Home Exotic PetsTurtles Cloudy turtle tank water (How to fix in 3 easy ways)

Cloudy turtle tank water (How to fix in 3 easy ways)

by Dean

Cloudy turtle tank water (How to fix in 3 easy ways) Turtles are considered extremely messy compared to other reptiles; therefore, there can be various reasons for cloudy tank water. The most common reasons include unbalanced water chemistry, excess of bacteria, dirty tank filters, and poor tank maintenance.

Turtles are awesome pets. They are pretty interesting to observe and make excellent companions. But one thing that makes people vary of them is their messy nature. Turtles make quite a mess, and their owners often seem to fight with the trouble of cloudy turtle tank water.

This article will discuss the potential causes of cloudy turtle tank water and what you can do to rectify it.

Cloudy turtle tank water

What causes cloudy turtle tank water?

The potential causes of cloudy turtle tanks are:

  • Bacteria
  • Poor tank filter
  • Bad enclosure management
  • Unbalanced water


The number one reason for cloudiness in your turtle’s tank is fairly simple. If your tank is experiencing haziness in the water, it was recently set up. The water you likely added to the turtle tank is clean and bacteria-free.

We usually try to recreate an atmosphere that mimics our pet’s natural environment in our reptile enclosures. In the wild, turtle waste is broken down by millions of bacteria. These beneficial bacteria break down the ammonia produced from turtle waste into less harmful nitrite and finally nitrate. This process is known as the nitrogen cycle. These nitrates are then absorbed by plants and filtered from the water. In captivity, we also rely on using the nitrogen cycle to convert turtle waste from ammonia to nitrates. These nitrates are then removed from the water through water changes or by using live plants in the tank (or better yet, a combination of the two).

In a newly set up turtle tank, bacteria have not had a chance to colonize or begin reproducing yet. After a few days, when your turtle begins to produce waste, the bacteria will reproduce and reach a sustainable number to convert the waste to nitrates. This huge boom in bacteria will appear as “cloudiness” in the water. Essentially, cloudy water is simply bacteria attempting to break down waste in the water.

Poor tank filter

Another potential cause of cloudy water in your turtle tank is that you may not be cleaning out the filter at all, not enough, or you may be cleaning it too well.

Not cleaning your filter at least monthly may cause waste and other organic material build-ups. This waste will sit in your filter and rot, which can fuel algae and a foul odour, as well as cloudy water. The filter will begin pushing out waste that it is supposed to contain if it becomes overrun and overcapacity with the waste it can handle. This will most certainly lead to cloudy water and issues in the tank.

However, if you clean your turtle filter and still experience cloudy water, consider how often the filter is cleaned.

If it is cleaned very infrequently, consider increasing the number of times it is properly flushed out. Bacteria breaking down ammonia during the nitrogen cycle live inside of your filter. If you take out the substrate or media that is supposed to help the production of these bacteria and wash it with tap water, it could kill these bacteria and wash them away. Bacteria-building media may look like small pieces of plastic or ceramic rings but come in various forms. By removing the bacteria, your turtle tank has worked and spent so much time to establish, you essentially restart the nitrogen cycle and need to build the bacteria colony back up. They bloom from this will then contribute to cloudy water.

Recommended items to clean your tanks

Aqueon Medium Siphon Vacuum Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, 9-Inch
Aqueon Medium Siphon Vacuum Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, 9-Inch
Makes routine water changes easier!; Use up and down motion to start water flow; Removes dirty water and vacuums out the debris in gravel
API 500 Pond Master Test Kit for Pond Water
API 500 Pond Master Test Kit for Pond Water
Measures ornamental pond pH balance, ammonia content, nitrite levels and phosphate content

Bad enclosure management

If for some reason, your turtle setup has already been set up for a long period and you suddenly start experiencing cloudy water, there may be something wrong with your maintenance of the tank. Aquatic turtles are extremely messy creatures that produce a huge amount of waste and make a mess while eating. Many people feeding their turtles in the tank risk creating a total mess every time they feed. Even if using pellets, which are less messy than other food items, the turtle may still rip apart, chew, spit out, and generally produce clouds of food that become particulate matter floating around your tank.

Feeding your turtle inside of its tank is something that can very easily contribute to not only a cloudy tank, but it can also produce a foul-smelling odour, and the water may appear to have a layer at the surface. This may be because of a protein build-up from the uneaten or digested food you have given to your turtle. The water quality can quickly deteriorate, and this cloudy water can irritate your turtle’s eyes and lead to health problems.

Unbalanced water

The main reason why your tank water is cloudy will be due to unbalanced water. Like when you keep fish, one of the most important parts of looking after turtles is ensuring that the tank water remains balanced and out of cloudiness. This cloudy water is usually caused because the water is new and not yet settled.

How to fix cloudy turtle tank water

  • If you recently changed your water or set up a new tank, it could be related to bacteria.
  • Feed turtles outside of their tank.
  • Clean your turtle tank filter properly and on time.

Solution 1:

If you have identified the cause of cloudy water as bacteria-related and you have a newly set up turtle tank, good news! The fix to this is to wait simply. Leave the turtle tank to establish. Over a few days, perhaps even weeks, the tank will fix itself and reward your patience with crystal clear water!

You must allow plenty of time for your bacteria colony to establish and build up. It will need time to grow and handle the bioload produced by your turtle. The tank essentially suffers from “New Tank Syndrome,” in which the biochemical properties of your tank have not been established. There are several chemical processes, beneficial bacterial colonization, and cycles that your tank needs to undergo before it becomes “established.”

An established turtle tank will have things balanced, with the proper number of bacteria to convert the harmful ammonia and waste into safer to build up nitrate levels. Water changes can then remove this nitrate once your tank has established and when it registers in dangerous quantities on a water quality test kit.

In the beginning, however, changing the water is the opposite of what you want to do. Changing the water every time it gets cloudy will restart the cycle, and it is guaranteed to get cloudy again within a few days. It would be best to give some time to the bacterias to colonize and build up in your filter and other surfaces it finds habitable.

Once the beneficial bacteria have had sufficient time to establish themselves, the water will very quickly, likely overnight, turn clear. Once clear, so long as you keep up with future water changes and filter cleanings, it should stay clear.

Solution 2:

sea turtle

Feeding inside your turtle’s tank can quickly deteriorate the water quality and lead to cloudy and dirty water. Not only is this unsightly and potentially foul-smelling, but this can also lead to fungal issues and infections in your turtle and quickly lead to a variety of potential health dilemmas.

Most commercial turtle diets are full of nutrients and can, therefore, break apart and quickly pollute the water your beloved pet turtle is swimming in. If you decide to continue feeding in the enclosure, upgrading filters to handle the extra waste and bioload may help to increase water quality and keep the water clear.

Feed turtles outside of their enclosure to keep the tank water clean and prevent potential health problems.

There are ways to avoid this and ensure your water stays as clean as possible without upgrading filters, though! Feeding outside of the enclosure is a sure way to prevent extra food and waste from entering the habitat your turtle lives in. It will extend the time between water changes and filter cleanings and contribute to a cleaner turtle tank overall!

Solution 3:

The solution for not cleaning your filter frequently enough is to clean it more often! Many people go based on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule, which is a good rule of thumb.

Generally, it is safe to clean the filter bi-weekly or whenever you notice that the media is filled with debris and waste. Filters are only there to catch the material floating in the water and keep the water clear.

Filters also ensure proper flow and assist in biochemical processes to break down waste into less harmful products. Despite this, it is still up to you to physically remove the waste and debris that build up. Removing the physical waste will decrease the cloudiness of the water and increase clarity! A water change will remove the chemical components (nitrates) in the water that you cannot see but will still help keep the water clear. The process of cleaning the filter will vary depending on the type of filter you have. However, there is a general process to follow.

  • Remove the filter from the tank if it is submersible (canister filters will have a different media removal process)
  • Take the filter to either a sink or outdoors to be washed.
  • Remove the filter media. Make sure you keep the biological media, acting as biological filtration, in a small bucket of turtle tank water to keep the bacteria alive and avoid having to cycle the tank over again!
  • Rinse freshwater through the filter media to remove most of the turtle waste and debris until it begins to run clear. You may also entirely replace the media if you so choose.
  • Return the media to the filter and re-assemble.
  • Return the filter to the tank and power on!

How to prevent cloudy turtle tank water in the future?

Feed turtles in a separate container

Feeding your turtle in a separate enclosure and a designated feeding tub will drastically reduce the amount of maintenance required. It will also ensure that the water quality stays pristine and should not get a chance to become cloudy. With high water quality and good water chemistry, the ecosystem inside of your turtle tank should stay balanced and prevent an imbalance that would cause cloudiness of the water or algae blooms. These bacteria will also effectively break down waste and can handle higher bio loads, which gives you the option to add a few bio-load light fish such as guppies or mollies.

Maintain a filter maintenance schedule

Make sure you clean out your filter regularly to ensure the water quality stays high and prevent cloudy water in the future! When doing so, make sure you do not rinse your bacteria or media that houses the bacteria with tap water, as it can kill them. This will force the bacteria to restart and repopulate the filter, taking time, which could lead to another cloudiness bloom. If you keep the biological media in the tank or in turtle tank water, it will keep them alive while you clean the mechanical filtration designed to remove physical matter from the water.

Maintain a filter maintenance schedule

Use a gravel vacuum to clear debris.

If you keep gravel in your turtle enclosure, make sure you use a gravel vacuum to suck up any debris that may be trapped underneath them. Gravel and pebbles in a turtle tank can cause waste to build up and be unable to be pulled by the filter. Using a siphon or gravel vacuum will not only change the water in your tank but pull directly from the gravel all of the waste and material that has accumulated underneath it. This waste has the potential to break down and diminish water quality. Not only can it cause cloudy water, but poor water quality can contribute to a variety of health issues in turtles.

Wrapping Up:

As we have mentioned, there are a lot of ways to keep your turtle tank clean and away from cloudiness. Follow these simple solutions to ensure your pet turtle lives a happy and healthy life.


Last update on 2023-07-31 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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