Updated: February 7, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell
Substrate is the bedding, or the “stuff” that lines your snake’s enclosure. If you are a new snake owner, the many options for substrate can be very overwhelming. Everyone you ask will give you their opinion and suggestions without telling you why in a way that is simple to understand. This may have left you scratching your head and wondering: what is the best substrate for corn snakes, and why?
Not to worry! I have laid out the four most recommended types of bedding options for corn snakes with their pros and cons for you. Each product recommendation will also come with a personal recommendation and a suggestion for what kind of lifestyle it suits best.
Owning a corn snake is not terribly expensive, as they are easy-going, fairly low-maintenance snakes. However, not knowing what substrate option to go for and simply buying the most expensive option out there can hurt your back pocket and might not necessarily be the best thing for your pet or you.
Read on to learn which substrate for corn snakes will best suit you, your snakes, your lifestyle, and, of course, your budget.
Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding is my absolute top pick for bedding for corn snakes. It absorbs humidity well, keeps messes to a minimum — thanks to how easy it is to clean — and lets your corny create its own burrows without collapsing on or hurting your snake.
The Best Substrates for Corn Snakes Are…
1. Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding – Best Overall
Aspen bedding has possibly the highest recommendation among snake owners for any corn snake, both young and old. This is because it keeps its shape while your snake burrows in it, and it retains humidity well.
Aspen bedding is made up of finely-shaved or mulched aspen wood. The aspen is mulched so finely that there are no splinters in the substrate. However, not all aspen bedding is created equal, and some customers have reported finding splinters in less well-known brands.
This particular substrate by Zoo Med is really wonderful for species of snakes that need high humidity like corn snakes because it has an absorbance rating of 191%! That means that it can soak up a lot of water before it starts to break down.
- Aspen bedding is very finely shaved, which makes it soft on a snake’s belly. This is especially recommended for species of snakes that burrow because their sensitive snouts and eyes come into contact with the bedding a lot.
- Aspen does not contain any toxic oils in it; it is 100% natural and will not accidentally harm your snake or cause respiratory problems like some other shaved wood beddings.
- The light color of the aspen makes spotting poops and pees very easy for daily spot cleaning.
The highly absorbent nature of aspen is not only great for maintaining the high humidity levels your corn snake will need; it also means poops and pees will be absorbed quickly and will not spread throughout the enclosure (which would normally result in a full deep clean).
Read about snake poops and pees in our article here!
However, when you do need to do a full deep clean of the substrate roughly every four weeks, it won’t be too rough on your wallet because aspen is pretty cheap and comes in very large bags!
Just keep in mind that some bags of aspen can be a bit dusty when you open them. To cut down on the amount of dust, you can sieve it out or wait for it to settle and collect it before putting the shavings into the enclosure.
- High absorbency for messes
- Holds humidity very well
- Great for burrowing
- Neutralizes some odors
- Needs to be changed more regularly than other substrates
Aspen bedding is the number one bedding choice for most burrowing snake owners, and Zoo Med is one of the most trusted brands on the market. The light color and woody feel of the bedding are very natural and pleasing to the eye and your pet snake, the bags are large and relatively cheap, and it’s easy to clean!
Coconut chip bedding is one of the best beddings to use if your reptile has a particularly musty odor or your enclosure suffers from humidity loss.
ReptiChip’s compressed coconut chip substrate is made up of small, chipped pieces of coconut husk. These pieces are not small enough, however, to be swallowed and cause compaction problems for your snake.
The substrate is chipped rather than shaved, which means there is no dust present! This is a huge benefit because you do not want your corn snake burrowing into a substrate and breathing in lots of dust, as this can be rough on their sensitive lungs and skin.
- Coconut has natural tannins in it, which may turn the water runoff slightly red. However, tannins are not harmful to reptiles and can actually be beneficial because it is naturally antifungal! This means your coconut bedding is not going to rot!
- The high humidity requirements of corn snakes means they need a substrate that is going to help keep constant levels. Coconut chips hold water and help maintain the humidity levels corn snakes require.
Corn snakes need a decent layer of material to burrow into since they are natural burrowers. Coconut chips provide this layer for burrowing and are also ideal to use in a nesting box for a female corn snake about to lay her eggs!
Check out our article on what snake eggs look like!
The natural dark brown color of the coconut chips also makes this an aesthetically pleasing substrate to use in your corn snake’s enclosure, especially if you have the tank on display!
- Holds onto humidity well
- Each brick goes a long way
- Neutralizes odors
- Expands and breaks down naturally
- Great for burrowing
- On the expensive side
- Some customers have found foreign material in the packages
ReptiChip coconut chip substrate is an excellent option for corn snake bedding because it retains humidity, absorbs messes, is completely natural and dust-free, and is incredibly pleasing to look at!
3. Bryco Kraft Paper – Best Budget
Kraft paper is the go-to budget bedding choice for many snake enthusiasts. It is thicker than paper towels, which means it absorbs messes well, and it does not have toxic ink in it like some newspapers do.
The heavy-duty kraft paper can be laid down flat on the base of the enclosure to create a smooth layer so your corn snake does not slither around on the bottom. To create tunnels and burrowing opportunities, either strip or shred it and layer it on the floor of the enclosure or scrunch up a bunch of the paper to create the appropriate depth.
- This is by far one of the cheapest options for bedding. You can buy a large roll at the beginning of your corn snake’s life and possibly never have to buy bedding again!
- The thicker nature of kraft paper absorbs messes well, which means cleaning up is a breeze.
- The paper is completely non-toxic, which means it will not harm your snake, affect its breathing, or stain it with ink.
Using kraft paper will make owning a snake much cheaper in the long run. The entire roll of kraft paper can be used throughout your corn snake’s lifetime as well as for other household projects you may need it for!
What’s more, there is absolutely zero chance of your kraft paper containing mites or other creepy crawlies, so using it will set your mind at ease if you’re worried about introducing an infestation!
Unfortunately, the kraft paper will not help maintain the humidity in the enclosure, and you will need to monitor the levels closely and mist far more often than you would if you used other substrates.
- Incredibly cheap
- No chance of mites
- Needs to be replaced more often than other substrates
- Does not maintain humidity
Bryco’s kraft paper is the cheapest option to use as a substrate for corn snakes. This is because it comes in a massive roll, can be used for your snake’s entire lifetime, and won’t contain or promote the development of any common reptile enclosure pests like mites!
Setting Up and Maintaining the Best Bedding for Your Corn Snake
Your corn snake’s substrate should be a minimum of two to three inches in depth. However, you can increase that depth, especially if you have a large adult or a snake who is a very active burrower.
Corn snakes love to burrow, which means you will need to increase the amount of substrate as they get older and larger.
You should practice daily spot cleaning. This means you look for any pee or poops that your snake may have done the day before and clean them out along with any contaminated substrate.
Doing this prolongs your substrate’s overall life and reduces its cost in the long term.
You should replace the substrate entirely once every six to eight weeks.
Substrates to Avoid
Keep these tips in mind when shopping for a substrate for your corn snake:
- Avoid any substrate that is very dusty, as this will potentially cause health problems for your corn snake. Corn snakes burrow a lot, which means they breathe in air trapped underneath the substrate. If there are a lot of dust particles in the substrate, then your snake will breathe them in and develop respiratory problems.
- You should also avoid using sand as a substrate. This is because sand can get stuck under your corn snake’s scales and lead to infection. Sand is also easily swallowed by accident by corn snakes and results in impaction.
- Substrates that contain phenols or oils such as pine and cedar should be avoided at all costs. The oils in these woods can irritate your snake’s skin and can cause chemical burns. The oils also cause respiratory problems.
- Finally, did you know that cedar and pine are used as insect and pest repellants in many parts of the world? These are strong-smelling woods because of their natural oils. In addition to the chemical burns and respiratory problems, your corn snake will be stressed out all of the time because of the smell.
Natural Bedding and Mites
The bane of any reptile keeper’s existence is to place new substrate in their snake’s enclosure and watch mites crawl out! There are a couple of ways to kill off the mites and other creepy crawlies in the bedding, but one of the best options is to simply bake it in the oven before using it.
However, if you are not in a rush, the easiest way to kill off any creatures living in your bedding is to pop the entire pack into the freezer! The freezing temperatures will kill off all organisms without harming your substrate.
After two to three days, take the bedding out and let it come back to room temperature before putting it in your snake’s enclosure.
Get Your Corn Snake Comfy
Choosing the best substrate for your corn snake is essential because it plays a large part in keeping your corny healthy, active, and happy. Ensuring your substrate choice fits into your lifestyle as well as your budget will go a long way in solidifying your bond with your corny because you will both be satisfied and happy with your choice.
The best product overall would be the Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding because of its ability to hold onto humidity as well as provide all the little burrowing tunnels your corny could wish for.
Bryco Kraft Paper is my best budget pick for bedding for corn snakes. This is because it is easy to clean, cheap, and easy for your snake to burrow and tunnel in if you shred the paper into small enough pieces.
Regardless of which you choose, all three are excellent options for corn snakes.