The top and bottom of my tortoise's shell tend to get messy from wet substrate, waste, etc. How can I safely clean the shell, without damaging it in any way?

  • I would take professional advice before acting on this, but facebook.com/IFeakingLoveScience/photos/… suggests that tortoises enjoy having their shells scrubbed with a toothbrush.
    – ClickRick
    Commented May 25, 2014 at 1:39
  • @ClickRick the link is not working anymore... ;) Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 21:17
  • I have a water faucet filter I just rinse my ornament tortoise under the clean clear filtered water and use my hands to scrub her up. She seems to love having her feet worse I rub for them between my four finger and thumb to wash them like I would my kids or something she seems to love it because she will let me rub my fingers in between her shells to wash around her neck and around her legs. It's a real bonding experience with me and Sonic I think even though I'm trying to find a good home for her.
    – Lamar
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 12:41

6 Answers 6


I was afraid of damaging the shell (particularly in the growth regions) by scrubbing at it, so the tortoise's vet recommended using something like baby shampoo.

Baby shampoo has had some unfavorable press in the last few years due to additives. However, most of these additives have been removed from the formulations, and it also uses mild surfactants instead of soap. Surfactants are safer than soap to use in the growth regions in between the scutes (plates) of the shell, because these regions can dry out with regular soap, causing cracking and disturbing the natural "growth rings".

Using a soft cloth or chamois to gently wipe the surface and rinsing the tortoise well to get rid of any residue will remove most of the surface dirt.

  • Scrubbing too hard or with something too abrasive can be damaging, but if you scrub gently with something relatively soft (like a toothbrush or a cleaning cloth) it can actually be beneficial. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 12:35

There is a good guide for bathing tortoises here.

All you really need to clean a tortoise's shell is water and a gentle scrubbing device of some kind, like a toothbrush or washcloth. Scrubbing (provided it's gentle) will not damage the shell and on the contrary can promote healthy shell growth.

Fill a container with lukewarm water so that it covers the entire plastron, and a few centimetres of the carapace. Let him soak for 15-20 minutes. This allows him to rehydrate and also softens any hardened dirt.

Replace with fresh water and gently scrub him all over, paying special attention to any problem areas, and rinse well at the end. Be extra gentle when dealing with any non-scaled areas, as they will be more sensitive. Coarse salt can be used as an "exfoliator" on any problem patches (shell only, not skin) but should not be used liberally and should be thoroughly rinsed off. If you find your tortoise has a lot of dirty patches that are hard to clean, it could be a sign that you need to clean his habitat more often.

A monthly bathing ritual can be a nice bonding opportunity, keeps the tortoise happy and healthy and also gives you a chance to thoroughly examine your tortoise's skin and shell, noticing problems as soon as they occur. Even when your tortoise appears clean, a regular scrub can remove dead cells and encourage healthy shell growth.

Never clean your tortoise with oil - a build up of oil is harmful to a tortoise's shell, because it can clog the pores. Tortoises "breathe" through their shells as we do through our skin and a buildup of dirt or oil can block oxygen transfer and create other problems. Detergents, shampoos, or other "products" should not be used unless recommended by your veterinary surgeon.


We use a biosoap with a soft nail brush. Skatter absolutely loves having his shell scrubbed. We put a couple drops of soap in the sink, then dip the brush. Sure to always rinse him off after. It is part of our tank cleaning process. Everything is clean and fresh when he goes back!


I have extremely sensitive skin and so I find that using just a tiny bit of my gentle everyday use face wash works to rid him of his smell. I only do this about once every two months. I don't recommend using it on your tortoises neck or head. Just a tiny drop on each limb seems to do the trick.


My tortoise, Beef, loves being scrubbed with a toothbrush on the back of shell, only with dawn soap. We only use the original type (blue/original), but I use a damp cotton ball to wipe off dirt from the bottom and a Q-tip for legs. Hope this helped!


What I do is that I have a tub for him which Ii fill with lukewarm water, around an inch deep, and place him in it. I use a toothbrush to get between his shell, which he loves. When bathing your tortoise, be aware that they will also tend to urinate in the bath water. Hope this helps.

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