Keep Your Box Turtle’s Outdoor Home Clean


Keep your outdoor turtle pen clean to help keep your boxies healthy

Help keep me healthy by keeping my enclosure clean
Cropped version of photo by Audrey @ Flickr;
licensed under CC BY 2.0


In many ways, keeping an outdoor turtle pen clean is easier than maintaining an indoor one.

Sunlight is a good disinfectant, because the UV rays damage DNA, killing off some bacteria. Rain also washes away dirt and waste.

Even so, you’ll want to do some daily housekeeping to help keep your turtles healthy.

Keep the Water Fresh

Clean water is healthiest for your turtles. It’s especially important to clean water bowls daily because turtles tend to use them as bathrooms. So, give them a good rinse and refill them every day. Disinfect them weekly with a weak soap and bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach in one gallon of water). Rinse well after disinfecting.

You may want to keep two sets of water bowls. That way you can let your turtles use one set while you clean and dry the other.

If you have a pond in your turtle enclosure—assuming it’s big enough!—keep it aerated. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, but by keeping it moving, you discourage them. That’s another reason for cleaning out water bowls each day, too.

Keep the Ground Clean

Keeping the whole enclosure clean discourages bacteria and other parasites from growing.

  • Leftover food: Remove it daily. You may want to do this about an hour or so after feeding. Remove any “recycled food” (feces) every day, too.
  • Refresh the soil once in a while: Turn it over and add some leaf mulch or grass clippings. This keeps it soft, buries urine and feces, and removes a food source for parasites.

Control Insects and Parasites

Some insects are just a nuisance, although they can make your box turtle very uncomfortable. Others can make your turtle very sick and even kill her.

  • Fire ants: These are dangerous and can kill your box turtles. Kill any you find in your yard to keep them from getting in the turtle enclosure. If they’re already in, take the turtles out and don’t put them back until you’ve gotten rid of all the fire ants.

Small fire ant mounds can be treated with boiling water. If that doesn’t work, or you have a big mound, you may need a commercial treatment. Never put this stuff directly on the ground inside the turtle enclosure. Put it in containers near the ant hill. Be very careful not to contaminate the ground with it. Remember, keep your turtles away until the ants are gone.

  • Mites:These nuisance pests are often present outside, but aren’t usually a problem. If your turtle gets infested, you’ll need to treat him and clean the whole enclosure. Take everything removable out the the pen and clean with a strong bleach solution (1/2 cup of bleach in one gallon of water). Remember to rinse well and dry. Get rid of the top layer of soil, then turn the next layer and let it dry. After a few days, add a new top layer. Don’t put turtles back until they’re also free of mites.
  • Mosquitoes:If you’re keeping the water supply clean, you shouldn’t have a problem with mosquitoes. If you do notice that the water seems to be alive with mosquito larvae, drain it and add fresh water.

Box turtle eating strawberryRemember, it’s a lot easier to prevent a problem than to treat one. Although it’s not a guarantee, keeping your outdoor turtle pen clean will go a long way toward preventing problems.


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