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Best Substrate for Leopard Geckos

Best Substrate for Leopard Geckos

If you are thinking about getting a pet leopard gecko or already have one but aren’t sure if they are comfortable with their current substrate, this article is for you.

Leopard geckos are quickly becoming a popular beginner’s reptile due to their easy handling and the minimal care required. On top of that, there are a ton of different morphs.

When it comes to the substrate, some people can make dangerous or even fatal mistakes for their leopard gecko.

Originally from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and northwest India, these small geckos are native to dry, semi-desert climates. Their natural habitat is surrounded by limestone and hardened clay dirt with minimal sand or gravel.

Many substrates on the market will try their best to mimic your leopard gecko’s natural habitat to keep them comfortable.

If you’re in a hurry, here is a quick sum-up of the best leopard gecko substrates.

Different Types of Substrates

Different Types of Substrates

Sand or Loose Substrates (Not Recommended)

When it comes to picking a suitable substrate for your leopard gecko setup, it is important to note the controversy on using sand or other loose substrates.

Loose substrates like sand can be harmful to your pet gecko. This is due to the natural use of their tongue to explore their environment, which may cause them to digest the loose substrate.

Ingesting sand or other loose substrates can cause impaction when the indigestible substrate blocks all digestion. This is a very common cause of leopard gecko death and should be prevented at all costs.

Although some owners prefer loose substrate since they can naturally burrow themselves in the sand, it also makes for easy cleanup and a bioactive enclosure, which some prefer.

If you’ve read up about the controversy and have done your research on how to safely use loose substrate in your terrarium, you’ll know that fine, “digestible,” calcium-based substrates have been said to work well among leopard gecko owners.

If you swear off loose substrates, other preferred substrates will keep your gecko comfortable in their home. Just do your research, especially if you are a first-time leopard gecko owner.

Bioactive Substrate

A bioactive terrarium could also be a good setup for your leopard gecko. The reason why particle substrates are a problem is that most reptile substrates aren’t digestible.

Many misinformed owners may leave their gecko exposed to a loose substrate at all times, using it as the terrarium’s sole substrate. This is how impaction or other physical health issues can happen over time.

A proper arid bioactive setup is not all loose substrate; only the lowest layer where the microfauna lives are. This layer should be covered in a non-loose substrate. You should also provide natural rocks and places for your leopard gecko to hide.

Natural setups like these will have topsoil, sand, and clay to mimic their natural habitat in the wild. You can also add an arid cleanup crew to your terrarium, which will keep it clean and nutrient-rich.

It is important to note that it’s recommended to still try to tong-feed your gecko or provide a tiled area for feeding instead of allowing them to eat on the substrate.

This is just to be sure of your pet’s safety and to lessen the likelihood of them digesting anything concerning.

There are so many options and choices for reptile owners to choose from. You just really want to do your research with this option to make sure you’re getting it right.

Bioactive setups can be the most aesthetically pleasing of terrariums or vivariums and are also the most expensive options.

There’s even an online community with lots of tips created by The Bio Dude, who is essentially a bioactive setup pro. He even sells products catered to bioactive terrariums, which you can find on Amazon and his website. 

Beginners are encouraged to join his Facebook community, which focuses on anything and everything about bioactive setups. You can ask any questions you might have as a beginner or get some ideas for your setup right in this Facebook group.

Excavator Clay Substrate

In nature, leopard geckos have a natural instinct to burrow themselves, meaning you want to find a substrate that will allow their burrowing habits.

Why not use some clay to create the perfect habitat for your gecko? Excavator clay is a great way to customize and create the perfect burrowing spots and flooring for your leopard gecko.

Be sure to use gloves while creating their flooring and burrow hole. There are many do-it-yourself projects and ideas on Pinterest that you can use as examples.

This clay will mimic their naturally dry habitat in the wild and will be safer for your gecko than particle substrates. One thing to note is that you should let the clay completely dry out before you introduce your pet to their new environment.

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpet is the least problematic when it comes to worrying about whether or not your leopard gecko will try to eat it.

It’s not loose, messy, or edible, which is great. It is also customizable since it usually comes in rolls, convenient for cutting to size and putting into your enclosure.

This is pretty self-explanatory and comes in a grassy green or a natural wood-colored coconut fiber. However, if you want to use a cabinet liner or something similar, you should first make sure that it is non-adhesive.

The only problem owners have experienced with reptile carpets is their pets getting their nails or claws stuck in them, which is an important concern to be aware of.

When feeding, they might also get their teeth stuck in it as well, so it’s recommended you feed your gecko in a bowl and not on the carpet if you decide to use carpet.

Paper Towels

This budget-friendly option can also work safely and well for your leopard gecko, although it is not the prettiest. Some owners will also use newspapers if they’re not a fan of how paper towels look.

This is a good option for young or juvenile leopard geckos. This leopard gecko substrate can be easily removed and replaced, which makes for effortless cleaning.

With this hygienic advantage also comes the ability to monitor their eating habits and bowel movements more closely due to the obvious coloring of the substrate.

The best part of paper towels as substrate or flooring is that there is no chance of your leopard gecko swallowing or ingesting any small particles, preventing the risk of impaction.

Tile Flooring

This is another safe option for your leopard gecko that comes with many customizable options. Tile flooring will allow comfortable, risk-free feeding and comfortable temperatures with its heat-holding capabilities.

It is very easy to clean; just wipe with a paper towel, and you’re good to go. Convenient cleaning reduces the risks of illness and also helps with the smell.

The best thing about tile flooring is that you get to choose your tiles. Most owners prefer slate or basalt, which can feel similar to their natural habitat of rocky limestone in the wild.

Some owners use ceramic tiles in combination with paper towels as bedding, and others might use sand or hay underneath and tiles up top. There are many combinations you can use to take advantage of the tiles and their heat-holding capabilities.

Coconut Fiber

Another popular substrate is coconut fiber, which is natural and has antimicrobial properties that help prevent unwanted odors, rotting, and mold.

It also will not increase the humidity of your leopard gecko terrarium, which is a good thing, as too much humidity can be bad for your gecko.

Another important factor to note is that it can be digested by your gecko and is less likely to cause impaction. Although, it is still controversial among leopard gecko owners since it is a risk. As long as you are making an informed decision and are making sure you educate yourself on all the options and risks when choosing a substrate for your leopard gecko.


Top 6 Substrates for Leopard Geckos

Now that you’re more informed on the various choices of substrate and flooring for your leopard gecko, here are some recommended brands that can help you get started on setting up the perfect environment for your leopard gecko.

1. Mosaic Tile

This tile is great for a leopard gecko’s enclosure and will give your terrarium that natural stone look. Easy-to-clean and beautiful when surrounded by colors of nature.

Get it on Amazon

2. The Bio Dude Terra Sahara Bioactive Reptile Substrate

As we mentioned earlier, The Bio Dude has a large variety of options for owners looking to build their own bioactive setup for their leopard gecko.

Get it on Amazon

3. Hamiledyi Natural Coconut Fiber Reptile Carpet

Natural-looking, easy-to-clean, and convenient reptile carpets can be a great option for your leopard gecko. This specific listing comes with two mats, which you can use interchangeably for cleaning.

Get it on Amazon

4. Zoo Med Eco Cage Carpet

This reptile carpet is a grassy green, is safe for your pet leopard gecko, and is easy to clean. Zoo Med has many sizes for different tank dimensions.

Get it on Amazon

5. Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrow Substrate

This clay is a great way to customize and create burrow spaces for your pet leopard gecko. If you’re looking for a DIY project that can double as a great home for your lizard, this is an awesome way to go.

Get it on Amazon

6. Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate

If you are trying tIf you choose a coconut fiber substrate, this one is digestible and tested with leopard geckos. Owners seem to have success with this brand, but always make sure to read up on safety measures.

Get it on Amazon

Buying Guide 

As we mentioned before, make sure you pay attention to what your leopard gecko is most comfortable with, and we can’t stress enough to do your research. Read up on what is best for them regarding substrates, and make sure you read all instructions carefully.

Any mistakes with substrates can be detrimental, even fatal to your leopard gecko, so please proceed with caution. While you may want to pick a substrate that looks best in appearance, your pet’s health should be your priority.

Read packaging and instructions carefully, as well as how to safely place the substrate without harming your gecko.

When it comes to quantity and sizes, you want to find the best amount or dimensions for your specific tank. This will vary, and you should make sure to keep about 3 inches of burrowing space for looser substrates if you aren’t providing a hardened burrow.

How Much Bedding Should Be Used?

The amount of bedding you use depends on how much is needed to ensure your leopard gecko’s comfort. With bioactive substrate, a single layer is required when using coconut fiber.

Multiple layers are designed for plant growth and micro-fauna. This means you will have a top layer of soil and a single layer of a substrate. The bottom layer is for draining.

Also, keep in mind that different substrates require different humidity levels. For example, geckos are semi-desert animals, so it should be humid, but the environment should not be too wet. You can use a thermometer probe beneath the substrate to monitor the humidity levels inside the tank at all times.

When it comes to quantity and sizes, you want to find the best amount or dimensions for your specific tank. This will vary, and you should make sure to keep about 3 inches of burrowing space for looser substrates if you aren’t providing a hardened burrow.

Is it Easy to Clean?

To reduce the time you spend on the monthly maintenance and the costs associated with the tank’s upkeep, you want to choose a substrate that can be removed easily.

How Often Should You Clean the Enclosure?

Keeping up with your leopard gecko’s tank means spot cleaning at least once a day and cleaning everything out every month or two. This means completely emptying the tank, throwing out the old substrate, scrubbing down, and disinfecting the tank and all the items in it. This will remove and help reduce any bacteria buildup there may be.

Other Habitat Tips and Tricks for Leopard Geckos

In addition to finding the best substrate for leopard geckos, there are a few other things you want to include to make their habit as welcoming as possible. When setting up your leopard gecko habitat, consider:

Hide Boxes

A hide box provides your leopard gecko with a secure hiding place in their enclosure. It is also easy to integrate a hide box in a desert or tropical terrarium. It provides them with a resting place to help alleviate any stress they may be experiencing.

After placing the hide box in the enclosure, make sure to fill it with moss or another moist material to help keep high humidity.

Avoiding Mite Infestations

Mites tend to live on a reptile’s skin and feed off their blood. Mites can appear in tanks every so often, depending on the type of substrate you choose and the humidity level in the enclosure.

You can keep mites away by making sure to maintain a clean and healthy cage. Replace the substrate regularly, and you will find a mite infestation will be much less likely to occur.

If you do find yourself with a mite infestation, clean your tank thoroughly with diluted bleach and an animal-safe insecticide. It would also be a good idea to take your leopard gecko to the vet for a check-up to make sure everything is good.

What is a Leopard Gecko’s Natural Environment?

When creating the best environment and most naturalistic terrarium for your leopard gecko, take a closer look at their natural environment in the wild. Leopard geckos are often surrounded by limestone and have hardened clay on their feet.

There is a limited supply of sand and gravel. To best mimic the natural terrain for your leopard gecko, a mixture of clay, soil, and sand might be the best way to go.


Substrates can make or break your leopard gecko’s environment. There are many options and variations of what can be used as a substrate.

The right choice can make for a comfortable, cozy home for your gecko but the wrong substrate can be fatal so it’s highly recommended you read up. We hope for your leopard geckos to stay healthy and happy always!

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