Why Is My Turtle’s Shell Turning White? [and How to Fix it]

It can be a bit unnerving when you see any abnormality in your pet’s appearance.

One of the most common abnormalities you may find in your domestic turtle is a white shell. Seeing this leaves you with a whole array of questions if you have never come across something like this before.

But do not fret, it is common for your turtle’s shell to become white, and for the most part, there is nothing severe to worry about. It is more common than you may realize and just like how common it is for it to happen, it is also really easy to fix.

There are a few reasons why this can happen. We have gathered all the information you need to help figure out the cause and get rid of this problem for your turtle. Let’s have a look at the possible causes, how to identify and how to fix them.

a small turtle climbing a tree trunk

My Turtle’s Shell Is Turning White

Having a look at your turtle, if it is your turtle’s shell that is the host of the issue, rather than its skin, it is most likely due to hard water, especially if it looks chalky. This is very easy to fix. It usually requires distilled or conditioned water as well as giving its shell a good clean.

If you source your water from the same place you source your turtle’s water then having a distillation or purifier, can be very beneficial for both, you and your turtle. It’s always good to give your turtle’s shell a good clean too, even if their shell is not that white, we are sure they would appreciate it.

Hard water will often be the cause of a white chalky shell, but it will not always be the cause, that is why we urge you to read through all our sections so you can carefully look at which of the subsequent causes it may be and act accordingly to ensure the very best for your turtle.

For now, we will have a look further into hard water and how it will affect your turtle.

Hard Water And Your Turtle

Recognizing Hard Water – The first step we must take is recognizing if it is indeed hard water that is causing your turtle’s white shell problem.

Ask yourself a few questions, ‘Is the white color evenly coated on the shell?’, ‘Is it coated evenly around a portion of the shell?’ (This is most usually on the bottom half of the shell), ‘Does it appear as something that could just be wiped away?’.

If you answer yes to these questions then the answer is most likely, ‘yes, it is hard water’.

Understanding how it may look – It is worth noting that hard water on your turtle’s shell may not always look like a chalky residue coating over part of your turtle’s shell, it may not always cover all or most of it either. It can often appear as small or minuscule white spots on the shell too.

Testing it – If you are not sure if the white spots on your turtle’s shell are from hard water, there is a test you can do. You must be careful doing this though so designate some time to do it.

Doing this you will need some white vinegar. You want to place a small bit of the white vinegar on the affected areas of the shell to test it, we recommend either using a cotton bud or small tissue coated in the white vinegar to dab it into the area, you could also use a pump, much like a smaller version of a turkey baster, to do this.

Be very careful and do not apply to an area near your turtle’s head, and wash off any vinegar afterward. It is best to apply to the top part of the shell as well. The best way to tell if this area is affected if it fizzes when the vinegar is applied. This would mean that there is calcium carbonate on the shell, which would be due to hard water.

Confusion – This problem can often be confused with shedding, so it is important to recognize the differences. If your turtle is shedding then this will look more see-through than chalky. Parts of your turtle’s scutes would be see-through and become translucent as they peel and shed.

The most often confusing part will be around their claws, it will likely look a lot like dried-out skin, and it won’t look moist, this is actually from hard water.

What Exactly Is Hard Water?

Hard water may sound a bit concerning or even dangerous if you are unaware of what it is. It is not uncommon and is a very normal occurrence in many places.

Hard water is simply water that contains a lot of dissolved minerals, this is often common in parts of the world or countries in which the hardness is caused largely due to groundwater that flows over or through limestone or other mineral-rich formations.

Hard water is named so because as the water dissipates it leaves behind these minerals, most often calcium and magnesium. This is very commonly found on shower faucets, glasses and cups, sinks, and bathtubs.

If you have a kettle, you may also find it here. If you have hard water, boil some water with your kettle and after a few times you may notice very small calcium deposits inside, this is harmless.

Too much can make the water taste unusual but it will not harm you. If you have noticed this substance before, then you may recognize how it looks when you see it on your turtle’s shell.

In the USA a lot of running water is hard water. This is simply because the region was once covered with sea beds that had a very high concentration of limestone. But do not worry, there are no consequences or health issues related to the consumption or use of hard water.

For humans, it can be beneficial due to the extra calcium, very good for those who are malnourished in this. It may make your coffee taste unusual, and you may even notice a difference between your distilled bottled water and your tap water due to this, but it is not damaging at all. If you are against this then you can get a water purifier that will get rid of these minerals.

With some animals, such as rabbits, hard water may increase plaque build-up. However, due to the lack of effects on humans and the absence of any information based on hard water’s influence on reptiles and amphibians, there is no reason to think that hard water is anything other than unsightly for your turtle.

This build-up of hard water residue on your turtle’s shell does look bad and may even be a bit annoying for your turtle, so it is best, in the long run, to use soft/ purified waters for your turtle.

a turtle with a white shell

Cleaning A White Shell From Hard Water

Fixing your turtle’s shell from hard water is easy, with a few easy steps you can have your turtle’s shell looking brand new, slick, and shiny.

First of all – Source some distilled/ purified water. You can buy cheap distilled water online, or use a water conditioner/ softener.

We would recommend investing in a water softener as this is useful for both you and your turtle if you wish to avert yourself from hard water consumption. Although neither option is better, we like using softeners. The key is to closely monitor the pH and mineral levels of your water.

Be sure not to just dump out the old hard water and replace it with new soft water in your turtle’s tank. You will probably have a fairly significant amount of water in there, so you will need to slowly replace the hard water with soft water.

If you throw out that hard water all in one go, you are also ridding the tank of all the bacteria that is beneficial to your tank and your turtle. This will likely result in New Tank Syndrome, which you want to avoid.

Doing these water changes you will probably only want to change out a quarter of the water each time until eventually, the water is all new and distilled. Doing it bit by bit may seem frustrating but it will make sure that you avoid New Tank Syndrome.

Using a Water distiller/ Softener is cheap and will last a long time, simply buy a bottle and add a small amount to your water, give it some time, and the minerals are all gone leaving you with pure water.

When you have started replacing your turtle’s water with new pure water you will start to see improvements in your turtle’s shell, this may start happening over just a few weeks.

It won’t magic away in a week but you will be seeing some improvement progressively over time. By a month or so your turtle’s shell should be back in mint condition with no chalky substance.

Shell Cleaning – It is not a necessary step but it can speed things up for you and your turtle to give their shell a clean. One of the easiest ways to do this is using distilled water and apple cider vinegar.

Simply put some distilled water into a bowl, add some apple cider vinegar, a few drops is enough, and mix with a soft toothbrush. You should ensure that your turtle’s shell is dry when you do this.

If the shell is dry, gently brush your turtle’s shell will the toothbrush, the white chalky substance should start to peel off. Once it’s come off let your turtle’s shell dry out again and then put it back into its tank.

If you find any gashes, breaks, or lesions in the shell stop immediately!

Other Potential Causes

There are other reasons that your turtle’s shell is white. These are much less common but more difficult to deal with and more unpleasant. These possibilities are either a fungal infection or shell rot.

Both are very unpleasant but should be easier defined in their features and how they act. Let us have a look at fungal infections first.

Fungal Infections

Anything can get a fungal infection, we get them often as humans, things such as ringworm and athletes foot are both common fungal infections in humans.

So it would make sense that turtles can get fungal infections too.

Do Turtles Get Fungal Infections?

The short answer is yes.

Fungal infections will make your turtle’s shell look a certain way, this will often include; brighter/ denser white spots all over the place, sometimes in one location, White or grey fuzzy patches on the skin or shell, a substance that looks like moldy cheese on the skin, green raised spots.

A fungal infection will often make itself known by the speed of its growth, if it is recent and is getting more substantial quickly this is the sign of a fungal infection.

This is more easily distinguished from hard water as if it was to be from fungal infections or even shell rot you would notice; small holes or pits in the smell where white spots or discoloration has set in, off white or cream color, often comes in tandem with a rotten meat stench.

It pays off to sniff your turtle’s shell if you think something is off, it can give away the severity of the problem at hand.

How do Turtles get Bacterial Infections?

Much like with fungal infections on many other creatures, the main cause is a lack of cleanliness. With turtles, the biggest perpetrators of fungal infections are poor water quality or bad basking spots.

Poor water quality develops most often when the turtle feeds inside its tank and the tank either isn’t cleaned enough or thoroughly enough for optimum cleanliness and eventually, the food and feces fall to the bottom and combine into a slimy breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Then the warm water of the tank will keep these thriving.

It is much like if we lived in houses full of our defecation and old food in a humid climate. Not pleasant.

If the basking spot is the cause this means that it is not in a good position or isn’t big enough and your turtle cannot fully dry out or the lack of heat stops ultimate drying. Therefore fungus can start to develop on your turtle’s shell.

an image of two turtles

Curing Fungal Infections

This sounds quite horrible, doesn’t it? And you might be worried that this is difficult to cure and that it could cause horrific problems. However, do not worry, this problem has a simple and easy cure. Alongside the obvious- ensure optimum cleanliness for your turtle’s home. It is best to tackle when caught early on.

 If you catch it in the early stages of development, you can fight it better. To do so simply; remove your turtle from its tank, and do a thorough and hardy clean of the tank.

You will also want to help your turtle shell, so get a large bowl or bucket or any other suitable container and warm it up to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, add in some water, two tablespoons should be enough.

Then you can soak your turtle in there for around a quarter of an hour twice daily for around four to five days straight. Each time you do this, let your turtle dry properly before placing them back in its tank.

If the infection is worse you may need to apply more drastic measures!

If you need to do something a bit more hardcore, you will want to allow your turtle to dry completed, apply a silver sulfadiazine cream to the spots- best using a q-tip or cotton bud.

Keep your turtle out of the water for the remainder of the day and then put your turtle in a warm area that is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. And continue to do this until you see improvement.

Remember that your turtle needs to be in the water for at least some of the day too, and to give the tank a tough clean. Use distilled water when adding your turtle back to its tank, even add a bit of chlorine if you wish, as this can help.

Remember: Heat will help your turtle, infections can come on if they are not basking in hot enough areas, and heat and being dry will help them get better if they do have an infection. Always clean the tank while your turtle is out if you are treating your turtle for anything, you don’t want to place them back into infected waters.

Shell Rot

Now, finally, we reach the possibility no one wants to talk about. Shell Rot.

Scary? Yes. It can be very serious, but if you can act fast it can be fixed. Some very defining symptoms come with this. This means it is very distinctive in relation to the other two options.

About Shell Rot

Shell Rot is the one thing we don’t want it to be, but if it is we will know straight away. Symptoms are;

  • Bright white spots appear over the shell.
  • Bits of the shell may have fallen off.
  • Bits of flesh may be visible where the scute has fallen off.
  • There will be a foul smell.
  • There will likely be fluids leaking from the shell around the infected area.

It is distinctive because it acts a lot worse than hard water or fungal infections. This can happen for a plethora of different reasons; inappropriate levels of moisture in the tank, bad sanitation in the tank, inadequate heating, unsuitable diet, and injuries.

In the majority of cases, the shell will suffer damage and usually, it will fall off, it doesn’t always have to be a substantial injury but just an injury.

And then as a result due to something not being perfect in the tank the wound will get infected by bacteria or fungus and it will spread through the shell and the shell in turn, will rot away and leaves flesh exposed.

Worst Case Scenario

If this happens then bacteria can leave the flesh exposed and then make their way into the exposed flesh. This can be very problematic and dangerous. It is a serious problem and if shell rot is left untreated the turtle can die from it.

If it is shell rot, you will knot it and if it is, it is also contagious. So, if you have other turtles, separate them to prevent any spread. If this happens, it’s time for a trip to the veterinarian.


Aside from the rare occasion in which a white shell could be caused by a lack of sufficient UV light. The most common cause is Hard water, Fungal infections, or rarely Shell Rot.

The main takeaway from this is that you need to ensure that your turtle’s environment is perfectly suitable for them and their needs, keep it clean, with enough heat for basking and make sure you take extra care if they suffer an injury.

Remember it’s unlikely to be shell rot, but if it is, you’ll know it.

Dorothy Razo

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