General Care Discussion :: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

Taking care of your turtle's overall health.

Post Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:02 pm   Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

We've had our female RES (even though we call her a "he" because we didn't know the gender for awhile) since Christmas 2005. What started as an impulse buy by my then-girlfriend -- now wife -- has turned into Indie, a happy turtle who inhabits a 35-gallon tank.

But lately things have been difficult. We moved into a new apartment in March, and keeping the water clean has been a struggle ever since. At our old place, the tank didn't receive much exposure to natural light and, so long as we kept to our cleaning schedule, the water would remain crystal clear for weeks on end. But since we've moved, I can't remember the last time the water was totally clear. The tank is exposed to a good deal more sunlight than before and I don't think the temperature in our apartment is as stable (we live in a much older building than before).

Lately, the problem has gotten worse. There's an ammonia smell coming from the tank and so far I haven't been able to get rid of it. I changed 90 percent of the water, added new carbon to the Fluval 205 filter ahead of schedule, and also cleaned excess gunk off the sponges and replaced his polishing pad. Nothing seems to be working.

Honestly, lately we've been wondering of whether we're still up to this task. Our apartment can't accommodate a bigger tank and, since we got a dog, it's been hard to give Indie the attention s/he deserves. The smell is getting to the point where we'd be embarrassed to have people over. I've given thought to trying to find Indie a more appropriate owner in the DC area, but I'm just not ready to give up on this yet.

Does anyone have any solutions for these problems? I hate to see our turtle living in these conditions.
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Post Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:30 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

First thing you should do is attempt to address the ammonia which is toxic. Do you have a water test kit to check ammonia levels? If not, take a sample of your tank water in a ziplock bag over to any local fish store... even the big stores like petco or petsmart will test your water for you. Most of these stores will use dip strip tests which aren't the most accurate measure of water but will give you a general idea of what's going on. While you're at the pet store, pick up a drop based test kit for freshwater. You'll want to test for ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite. The API drop based kits are well regarded, available at most local large pet stores, and not super expensive. The dip strips are cheap, but inconsistent at best. The drops are MUCH better.

If the ammonia is really high, there are products like amquel that can detoxify ammonia. It doesn't remove the ammonia from the water column, it doesn't remove the smell... it just detoxifies it for Indie.

Please read about the nitrogen cycle if you haven't already. There's info on this site and all over the web about it.
http://www.redearslider.com/water_quality_issues.html

A new tank will spike in ammonia until the nitrifying bacteria that breaks it down into nitrite colonizes and populates. If you're doing 90% water changes, you may actually be stalling the production of the necessary bacteria.

Now for the smell. Your fluval 205 is probably not enough filter for your tank. The 205 is 110 GPH and rated up to a 40 gallon tank. The 205 is perfectly fine for your tank if you kept fish. Turtles are messy and produce MUCH more waste than fish. The recommendation is 3-5x the tank size. So for a 35 gallon tank, you need a filter at least rated for 105 gallons. The larger filter allows for more biological filtration media, and more turnover of water.

Do you have any biological filtration in your existing 205? Biomax or bioballs? Do you have any of the white ammonia removing chemical filtration media? Biological filtration will maintain the bacteria needed to break down ammonia. This media is a little expensive, but is long term and reusable. The chemical ammonia pellet remover stuff is cheap and disposable..good for a short term ammonia spike.

Last is your tank size. The reccomendation for a turtle is 10 gallons of water per inch of shell. A fully grown female RES can reach 9-12 inches... so 90 to 120 gallons. The need for such a large tank is two fold. 1. swim space. 2. water to waste ratio. The more water the less concentrated the ammonia from turtle waste break down is. The bigger the turtle, the more the waste the more water you need.

Also, in direct sunlight, you may be getting algae blooms which can also smell. Can you move the aquarium away from the sunlight? Can you put up a shade to block some of the natural sunlight? Natural sunlight can also cause temperature swings in your water...esp being a smaller tank.
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Post Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 8:41 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

VelpaCray, thank you so much for all of those insights. I think they'll come in handy!

From the bottom of the canister upward, our filter goes as follows: pre-filter, carbon (2 bags in the basket), Bio-Max, polishing pad. I follow the provided instructions for timing the replacement of these and the sponges in the filter. I also clean out the hoses with a wire brush once every two weeks.

I have moved the tank so that a much smaller portion of it is exposed to direct sunlight. But I would still say a solid 1/4 of the back panel can be hit by sunlight coming through the nearby window. It is possible to move it even further over, but not without emptying the tank first. I think I'll do that, though.

I'm surprised to hear the Fluval 205 isn't enough, but I take your word for it. Right now is a tough time of year for us to do a full filter upgrade (holidays and whatnot). The 205 worked just fine for awhile, but Indie was perhaps a much smaller turtle back then. Indie is probably 8 or 9 inches long at this point, and we feel bad for her - we've had a suspicion the tank is too small for her for a couple months now. I suppose I wouldn't mind buying a new tank if I knew it would be the last one that she'd grow into.

These are all expenses that might have to wait until 2011, unfortunately. But in the meantime, hopefully some of the other things you suggested will at least help eliminate the odor and some of the cloudiness.
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Post Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 8:56 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

Ammonia comes directly from turtle urine. I have noticed the best way to combat ammonia, cloudy water and algae is to do 5 to 10 gallon partial water changes once a week. I usually change the water and clean out tank dirt every Sunday. Also, malaysian drift wood does a fantastic job of lowering the pH/ammonia level of the water, and eliminates the smell. The best water treatment filter that I am familiar with is the Cascade brand. I use the Cascade 400, but, that's for my smaller turtles. You turtle is definitely bigger than mine, so you should go up a couple levels higher than the 400. Cascade treats the water like it's more natural, so, if you plan on including live aquatic plants, or just want your turtle to feel more like it's in a natural water system, then this is what I recommend. Unfortunately, my older turtle is used to living with sparkly clean water so I can't do the healthy super clean pond effect in her tank.

By the way, I don't encourage this but, should you have the misfortune that I've had, of accidentally tasting the water in your turtle's tank after treating it this way, you will notice that the water is tastes like river water. River water in places untouched by people, is probably some of, if not the healthiest water on this planet.
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Post Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2010 1:57 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

DCSlider wrote:We've had our female RES (even though we call her a "he" because we didn't know the gender for awhile) since Christmas 2005. What started as an impulse buy by my then-girlfriend -- now wife -- has turned into Indie, a happy turtle who inhabits a 35-gallon tank.

But lately things have been difficult. We moved into a new apartment in March, and keeping the water clean has been a struggle ever since. At our old place, the tank didn't receive much exposure to natural light and, so long as we kept to our cleaning schedule, the water would remain crystal clear for weeks on end. But since we've moved, I can't remember the last time the water was totally clear. The tank is exposed to a good deal more sunlight than before and I don't think the temperature in our apartment is as stable (we live in a much older building than before).

Lately, the problem has gotten worse. There's an ammonia smell coming from the tank and so far I haven't been able to get rid of it. I changed 90 percent of the water, added new carbon to the Fluval 205 filter ahead of schedule, and also cleaned excess gunk off the sponges and replaced his polishing pad. Nothing seems to be working.

Honestly, lately we've been wondering of whether we're still up to this task. Our apartment can't accommodate a bigger tank and, since we got a dog, it's been hard to give Indie the attention s/he deserves. The smell is getting to the point where we'd be embarrassed to have people over. I've given thought to trying to find Indie a more appropriate owner in the DC area, but I'm just not ready to give up on this yet.

Does anyone have any solutions for these problems? I hate to see our turtle living in these conditions.


I have to admit, I was lazy and skipped a lot of the reading, but you shouldn't change the sponges in your filter. You also shouldn't change the ceramic rings. A polishing pad is not necessary since it tends to clog easily. All you need to change is the carbon, and some people don't even use that - although it does help with the smell. When you rinse your sponges make sure you're rinsing them with tank water, not tap water. You don't want to kill all your beneficial bacteria which breaks down the ammonia in your tank. If you kill all your bacteria a new cycle will start and your water will be likely to smell. :) Good luck!
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Post Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2010 8:03 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

V Cary - I would suggest that you get a larger filter pump for your tank. You need to check the gph. It should pump at least 5 time the volumn of your tank. Your pet store may want to size you next pump by tank size and not gph. Sizing you filter by tank size is for fish and not turtles. Turtles poop a lot more than fish and require more water circulation and filtration. Good Luck!
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Post Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 10:23 am   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

mikee wrote:V Cary - I would suggest that you get a larger filter pump for your tank. You need to check the gph. It should pump at least 5 time the volumn of your tank. Your pet store may want to size you next pump by tank size and not gph. Sizing you filter by tank size is for fish and not turtles. Turtles poop a lot more than fish and require more water circulation and filtration. Good Luck!


I completely agree as you have said the same things I said. :-D. I think you meant to address this post to the OP: DCslider.
Cheers!
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Post Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 12:44 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

Also, stick to smaller % water changes 25-35% otherwise your also removing alot of the beneficial bacteria that is growing in the tank to help combat the ammonia.
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Post Posted: Sat Dec 04, 2010 6:15 am   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

FWIW, my recommendations:
- remove carbon from filter and replace with biomax or bioballs (biological filtration)
- in my opinion, for a turtle's tank filtration, water should flow through mechanical filtration (floss or sponge) then as much biological filtration (biomax or bioballs) as possible
- bear with cloudy or smelly water for about 2 weeks to a month after setting up the filter
- meanwhile, do about 10% water change daily to minimize cloudy or smelly water
- about once a month, clean the mechanical filtration
- clean pipes and hoses only when water-flow diminishes a lot
- feed in separate container using water taken from the tank, this will reduce waste somewhat while doing minute water change

I believe a good filter for a turtle's tank is a filter that can cycle all the water in the tank 3-5 times an hour. For example, if you have a 35-gallon tank with 35 gallons of water in it, a good filter is one that can do about 100-175 gallons per hour (gph). Keep in mind, water retention in the filtration system is important too. Water that passes too quickly through the filter won't get much benefit. Well, I'm talking more from a DIY perspective.

Good luck! :)
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Post Posted: Thu Jan 20, 2011 3:24 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

Hey everyone, I know this thread has been dead for awhile, but I wanted you all to know that we've upgraded to a Fluval 305, which should be arriving in the mail today.

The water, right now, is as cloudy and stinky as ever, so we want to make a fresh start with 100 percent new water. Is this the way to go, or should I try to let the 305 fix the mess? (FYI, in the past month, we had a few days where the water would clear up, but it would quickly return to being cloudy/stinky.)

Also, what suggestions do you all have for media we should use in the 305? It sounds like I should use as much biological filtration as possible, but I'm wondering what setups people have used that have proven effective. Thanks for any help you can provide!
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Post Posted: Thu Jan 20, 2011 6:57 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

If you have biological filtration in your old filter you should put some of that without cleaning it into your new filter to help seed the new filter with beneficial bacteria. I'm not sure how the Fluval water runs in the filter but the Rena xp3 that I have runs bottom to top. The water goes to the bottom of the filter then travels up so my filter media goes like this, bottom basket - mechanical filtration (sponges) to catch debris, middle basket - biological media(ceramic rings) to establish beneficial bacteria, top basket - chemical filtration (carbon, Purigen). Check your Fluval though it may flow in the opposite direction. I currently use carbon but I've heard good things about Purigen and will be checking it out when I'm out of carbon. Some people don't use chemical but I've found it helps with the smell. Hopefully you can upgrade your tank one day then just use both filters. Good Luck!
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Post Posted: Thu Jan 20, 2011 10:13 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

Your changing too much of your water. What you can do have your water tested at the pet store or buy yourself some strips to test yourself. Also, the pet store may be able to give you some bacteria or buy some. When we moved our 70 gallon tank had to be dry, and the filter for over a week so we got some bacteria for our tank and it worked great. Also, when we feel we NEED to change all the water we only rinse the filter components and not replace them, that way we still have the bacteria needed to eat ammonia in the tank when the filter starts running. And when changing the components of the filter we only change one at a time and not all of them, that way the bacteria is always around. Bacteria is good for your tank
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Post Posted: Wed Nov 15, 2017 8:42 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

So I kept putting off refilling the tank an when I refilled I needed 15 gallons and now I killed my cycle with all that fresh water any thing I can buy to speed up the cycle
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Post Posted: Wed Nov 15, 2017 8:59 pm   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

Just a note : you may want to start your own post under new topic may get more help. This original post dates back to 2010 !

Be very careful if using liquid additives yes some do work for adding bacteria but must do homework on all chemicals used in there manufacturing . Most long time turtle keepers try to keep chemicals out our tanks ! All chemicals !

A more natural way and is very good especially if you have a small tank say 30 gallons or smaller which is hard to keep a cycle going is : https://www.amazon.com/EcoBio-Block-Sto ... dpSrc=srch


Just lost your cycle or being under post for cloudy/smelly water? If you have those other problem's to use carbon and purgein in your fx if you still have it , that combo works great for turtles. The carbon for chemical toxins/smell and purgein for the organic side. Purgein also helps with controlling a cycle. No smell and crystal clear water !
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Post Posted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 7:51 am   Re: Can't fix cloudy/smelly water

There is little to no beneficial bacteria in your tank, only in the filter. Even if you did a big water change I highly doubt you killed your cycle.
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