While arranging a tank for your Leopard Gecko shouldn’t be anything too complicated, there is one controversial question about which substrate is the best. Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as you might think, as you will need to consider a few different factors, such as cleanliness, price, longevity, safety, and how well it mimics the natural habit.
What you will want to look for is a product that is safe, closely mimics the natural habit, and is easy to maintain. Considering these few points, you might think that a bioactive substrate is your best choice. However, if you are just starting out with your Leopard Gecko experience, then you may want to find something that is easier to clean.
Additionally, remember that a young Gecko is likely to try and eat the particles of the substrate that you install, which is why sand is not an ideal choice.
Best Substrates for Leopard Gecko
With that being said, here are a couple of ideas that you may be comfortable with.
Option #1: Newspaper/Paper Towel
There are two main perks of installing newspaper or paper towel as a Gecko substrate. The first one is that it comes free or at a very low cost, which will allow you to reallocate your finances to other segments of the tank. Additionally, as it doesn’t feature small particles (like sand), it is ideal if your Gecko is still small and is tempted to eat the substrate.
Keep in mind that this requires some effort, given the fact that damp paper is likely to grow bacteria, which can negatively affect the health of your Leopard Gecko.
Along with this, this type of substrate is gentle on the body of your pet and doesn’t pose a risk for triggering any illness or an injury. No, it doesn’t mimic the natural habitat for a Leopard Gecko, but it is still a budget-friendly, reliable choice!
Option #2: Shelf Liner
Talking about affordable substrate options, our second choice would be shelf liner. The main reason why we recommend this is because it offers fair traction and is safe as long as you choose a non-adhesive, bleach-free product. The best thing about it is that you can easily wash it, and you only need to replace it once every couple of months.
What you will want to make sure is that the shelf liner is thoroughly cleaned, as that is the only way to prevent bacterial growth. While setting it as a substrate may not give your Gecko the ability to burrow, it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, especially if you are on a limited budget!
Option #3: Bio-Active
There are two options when it comes to a bio-active substrate. The first one is to buy it premade, which may not be the most affordable, but it is certainly a convenient option, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to play around.
If you are more creative and want to engage in some DIY, then buy some earth, rock, and plants. Putting these together in a tank can be incredibly entertaining and rewarding!
Option #4: Stone, Slate, and Tile
Another fantastic substrate option is a combination of stone, slate, and tile (or installing these separately). The main perk of these is the fantastic heat retention, which is perfect for a Gecko that enjoys basking. These can come as an addition to some of the aforementioned substrates, providing variation while allowing your reptile to dig and burrow.
Leopard Gecko Substrates to Avoid
We did our best to highlight a couple of potential substrates that are safe and fun for your Leopard Gecko, as well as easy to clean for you as an owner. With this in mind, there are a couple of products that you should definitely avoid.
Coir (Coconut Fiber)
Yes, it is affordable and long-lasting, but these aren’t the only traits that a substrate should be highlighted by. Coconut fiber is natural and features a number of antimicrobial properties, which would make you think that it is 100% safe for your reptile.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. When it is installed in a semi-arid environment (like most Gecko tanks tend to be), it puts off little dust particles that can enter the respiratory system of your pet and cause huge problems. Not only that, but if the Gecko you own is young and prone to eating the substrate, it is sure to cause impaction.
Wood Chips and Shavings
These are quite a common choice when it comes to bedding for several other pets, including hamsters, rats, rabbits, and even horses. However, the fact that wood shavings can cause skin irritation and that chips are small enough for your reptile to eat them makes it a definite no!
The reason why you should avoid gravel at all costs is quite clear. The texture of it may offer good traction, but it is not gentle on the skin. Also, if it is small, it can be ingested by your Gecko Leopard!
Best Products You Can Get Commercially As Substrates
Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner
Coming in a couple of different variations that you should choose from depending on the size of your Gecko’s terrarium, what you are looking at is a safe-to-use liner substrate. Non-abrasive and with the health of your reptile in mind, it is easy to install and maintain, making it perfect for a newbie!
The first thing that you will want to know is whether this substrate is adequate for your tank. Luckily, as it comes in 10-gallon, 15-20 gallon, 29-gallon, 30-gallon, 50-gallon, 55-gallon, 75-gallon, and 125-gallon options, you shouldn’t have a tough time finding an adequate liner. Not only that, but even if it is too big, you can simply roll it out, cut the excess off, and install it into the bottom of your Gecko terrarium.
This product is incredibly good if your reptile is still young and interested in eating the substrate. As this one is non-digestible, that risk is completely eliminated. Not only that, but as it is treated with bio-enzymes, the liner is odor-free and easy to maintain by washing it with some cold tap water.
No, it doesn’t replicate the natural habitat for a Gecko Leopard, but the fantastic price and convenience that you are getting make the Zilla Reptile Terrarium a good choice!
- Great price point for good quality
- Made for small, medium, and large tanks
- Featuring bio-enzymes
- Not a natural product
Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate
If your idea is to make your reptiles feel like they are living in their natural habitat, then this Zoo Med product is a fantastic choice. As it is all-natural and doesn’t feature any artificial compounds or chemicals, we would recommend it to owners of both juvenile and adult Leopard Geckos!
As we have mentioned above, this is an all-natural substrate that will allow your reptiles to do what they would in a natural environment – dig and burrow. The main question that comes to mind is whether the structure will be able to hold and for how long?
Luckily, the clay that this substrate is highlighted by seems to be quite reliable, and the burrows shouldn’t crack and turn into dust even after drying out. With this in mind, it seems like a safe and fun addition to your pet’s terrarium.
What you should keep in mind is that the maintenance part is a bit fussy due to the fact that both poop and urine are easily absorbed by the clay, which can then present a strong odor. Other than that, there’s not much to put against the Zoo Med Excavator clay, as it is an affordable 10-pound offer that your reptile will love!
- Affordable price for most people
- All-natural product
- Doesn’t collapse
- Safe for juveniles
- Fussy maintenance can be frustrating
Zoo Med ReptiFresh Odor Eliminating Substrate
Moving on with our list of the best substrates for Leopard Geckos comes another product from Zoo Med, which is considered to be one of the most recognized names on the market. While it should be used as an addition to the aforementioned Excavator Clay or Zoo Med Sand, it comes as one of the most innovative substrate options on the market!
The first thing that we want to say about this black and gray odor eliminating substrate is that it is completely natural and doesn’t include any artificial dyes or potentially harmful chemicals. Most importantly, this ReptiFresh can offer more than 12 months of continuous use before you will need to replace it.
This product comes in a couple of different sizes, including an 8-pound bag. It also comes in a two-pack, three-pack, and a four-pack, which is a fantastic option for those who enjoy bulk shopping.
It is incredibly simple to use, as you should pour it around 2 inches deep into the sand, only to have more burrowing substrate placed on top of it. The only issue that we have is that it is quite dusty.
Still, if it is at a good depth, it shouldn’t be at risk of your juvenile geckos eating it!
- Eliminates odor
- Easy to use
- Lasts up to 12 months
- All-natural product
- Quite dusty – can be an irritant
Hamiledyi Reptile Carpet Natural
While we said earlier that you should avoid products that are made from coconut fiber, this is one among the few exceptions, as Hamiledyi did a fantastic job eliminating all the risks. Thus, this all-natural substrate won’t put off the semi-dust particles that your reptile can eat or inhale. Attractive and convenient, it is a substrate to consider, especially if you are an owner of an adult Gecko!
The first thing that we love about this product is that it is completely natural and not artificially dyed. The convenience that it offers is due to the adaptable sizing. If it is too big, you can roll it out and cut, and if it seemingly lacks size you can stretch it further.
Originally, it measures 19.7 inches in length, 11.8 inches in width, and 0.4 inches in thickness. Non-abrasive and fully absorbing, you won’t have to perform a lot of maintenance other than rinsing it with cold tap water. Still, keep in mind that it can take up to 24 hours for it to fully dry.
Much like the aforementioned substrate, this one offers a natural habitat appearance and is completely odor-free. This means it will be enjoyable for you and your pet!
- Completely natural product
- Easy to customize based on needs
- Attractive look
- Odor-free and will not affect your gecko
- Takes 24 hours to completely dry
Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Substrate
Suitable for different tropical species including the Gecko Leopard, it is made from a renewable source, offering optimal absorption, and an odor-free environment!
It comes as one of the most versatile and natural-looking substrates on the market. Following the instructions, you should be completely free to install it damp, as it offers a fantastic absorption rate and is quite easy to clean with nothing but cold tap water.
It is made out of stretchable coconut fiber. Much like in the case of the aforementioned product, this doesn’t present a risk for your Gecko fiber due to fine designing. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it also offers an odor-free environment that your reptile will love.
The issue that we have with it is that it is a bit highly priced. Other than that, we can’t say much against this all-natural, customizable gecko substrate!
- Free of chemicals
- Can be customized to your preferences
- Made from a renewable source
- Traps humidity/great absorption
- A bit pricey for some people
In the end, it all comes down to ensuring that your Leopard Gecko has the best possible living environment. With this in mind, our personal favorite is the Zoo Med Excavator Clay in combination with the ReptiFresh Odor Eliminating Substrate, as these two work together to provide a healthy, odor-free, and entertaining habitat!