Which substrate is best for your Leopard Gecko?

Choosing the right substrate for your leopard gecko can be tricky as there are so many options. One of the more common misconceptions is that leo’s prefer sand – they don’t. They generally live around rocks and undergrowth and would prefer to avoid sand if at all possible. Some owners have even reported sicknesses from their gecko ingesting sand or severe eye irritation from prolonged exposure. For these reasons, we’d generally recommend you avoid sand.

If you need a quick cheap option, paper towels will work in a pinch. But if you’re hunting for something more permanent and cleanable, then you may want to pick up a more aesthetically pleasing option. We went ahead and compared most of the popular choices on the market for substrate so you can pick the best possible option.

Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner

  • Size: 9.75″ x 19.75″ inches.
  • Absorbant.
  • Non abrasive.
  • Very low maintenance.
  • Cannot be ingested.

This is the standard go-to for most reptile owners: terrarium liner. If you’re concerned about your leo accidentally ingesting their substrate, then this is the choice for you. There’s absolutely nothing on the mat that can be ingested by your pet and you can easily cut it up to fit into whatever size terrarium tank you might have.

Cleaning is also a breeze – you can soak it for a few minutes or even run it through the washing machine. Do take note, however, that if you choose to put it in the dryer that it will shrink. The mat is very durable and will easily withstand multiple washes. If you don’t want to use the washer you can always take it outside and spray it down with your hose and hang it out to dry in the sun.

If odor is a big concern, then this is your answer. With weekly cleanings you won’t notice any smell and you’ll be sure to clean all the waste with every cleaning, unlike with sand, wood chips or some other loose substrate.

Pros
  • No fear of ingestion.
  • Very easy to clean.
  • Can easily last a year or longer.
  • Inexpensive compare to other substrates.
Cons
  • May need to order multiples if it doesn’t fit the entirety of your tank.
  • Doesn’t smell as fresh as the natural alternatives.
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Zoo Med All Natural Reptile Terrarium Moss Substrate

  • Comes in 5 sizes for different tank sizes.
  • No dyes.
  • Completely natural moss.

If you’re looking to replace your paper towels with something a bit more natural, then you’ll probably want to look into using moss as substrate. Most people use moss in their terrarium as a humid-hide to help their leopard gecko shed and not for permanent everyday use.

Moss isn’t a permanent addition – you should only keep it in the tank for 2-4 weeks, depending on how dirty it gets. Expect your leo to spend a lot of time around the moss once it gets acclimated to it, so place it in a spot he’ll be comfortable spending alot of time in.

You’ll still want to clean it up if any waste gets left in there as it can turn nasty if left unmaintained.

Pros
  • Your leo will love it.
  • Good aesthetics.
  • Perfect for a humid-hide.
Cons
  • Impermanent.
  • Still needs to be cleaned.
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Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate

  • Size: 8 Quarts
  • Ground coconut fiber.
  • Breaks down odor.
  • All natural.

If you had your heart set on sand, then I’d recommend this as a compromise. All natural and very odor absorbent, coconut fiber is a great choice that your leopard gecko will love.

Many coconut fiber products come in a solid brick that you need to apply moisture to in order to break it up. This, on the other hand, comes in a convenient bag that allows for easy spreading. Simply add a cup or two in at a time then mist before adding more and everything will go in smoothly.

The coconut fiber is very effective at absorbing odor and staying clean while still being appealing enough for your gecko to want to run around in. And at 8 quarts you’ll have more than enough for multiple uses.

Pros
  • All natural and leo’s love it!
  • Odor absorbent.
  • Comes loose in a bag so you don’t have to break it down from brick form.
Cons
  • Can be too dry/dusty for some geckos.
  • Can be messy.
  • Feeding worms can burrow/hide in the fibers.
  • The coconut powder can be ingested and cause irritation/sickness.
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Reptile Mat – Chew–Safe Reptile Bed

  • Size: 10″ x 13″ inches.
  • Thickness: 1/2″ inch.
  • All natural coconut fiber mat.

If you don’t want to deal with the mess that loose coconut fiber can make but still want to go all-natural, then the SunGrow Coco Fiber Mat is the choice for you. Unlike the other products in this list, this one wasn’t made specifically for reptiles but it will work just as well.

There are a few problems, though. Namely that though the product claims to be 10″ by 13″, it doesn’t seem to fit very comfortably in a 10 gallon terrarium. It falls short by an inch or so, so you may need to put something over the edges to prevent anything from wriggling under the corners.

Pros
  • Thicker than other mats.
  • All natural and odor absorbing.
Cons
  • Too small to fit in a 10 gallon terrarium.
  • Not quite as odor absorbent as loose coconut fiber.
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Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber Substrate

  • Compressed coconut fiber.
  • Breaks down into 7-8 liters of substrate.
  • Naturally absorbent.

This is the compressed version of the loose coconut fiber we listed above. Rather than coming in a bag, this one comes in a solid brick that you’ll need to wet with (preferably warm) water which will then cause it to grow and expand. It can be a bit messy but it’s cheaper and just as effective as the loose fiber.

It can also significantly help with humidity control by adding water or leaving it to dry out while keeping the whole terrarium smelling nice and fresh. It can be a bit messy, especially during the decompressing process, but it smells and functions perfectly.

Pros
  • Takes care of the odor.
  • Cheaper than the loose coconut fiber.
Cons
  • Some reported bad shipments that had a strong chemical smell.
  • Often leaves a powdery residue that gets everywhere.
  • Takes some practice getting used to re-hydrating the bricks.
  • The coconut powder can be ingested and cause irritation/sickness.
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Zoo Med Repti Bark

  • Comes in multiple sizes: 8qt – 72qts.
  • All natural.
  • Made from the bark of fir trees.
  • Lasts up to a year.
  • Reusable.

Fir bark bedding runs into a lot of the problems you see with coconut fiber – namely the mess and risk of ingestion. But if coconut fiber works well for you, you may want to consider trying fir bark fiber as well.

Unlike coconut fiber, this is completely reusable. You can wash and clean the bark right in your yard or sink and put it right back in the tank without losing the pleasant smell. It’s very durable and stays dry unless you intentionally mist it which really helps with humidity control.

Pros
  • Very pleasant smell.
  • Washable and reusable.
Cons
  • Risk of ingestion for some (primarily smaller or juvenile) leopard geckos.
  • Some have reported their bark was infested with mites.
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Conclusion

If you’re raising a juvenile or smaller leopard gecko, or if you’re just concerned about adverse ingestion, then of all the options I’d have to recommend the Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner.

If you’re raising an adult or larger leopard gecko and you’re not concerned about possible ingestion then I’d recommend the Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate. The great smell and natural aesthetic is perfect for your leo’s terrarium.

And regardless of which one you pick up, we’d still recommend you pick up some Zoo Med All Natural Reptile Terrarium Moss Substrate to make a nice humidity-hide for your little guy.

Let us know which one you choose in the comments below!

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