Aquarium maintenance

How to Tub an Axolotl: 5 Steps + Tubbing Benefits

How to Tub an Axolotl: 5 Steps + Tubbing Benefits

Okay axolotl people, let's talk about tubbing!

(No, it doesn't mean you give your axolotl a bubble bath ;) )

Even if you're fairly new to axolotls, you've probably come across the term.

This post is going to give you the lowdown on everything you want to know.

What it is, why you would want to do it and how to do it.

Good news:

This is a fairly straightforward topic that should make sense without tons of detailed explanation.

I'll still try to break it down for you to give you the key takeaways.

So without further ado, let's explore what it is to tub your axolotl!

What is Tubbing for Axolotls?

Let's talk about exactly what tubbing is.

"Tubbing" is a term that refers to placing your axolotl in a plastic tub.

(With conditioned water, of course.)

It's generally supposed to be a temporary setup - whether that is for raising babies, as a hospital setup or to temporarily house the axolotl during cycling.

That said:

Some people use it as a long-term setup as it can work for that too, if it is large enough.

What do I Use for a Tub?

The container is usually shoebox size, but some opt for larger tubs like Tupperware totes used for storage.

As far as the size of the tub goes:

There aren't hard fast rules on this.

But the axolotl should be able to turn around comfortably.

The thing about tubbing...

... Usually the point of it is to make water changes easy, so you can lift it up and dump the water out easily.

And that's kinda hard to lift 15 gallon tote filled with water, haha.

So the shoebox size is pretty popular.

That said:

Some people use it as a sort of temporary tank until they can get an "official" aquarium or their tank is ready for their axolotl.


The kind of tub you use generally isn't a big deal, though if possible it's always a good idea to choose one that is food grade plastic - if you can - to be extra safe.

While leaching from the chemicals in the plastic itself is a legitimate concern, the good news is that generally isn't as much of an issue when the temperature is kept cold.

Plastic leaches more chemicals at warmer temperatures (source), which is why it may not be a good idea to use a heater in a plastic tub with a live aquatic animal (not that axolotls need one), even for hatchlings.

What I worry about more is contamination.

If the container has ever been used to house any kind of chemicals or things with chemicals, that can be a problem.

The first check is to smell it.

If you smell any kind of chemical - even if it is a pleasant smell, like perfume or other chemical fragrance or cleaners - that is a clear warning not to use it.

My rule is if it smells, it's not safe.

It should smell like... nothing.

New tubs may have a bit more of that manufacturing smell, which goes away with time, so I would wait to use it until it doesn't smell and rinse it too.

A good tip is to rinse the tub with soapy water either (just use non-chemical soap like castile soap).

The BPA free ones are always a bonus.

How is the Tub Maintained?

Because most tubs are not filtered in any way, shape or form...

... They are going to start getting ammonia building up at least in a few days.

Usually it's within 8 hours at room temp.

How often you absolutely must clean it usually comes down to how big the axie is and how much you are feeding.

It should also be noted that just the animal breathing and urinating will cause ammonia to creep.

As a general rule, for axolotls 3" and under, a 100% water change morning and night will ensure the tub is safe and free from ammonia.

Larger axolotls produce more waste.

From my own testing...

... Even with 2x daily water changes, the ammonia tends to creep to unacceptable levels between water changes when the tub is kept at (cooler) room temperature.

For axolotls over 3", if you want to tub in a shoebox size container, my recommendation is to pair it with fridging as that will slow the accumulation of ammonia.

It actually doesn't take much time to clean a tub, maybe 10 minutes a day, so that's not too big of a deal for most people.

To clean a tub, the axolotl should be CAREFULLY removed to another container such as a bucket or another tub, then the container dumped out and refilled with cool, dechlorinated water, and any treatments if necessary.

The axolotl can then be returned to its tub.

Easy, right?

One caveat...

... It's a good idea to test your tap water.

Some people have ammonia in their tap water, and if that is the case they will need to use a conditioner to neutralize it.

Benefits & Disadvantages of Tubbing

Tubbing your axolotl comes with a number of surprising benefits:

  • Safety - use during an aquarium emergency (i.e. aquarium leaks, aquarium is uncycled, aquarium has ammonia or water quality problem, aquarium becomes contaminated, etc.)
  • Portability - the small tub is easy to move around and do a large water change on
  • Quarantine - confine a sick axolotl away from the others and administer treatments
  • Space-saving - tubs can be placed just about anywhere. They are much lighter weight than an aquarium, and can be placed on most table surfaces without a problem.

There are disadvantages as well worth mentioning, however in some situations it can be invaluable. It's not a cure-all by any means or to be relied on in every situation.

  • Tubbing removes an axolotl from its normal comfortable environment. This can lead it to feel scared or even depressed.
  • It is pretty common for some tubbed axolotls to lose their appetite. Their appetite surprisingly returns once returned to the main tank, or if kept in the tub for a long time.
  • Ammonia tends to accumulate rapidly, which in some cases is worse than what you are trying to help.
  • The increased maintenance generally associated with tubbing vs having an established filter can be a drawback.

One must look at the pros vs the cons and make their best decision.

How to Tub Your Axolotl

Tubbing your axolotl is as easy as filling up the plastic container of choice with cold, dechlorinated water.

(Bonus points if you use a water conditioner that also removes heavy metals and neutralizes ammonia and nitrite, such as Prime - 2-3 drops per gallon of water.)

The axolotl can then be transferred to the tub.

Careful - these wiggly little guys are very unpredictable if you try to pick them up with your bare hands. A net is ideal.

To make the tub more homey, you can add a hide and/or some plants, real or fake.

Now that your axolotl is in its new space, you'll want to be careful not to overfeed.

For axolotls that are large enough to eat every other day or every 3 days, it is recommended to follow that lighter feeding schedule.

It's REALLY important not to overfeed the axolotl.

The water should be changed 100% at least every other day, twice daily being ideal, but go by ammonia readings..

I also think it's very important to spot clean the poop with a turkey baster between cleanings.

Tubs should be clean, not filthy, or they can do more harm than good when it comes to helping the axolotl with disease.

For lotls with health issues, some find adding Indian Almond Leaf extract to the tub is also very useful.


Don't forget to use a lid to keep them from jumping out!


I hope this post helped you understand what tubbing is and how it is accomplished.

It's a great tip to know when it comes to caring for your lotl.

Thanks for reading :)

Reading next

How to Breed Axolotls
18 Axolotl Diseases: Identification, Causes & Treatment

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