8 Best Substrates For Leopard Geckos

Leopard geckos are suitable pets for all kinds of hobbyists as they are docile, and caring for them is quite easy. Although setting up your leopard gecko’s habitat is not that complicated, choosing a substrate to cover the bottom of your gecko’s enclosure is important. “8 Best Substrates For Leopard Geckos” is here to help.

Using a substrate in your leopard gecko’s enclosure helps to make their enclosure comfortable for them. You need an absorbent substrate, easy to clean and cannot choke your gecko if ingested. Furthermore, the substrate should not be very abrasive to help ensure your gecko does not get injured.

It can be quite hard to pick a substrate for your leopard gecko’s enclosure due to the variety of options available. In this article, we will help list some of the best substrates suitable for your leopard gecko’s enclosure.

Cute Reptiles as Pets
Cute Reptiles as Pets

Importance Of A Substrate For Leopard Geckos

Although leopard geckos love climbing, they are ground-dwelling lizards and will spend most of their time on the substrate. This is why it is important to provide a quality substrate for your gecko.

Many new owners believe leopard geckos sand is a good substrate for their geckos because leopard geckos originate from hot, sandy environments. However, leopard geckos originate from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, consisting of rocky outcrops and barren grasslands.

The substrate usually found in their natural habitat is gravel, hard, and clay covered with a thin layer of sand with shrubs, boulders, and grasses.

You can keep your leopard gecko happy and healthy by trying to replicate their natural habitat conditions. This shows why you need a substrate to help mimic their natural environment and make them feel at home. Using a suitable substrate also helps to make your gecko’s enclosure look nice.

Substrates also serve several other options as your gecko can feed, burrow, poop, and even lay eggs on it. Using substrate also makes it easier to clean your leopard gecko’s enclosure to help the cost of habitat upkeep.

Buyer’s Guide: Factors To Consider When Choosing A Good Substrate For Leopard Gecko

There are numerous substrates that you can use to set up your leopard gecko’s enclosure. However, it is not all substrate that is good for your leopard gecko. Some of the things that you need to consider before choosing a substrate for your leopard gecko are:

Safe

Some substrate can cause health problems like respiratory problem to your leopard gecko. This is why you need to consider your leopard gecko’s safety when choosing a substrate for its enclosure. 

For instance, loose substrate like sand are not good for your leopard gecko as your gecko can mistakenly ingest it and can lead to impaction. 

Easy To Clean

Maintenance of your leopard gecko is important for the safety of your leopard gecko. This is because substrates can become dirty and moist after using for a long term and this can lead to bacterial buildup that can affect your gecko’s health. 

This is why you need to easily clean or replace to help reduce tank maintenance and cost of upkeep of your gecko’s enclosure. 

Durable And Look Nice

It is important that you consider the duration that you plan to use a substrate before you even get it. For instance, some substrates like paper substrate will need to be replaced when it becomes soiled. However, some substrates like wood chips can easily be spot cleaned and reused after getting soiled.

Leopard geckos love an environment that can mimic their natural environment, and you can opt for a substrate that can do this. Providing this will help to ensure your gecko stays healthy and happy.

Cost-Effective

The cost of a substrate will determine the type of substrate that you can use for your leopard gecko’s enclosure. Many hobbyists prefer to use disposable substrates for their gecko’s enclosure and can opt for paper substrate since it is affordable.

This can then help owners save money from maintaining their gecko’s cage and then use it for other accessories.

Supports Burrowing

Leopard geckos are ground-dwelling lizards, and they love burrowing. This is why it is best to opt for a substrate that can support their burrowing nature. This is why you need a substrate that is fine and soft and will not injure your leopard gecko when digging.

8 Best Substrates For Leopard Geckos Reviews

In this section, I will be reviewing eight (8) substrates that are suitable for your leopard gecko’s enclosure. The substrates listed are safe, easy to clean, durable, and will make your gecko’s enclosure look natural. 

List Of SubstratesSafeEasy to cleanDurable and look nice
Bioactive substrateVery safe Very goodVery nice
Blended substrateVery safeVery goodVery nice
Newspaper or paper towelVery safeGoodAverage
Zilla reptile terrarium liners brownVery safeVery goodNice
List of best substrates for leopard geckos

Bioactive Substrate

Using a bioactive substrate helps owners to mimic the natural habitat of leopard geckos. You can create a bioactive substrate with several layers of gravel, clay, and soil mixtures and live plants and branches. With a bioactive substrate, your gecko can easily dig, burrow, and even hunt small arthropods like they would in the wild.

Another fascinating thing is that a bioactive substrate requires little maintenance and cleaning like other substrates. You can set up a bioactive substrate if you have a strong knowledge of horticulture and are ready to put in the time.

Pros

  • Offers proper aeration and drainage
  • Can accommodate a wide range of plants
  • Aids in shedding, respiration, and hydration.
  • Safe to use
  • Does not require too much cleaning
  • Helps to regulate humidity spikes

Cons

  • Expensive to set up
  • Time-consuming to set up
  • Strong knowledge of horticulture is needed

Blended Substrate

A blended substrate offers a cheaper option than a bioactive substrate. With a blended substrate, you can get all benefits of different substrates, and it will give your gecko’s enclosure a unique and natural look. You can create a blended substrate using a 50:30:20 mix of organic topsoil, play sand, and clay.

You need to ensure that all the ingredients that are used are inert with no chemicals. Furthermore, the topsoil should also be sterile to ensure that no toxic weeds start growing in your gecko’s enclosure. When using a blended substrate, you will need to mix and leave it in your gecko’s tank for 1-2 weeks before adding the gecko.

You will need to replace blended substrates once a year to help prevent bacteria buildup.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Natural-looking
  • Safe
  • Does not require too much cleaning

Cons

  • Knowledge of horticulture is required
  • Setting it up is time consuming

Stone, Slate, And Ceramic Tiles

Stone, slate, and ceramic tiles are other substrate options suitable for leopard gecko enclosure. Many owners use them to add texture and variation and also set a natural setting that your gecko will love. They are suitable for leopard geckos as they can retain heat from the overhead heat lamps and under-tank heaters.

leopard gecko on stone substrates
leopard gecko on stone substrates

The rough texture of the tiles also helps to mimic the rocky outcrops found in the natural environment of leopard geckos. Another thing is that buying tiles is cheap and very easy to install.

Pros

  • Easy to clean
  • Cheap
  • Offers natural look
  • For regulating the temperature in your gecko’s enclosure

Cons

  • Restricts your gecko from digging
  • You may need to trim the tile to a specific size
  • Requires regular cleaning

Newspaper or Paper Towel

Newspaper and paper towels can be considered the cheapest substrate out there. Newspaper or tissue paper is the cheapest substrate, and it can absorb moisture very well. They do not require cleaning as you can just change them whenever you want.

Paper towels are also cheap, absorb moisture, and make it quite easy to maintain your gecko’s enclosure. Using paper towels also helps owners to spot mites or other health issues much earlier than other substrates.

Many breeders prefer using paper towels and newspapers for housing baby and juvenile geckos. However, they look unnatural and will prevent your leopard from digging, and do not provide a good grip for adult geckos.

Pros

  • They are super cheap
  • Very absorbent
  • Cannot cause impaction
  • Suitable for beginner hobbyists
  • Live prey cannot hide in it
  • It is suitable for young and juvenile gecko
  • It is convenient to use

Cons

  • It does not look natural
  • Your leopard gecko cannot dig
  • It cannot hide the excreta smell.

Clay: Excavator Clay Burrow Substrate 10 lb 

Excavator clay burrow substrate helps to make your gecko feel like they are in their natural habitat.

Product Overview

  • Made with clay material
  • Fine texture and hold shape
  • Natural additives

Last update on 2021-11-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Zoo Med excavator is a soft clay substrate that you can use to create a natural habitat for your pet. This substrate helps to offer your leopard gecko a place to burrow without worrying about any skin damage. Furthermore, it is made with fine grains and strong bonding ability, and you can use it to build hills and valleys for your gecko.

The clay also has a special additive that helps to keep it moist for a long time. The best thing is that the Zoo Med excavator will not harden when dry, and you can also add little water to smoothen the mold particles. The substrate can retain heat, and you don’t need a sink heat tank to keep your gecko warm at night.

Another thing is that you don’t need to worry about replacing the whole substrate when you are cleaning the substrate, as you can just dig out the soiled section.

Pros

  • Very fine and has soft grains
  • Helps in creating a natural habitat
  • Budget-friendly and has good quality
  • Does not have any chemical additive
  • Helps to retain heat
  • A leopard gecko can easily burrow without any skin damage
  • Does not harden when dry

Cons

  • The substrate can dry with excess heating
  • You will need to rewet the substrate every week

Reptile Sand Mat: Exo Terra Sand Mat Mini 

The Exo terra sand mat mini helps to add beauty and natural scenery to your leopard gecko’s enclosure.

Product Overview

  • Made from slate stone
  • Non-abrasive material
  • Water absorbent

Exo terra sand mat mini is a high-quality substrate made with non-abrasive material to help ensure your gecko is not irritated while walking. It is made with smooth sand, which provides a natural texture for a firm grip. Furthermore, it is nicely designed and offers natural desert scenery that your gecko will love.

You can glue this substrate together to create walkways, steps, caverns, benches, and several other things to help beautify your gecko’s enclosure. These stones naturally hold heat, and it is suitable for a wide range of pet enclosures.

Another great thing about this substrate is that it can absorb and direct moisture to the bottom of the tank to help ensure the surface is dry. You can also wash the soil part of the substrate with clean water without any issue.

Pros

  • Can be easily trimmed
  • Safe
  • You can easily clean it
  • Offers stunning desert scenery
  • Helps to keep bacterial buildup at a minimal level
  • Great texture and grip

Cons

  • Cannot remove odor
  • Slightly sandy

Reptile Carpet: Zilla Reptile Terrarium Liners Brown 

Zilla reptile terrarium liners brown helps to offer a natural habitat for your leopard gecko.

Product Overview

  • Made with recycled materials
  • Durable
  • Non-abrasive materials
  • No dyes or chemicals

Last update on 2020-07-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Zilla terrarium liners is a roll-out carpet made with active biodegradable enzymes and can fit perfectly in your terrarium without any issue. It has an impressive texture to ensure your geckos do not have skin irritation when moving around their enclosure.

It is durable, made with a non-abrasive and absorbent material that drains moisture very quickly. Another thing is that Zilla has a pleasant smell and the biodegradable enzymes help remove any odor from your gecko’s enclosure in minutes. Furthermore, it is a low maintenance substrate, and you can easily reuse it.

Pros

  • Easy to clean
  • Highly absorbent
  • Low maintenance
  • Helps to remove odors
  • Available in different colors and sizes
  • Very comfortable to use
  • You can trim and fold it

Cons

  • May stick your gecko’s teeth
  • Not suitable for rugged floors

Shelf Liner 

Shelf liner is a cheap alternative substrate suitable for leopard gecko’s enclosure.

Product Overview

  • Non-adhesive drawer liner
  • Insulator
  • Strong Grip

Last update on 2021-11-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Shelf liners are not as popular as other substrates on this list but can work well for your gecko’s enclosure. It is easier to clean and very cheap. All you have to do is opt for non-adhesive shelf liners that are not perforated.

Non-adhesive shelf liners make it easy to remove and clean the substrate and to ensure your gecko’s skin is not irritated. However, shelf liner can easily breed bacterial, and you will need to clean it regularly. Another thing is that shelf liner are insulators, and you will need to increase your heat fixtures output for good surface temperature.

Pros

  • Safe and cheap alternative
  • Easy to clean
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Prone to bacterial buildup
  • Does not have a natural look
  • Cannot be cleaned effectively, and you may need to add paper towels on the liner.

How Often Should You Change Your Leopard Gecko Substrate?

It is important that you change your leopard gecko’s substrate regularly to help prevent the growth of bacterial or any viral infections. However, changing your leopard gecko substrate will depend on the substrate that you use.

You will need to change paper towels and newspapers once or twice per week as it gets soiled. However, you can simply clean reptile carpet 2-3 times per month but will need to replace it 3-4 times after washing it or when it becomes loose.

You can clean ceramic tiles once per month but will need to remove the waste daily. On the other hand, you will need to replace loose substrate every 3-4 months.

8 Substrates To Avoid For Leopard Geckos

Although there are some good substrates suitable for leopard geckos, some substrates are very bad for your leopard geckos. Some of them are stated below.

Sand

Although sand is a popular substrate used for leopard geckos, it isn’t good for them. This is because sand and other loose substrates can lead to impaction if your leopard gecko accidentally ingests it.

keeping leopard gecko on sandy substrate
Avoid a substrate of sand as this can cause impaction

Gravel

Although it is possible to use gravel if combined with other substrates like clay, using it alone is a bad idea. This is because gravel is very loose and cannot provide effective ground cover. Furthermore, most gravels have sharp edges, which can irritate your gecko’s skin and feet.

Another thing is that gravel can collapse on your gecko when digging.

Sphagnum Moss

It is only recommended to use sphagnum moss for your gecko’s moist hide to aid shedding. However, you should avoid using it for their whole enclosure because it will hold excess moisture and lead to bacterial and mold growth.

Moss can also cause impaction if ingested by your leopard gecko.

Corn Cob

Although corn cobs are cheap, it is not recommended to use them for your leopard gecko’s enclosure. This is because it can cause rapid bacterial and fungal growth when wet, leading to health conditions like mouth rot.

They can also cause impaction if your gecko accidentally licks it.

Ground Walnut Shell

Although you will find walnut shells being sold commercially as a reptile substrate, it is best to avoid them. This is because walnut shells can damage your gecko skin and also irritate your gecko’s eyes. Furthermore, the particles are very small and can get stuck to feeder insects and may lead to impaction if ingested.

Pine, Fir, and Cedar

Pine, fir, and cedar usually contain oils that can be toxic to reptiles. This is why it is best not to use it in your leopard gecko’s enclosure.

Coconut Fiber

Although coconut fiber has many positive features, it is best to avoid using them for your leopard gecko. This is because coconut fiber gives off minute particles that can enter your gecko’s respiratory system when dry.

Another thing is that it can cause impaction when ingested by your gecko.

Wood Chips

Woodchip is a suitable substrate for lots of pets, but it is not recommended for leopard geckos. This is because they can cause many health risks like skin irritation and irritation. Furthermore, wood chips can hold too much moisture, and insects can also hide under them.

How to prepare a bioactive tank for leopard geckos [source: Mike Tytula]

Best Substrates For Leopard Geckos FAQs

Should I turn my Leopard Geckos light off at night?

Yes, leopard geckos are crepuscular creatures and don’t need bright lights at night. Leopard geckos are usually active at night and can get stressed if you turn on the UVB lights at night. Instead of UVB lights, you can just provide a heat source to help keep your gecko warm.

Do leopard geckos need misting?

Yes, you will need to mist your leopard gecko occasionally to keep them hydrated. Misting your leopard gecko’s enclosure also helps to increase the humidity in their enclosure and aid shedding.

Can leopard geckos have sand in their tank?

It is unsafe to have sand in your leopard gecko’s tank because of impaction due to accidental ingestion. However, this is more common in baby and juvenile leopard geckos, but it is best to avoid using sand altogether.

Final Verdict

When it comes to leopard gecko substrates, there are lots of substrates in the market and finding one that will suit your needs and budget is quite easy. I will recommend that you go for bioactive substrate because it helps to mimic the natural environment of your leopard gecko. 

However, if you do not have enough knowledge about creating a bioactive substrate, you can opt for a blended substrate or Zilla reptile terrarium liners brown substrate.