How to Remove Paint From a Turtle’s Shell (4 Ways)

Maybe you’ve found a turtle by the side of the road that has had its shell painted, or perhaps you’ve painted your turtle yourself and now want to clean it off. Either way, there are many methods of getting paint off of a turtle shell. But be aware that this process takes lots of time and patience!

So how can you remove paint from your turtle’s shell? Depending on the type of paint, you can turn to vegetable oil, nail polish remover, lacquer thinner, or even a Dremel. Whatever method you choose, always be gentle and give your turtle plenty of breaks throughout the process.

Read on for detailed instructions on how to remove the paint from your turtle’s shell. You can also learn more about the effects of painting a turtle’s shell and the possible consequences it can have on your pet’s health.

General Tips for Paint Removal

Removing paint from a turtle’s shell can be a long process, and it can put a lot of stress on your turtle. Don’t feel like you need to remove all of the paint in one sitting. It’s actually better for the turtle if you can split up cleaning sessions so they don’t feel threatened or uncomfortable. The process can take up to a week or more depending on how much paint is on the turtle’s shell.

You’ll want to focus mostly on the growth lines of the shell. Don’t worry too much about any small flecks of paint left over after your initial cleaning. You also don’t want to try to remove all of the paint at once. It’s better to work in small sections, carefully rinsing as you go.

Regardless of the method you use to remove paint, you’ll want to avoid getting it on the turtle’s skin. Be as gentle as possible throughout the entire process. If your turtle becomes aggressive or afraid, it might be best to take it to the vet, where they can sedate it and safely remove the paint.

Ways to Clean Paint off Your Turtle’s Shell

Depending on the type and amount of paint on your turtle’s shell, there are several different methods you can try to remove it. This is typically a trial and error process, especially if you’re not sure what kind of paint has been used. 

If you don’t feel comfortable removing the paint yourself, take your turtle to the vet for expert treatment. You can also choose to give the vet a call to get some helpful advice before beginning the process.

Vegetable Oil

If the paint on your turtle’s shell is acrylic, you should be able to use vegetable oil to get it off. Start with a rag, wiping gently and thoroughly. If the rag doesn’t seem to be doing much, use a soft toothbrush. You’ll want to use a new one so that it’s free of bacteria. Clean your turtle’s shell with gentle circular motions, and rinse as you go.

Another option is to soak your turtle in warm water mixed with vegetable oil, and then carefully use a cuticle tool or your fingernails to scrape the paint off its shell.

Nail Polish Remover

Sometimes what appears to be paint on a turtle’s shell is actually nail polish. In this case, you’ll need to use nail polish remover. But be very careful–you don’t want to get any nail polish remover on your turtle’s skin. 

Don’t scrub too hard, and rinse your turtle thoroughly afterward. Follow up by washing with Cetaphil to remove any nail polish remover residue. Next, you’ll want to rinse your turtle again and gently dry it with a paper towel. 

Finally, use vegetable oil and a cotton ball to polish and moisturize your turtle’s shell. This will help to combat the drying effect of the nail polish remover.

Lacquer Thinner or Acetone

If your turtle’s shell is covered in lacquer, the best course of action is to clean it off with lacquer thinner or acetone. You’ll need several rags and a soft toothbrush as well. Saturate the rag in water and liberally wipe on some of the solvent. 

Next, dip the toothbrush into the solvent and gently scrub the paint off. As you do so, use another clean rag to wipe away the paint that comes loose. Repeat the process until all the paint has been removed.

Make sure to do this in a well-ventilated area so the fumes of the lacquer thinner don’t become overwhelming for you or your turtle. 

Dremel or Scrubbing Pad

If the paint is extremely resistant to the other methods, you can try using a Dremel or similar tool at its lowest speed. You can also use an aggressive scrubbing pad to break down the paint into bits and pieces. 

Keep in mind that this method is much more stressful for your turtle, so you’ll want to do it bit by bit with long breaks in between for your turtle to relax. You can also use this method as a first step to break down the paint, and then follow it by using a toothbrush or rag and vegetable oil.

Should I Paint My Turtle’s Shell?

The short answer is no. While a beautifully painted shell can be considered a live work of art, it can also be very harmful to turtles. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize this and decide to paint their turtle’s shell anyway.

Turtle shells are made of keratin, which is the same material your fingernails and toenails are made of. Because of this, some people assume it’s safe to use nail polish on turtle shells, just like you would on fingernails. However, this isn’t safe for your turtle at all–it can even be fatal.

The chemicals from paint and nail polish will soak through your turtle’s shell and into its body, causing illness and even death. The paint also creates a barrier on top of the shell that prevents your turtle from absorbing necessary vitamins from the sun. Additionally, paint destroys your turtle’s natural camouflage, which is especially important for turtles living in the wild.

Even if you find “turtle-safe” paint, it’s still not a good idea to paint your turtle’s shell. A pretty painting just isn’t worth the pain and suffering it can cause to your pet.

Health Problems Caused by Painted Shells

We’ve briefly mentioned a few of the issues that can arise from painting your turtle’s shell, but if you’d like a more detailed explanation of the effects of paint on a turtle, continue reading.

Slow Poisoning From Toxic Chemicals

If you paint your turtle, it’s not likely to die immediately, but the chemicals found in paint and nail polish will slowly poison it. The toxic substances will gradually build up in your pet’s bloodstream, leading to illness and weakness.


Turtle owners know how important it is for turtles to spend time basking and taking in nutrients from the sun. When you paint a turtle’s shell, they’re no longer able to absorb those nutrients. This can lead to a slow death of malnutrition and vitamin deficiency.

Lack of Heat Regulation

Turtles usually release heat through their shells in order to regulate their body temperature. But if your turtle’s shell is painted, they will no longer be capable of releasing heat. If your turtle gets overheated, they’ll have no way to cool down. It’s similar to being trapped in a car on a hot day, and it can be fatal.

Respiratory Issues

Think about breathing in nail polish fumes or sitting in a freshly painted room. After awhile, the smell may begin to give you a headache or make you dizzy. A turtle with a painted shell can’t escape these fumes and chemicals, and it can poison them and affect their breathing in a very negative way.

Shell Deformation

Painting a turtle’s shell can lead to issues with the shell’s structure. These include softening of the shell, grooves, and pitting. All of these problems can lead to internal injuries and illness.


A turtle’s shell should never be painted; it can cause a huge range of health issues and may even kill your turtle over time. However, if your turtle’s shell is painted, there are many methods to remove it. These include using vegetable oil, nail polish remover, lacquer thinner, a Dremel, or a scrubbing pad. 

Always be gentle and take lots of care when working to remove paint from your turtle’s shell. Give your turtle plenty of breaks, and don’t attempt to remove all of the paint in one sitting. You may think that painting your turtle’s shell is just a fun activity that won’t cause them any harm, but in reality it can have disastrous effects.


I’m Devin Nunn, an average joe that just so happens to have a deep love and passion for everything to do with reptiles. Because taking care of them for the vast majority of my life wasn’t fulfilling enough, I decided to begin educating others about them through my articles. read more...