Any aquatic pet will need regular tank maintenance to keep its enclosure clean and keep them healthy. A turtle is no exception. However, you may find that your turtle’s tank water becomes cloudy fast. Why may that be?
Your turtle’s tank water becomes cloudy because of unbalanced water chemicals. It’s common to experience unbalanced water in new and established tanks. Unbalanced water chemicals prevent the water from cycling waste properly, causing your turtle’s tank water to become cloudy very fast.
In this article, we’ll break down what it means to have unbalanced water and how to correct this in your turtle’s enclosure. With some adjustments and determination, you should be able to keep your turtle’s water from becoming cloudy so quickly.
Why your turtle’s water becomes cloudy fast
In the wild, turtles live in a variety of environments with different water sources like muddy ponds, clear rivers, and everything in between.
Natural and healthy water sources have balanced pH or chemical levels and beneficial bacteria that break down waste from fish, turtles, etc.
This natural nitrogen cycle can be mimicked for your turtle’s tank at home, but the water will become cloudy fast while those chemicals and bacteria are unbalanced.
The nitrogen cycle for your turtle’s tank looks like your turtle eating food and passing waste that causes ammonia. Ammonia turns into nitrites and nitrites into nitrates.
All of these beneficial bacteria will help to keep the water clean and safe for your turtle if they are properly balanced.
However, achieving a well-cycled tank can take time. Even seasoned turtle owners can experience their tank’s water becoming unbalanced which presents itself as cloudy, smelly water.
What else causes tank water to become cloudy and unbalanced?
Turtle waste isn’t the only thing that causes tank water to become cloudy and unbalanced, but it is the most obvious. Other causes of cloudy tank water are:
Clogged or improper filtration
A good filtration system is very important for any aquatic pet. You want to keep your filter and all its parts clean and clog-free, but it is also important to not disrupt the beneficial bacteria that your filter is helping to grow.
One way to make sure you don’t set yourself back is by rinsing your filter’s media in your tank’s water or in dechlorinated water rather than tap water. Rinsing the media in tap water would kill off the beneficial bacteria that the filter media is fostering.
If your turtle isn’t finishing their food, it’ll start to break down and create extra waste that your tank’s filter and beneficial bacteria will have to work harder to break down.
By not feeding your turtle more than it can finish, you can avoid this extra waste and keep the tank water cleaner. If your turtle hasn’t finished its meal and has no interest in extra food, you can remove it from the tank and offer more food another time.
It’s important to pay attention to the overall health of your tank and what you’ve chosen to design it with. Quality substrate, live plants, logs, etc. can all be very beneficial to a tank when managed well.
However, if plants are dying or any organic material is breaking down then you will have additional bacteria and waste in your tank water that could make it cloudy.
Removing decaying organic materials like unhealthy plants will help to keep your turtle’s water cleaner.
How to balance your turtle’s water chemicals
First, you’ll want to test your tank’s water to see what the chemical levels are. This will help you to understand the balance of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates in the water that are ultimately causing cloudiness.
Test kits range from
depending on your needs, but you should be able to use the directions to determine what needs to be adjusted in your tank’s water.
• pH level of the water should fall between 6-8
• chlorine level should be 0
• ammonia level should be 0
• nitrite level of 0.5 or less
• nitrate level of 40 or less
Once you know your chemical levels, you can determine what types of water conditioners you need to use to adjust these levels, whether that be a
- dechlorinating conditioner (like this one)
- or a conditioner that adjusts levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. (like this one)
It can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to see the chemical levels balance exactly as they should, depending on how much water your turtle has.
You may have to do some partial water changes during this process, but you don’t want to get rid of too many beneficial bacteria at once. Patience is key.
Other ways to balance your turtle’s water
Add a filter
In addition to using water conditioners to make these adjustments, you can add a quality filtration system to your turtle’s tank that will help cycle the water and grow beneficial bacteria.
Dr. James Liu, VMD, writes in-depth about water checks and proper tank filtration for turtles.
Add an ultraviolet sterilizer
UV sterilizers are great for preventing algae growth and cloudy water from occurring after you’ve balanced your turtle’s water.
Some filtration systems have built-in UV sterilizers for this very reason, but if yours doesn’t you may consider adding one or upgrading to a filter that has one built-in.
Add an aerator or air stone
While turtles do not have to have oxygenated water the same way that fish do, you can add an aerator or air stone to your turtle’s tank to provide extra enrichment and encourage the water’s bacteria and chemicals to balance.
Turtle health and tank cleanliness
A quality diet can make all the difference in your ability to mimic the nitrogen cycle in your own turtle’s tank. If your turtle is eating poor-quality food, it will be more difficult for the beneficial bacteria to break down the waste your turtle produces.
You want to do your research and consult with a trusted veterinarian to make the best decisions about your turtle species’ diet.
Your turtle will ultimately have a cleaner, more balanced tank to enjoy and this proactive care will help to prevent costly vet trips. The healthier your turtle, the healthier your tank, and vice versa.