Why is My Turtle Water Cloudy?

Mississippi Map Turtle

Written by Lisa

When not researching and writing about weird and wonderful animals, Lisa enjoys spending time with her 'two' families: her husband and 3 kids, and her 3 dogs, Sooty the cat, Frank the terrapin, and Bob the bearded dragon.

Last Updated on February 5, 2021

A frequent consternation for new aquatic turtle owners is cloudy water in the tank. Well, know that this can happen for any number of reasons. One of these for brand-new owners is that the tank is completely new and so hasn’t had time to accumulate the beneficial bacteria that consumes much of the mess that turtles inevitably make when eating and pooping.

When the tank is new it has fresh water in it, which is essentially bacteria free. With time though bacteria will develop within the tank and will then start to work their magic keeping the water clean for longer.

The cause of the cloudy water in a new tank is a buildup of ammonia and nitrate from your turtle’s waste. Without sufficient levels of bacteria in the tank, the waste products turn the water cloudy.

If, however, your tank is not new and the water is constantly turning cloudy soon after cleaning, there are other issues to consider. For example, the filter you have may not be powerful enough to clean the waste products in the tank. Or it could be broken. It is crucial to check the filter then if you are regularly having problems with cloudy water.

How to Resolve Cloudy Turtle Water

If you have a new tank and your problem is a lack of beneficial bacteria, rest assured that the issue is likely to resolve itself. It is best to wait until the water has fully cycled. It may take a couple of weeks before this situation resolves itself, so be patient and refrain from changing the water every few days. A powerful filter that is suitable for the size of tank you have will help to speed up this process.

To further speed up the process, you should try to ensure that the water you use in the tank is dechlorinated. Chlorinated water tends to destroy bacteria – harmful and beneficial – which will inevitably mean that cloudy water continues for longer. An air pump is also a useful investment as aerating the water will mean there is more oxygen in it, which in turn will help beneficial bacteria to grow. Air pumps can be purchased from your nearest reptile store or online. Amazon has an excellent choice. Click here to take a look (opens in a new tab).

How Often Should You Change the Water

As touched upon above, aquatic turtles are extremely messy. Since they both eat and poop in the water, it can look cloudy at times. In a good setup, the tank will have beneficial bacteria and a good pump that both help to keep it clean.

It is generally recommended that some, or most, of your tank’s water should be changed at least once a week. However, changing it more frequently than that could be the cause of continuous cloudy water. If you change the water too often, you will be getting rid of the beneficial bacteria. These will need to proliferate again before starting to consume the turtle’s waste again. If you continuously change the water, you are more likely to see the water go cloudy again after a couple of days.

To help with this situation you should avoid changing the water so often. As well as this, when you first get the tank, you could probably leave the water change longer than a week to allow the necessary bacteria to flourish. Thereafter, a partial change of water is better than a full change.

It is also worth checking the pH levels in the tank as they should ideally be between 6 and 9. If the pH levels drop below 6, the amount of ammonia in the water will increase as it will not be metabolized properly. Additionally, too much ammonia in the turtle’s water will irritate the creature’s eyes and will generally make things extremely uncomfortable for it.

What Else Will Help to Keep the Water Clean?

In addition to a powerful filter and an air pump, there are other ways of keeping the water in your turtle’s tank clear for longer. Working fish are a terrific addition to a turtle tank as they will eat bits of food and waste that your turtle expels. They will also eat algae.

Before adding working fish such as oto catfish and plecos, ensure that the tank is properly aerated and has correct pH levels. When adding working fish, try to limit the numbers to just one or two at a time as too many introduced at once could lead to a spike in ammonia levels.

If you are going to go this route though, it is important to have places in the tank where the fish can hide from the turtle, who might try to eat them.

If you would prefer not to use working fish, an aquarium vacuum could also be a good addition to your arsenal. You can use this to clean up leftover food and waste from the bottom of the tank while also doing a partial water change at the same time. Aquarium vacuums can be purchased from pet stores and online (see here at Amazon).

Conclusion

Turtle water gets cloudy because of a buildup of ammonia from turtle waste. It is therefore necessary to do a partial change of your tank water at least once per week. Nonetheless, if your tank is cloudy after a day or two, it may be the case that your filter is not powerful enough or is not working properly.

Remember also that a new tank will need time for beneficial bacteria to grow, so the first water change may need to be longer than a week.

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