Reptile & Amphibian Substrates: Choosing the Best for Your Pet

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All reptiles and amphibians are unique, and require their own special type of environment in order to be at their happiest and healthiest. A big part of creating the perfect living environment for them is choosing the correct substrate for their enclosure.

Choosing the right reptile and amphibian substrate comes with a lot of considerations. For instance, does your pet’s environment need to be arid and dry, or will it need a lot of humidity? The substrate you put in the bottom of their tank will have a huge impact on your ability to create a stable environment.

That’s why we decided to put together this guide for choosing the right substrate for your reptile or amphibian pet. With so many different options out there, it can be hard knowing which one is best for your pet. Keep reading below to review all of the different options and to find out how to choose the best for you.

Different Types of Reptile and Amphibian Substrate

Below is a list of the most common (and best all-around) reptile and amphibian substrates that you can choose from:

  • Wood
  • Coconut fiber
  • Moss
  • Sand
  • Alfalfa meal
  • Reptile Carpet
  • Paper bedding
  • Paper towels & newspapers


Wood is one of the most common and affordable types of reptile substrates. It comes in many different sizes, forms, and colors, and can be made from a variety of different types of wood, including:

  • Aspen
  • Cypress
  • Pine
  • Cedar

Wood substrate is ideal for reptiles and amphibians that don’t spend a lot of time on the ground and prefer to reside in branches and other decorations higher up in their enclosure. It’s also easy to remove and replace when it comes time to clean the tank.

Some of the drawbacks to using wood substrate is that it lacks absorbency, making it less than ideal for odor control in the tank.

Coconut Fiber

If your reptile or amphibian pet requires an environment with a high humidity, then coconut fiber is going to be one of your best options.  Coconut fiber substrate is typically sold in big chunks or bricks, which can be spread around the bottom of your tank.

Coconut fiber substrate is great for keeping that bad odor smell out of the room your reptile tank is in, and its high absorbency rate makes it easy to clean out and replace. Coconut fiber is preferred by reptiles and amphibians that like to burrow in the ground, such as certain types of lizards.


Similar to coconut fiber, terrarium moss is great for those who need a high level of humidity and that like to burrow. It’s preferred primarily by frog and turtle owners and is one of the best natural substrates out there.

One of the biggest drawbacks to moss is that it can become a little expensive to replace depending on the size of your enclosure and how many pets you have. For this reason, we recommend stocking up on it when you can, and be sure to avoid buying terrarium moss that contains dyes, as they can be harmful to your pets.


Sand is another form of natural substrate that is preferred by desert-dwelling reptiles and amphibians. There are several different buying options for these types of pet owners, including:

  • Play sand
  • Digestible calcium sand
  • Vitamin-infused sand

Each one comes with its own pros and cons, and the type you will want to choose depends on your pet’s feeding habits. One of the biggest concerns that pet owners have with sand substrates is that when consumed, it causes impaction, which can result in death. Digestible calcium sand is the best substrate to combat against that, but eating too much of it will provide the same result for your pet.

If ingestion does not occur, then sand makes a great substrate because it can be used to retain heat and is easy to clean. Certain species of reptiles, such as boas, need sand substrate in order to burrow.

Alfalfa Meal

If you’re unsure of what alfalfa meal is, it’s simply ground up alfalfa hay that is compressed into small pellets. They are very absorbent and are great for odor control. One of the best things about alfalfa meal substrate is that it is biodegradable, making it easy to dispose of when you need to clean your pet’s enclosure.

Alfalfa meal is also relatively safe when ingested, so long as it’s not done in large amounts.

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpets are one of the most commonly-bought substrates because they are the most adaptable to different environments. They vary in texture and color, and can be cut to exact lengths and shapes to fit any enclosure.

The best part: Most reptile carpets are washable, giving you the most value out of your money. The biggest drawback is that they don’t work for every reptile and amphibian species, as they cannot be burrowed in and aren’t the best for maintaining a high humidity.

Paper Bedding

If you choose to use paper bedding, which is popular for its low price and high absorbency, just understand that you will likely also need to include another reptile and amphibian substrate in your enclosure. Since no reptiles or amphibians have a natural paper environment, it doesn’t always provide everything your pet may need.

This option is great for odor control, and certain species like to burrow in it. However, we would only recommend using this on an as-needed basis.

Paper Towels & Newspapers

This is the most budget-friendly option, and you can rip up the paper towels and newspapers to make a softer floor for your pet. They are great for burrowers, and are extremely easy to clean and replace.

However, one thing to know about using paper towels and newspapers is that they provide no odor control whatsoever. Therefore, you will need to change them often or you risk the enclosure being filled with a foul, pungent odor.

How to Choose the Best Reptile and Amphibian Substrate for Your Pet

Now that you know what some of the most common and effective substrates are, it’s time to learn how to know which one you should choose.  When it comes to making the decision, these are some of the factors you should keep in mind:

The Size of Your Pet’s Enclosure

One of the first things you need to do is measure the size of your pet’s enclosure. This is important because you don’t want to choose a substrate that will take up too much space or that will be really expensive to cover the whole tank. That can lead to your pet feeling like it’s in a tight space and can cause behavioral issues as well as distress.

Your Pet’s Feeding Habits

Depending on what types of food you plan on feeding your pet, you will want to choose a substrate that is safe for consumption. For example, if you’re feeding live crickets or worms, anything with digestible properties can be consumed and cause problems for your pet.

On the other hand, if you’re feeding pellets or vegetables, there’s no need to worry since those can’t be consumed by accident. Just make sure that whatever substrate you choose doesn’t have any harmful chemicals or pesticides that could potentially harm your pet if ingested.

Your Pet’s Preferences

Another thing to consider is what your pet prefers. Different animals have different preferences when it comes to where they like to lay down and sleep. For example, although you might already know that some reptiles and amphibians enjoy burrowing in their substrate, others might not be too keen on it.

Reptile & Amphibian Substrates Chart

If you need a quick reference for what type of environment and substrate you need for your pet, feel free to use our chart below:

AnoleTropicalTropical – Retain Humidity75-82F50% +
Bearded DragonDesertDesert – Basking85-90F30% +
Leopard GeckoDesertDesert75-85F20% – 50%
Tree FrogTropicalTropical – Retain Humidity74-82F50% +
Pacman FrogTropicalTropical – Retain Humidity80-86F50% +
Ball PythonTropicalDesert – Burrowing82-92F50% +
Aquatic TurtleAquaticNone75-86FFilter Required
Green IguanaTropicalTropical – Retain Humidity80-90F70% +
Box TurtleTropicalTropical – Retain Humidity & Burrowing70-84F60% +
Hermit CrabsTropicalTropical – Retain Humidity & Burrowing78-83F70% +
KingsnakeTemperateDesert – Burrowing77-86F30%
Garter SnakeTemperateTropical – Burrowing72-84F50% +
Boa ConstrictorTropicalDesert – Burrowing82-95F50% +
Monitor LizardDesert TropicalDesert – Burrowing85-90F50%

How to Change Your Pet’s Substrate

Keeping your pet reptile or amphibian’s living environment clean is vital in order to make sure they stay at optimal health. Therefore, you should aim to do a deep clean of your pet’s enclosure at least once a month. If you’re not sure how you should go about this, then check out our step-by-step guide below:

Step 1 – Remove Your Pets from the Enclosure

The first step is to remove all of your pets from the enclosure. This is done to ensure they do not get injured or stressed during the cleaning process. You can put them in a separate tank or some other temporary container that is suitable for them.

Step 2 – Remove All Decorations and Substrate

Next, you will need to remove all decorations and substrate from the enclosure. This includes things like plants, hides, rocks, and anything else that might be inside. Be sure to dispose of the old substrate properly so that it doesn’t end up in your pet’s new home.

Step 3 – Thoroughly Clean the Enclosure

After all of the decorations and substrate have been removed, it’s time to thoroughly clean the enclosure. You’ll want to use a good-quality reptile and amphibian safe cleaning solution that is designed for this purpose. Make sure you don’t forget any corners or hard-to-reach areas, as dirt and feces can easily build up in these spots over time.

Step 4 – Replace the Substrate and Decorations

After you’ve finished cleaning your pet’s enclosure, it’s now time to put the decorations and substrate back inside. Add enough of their favorite substrate so that they are able to burrow if needed. Then add any hides or other accessories that were removed during the process as well.

Reptile & Amphibian Substrates FAQ

How Often Do You Change Reptile Substrate?

How often you should change your reptile or amphibian’s substrate depends on many things, but in general you should aim to do a deep clean at least once a month. Factors that influence how often you should clean include how big your enclosure is, how many pets you have, what type of substrate you use, and whether or not you “spot clean” on a daily basis.

What Type of Substrate Should I Choose?

The type of reptile and amphibian substrate you choose will depend on the type of pet you have, what type of environment they require to live in, what your budget is, and more. Refer to our chart above to find which substrate is the best option for your pet.

What Role Do Substrates Play?

The substrate you choose has a big impact on the environment you can create. It has a direct affect on heating, humidity, feeding habits, and your pet’s safety.

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