Substrate For Leopard Gecko

Do you have plans to create the ideal home for a leopard gecko? The best place to start is by selecting a superior substrate. The substrate has a significant influence on a gecko’s wellbeing.

For newbies, choosing the ideal Leopard Gecko substrate might be challenging. It also necessitates understanding of their environment and way of life in addition to the vast array of possibilities. Substrates are frequently disregarded in favor of more interesting items like aesthetically pleasing terrariums and themed décor.

Beginners should be aware that not every substrate is suitable for Leopard Geckos. The choices may simply be reduced based on the size, price, and material.

A substrate that is secure, simple to maintain, robust, economical, and attractive is ideal. For a detailed explanation of the worst and best surfaces for leopard geckos, continue reading.

Setting up an Ideal Leopard Gecko Habitat

Leopard geckos have very strict habitat requirements, just like the majority of lizard species.

They favor tanks with heat lamps, a humidity range of around 25–45 percent, and temperatures between 65–85°F. They also prefer tanks that are horizontally oriented.

The ideal habitat will also include some plants (real or artificial), which will offer cover for resting and cooling down, as well as shade and hiding places.

Given that the gecko’s feet might become entangled in the wires, glass aquariums (20 gallons in size) are ideal.

Mealworms and crickets are typically fed to leopard geckos. Geckos are known to get quite passionate about the hunt when devouring live prey (often chasing prey around their habitat for quite a while).

Unfortunately, these specially designed tongues occasionally ingest dangerous substrate fragments as well.

In the course of digestion, loose substrate may condense in the intestines, resulting in digestive pain and, ultimately, death.

The proper substrate might make a difference between life and death for your leopard gecko in this situation.

Are you thinking of buying a leopard gecko? For additional information, see our step-by-step setup guide for the Leopard Gecko!

What’s the big deal about loose substrate?

Leopard gecko substrates like sand and other loose materials are up for debate. Some keepers contend that they’ve never noticed any detrimental consequences, while others claim that switching to sand may kill a leo within 6 months.

Claims that sand causes lethal impaction in leopard geckos by hardening into a cement-like sludge within their intestines tend to support the strongest viewpoints.

It is true that calcium carbonate-based substrates, despite their claims to be “digestible” (such as Zoo Med Vita-Sand, All Living Things Calcium Sand, etc.), can neutralize stomach acid, leading to additional digestive problems.

Sands with a lot of dust also have the unsavory tendency of infecting and injuring reptiles’ eyes. A leopard gecko’s lungs can become clogged with dust particles, which is dangerous if the sand includes silica.

12 Best Leopard Gecko Substrates

Most significantly, the substrate used for Leopard Gecko should be secure and not provide a possibility for bacterial development or impaction. The finest surfaces will also enable them to demonstrate their native habits, like burrowing, climbing, and digging. These actions not only entertain viewers but also benefit a gecko’s mental health.


Bioactive enclosures are microcosmic habitats containing live plants, natural soil, and a “cleanup crew” of living bacteria to decompose trash. Bioactive surfaces closely resemble leopard geckos’ native environment.

Multiple layers of gravel (for drainage), soil, and clay mixes make up a bioactive substrate. Additionally, it features branches and real plants.

This substrate has a highly natural appearance and draws attention to your leopard gecko’s unusual and wild appearance. Additionally, it enables your gecko to engage in behaviors similar to those found in the wild, like as burrowing, digging, and searching for tiny arthropods to consume.

A bioactive substrate also has the significant advantage of requiring far less cleaning than conventional substrates due to the different species that dwell there.

Bioactive enclosures need little upkeep after being set up and adjusted for temperature and humidity. The black, organic portion of your gecko’s excrement will be broken down by the “cleanup crew” and helpful bacteria while the white urates should still be eliminated.

Unfortunately, it’s the hardest to correctly set up on this substrate.

A bioactive enclosure requires a lot of money and effort to set up. Additionally, a thorough understanding of horticulture and self-sustaining ecosystems is necessary. Your reptile tank will cost anywhere from $75 to $300, depending on its size.

Paper Towels

Paper towels are one of the greatest substrates for young (as well as ill) leopard geckos, as was previously indicated, but they may also be utilized for an adult leopard gecko.

Paper towels are highly absorbent, sanitary, and simple to clean, which lowers the risk of disease. There are also no concerns of ingesting or inhaling a substrate with them. Additionally, it facilitates convenient health monitoring (such as eating and bowel motions).

Paper towels have the drawback of being unnatural to geckos’ natural habitats and preventing them from burrowing, which is a drawback. If your leopard gecko doesn’t want to burrow and you don’t care about creating a natural environment, you might want to investigate using paper towels as a substrate.

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpet, one of the most often used substrates because to its simplicity of usage, is a secure and lovely substrate for leopard gecko tanks.

The majority of reptile rugs have a soft top to prevent irritation of the lizard’s skin.

Leopard geckos love the firm, absorbent side of the liner that is on the back. It is a secure and appealing option for substrate since it cannot be consumed.

Reptile carpet is simple to maintain and may be taken out and cleaned several times before being replaced. According to the package, it’s crucial to regularly change the reptile carpet since its threads might break free and become tangled in gecko toes.

Using a hot iron to quickly press the fiber curls out of your reptile carpet might help lower the possibility of your gecko’s toes becoming tangled in it.

Cleaning/maintenance: Spot clean every day (remove feces), then wash around 2-3 times each month as directed on the box. After around 3–4 washes or when the fibers start to come free, replace as necessary.

Impaction risk: zero. Possibly, but only if the carpet is abused, a risk of toes getting tangled in the strands.


With several benefits, used newspapers are an even more affordable alternative to paper towels. Typically, the paper is quite absorbent. Newspaper is preferable than paper towels if you are concerned about the environment because it can be recycled or used in other ways.

However, you may avoid this by selecting pages with fascinating or humorous text for the top layer of the newspaper substrate. Using newspaper is strange and extremely unattractive.

Always allow a week or more for the newspaper to dry. Even though modern newspaper printing ink is non-toxic, you should err on the side of caution. Additionally, drying somewhat fixes the issue of the distinctive newspaper odor.

In my Leo tank, how many newspaper sheets are required? The ideal number of newspaper layers to make this substrate strong and absorbent is around five or six.

Shelf Liner

Although it may seem strange to suggest shelf liner as a substrate, it really works well for numerous reasons.

Shelf liner is an easy-to-clean surface that offers your pet good traction and is reasonably priced. Always go for the non-adhesive version for simple removal, and check to make sure it is free of holes, ridges, and bleach.

Shelf liners can be used alone or with newspaper or paper towels on top.

Every couple of months, it has to be replaced, and it should constantly be examined to make sure that no insects or other food have gotten stuck below it.

Due to the fact that it is more difficult to sterilize than other surfaces, thorough cleaning is required to stop the growth of bacteria.

One drawback of this substrate is that a gecko cannot burrow in it. However, if finding a quick and inexpensive substrate solution is your first priority, stop searching now.

Eco Earth

For a variety of reasons, Eco Earth is unquestionably one of my favorite substrates for leopard geckos.

Eco Earth is, first and foremost, quite cheap. A bag costs a few dollars, and it should last you for several weeks. Eco Earth is also simple to find.

Most big pet retailers, including Petco and PetSmart, typically carry it. Additionally, Eco Earth is incredibly simple to clean and covers the scent of your leopard geckos’ feces. All that is required is a simple scoop, and you’re done.

Like with paper towels, you are not required to replace it right away. Eco Earth now appears and feels natural. It may be used by your leopard gecko for play, feces, digging, and pretty much anything else. It’s also the ideal substrate for egg production.

When it comes to Eco Earth, there are a few things to take into account. The fact that it’s a little untidy is included in this. Remember that we are dealing with dirt in this situation. As a result, your leopard gecko can have some dirt on its feet when you take it outside.

Being natural, it could also give your space a “earthy” smell. Finally, Eco Earth is delivered in a small block and must first undergo a lengthy drying process before being used. However, you may purchase it “loose,” meaning that it has already been dried and is prepared for use immediately. We strongly advise purchasing it in this manner!

Stone Slates

Of all non-loose substrates, stone slabs are arguably the most appealing and eye-catching:

They provide a warm, evenly-distributed environment that is naturally occurring. You don’t have to worry about your leopard gecko eating the substrate, just like with the Repti-carpet.

This substrate is appealing for gecko owners who wish to minimize tank upkeep because it is very simple to clean.

Coconut fiber is inexpensive, has a natural appearance, and has great antibacterial qualities that stop mildew, rotting, and unpleasant odors.

Since it can be consumed, there is still some debate about this.

The benefit is that it can be absorbed and is less likely to result in impaction (compared to sand or similar). Its opposition claims that it still poses an unneeded danger.

I’ve included it to this message so you can decide for yourself. Because I believe the top 3 choices are superior, it is lower on the list.

Coconut fiber has the unique advantage of not raising the humidity in the vivarium of your leopard gecko. This is crucial since an atmosphere that is too humid might harm your gecko’s health.

It will seem quite realistic and your leopard gecko will be able to dig in it as well. Another advantage is that you do not need to use two distinct substrates because it can be utilized both wet and dry.

One of the newest substrates on the market is excavator clay substrate. Even though it can be rather expensive, it’s a desirable choice with a few special advantages.

The clay may effectively be used as modeling clay if you get it damp enough. Whatever form you give it, it will dry with a tight hold. This substrate’s special quality enables you to create your own scenery, including burrows, caverns, and sunbathing areas.

Reptile Sand Mat

Leopard geckos thrive on the substrate provided by reptile sand mats. They blend the ease of reptile carpet with the organic appearance of a homemade or bioactive mixture.

They look rough and sandy, giving your gecko a good hold and preventing any stray grains from being inadvertently consumed. The ideal sand pad to buy is one with smaller grains because rougher ones could be uncomfortable for your gecko’s tummy.

Sand mats may be purchased at most pet stores for anywhere between $10 and $40.

The dimensions of these mats range from 11″ x 11″ to 47.5″ x 17.5″. Cutting them using a box cutter is all that is required to install them. They can be readily removed for cleaning because they don’t have an adhesive backing. Reptile sand mats are preferred over lino since they can be quickly removed from the tank and pose no risk of melting.

This mat may be thoroughly cleaned every two weeks by removing it and washing it with detergent and water, even if the rough texture might make spot cleaning challenging.

Prepackaged Reptile Bedding

There are many different options for reptile bedding that some people use with geckos. Many professionals advise avoiding them since some of them include tiny particles that might be eaten when feeding.

Take the same safety measures as with sand if you pick this substrate. For this reason, crushed shells and nuts are bad candidates, but substrates like a soil mix or wood chips have their own drawbacks. Large fragments may impale your gecko or become lodged in its jaws.

Tile Flooring

Since tile maintains heat effectively and is simple to clean and maintain, it is a suitable option to many substrates.

Slate or ceramic tiles are inedible, thus there is no chance of impaction with those materials.

Tiles are a long-term, cost-effective substrate solution since they don’t need to be changed unless they break. They are equally secure but also more aesthetically pleasing than paper towels or newsprint.

Large River Pebbles

River stones or larger smooth pebbles can be utilized as a natural substrate without risk. Although they are not as simple to clean as the previously suggested artificial substrates, you can still change some of the pebbles because leos often defecate in just one corner.

Boiling water is ideal for cleaning and disinfection since it ensures quick maintenance and limitless material reuse.

The use of huge stones in your tank has drawbacks, without a doubt. Digging won’t be possible for your leo. Geckos will make rattling noises if you place a layer of stones that is too thin or too loose. You should feed your lizards in a dedicated tray or with tweezers since prey items like mealworms can readily scurry away amid the rocks.

Never use mixes comprising smaller pebbles and gravel, or stones smaller than your gecko’s head (on average). If mistakenly swallowed, smaller stones and gravel can seriously aggravate an impaction.

How many River Stones Will My Leo Tank Need? Aim for stability and stillness while laying down a layer of river stones; the exact thickness is less crucial.

DIY Blended Substrate

There is absolutely NO reason why you can’t make your own blend while looking for the ideal substrate! All the advantages of each type of substrate may be yours with a mixed substrate that is made specifically for you.

If you believe you could be transitioning toward a biodome, it’s also the forerunner to one.

Any of the materials from this list may be included in blended substrates, with popular DIY formulations also requiring organic topsoil, sand, and clay.

It’s crucial that all of your components are natural and include NO additional chemicals. To prevent unexpected and perhaps dangerous plants from growing up in your terrarium, the topsoil has to be sterile and organic.

Only 10 to 20% of the total ingredients should be clay.

Soak the whole concoction, shape it as you see fit in your terrarium, and then let it to fully dry. Clay will help the substrate to harden, creating a one-of-a-kind, do-it-yourself terrarium floor.