leopard gecko substrates

8 Best Leopard Gecko Substrates

There are so many different types of substrates available for leopard gecko terrariums that it can be difficult to figure out which one is the best for your gecko. 

All of them have their own advantages and disadvantages. And there are varying opinions on the health effects of each. So, which one should you choose?

In this article, I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of a number of leopard gecko substrates and you can make that choice for yourself. I’m also going to give you my recommendation based on personal experience at the end of this article.

Here’s the list of leopard gecko substrates:

EarthMix Arid

EarthMix Arid is my favorite substrate when it comes to substrates for leopard geckos. Especially for those looking to build a bioactive terrarium this loose substrate is an excellent choice. 

earthmix arid substrates

The EarthMix Arid is composed of Scottish rock dust and other natural organic substances. Now some of you might be thinking, “Won’t the volcanic rock dust cause impaction?” 

Well, no. The organic substrate and volcanic dust mixture imitate the leopard gecko’s natural habitat. And leopard geckos in the wild don’t usually suffer impaction, do they? 

In fact, the rich minerals in the soil mixture might actually be good for your leopard gecko. As leopard geckos in the wild actually depend on the minerals they receive from accidentally swallowing a little dirt with their prey. 

I especially like this substrate because it pretty accurately mimics the soil wild leopard geckos would be walking on and it also allows them to act out their natural behavior to dig. So, with EarthMix, I feel like my leopard geckos feel right at home. 

But EarthMix is pretty expensive. So, I’m not sure if most of you guys can afford it or willing to pay that kind of money for keeping leopard geckos. Especially newbies. 

But If you are a serious leopard gecko enthusiast and got the cash to spend then I would highly recommend EarhtMix Arid. 

Pros:

  • Mimics natural habitat 
  • Provides minerals 
  • Hides the smell of excretes 
  • Great for building bioactive terrariums 
  • Allows digging
  • Maintains humidity of the enclosure
  • Completely safe

Cons:

  • Pretty expensive 
  • Live prey may dig in and hide 
  • Watering plants is a bit difficult due to low absorption 

Coconut Fiber Substrate 

Coconut fiber was my favorite before I found out about EarthMix. It’s still a solid choice as a leopard gecko substrate. 

Coconut fiber is great at maintaining humidity and does a good job of hiding the smell of your geckos excretes. It is also digestible and your gecko will easily pass it out if consumed. So, there is no risk of impaction. 

coconut fiber substrate

Just like EarthMix, it is loose and diggable. So, your gecko can dig as much as it wants. So, this makes coconut fiber substrate a great alternative for those who can’t afford EarthMix. 

When it comes to negatives, the coconut fiber substrate doesn’t have much. It smells a bit earthy but that’s just nitpicking. It might be a little uncomfortable at first but trust me you’ll get used to it. 

Pros:

  • Cheap alternative to EarthMix 
  • Hides the smell of excretes 
  • Great for making bioactive terrariums 
  • Allows digging
  • Maintains humidity of the enclosure
  • Generally considered safe

Cons:

  • Earthy smell 
  • Cleaning is difficult 
  • Live prey may dig in and hide 

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpets are more popularly used for flooring leopard gecko terrariums. They are easy to use and easy to clean. They are also cheap as well. 

But all of these conveniences come at a cost. First of all, they don’t allow your leopard gecko to dig and that can frustrate them. Also, they may try to bite or claw it and cause severe injuries to their toes or mouth. 

I wouldn’t really recommend them but I also won’t say that I’ve personally faced these problems. So, you can try them out for yourself and see if they suit your leopard gecko. Be sure to keep an eye on them and check for bruises often if you are using carpets.

Pros:

  • Cheap 
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to wash 
  • No chance of impaction 
  • Live prey can’t burrow in 

Cons:

  • May cause injuries 
  • Does not allow digging

Tiles

If you are looking for a cheap and easy alternative to carpets and loose substrates then tiles are my number one pick. You might think that they are too hard and might be uncomfortable for your leopard gecko. But that’s not the case. 

Leopard geckos can be found in rocky areas in the wild. So, you can say that they’ll tile as well. The best thing about tiles is that they are easy to clean and don’t need drying. Just wash, wipe and you’re good to go. 

Feeding is also easier and safer on plain surfaces. This is because the prey has no way to hide and there is absolutely zero chance of impaction. 

The problem with tiles is that they can easily break. They also don’t allow your leopard gecko to dig which can cause them to stress out. But you can avoid this by placing mini digging areas inside your gecko tank.

Pros:

  • Easy to clean
  • Replacing not needed
  • Feeding is easier
  • Cleaning and drying are super easy
  • No chance of impaction at all 
  • Prey cannot hide
  • Great for beginners 
  • Great for really young leopard geckos

Cons:

  • Easy to break 
  • Does not allow digging
  • Does not mask the smell of excretes 

Sand mat 

A sand mat is just sand and rocks glued on to a sheet or mat. If you really want a dessert theme in your leopard gecko terrarium then sand mats are your best choice. 

I personally have a love and hate relationship with sand mats. Yeah, they look cool and geckos seem to love walking on uneven sandy surfaces. But they are pretty hard to clean due to the rough surface. And that’s my only real complaint. 

Some people say that the sand can become loose and then be ingested. But I don’t think a tiny amount of sand is going to kill anyone’s leopard gecko. 

Leopard geckos swallow down all sorts of dirt, sand, and other stuff with their food in the wild. So, a little bit of loose sand from the sand mat is not going to be a problem. But that doesn’t mean I support using loose sand. That’s still dangerous. 

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Looks cool 
  • Easy to feed
  • Live prey can’t burrow in 
  • No chance of an impaction 
  • Geckos love the sandy surface

Cons:

  • Does not hide excrete smell 
  • Hard to clean
  • May injure your gecko’s feet

Tissue Paper / Newspaper 

Tissue paper or newspaper or any sort of paper is probably the cheapest substrate out there. They absorb moisture pretty well and cleaning is not required. Just change it and you’re good to go. 

I still use tissue paper for young geckos. They are soft, absorbent, and super cheap. Also, there’s almost zero chance of the geckos being hurt. 

Pros:

  • Super cheap 
  • Convenient 
  • Very absorbent
  • No cleaning needed
  • No chance of impaction
  • Live prey can’t hide 
  • Great for beginners 
  • Great for young geckos

Cons:

  • Does not look that great 
  • Does not hide the smell of excretes 

Plastic Grass Mat

The benefits of plastic grass mats are pretty much the same as reptile carpets. They are easy to use and super easy to clean. It’s easy and relatively safe to feed them on it as well. 

But there is a chance that the plastic grass can become loose and get ingested. And I’m sure that ingesting plastic is never a good thing. 

grass for leopard gecko

I personally don’t have much experience with plastic grass mats. I’ve mostly avoided them. But I know people who use it and according to them, it’s pretty safe. So, you are free to go with your gut on this one. 

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Easy to clean
  • Looks great
  • Easy to feed 
  • No chance of an impaction 

Cons:

  • Loose plastic may get digested 
  • Does not mask the smell of excretes 

Shelf Liner 

Shelf linear is not really as popular as the rest of the substrates on this list. But a good number of people do use it. It’s pretty easy to clean and cost-effective. So, there’s that. 

If you are going with shelf liners then make sure you use the non-adhesive ones. It’s because the chemicals in the adhesive material can cause harm to your gecko. Also, your gecko’s food can get stuck in the adhesive underneath the substrate. 

Pros: 

  • Cheap 
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to clean
  • No chance of impaction 
  • Easy to feed

Cons:

  • Doesn’t look that nice
  • Prone to bacterial buildup 

Personal Recommendation 

Personally, I like EarthMix a lot. They look so nice and building bioactive terrariums with them is a breeze. This is a pretty new type of substrate. But I’ve grown to love them a lot. And my leopard geckos love them too.

But they are kind of costly. So, I can assume that a lot of you guys are not ready to make that sort of investment. In that case, you can just go with any one of the substrates on this list according to your budget and preference. But if you can afford EarthMix then I highly recommend it. 

If you’re sold on using EarthMix then it would be a waste to not plant some live plants. If you’re wondering what plants are safe for leopard gecko terrariums then you can check out our article “Top 12 Safe Live Plants for Leopard Geckos“. 

Why You Should Avoid Reptile sand?

Doesn’t matter what you’ve heard or what your previous experience is. Reptile sand or any other sand is not safe for leopard geckos by any means. 

They have a high risk of causing impaction. Also, it takes a lot of maintenance and pinpoint temperature control for keeping leopard geckos safe on the sand. And even then, there’s no guarantee.

There’s this new sort of substrate called Calci-sand that is made of calcium crystals. You might think they are good for your reptiles because they provide calcium but that’s not entirely correct. 

Being edible, your leopard gecko might swallow a bit too much. This won’t cause impaction but it will definitely cause metabolic problems. So, stay away from sand or any sort of sand-like substrates. 

Conclusion 

There are plenty of choices when it comes to leopard gecko substrates. No matter what your budget might be, finding the one that best suits your needs and your wallet is pretty easy. 

And now that you know the pros and cons of using 8 of the most commonly used leopard gecko substrates, picking the best one should be a piece of cake. 

Have you used any of the substrates mentioned on this list? If so, then feel free to let us know about your experience in the comments below. Did you know that leopard geckos have about a 100 teeth? Well, I didn’t until recently. Head over to our article “12 Amazing Leopard Gecko Facts” to learn some more interesting facts about leopard geckos that you probably didn’t know. 

Leave a Comment