What Is the Best Substrate to Use for Leopard Geckos?


The choice of the substrate you use for your leopard gecko will extensively affect its comfort and health. The common mistake enthusiasts of leopard gecko pets make having the wrong notion of its natural habitat. They misconceive that leopard geckos are sandy desert lizards; hence the best substrate to use is sand.

The most suitable substrate for your leopard gecko should imitate its natural habitat as much as possible. Since mimicking the natural habitat can be expensive, the best alternatives are materials such as reptile sand mats, stone tiles, or clay.

Although they are good climbers, leopard geckos spend most of their time on the ground. They perform almost all of their activities, such as eating and sleeping on the substrate you provide. This article aims at giving you a comprehensive guide on choosing the best substrate for your leopard gecko.

What Are the Factors to Consider When Choosing the Substrate?

You should not just rush to buy or prepare a substrate for your gecko pet without considering its short-term and long-term effects.

It would be best to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of your Pet’s needs and expectations, which will help you prepare adequately for the best choice of your leopard gecko substrate.

Always bear the following in mind when choosing the substrate for your Pet.

  •  The size of your pet’s enclosure. That will help you determine the amount or size of the substrate you need.
  • The price of the substrate. The high-quality substrate may be quite expensive for you to afford. You can opt for a less expensive substrate without forgetting your pet’s safety.
  • Ease of cleaning the substrate. You should choose a substrate that will be easy and efficient to clean. The dirty substrate can be detrimental to the health of your gecko pet hence the need to always have clean substrate.
  • The material of the substrate. You should ensure that the material of your substrate does not hurt your gecko pet.

How Does the Material of the Substrate Affect Your Leopard Gecko?

The material of your substrate is one of the most crucial factors to consider when choosing the substrate, and that is because most other factors, such as ease of cleaning, revolve around it.

Using the wrong material for your leopard gecko can cause injuries, stress, or adverse health complications. You should ensure the material you use is of the right texture or chemical composition.

The choice of the material you use for your leopard gecko substrate may have the following effects:

  • Ensure that you use the right texture of the substrate. Coarse material may be abrasive to the delicate skin of your pet. If the skin gets pierced, it can open the door to bacterial infection, compromising the health of your gecko Pet.
  • You should see that the material you use does not gather dust. Dust can be irritating to the leopard gecko respiratory system causing health complications.
  • Ensure the material you use is not ingestible by your leopard gecko. Ingesting the substrate material can cause impaction that incapacitates the digestion system of your gecko. Impaction is a fatal health complication that can lead to the death of your leopard gecko if not checked early enough.
  • Ensure the material you use does not absorb moisture. It should be able to maintain the tank’s standard humidity levels.
  • The material you use should maintain the standard levels of temperature and not overheat or cool to inappropriate temperature levels.
  • The material you choose for your substrate should not encourage the growth of bacteria or other microorganisms that may affect your leopard gecko.

The Best Substrates for Your Leopard Gecko

Choosing the most suitable substrate for your leopard gecko is not easy, especially if you are a beginner. However, if you effectively consider all the factors, it becomes easy to choose the best.

The best substrate for your leopard gecko should make it feel comfortable and encourage it to play around.

It should also protect your gecko pet from bacterial infection or dangers such as impaction.

The following is a variety of the most recommended substrates you can choose from:

1. Stone Tiles

Stone tiles are ceramic tiles, slates, or stones which you add to your leopard gecko’s enclosure. You place them in layers over another substrate like a paper towel or reptile carpet to help regulate the temperature.

Stone tiles are inexpensive and easy to place. They come in standard sizes of inches 3 x 8, 12 x 12, 2 x 3 and 6 x 6.

Pros of Stone Tiles

  • They are easy to install since you just lay them on the enclosure floor.
  • They are easy to remove or rearrange since they are in blocks.
  •  Stone tiles are good heat conductors. That makes them suitable for your cold-blooded leopard gecko.
  •  Stone tiles are rough in texture, making them ideal in mimicking the natural desert habitat.
  • It is easy to clean stone tiles since you just need to wipe them.
  • Stone tiles are nonporous; hence you can clean them every day.
  • Stone tiles come in various colors and sizes for you to choose from.

Cons of Stone Tiles

  • You may need to trim them during installation, where you may require a stone cutter.

2. Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpet is a common substrate for leopard geckos due to its soft and non-abrasive nature. It comes in roll sizes of inches 15 x 48 and 10 x 20.

Pros of Reptile Carpet

  • It is non-abrasive, making it suitable for the soft skin of your leopard gecko.
  • It is more durable and effective than a paper towel. It also absorbs moisture better than a paper towel.
  •  It is more effective than artificial substrates such as newspapers.
  • Reptile carpet does not pose any risk of impaction to your leopard gecko.

Cons of Reptile Carpet

  • It is less effective compared to a natural substrate such as bioactive.
  • It may not be cost-effective since you have to buy two rolls. The two rolls are to replace each other when you are washing.
  •  It is also not cost-effective since you will have to replace it after washing it five times.

3. Bioactive Substrate

Bioactive is an enclosure that mimics the natural ecosystem of your leopard gecko. It constitutes live plants, natural soil, and live bacteria that help to break down the waste.

Pros of Bioactive Substrate

  • The bioactive substrate consists of layers of gravel that facilitate drainage.
  • The bioactive substrate highlights the wild appearance of your leopard gecko. That is due to the natural look of the habitat.
  • The bioactive substrate allows your leopard gecko to have a natural habitat experience. That encourages it to interact with the substrate by having small arthropods that it can eat, burrow, and dig.
  • Bioactive substrates require less cleaning because of the microorganisms that constitute them. The microorganisms break down your leopard gecko’s waste.
  • Bioactive substrate requires less maintenance once you have set the humidity and temperature. That is because the bioactive “cleanup crew” breaks down your leopard gecko’s waste. That leaves you with only the white Urate part of your gecko’s waste to clean.

Cons of Bioactive Substrate

  • It requires technical knowledge to set up the bioactive enclosure.
  •  It is time-consuming and expensive to set up a bioactive enclosure.

4. Reptile Sand Mat

Reptile Sand Mats combine the properties of reptile carpet and the natural appearance of the bioactive substrate. They have a sandy and rocky setup that gives your leopard gecko a stable grip.

Pros of Reptile Sand Mat

  • Reptile Sand Mats have no loose sand that your leopard gecko may accidentally ingest.
  • The sandy and rocky make of the Reptile Sand Mat gives your leopard gecko a tight grip.
  • Reptile Sand Mats are inexpensive and easily found in Pet stores.
  • Reptile Sand Mats are easy to install.
  •  Reptile Sand Mats have no adhesives. That makes it easy to remove and replace them when cleaning.
  • Reptile Sand Mats have no risk of melting like Lino, and you can easily remove them from the enclosure.

Cons of Reptile Sand Mats  

  • Reptile Sand Mats with larger grains can be abrasive to the stomach of your leopard gecko.
  • The rough texture of the Reptile Sand Mat can make cleaning it on the spot difficult. That will force you to remove it for deep cleaning at least every two weeks.

5. DIY Blended Substrate

A DIY (Do It Yourself) substrate is a unique and cheap way to give your leopard gecko a comfortable environment. It constitutes organic soil, play sand, and clay at a ratio of 50:30:20.

Before putting your leopard gecko, you should leave your blended substrate in the tank for one to two weeks. That is meant to allow the substrate to adjust to temperatures and give it time to compact.

You should use pure soil and avoid calcium or beach sand. Also, ensure the soil you pick is free from any chemicals such as pesticides.

Pros of DIY Blended Substrate

  • The DIY substrate can maintain its shape while at the same time enabling your leopard gecko to dig and burrow.
  • It is easy to make since it requires less technical skill.
  • It is inexpensive to set up since you will use locally sourced materials.

Cons of DIY Blended Substrate

  • You will have to replace the substrate at least once a year to avoid bacteria accumulation.
  • It isn’t easy to achieve consistency when mixing up different substrate blends.

6. Clay Substrate

Clay is easily available in pet stores in self-hardening or excavator clay. It easily softens when mixed with water making it easy to mold into different shapes such as caves or tunnels. That makes it very effective in mimicking the rocky natural habitat of your leopard gecko.

For fulfilling results, you should construct and place the clay shapes in the enclosure before adding your leopard gecko.

Pros of Clay Substrate

  • Clay becomes easy to clean on the spot once it hardens. That will help you avoid the extra work of removing it from the tank for cleaning.
  • Clay is very efficient in retaining heat, making it suitable for your cold-blooded leopard gecko.
  • Clay substrate gives your leopard gecko a natural feeling due to its texture and shape.
  • Clay substrate gives your enclosure an organic and natural look. That is breathtaking to you as well as your leopard gecko’s natural experience.
  • Clay is inexpensive and readily available in pet stores.

Cons of Clay Substrate

  • Clay substrate is not easily replaceable once broken.

7. Lino Substrate

Lino is a form of a mat spread on the tank’s floor. It has a form of stone or hardwood; hence it does not have loose grains that your leopard gecko can ingest. That makes it a very suitable substrate for your Pet.

Pros of Lino Substrate

  • It is easy to install.
  • It is inexpensive and readily available in pet stores.
  • Lino comes in various designs, e.g., ceramic, wood slats, etc.
  •  Lino is easy to clean since it only requires wiping with a wet cloth.
  • Linoleum is long-lasting and does not need replacement if it is maintained clean.

Cons of Lino Substrate

  • The peel-and-stick method of installation makes it difficult to remove.
  • The heat can melt the adhesive used to stick in the enclosure.

8. Newspaper/Paper Towel Substrate

A newspaper or paper towel is laid in two layers on the tank’s floor. It is a common substrate, especially for juvenile leopard geckos that excrete a lot of waste.

Pros of Paper Towel Substrate

  •  It is cheap and readily available in pet stores.
  •  It is very suitable for baby leopard geckos since they excrete a lot of waste.
  •  Paper towels do not have loose grains that can be ingested by your gecko and cause impaction. That makes it very suitable for baby geckos.

Cons of Paper Towel Substrate

  • Paper towels can easily overheat if placed over the tank heater. That may require placing cardboard between the floor and the paper towel to control the heat.
  • Paper towels are not durable and should be replaced at least weekly. That is due to their high moisture absorbency rate.

FAQ’s about Leopard Geckos

Conclusion on What Is the Best Substrate to Use for Leopard Geckos?

Your leopard gecko substrate will depend on availability, price, and ease of maintenance. However, the crucial factor that you must consider is the safety of your gecko Pet. It would be best to avoid substrates like sand with loose grains that can be ingested by your leopard gecko, causing impaction.

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