Do Tortoises Smell Bad?

If you’re contemplating buying a tortoise then one of the questions you are probably considering is whether or not tortoises smell bad. Fortunately, tortoises themselves do not smell bad and they actually don’t have much of an odour at all. At most they may smell a bit earthy or of whatever substrate you are using in their enclosure. 

Washing a Tortoise 

We strongly advise against ever washing a tortoise with soap and water. This is cruel and would likely harm the tortoise. It is also simply not needed given that tortoises do not have much of an odour. 

Tortoise Enclosures Smelling Bad 

A tortoises enclosure on the other hand can smell bad if they’re not cleaned properly. A tortoises enclosure can become a breeding ground for unpleasant bacteria if food or tortoise faeces are not removed from the enclosure but simply left to decay. You should always ensure uneaten food and tortoise faeces are removed from your tortoises enclosure on a daily basis as part of your daily spot check cleans. Tortoise faeces can smell particularly bad so these should be removed as soon as possible. Tortoise faeces and rotting tortoise food can also attract bugs and flies so this is yet another incentive to be extra vigilant when carrying out your daily spot check clean. 

Tortoise Substrates Smelling Bad 

The type of substrate you use can also determine how badly your tortoises enclosure smells. Peat in particular can smell bad and we would recommend that you only use peat in an outdoor enclosure for this reason. 

Substrates that are damp can also give off an unpleasant odour. Tortoises do require some humidity in their enclosures so an element of damp is to be expected. It is when the damp is a result of tortoise wee or combined with rotting food and faeces that it becomes an odour issue. You should be able to identify any patches of wee from the urates which will have been deposited which makes the clean up easier. Again, as part of your daily spot clean check up you should keep a close eye out for any sign of urates and if you see any they should be removed. 

If your substrates are too deep you may also notice an unpleasant odour. This is a result of the lower portion of substrate becoming stagnant and starting to decompose. We would recommend you use just enough substrate for your tortoise to bury itself and to give you tortoise enclosure a deep clean every month. When you do a deep clean you can either remove and replace the substrate or, if you have used Top Soil, you can clean and sterilise it by pouring boiling water over it. Deep cleaning will ensure you keep any nasty odours at bay.  More information on cleaning your enclosure can be found here. 

Dirty Food and Water Dishes 

A tortoise water dish quickly develops a layer of scum which you will need to remove and clean regularly. Tortoises often like to use their water dishes as a toilet which exacerbates this problem. Simply emptying and refilling the dish with fresh water will not resolve the issue; you’ll need to remove the dish on a weekly basis and give it a thorough clean. 

A tortoises food dish will also require a weekly deep clean as well as removing any left over food on a daily basis. Old food remnants will attract fruit flies and other bugs and this needs to be avoided. 

Damp And Rotting Enclosure 

If after having cleaned your enclosure you are finding that it still smells then you may need to check to see whether the wooden enclosure itself is the source of the problem. If the plastic liner has become torn or damaged and, in turn, the wooden enclosure has become damp then it may be rotting and causing a smell. We would suggest you inspect your plastic liner for any signs of wear and tear if you are still noticing an unpleasant odour. 


Tortoises love to nibble on Cuttlefish and Cuttlefish can most definitely smell bad. To combat this fishy odour we would suggest either boiling the Cuttlefish for 15 minutes or soaking it for a couple of days before placing it in the enclosure. If you still find the scent of the Cuttlefish unbearable then it might be a good idea to only use Cuttlefish in your tortoises outdoor enclosure. 

Air Fresheners 

If you are still struggling with bad odours then we strongly advise against the use of aerosols due to the fact that these would be harmful to your tortoise. If you feel the need to use air fresheners then we would suggest using a solid air freshener which is placed away from the tortoise enclosure.

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