What Is The Right Bedding & Substrate For Reptiles?

A lot goes into looking after a reptile. They need a certain level of heat, light and humidity all at the right times, and then if you have to feed them live food, you also have to look after that too!

The truth is, every reptile will have its own specific needs. So, owning a reptile is not something to go into lightly. Snakes need something different to lizards or aquatic reptiles, but then every breed of snake also has their own needs. This includes the substrate you line their tank with.

Some breeds of reptiles will be burrowers, needing a soft substrate they can get into. Others may lay eggs so need something safe and soft. Some could have very sensitive skin, so sharp items like bark are out of the question. Many reptiles bask, so you may even need to use a different form of substrate under their basking lamp, which doesn’t get too hot underneath their bodies.

Below are some options for reptile substrate and bedding, as well as the animals they are best suited to.

The different types of reptile substrate

Reptile carpet

BEST FOR: Lizards

Types Of Reptile Substrate Reptile Carpet

Yes, similar to what you also have on your living room floor.

The carpet is soft on lizards feet, easy to clean and creates no mess. Plus, it is great for any owners worried about impaction from their lizard potentially swallowing items.

Don’t go tearing up your living room though – it should be a dedicated reptile carpet, with no sharp cut edges or chance of fraying. It also has to have a low pile, and it needs to be easy to wash in the washing machine or by hand.

Carpet increases traction, so your lizard will likely feel safer moving around. One downside is that it has to be cleaned every day to prevent the growth of bacteria. But this is why a lot of carpets come in packs of two, so you can wash one while still keeping some in the tank.

Some people say it looks very unnatural, but the truth is that your lizard doesn’t care how their tank looks, only how comfortable and fitting it is. It’s often seen as an alternative to sand or calcium substrate, for anyone who wants something easier to clean.

We say lizards in a general sense, so carpet substrate is good for:

  • Bearded dragons
  • Leopard geckos
  • Uromastyx
  • Collared lizards
  • Desert iguanas

Calcium substrate

BEST FOR: Lizards

Mostly an alternative to sand, so best for any animals who would usually live in desert and sand environments.

It is made from calcium carbonate as opposed to silica and other minerals, which means one crucial thing: if it is ingested, their body will break down the calcium sand rather than it causing impaction or a choking hazard. However, it is important to note that calcium substrate is not suitable for Bearded Dragons.

Calcium also feels much silkier to the touch, with natural rounded grains, and it is just as easy to clean. To buy, it is more expensive than sand, but worth that bit more for the improvement in safety. You can often choose from different colours as well.

Suitable for:

  • Leopard geckos
  • Uromastyx
  • Collared lizards
  • Desert Iguanas


BEST FOR: Aquatic Reptiles

Types Of Reptile Substrate Gravel Aquarium

Gravel is mostly used alongside water and larger stones. It is a way to anchor plants, help your reptile get out of the water, and keep everything sturdy. It can also be used as a base for well-planted rainforest environments where there is little chance of the reptile getting to the stones.

But it is hard to clean and captures dirt easily amongst the stones, so needs a frequent thorough cleaning. If this is done, however, it will last forever and will look appealing at all times.

When cleaning, it is heavy and cumbersome. Some reptiles have been known to have eaten gravel which has fatal results, so it is always best to buy some with stones larger than their head. Don’t buy gravel advertised as suitable for fish, or decorative use.

The most common aquatic reptiles are:

  • Turtles
  • Sliders
  • Frogs
  • Toads


BEST FOR: Arboreal, Climbers

Reptile Wood Chippings

There is no one type of wood here. It can be shavings, pellets, mulched or chips, and can even be various types of wood. Pine, cedar and Douglas fir are the most common, as well as aspen and cypress.

It is best for reptiles who spend most of their time climbing or off the ground. Wood can be rough, and the larger pieces can hurt the feet of some reptiles. It is also low in absorbency and capturing smells, which doesn’t make it great for hygiene but makes it good for humid environments.

Despite this, it is best for those who live in dry conditions, and not be prone to eating their substrate. Wood can be ingested and poses a choking hazard, so most people use it for snakes who are less likely to eat their bedding, although it has fallen in popularity over the years altogether.

Wood chips, shaving and pellets are best for snake species only, which are off the ground most of the time and won’t be as hurt by them. Wood mulch is okay for:

  • Pythons
  • Boas
  • Chameleons
  • Geckos
  • Skinks
  • Frogs
  • Tarantulas
  • Centipedes and Millipedes

Coconut husk fibres

BEST FOR: Rainforest, Burrowers

Often seen as an alternative to wood mulch, but more ideal for any animals who like to burrow and dig thanks to its softer makeup. It also can look a bit more natural and is specifically made for reptilian use.

Some owners who need super high levels of humidity even coat the walls of their vivarium in a coconut husk, using silicone to stick it. In most cases, it is suitable for use with any animal you’d use wood with, including:

  • Most boas
  • Most pythons
  • Most tropical geckos
  • Most tree frogs
  • Bluetongue skinks
  • Green iguanas
  • Poison dart frogs

Some companies will dye the wood to give it a more natural look. This doesn’t help absorbency or with smells.


BEST FOR: Rainforest Reptiles

Reptile Sphagnum Moss

Often just for decoration. However, it can also be used for bedding in some circumstances and is perfect in vivariums which need to be really humid because it holds moisture really well.

There are two forms – sphagnum and Spanish. The former is the main one used for the substrate, and the latter is for decoration, although they can be used interchangeably. Moss available to buy will often tell you under what conditions it needs, and it is important to follow this guide as it is a living thing.

Another benefit is that it improves the oxygen levels in the tank naturally, for photosynthesis. Use it either on the base of the tank or over logs and other decorations for a natural look.

While not massively common in reptile tanks, it is very common for a lot of eggs, newborns and hatchlings. It is also suitable for:

  • Most geckos
  • Green tree pythons
  • Frogs
  • Pink-toed tarantulas
  • Emperor scorpions
  • Centipedes
  • Giant millipedes

Recycled paper

BEST FOR: Most Reptiles

Not massively attractive, but great for new reptile owners and it is affordable. It isn’t marketed at reptile owners though, so there is a bit of a search to undertake and find the right one.

Commercially produced paper is best here, even though you may see elsewhere that newspaper is just fine. Newspaper isn’t always stored hygienically so can already be harbouring bacteria, and the ink will also rub off on your pet.

Paper is also a lot more absorbent than the likes of wood, which is great for keeping smells at bay as well as making the cleaning a bit easier.

It is also best to buy liners as opposed to shredded paper or cut-up bits, as this can cause scratches and get caught around their legs. It is also a lot messier to clean up. Thankfully, however, paper liners are suitable for a broad range of reptiles, including:

  • Boa constrictors
  • Ball pythons
  • Snakes
  • Pythons
  • Geckos
  • Chameleons
  • Skinks


BEST FOR: Desert lizards

Reptile Sand

As mentioned above, sand is not recommended. It can cause impaction and fatalities if swallowed. But it has positive aspects too, such as being the natural choice for desert reptiles and being really easy to clean with a simple sieve.

Sand also won’t harbour bacteria, being so small and fine yet used in dry climes.

There are a few ways to get around this; use sand fine enough to not cause any issues which are specifically marketed for reptiles, don’t use with smaller or young reptiles, and always feed them in a dish rather than off the sand.

If you do use it, opt for safe sand for:

  • Bearded dragons
  • Leopard geckos
  • Sand boas
  • Collared lizards
  • Desert Iguanas