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How Do Tortoises Clean Themselves?

Last Updated on February 21, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Wild tortoises will stand in the rain or soak in small puddles to clean themselves.

Tortoises that live in dry areas will give themselves a dry bath by burrowing into the soil. Also, larger tortoise species form a symbiotic relationship with birds, eating the bugs off their shells.

Bathing is a regular part of a tortoise’s routine. This enables them to ward off harmful bacteria, prevents the tortoise from smelling bad, and keeps them cool and hydrated.

Are Tortoises Clean Animals?

Tortoises clean themselves in the following ways:

  • Rain showers
  • Soaking
  • Dirt showers
  • Birds

Tortoises will often shower under light rainfall. Tortoise shells are highly sensitive, so heavy rainfall causes discomfort as it lands on the carapace, especially for smaller tortoise species. However, light showers wash off any dirt and bacteria on tortoises.

Tortoises don’t swim, but they enjoy soaking in shallow water. Tortoises will sit in puddles and wash by soaking in them. They do this for about 20-60 minutes, depending on how much moisture they need.

Tortoises that live in dry regions where there is barely any rain will clean themselves with dirt. It may seem counterintuitive to do this, but it works for tortoises.

Tortoises shed their skin as they grow. To rid themselves of the old skin still stuck to their body, they’ll dig into the ground, and the dirt will scrape most of it off, along with any unwanted debris.

Tortoises sometimes have a symbiotic relationship with birds, where they pick away the bugs that live on their shells. This way, the birds are fed, and the tortoises are insect-free.

How Often Should I Bathe My Tortoise?

How often you bathe your tortoise will depend on its:

  • Age
  • Health
  • The season

Juvenile tortoises need baths more frequently than adults because they get dehydrated easily.

If your tortoise has yet to reach full maturity, you should give it baths daily. During the baths, it’s important to check that the tortoise is drinking enough water and defecating. An adult tortoise can be bathed 2-3 times a week.

If you notice that your tortoise is constipated or dehydrated, you may want to increase the number of times you let it soak. Soaking in warm water stimulates the bowels and encourages tortoises to defecate.

Likewise, if your tortoise is sick, it may not be motivated enough to drink water from a small bowl, but it might drink during a soaking session.

During dry summers, tortoises should be bathed more frequently, especially if it’s a species that comes from a rainy region. The tortoise should get bathed daily during the weeks leading to brumation.

Around this time, the tortoise will wind down considerably and may become too lethargic to drink water. Daily baths before brumation will keep the tortoise hydrated and healthy.

how often do you need to clean tortoises?

Do You Need to Wash Tortoises?

Tortoises must be kept clean, especially as they live in enclosed spaces that get dirty quickly.

Being in water can assist your tortoise if it’s constipated. Water stimulates bowel movements, especially warm water, so tortoises often defecate while soaking.

Bathing tortoises regularly will keep them from smelling. Tortoises give off a subtle, earthy scent, but decaying food, feces, urine, and other forms of debris can make a tortoise’s enclosure smell bad. Regularly washing the tank and the tortoise removes any unpleasant smells.

Tortoises need water to stay hydrated, especially those from humid, rainy climates, like sulcata tortoises and red-footed tortoises. They will often drink or absorb water while they soak, so bath time is a golden opportunity to ensure that your tortoise is drinking enough water.

Can I Wash My Tortoise with Soap?

Only the mildest soaps, such as Dawn dish soap, can be used to clean tortoises.

Some believe that small amounts of soap won’t harm the tortoise, but this is untrue. Most soaps contain chemicals that tortoises shouldn’t be around because their shells and skin are absorbent.

These chemicals will clog the tortoise’s pores. Also, because tortoises drink/absorb the water they bathe in, it could make your tortoise sick.

How Warm Should a Tortoise Bath Be?

The water you bathe your tortoise with should be tepid.

This can be 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Tortoises get stressed easily, so you don’t want to harm them by placing them in water that’s the upper end of either temperature range.

How to Wash a Tortoise

All you need is water and a large container for the tortoise to fit in. Ensure the container is deep enough so the tortoise won’t climb out of it. Alternatively, use a bathroom sink.

Fill the container with enough tepid water for the tortoise to wade in. The water should be up to the start of the tortoise’s neck or lower, as you’ll need to keep the tortoise’s head above water at all times.

Don’t add soap or shampoo to the water, as man-made cleaning products can harm your tortoise. Let your pet tortoise soak in the water.

Use a soft brush to loosen dirt particles on your tortoise’s shell and skin. Never flip your tortoise over to scrub the plastron because it will make the tortoise panic. Instead, hold your tortoise by the shell vertically as you brush the underside.

Most tortoises dislike this and will be upset about it. If your tortoise is unsettled by being held this way, take breaks and clean the plastron bit by bit.

The plastron should be the last thing you clean, as most tortoises will defecate due to the stress of being held vertically.

How Long Should I Bathe My Tortoise For?

You can bathe the tortoise for 20 minutes or until the tortoise defecates or wants to leave. Some tortoises prefer quick soaking sessions, while others find peace in wading in shallow water for a long time.

There is no such thing as “over-soaking” a tortoise. However, leaving the tortoise in water for too long isn’t recommended. Tortoises are reptiles that can’t control their body temperature.

As the bathwater gets cold, the tortoise will grow more lethargic, so what may look like a tortoise enjoying a soaking session may be the tortoise having trouble moving.

If the tortoise defecates, don’t let it soak in the water for too long. Remember, tortoises drink and absorb the water they soak in through the skin around the cloaca. Also, you don’t want the poop particles to stick to the tortoise.

How to Dry a Tortoise After a Bath

After a bath, lift it out of the container and place it on a towel.

Use the corners of the towel to pat the tortoise dry. Don’t flip the tortoise around, especially if it doesn’t like being handled. Place the tortoise on the towel and pat it dry.

After drying the tortoise, place it near a heat source to warm it up again. Tortoises must stay warm, so don’t keep them out in the open too long after bathing, especially during the colder months.