How Often Should I Clean Out My Tortoise Table?


Cleaning a tortoise enclosure encompasses daily spot checks (removing obvious soiling and detritus), monthly deep cleans of all surfaces and a full substrate replacement, and periodic cleansing of the enclosure substrate either with the aid of ‘cleanup crews’ for soil, or boiling water for coco coir.

Daily spot checks 

First and foremost, a daily spot check is essential. This spot check involves the removal of any tortoise poo and urates (the white deposits you will see in your tortoise enclosure) from the substrate and the removal of old discarded food. Your tortoises water bowl and food slate should also be cleaned and fresh water and food provided. 

Deep cleaning  

A deep clean, where the substrate is removed and the tortoise table is cleaned thoroughly should be carried out every month. You should also clean any rocks, stones or hides that are in the tortoise enclosure. 

To make the enclosure easier to clean it is sensible to line the tortoise table with a plastic lining. This avoids any fluids coming into contact with the wooden table which can contribute to rotting of the table and make it more difficult to clean. We would recommend you change the plastic lining as and when it is required because it will deteriorate over time through general wear and tear. You may also find your tortoise digs down into their substrate and damages the plastic lining with their claws. You should check the plastic lining for any damage during the deep clean. 

During the deep clean it is also sensible to check your tortoises heat bulbs to ensure they are clean and working correctly. 

How often you change the actual substrate in the tortoise table very much depends on the type of substrate you have used. More information on substrates can be found here (link to substrate article). 

Cleaning Top soil 

Top soil should be completely removed and replaced every 2-3 weeks. We recommend every 2-3 weeks because it is more difficult to spot poo against the soil meaning you could miss trace amounts. 

You may opt to introduce a ‘clean up crew’ to your top soil which will mean you can go longer between deep cleans.  The insertion of insects into a tortoises enclosure, namely woodlice, is often referred to as having a ‘clean up crew’ because these useful bugs feed on your tortoises poo and old food. 

These woodlice can be those found in your garden or can even be purchased from online retailers along with bug boosting powders which can be sprinkled on the top soil to ensure your bugs are working at their very best.  The ‘clean up crew’ method means you don’t need to regularly clean your tortoises enclosure (other than the daily spot checks) and it also replicates your tortoises natural environment more closely. If you choose to opt for a ‘clean up crew’ the top soil can last for over six months. You should still remove and clean your tortoises water bowl, food slate and stones and hide at least once a month. 

Cleaning Coco Coir 

Coco Coir should be spot cleaned daily but changed completely every 2-3 weeks or when heavily soiled. Alternatively if you have the time, you can remove the Coco Coir every four weeks and pour boiling water over it to sterilise it and keep it lasting longer. If this is done every four weeks the Coir can last up to six months. 

Cleaning Straw pellets 

A benefit to straw pellets is that they disintegrate when they get wet which means any areas of soiled substrate can quickly be removed. Given you will be regularly removing and adding new straw pellets to the tortoise table means you will be able to leave it longer between carrying out a deeper clean. You should still remove and clean your tortoises water bowl, food slate and stones and hide at least once a month. 

Disinfectants 

We recommend you use a solution such as F10 or another animal disinfectant to clean your tortoise table once it has been emptied of substrate. F10 is a disinfectant that kills bacteria, fungi and viruses and it is also used by most vets. When cleaning your tortoise table you should pay particular attention to the corners of the tortoise table which may be dusty as a result of the accumulation of substrate. 

To deep clean your tortoises hide, stones and other apparatus we recommend you soak them in a solution of F10 or other animal disinfectant before rinsing thoroughly. 

We do not recommend you use soap to clean out your tortoise table in case any residues are left on the tortoise table which could be harmful to your tortoise. 

Outdoor Enclosures 

Your tortoises outdoor enclosure will require less cleaning because it will more closely resemble their natural environment and you will likely benefit from naturally occurring ‘clean up crews’ which will feast on discarded food and your tortoises poo. Despite this, we would still recommend you carry out a daily spot clean to ensure the enclosure and your tortoises water bowl and food slate is clean. 

Even though your tortoises outdoor enclosure will require less cleaning, it will likely require significantly more maintenance. 

You will need to regularly check the following: 

  • Any wire mesh to ensure it is intact. This will prevent predators from entering the outdoor enclosure.
  • That the enclosure itself is secure and hasn’t any new damage which could allow your tortoise to escape or predators to enter the enclosure. 
  • Whether you need to introduce new plants to the enclosure to encourage free grazing or to provide wind or sun protection. 
  • Whether sand should be added to the soil in the outdoor enclosure to allow for better drainage. This is particularly important if you have had or are expecting heavy rain due to the fact that a tortoise residing on continuously damp ground will likely develop shell rot

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