The Best Substrates for Leopard Geckos

Updated: November 16, 2021 by Jennifer Munsell

Finding the best substrate for leopard geckos is probably one of the most time-consuming aspects of setting up a leo habitat. The choice of substrate can have a huge impact on your leopard gecko’s health and well-being.

With the right substrate, your leo will lead a healthy and happy life. However, choosing the wrong substrate can result in impaction, respiratory issues, and even the death of your beloved pet.

There are so many different types of gecko substrate, but newbie owners should know that not all options are good. Some commercially sold substrates are potentially lethal, especially for baby leopard geckos who haven’t perfected their hunting techniques just yet.

When you think about it, your leopard gecko will spend all its time walking, eating, and sleeping on the tank’s substrate, so it’s your job to make the right choice!

In this article, I’ll review five commonly used leopard gecko substrates and help you find the best one for you and your pet!

TOP PICK

If you are looking for a safe, easy to clean, and affordable  substrate, check out the Zilla Reptile Terrarium Liner. Treated with biodegradable enzymes to reduce odors and cleaned with tap water, this reptile carpet guarantees a quick and easy cleanup. The thing I like the most is that this reptile carpet can’t be accidentally ingested, which makes it safe for both baby and adult leopard geckos.

The Best Substrates for Leopard Geckos: My Reviews

1. Zilla Reptile Terrarium Liner — Best Leopard Gecko Substrate

Zilla Reptile Terrarium Liners Brown 30BR/40BR/50/65 Gallon

The Zilla Terrarium Liner is one of the most popular and substrates for leopard geckos, bearded dragons, and other reptiles. Coming in both brown and green colors, this attractive reptile carpet can be cut to size and fits in most leopard gecko tanks. Best of all, this gecko substrate is safe for hatchlings, juveniles, and adults alike and you can use it regardless of your gecko’s age.

Key Features

  • Measures 17.25” x 35.25”
  • Absorbent & non-abrasive materials
  • Treated with a biodegradable enzyme

Made from recycled materials, this gecko substrate provides an absorbent and non-abrasive surface that won’t irritate your pet’s feet or snag their toes. As terrarium carpets are flat and compact, there is no risk that your pet leopard gecko will ingest any particles that can lead to impaction.

Odor buildup and ease of cleaning are important considerations you should keep in mind when searching for your leopard gecko’s substrate. As it turns out, the Zilla reptile carpet is treated with a biodegradable enzyme that reduces nasty odors. When it comes to cleaning, just rinse with cold tap water and leave it to dry before setting it up in the tank again.

Best of all, setting up the substrate inside your gecko’s habitat can be as simple as rolling out this carpet and, if necessary, cutting it to size.

Pros:

  • Completely safe to use for baby and adult leopard gecko enclosures
  • Easy to maintain and keep clean using just cold water
  • The soft and non-abrasive surface won’t irritate your pet’s feet or snag its claws
  • Treated with biodegradable enzymes so it doesn’t start to smell bad over time

Cons:

  • A few owners have reported that their geckos’ teeth get caught in the carpet when they are eating crickets

If you’re wondering what substrate is best for leopard geckos, look no further than the Zilla Terrarium Liner. Completely safe, easy to clean, and durable, this reptile carpet is a fantastic substrate for adult and baby leopard geckos.

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2. Josh’s Frogs Compressed Coco Cradle Fiber – Runner Up

Josh's Frogs Coco Block Fine Coco Fiber (5 kg/38 quarts)

The Josh’s Frogs Compressed Coco Cradle Fiber is an environmentally friendly substrate that easily expands to six times its original volume. Packed and shipped as a compact brick, it will expand to its actual volume after being soaked for at least one hour in dechlorinated water.

Key Features

  • One block expands to 28 quarts
  • Highly absorbent
  • Easy to clean

Coconut fiber is a very affordable and natural substrate with antimicrobial properties that prevent mold, rotting, and odor buildup. The great thing about this product is you can use it both dry and wet. This means you won’t have to purchase two different substrates – a dry one for the tank and a moisture-retaining one for the gecko’s hideout.

Due to its loose texture, coconut fiber is ideal for burrowing and will allow your leopard gecko to indulge in its natural behavior. The Josh’s Frogs Coco Cradle is completely natural and organically grown, and it doesn’t contain any chemicals that can affect your gecko’s lifespan or health.

Please note, since this is a loose substrate, the coco can be swallowed in quantities that can cause impaction. While most leopard geckos aren’t interested in eating this substrate, I recommend using it only on adult geckos that have perfected their hunting technique.

Pros:

  • Environmentally friendly and completely natural
  • Cost-effective – one brick expands to six times its volume
  • Highly absorbent and easy to spot clean
  • Supports natural burrowing behavior in leopard geckos

Cons:

  • As a loose substrate, coco fiber may cause impaction in baby leopard geckos, so it is best used for adults only

Overall, Josh’s Frogs Compressed Coco Cradle Fiber is an excellent option if you’re looking for an inexpensive, easy to clean, and natural substrate for leopard geckos.

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3. Zoo Med Cavern Kit with Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate – Best Budget

Zoo Med Cavern Kit with Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate

The Zoo Med Cavern Kit with Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate is a fantastic choice if you want to recreate your gecko’s natural habitat within their tank. This cool kit contains everything you need to build cozy caverns, tunnels, basking spots, and so on.

Key Features

  • Can be shaped as any modeling clay
  • Contains 12 pounds of substrate
  • Comes with an instruction booklet

Excavator clay is a fairly new type of leopard gecko substrate on the market, and it can be shaped as any modeling clay. Using excavator clay allows you to customize your leo’s habitat and create a homier and more naturalistic habitat for your pet reptile.

This type of substrate is completely safe for both baby and adult leopard geckos since it becomes firm once it dries completely. Since leopard geckos are burrowing lizards, your pet will enjoy the seemingly natural occurring caves and burrows.

Pros:

  • Allows you to create a customized habitat for your leopard gecko
  • Ideal for mimicking the natural habitat of leopard geckos
  • Firm and safe for all geckos regardless of their age
  • This kit comes with everything you need, and the clay is easy to mix

Cons:

  • A few owners reported that 12 pounds of clay is not enough to cover an entire tank

Overall, the Zoo Med Cavern Kit with Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate is completely safe for hatchlings and adult leopard geckos and is a great choice if you want to create a custom habitat.

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4. Zoo Med Reptisand Natural Terrarium Sand

Zoo Med ReptiSand Natural Red: 20 lb Bag

The Zoo Med Reptisand Natural Terrarium Sand comes in two colors – white and red. Made of natural and very fine quartz desert sand, this substrate doesn’t contain any added colors, dyes, or chemicals.

Key Features

  • Comes in a 20-pound bag
  • Made in the USA
  • Natural pigment colors

While many leopard gecko keepers avoid using sand or other loose substrates due to the higher chance of impaction, many owners have used Reptisand for years without any incidents. Besides being an excellent heat conductor, this substrate also encourages the natural digging and burrowing behavior of leopard geckos.

The Reptisand substrate can be mixed with coco fiber and creates a very naturalistic and cozy environment for leopard geckos. If you want to create a desert feel inside your gecko’s tank but are worried about impaction, opt to hand feed your gecko or offer it insects outside its enclosure.

Pros:

  • Easy to clean and convenient for maintaining proper hygiene inside the tank
  • Creates a naturalistic and interesting environment for desert lizards
  • Encourages digging and burrowing behavior in leopard geckos
  • Completely natural and free of artificial colors

Cons:

  • A few owners reported that the sand sometimes contains small pebbles or tiny fragments of wood, but those can easily be sifted out with a sieve

The Zoo Med Reptisand Natural Terrarium Sand is a good substrate for adult leopard geckos and will support your pet’s burrowing needs.

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5. Exo Terra Sand Mat, Desert Terrarium Substrate

Exo Terra Sand Mat, 60-Gallon

The Exo Terra Sand Mat, Desert Terrarium Substrate can help you create a natural desert-looking environment with no risk of impaction. This substrate is available in many different sizes that fit almost any leopard gecko tank and is easy to set up.

Key Features

  • Measures 47.5” x 17.5”
  • Can be cut to size
  • Easy to clean

Probably the most convenient type of substrate, reptile mats are easy to clean and firm enough to ensure that your leopard gecko has a sure footing. This particular sand mat is designed to create a desert-like environment, but unlike loose sand, this substrate can’t be accidentally ingested.

To prevent odor and bacterial buildup inside your gecko’s tank, spot clean the mat every day and rinse it clean as necessary. The Exo Terra Sand Mat can be cut to size and is easy to set up in any reptile tank.

Pros:

  • Easy to fit inside the tank and can be cut to size
  • Creates a desert feel without the risk of impaction
  • Firm texture ensures that your leopard gecko has a firm grip
  • Simply remove and rinse with water to keep it clean

Cons:

  • While overall pleased with the look of this mat, several owners reported that spot cleaning gecko poop is a bit difficult

Overall, the Exo Terra Sand Mat, Desert Terrarium Substrate is a fantastic substrate for adult leopard geckos and will create a safe and cozy habitat for your pet lizard.

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best substrate for leopard gecko

Things to Consider When Buying Leopard Gecko Substrates

When it comes to choosing the best substrate for your leopard gecko, there are several criteria you’ll need to consider:

Safety

The safety and well-being of your leopard gecko should always be your number one concern! When choosing a substrate for your gecko, make sure that it’s completely natural and that it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals or artificial dyes.

To minimize the risk of impaction, always choose compact substrates or those with more finely ground, easily digestible particles. If you decide to get reptile sand, try to feed your gecko outside the tank and make sure that its food and water dishes don’t contain any sand particles.

Longevity

Ask yourself how often you will need to replace the entire substrate before choosing a particular product. The more often you have to change the substrate, the more money you’re going to spend in the long run. This is particularly true for loose substrates, as you can wash and reuse reptile carpets for quite some time.

Maintenance

Before choosing a substrate, think about how much time and energy you are willing to spend on cleaning it. Generally speaking, reptile carpets are easier to clean, as you can just wash them with tap water before leaving them to dry and returning them to the tank.

When it comes to loose substrates, you’ll need to scoop waste regularly to prevent bacteria and odors from building up. Also, you’ll need to replace the entire substrate regularly to maintain hygiene inside the tank.

FAQs

What should I put on the bottom of my leopard gecko cage?

The best and safest substrates that you can use inside a leopard gecko’s cage are reptile carpets and mats, bioactive substrates, excavator clay, DIY blended substrate, and prepackaged reptile bedding.

Depending on your personal preferences, you can also use newspaper, paper towels, shelf liners, ceramic tiles, stone slate, or sand.

Is coconut substrate good for leopard geckos?

Besides sand, coconut substrate is probably one of the most debated types of substrate among reptile keepers. Coconut fiber is affordable, looks natural, and has antimicrobial properties that prevent rotting, mold, and odor buildup. This type of substrate can be used both wet and dry, meaning you won’t have to purchase two different types of substrate for the tanks and the hide.

While a lot of leopard gecko keepers use coconut substrate without any problems, there are a few issues with coco you need to know about. Like any other loose substrate, coco fiber can be ingested in quantities that cause impaction. Secondly, when coconut substrate is kept too dry, it produces dust that can potentially harm your leopard gecko’s respiratory system.

A Final Word on Leopard Gecko Substrates

While there are many different substrates for leopard geckos to choose from, finding the perfect one can be easier said than done! Picking a substrate for your leopard gecko can be challenging even for experienced owners, but it’s often downright impossible for a newbie herper.

Keeping the safety and well-being of your leo in mind, I’ve found that the Zilla Reptile Terrarium Liner, Brown is the best substrate for leopard geckos. This reptile carpet doesn’t pose any risk of impaction and is completely safe to use for both adult and baby leopard geckos.

The Zilla Reptile Liner is also one of the easiest substrates to clean and maintain, as it only needs to be washed with tap water as necessary. This carpet is also treated with biodegradable enzymes that reduce bacterial and odor buildup. Last but not least, this substrate can be cut to size and fits in any type of tank.

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