Best Substrate for Leopard Geckos

January 20, 2023

Leopard Gecko on Sand

Table Of Contents


The Best Substrate Options for Leopard Geckos

There are several factors that should be taken into consideration when deciding on a substrate for your leopard gecko. You want to choose a substrate that is non toxic, easy to maintain, and has a low risk for impaction. I have broken down each substrate that leopard geckos can and cannot use to help you decide which is best for you and your gecko.


Safe Leopard Gecko Substrate Choices

The most important thing to keep in mind when considering substrate choices is the safety of your leopard gecko. Unfortunately, many pet stores recommend substrates that are not a good match for leopard geckos, in fact, some of the substrates they sell are dangerous. The following substrates are all excellent choices for your leopard gecko.


Ceramic Tiles as Leopard Gecko Substrate

Ceramic tiles, just like the ones on your kitchen floors, are one of the best options for a leopard gecko’s substrate. These tiles are beneficial for quite a few reasons. For starters, there's no risk for impaction since it's not a loose substrate. These tiles are great at absorbing heat, providing your leopard gecko with a warm spot to curl up on. Another benefit to ceramic tiles is that unlike most substrates, they’re extremely easy to clean. You can simply wipe them down when spot cleaning is necessary, and they’re easily removable for deep cleaning. This will be a huge benefit to your wallet too since you won’t have to replace the substrate monthly.


Ceramic tiles can be found at hardware stores like Lowes or Home Depot. These stores will typically have a huge variety of colors and patterns available so you should have no issue finding some that match the theme you’re going for. Make sure you measure the inside of your leopard gecko’s enclosure before going so that they can cut the tiles to fit perfectly. 



Clay as Leopard Gecko Substrate

If you’re looking for a more natural substrate option excavator clay might be the right choice for you! This substrate can be easily molded into complex tunnels and caves, providing your leopard gecko with enrichment. Since excavator clay is a more compact substrate than sand, there is no risk for impaction. The biggest flaw with this substrate is that it takes several days to fully dry, so you will have to pre set up this substrate before getting your leopard gecko. It's a good idea to always set up a new tank about a week before getting your reptile anyways to make sure your temperatures and set up are correct. 


Mediocre Leopard Gecko Substrates

Some substrates aren’t as good as other substrates, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re bad for your leopard gecko. The following substrates have been classified as mediocre because although they are safe for your leopard gecko, they are not ideal. 


Leopard Gecko in an Enclosure


Paper Towels as Leopard Gecko Substrate

Personally, I believe that paper towels should only be used during the quarantine period and should not be a permanent substrate for leopard geckos. However, many leopard gecko keepers use paper towels and since it is non toxic and has no risk of impaction I will include it in the list. Paper towels make for extremely easy clean up, but are boring for both you to look at and for your leopard gecko to live on. 


Reptile Carpet as Leopard Gecko Substrate

Another decent substrate for leopard geckos is reptile carpet. Reptile carpet is readily available in almost all pet stores and online. This substrate is pre-cut to fit most enclosure sizes, but if your enclosure is an odd size don’t stress, it is easy to cut to a different size. Reptile carpet is a safe substrate as there is absolutely no risk for impaction. 


The downside to reptile carpet is that it can be extremely difficult to keep clean. This substrate has fine fibers that catch waste, allowing the growth of bacteria. If you decide to go this route I highly recommend buying a second carpet. During deep cleaning you will need to take the dirty carpet and let it soak in a diluted bleach solution. The reptile carpet will need to be thoroughly rinsed and completely dry before being put back into your leopard gecko’s enclosure. The second carpet will allow you to switch between the two carpets for deep cleaning without disturbing your geckos environment for too long.



Reptile Sand Mat

If you’re dead set on having a sandy, natural looking substrate, a reptile sand mat may be the choice for you. Similar to reptile carpets, a sand mat is just a pre cut mat that has sand glued down to it. This mat will help give your leopard gecko traction as they run around the enclosure while providing them an interesting new texture. The only issue with sand mats is that they are extremely hard to clean due to the sand glued all over the mat. This can cause issues as leftover waste in hard to reach places will lead to bacteria growth which can cause sickness in your leopard gecko.


Substrates to Avoid

The following substrates should be avoided at all costs. These substrates have been known to cause impaction, are toxic, or are extremely dusty. 


Sand as Leopard Gecko Substrate

Sand is often advertised as a natural substrate that is perfect for desert dwelling reptiles. After all, they live on sand in the wild, so why wouldn’t sand be a good choice for your leopard gecko? In the wild, leopard geckos are in their ideal temperature, humidity, etc… and as much as we try to recreate that natural environment in captivity, sometimes our husbandry just isn’t 100% accurate. If ingested, sand can lead to blockage in the gut which can be deadly. Another big issue with sand is that it is difficult to keep sanitary since you’re scooping it like a big litter box. Small bits and pieces tend to get left behind, which can lead to the growth of bacteria.


Leopard Gecko in a Cave


Wood Chips as Leopard Gecko Substrate

Always avoid using any kind of wood chips as substrate for your leopard gecko. Leopard geckos can get splinters when running around and digging in a wood substrate. Some woods, such as coconut husk or aspen, tend to do a good job at holding in humidity, which can be great for some reptiles, but is not great for leopard geckos who need low humidity. Leopard geckos can also get impaction from consuming wood chips. Another concern with using wood is the type of wood. Cedar and pine both release oils that are toxic to all reptiles.