria, and other potentially irritating substances they wouldn’t if they were free.

Bathing frequency depends on factors like lifestyle and age. For instance, indoor tortoises require more bodily maintenance than those in an outdoor enclosure.

Age plays a big role, too. Juvenile tortoises should have a bath roughly 2 to 3 times per week while adults can manage on one per week. If you keep your tortoise under a heat lamp indoors, they benefit from a scrub down more often.

Also, if a tortoise is preparing for hibernation, daily baths can really help the process, too—and sometimes they just like a good soak to cool off.



Hopefully, our instructions were straightforward and simple to follow. Once you get the routine down, you won’t even have to look at instructions anymore. It will be practically second nature to you and your tortoise.

We very much recommend bathing your tortoise on occasion just to reduce the risk of skin inflammation, irritation, bacterial overgrowth, and other potentially irritating associated concerns.

Featured Image Credit: CMarcos Photography, Shutterstock

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