Top 7 Safe and Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons

In our previous post, we talked about the best tank for bearded dragons, in this article, we will be discussing the best substrates.

One of the first challenges to setting up a bearded dragon enclosure is choosing the best substrate. The substrate is what lines the bottom of the bearded dragon enclosure.

Since there are so many different types of substrates in the market, there is hardly a consensus on the “best substrate” in the bearded dragon community. Some people have gone to the extent of vehemently opposing some substrates and insisting that there is only one bearded dragon substrate to use.

Every substrate has its own pros and cons. For example, tiles are easy to clean and present almost zero risks of impaction, but they are not as attractive as reptile carpets. Fake grass may look very good looking but it is very hard to clean.

The best bearded dragon substrate should be dry, cheap, nice looking, easy to clean, and not hold too much humidity as beardies come from the dry deserts of Australia.

Beginner bearded dragon owners often choose a loose substrate. This can cause serious health issues in your bearded dragon, such as impaction.

Do not use anything that is loose such as wood chips, sand or cedar shavings, crushed corn cobs, etc.

The following are the main types of bearded dragon substrates.

Types of Bearded Dragon Substrates

Before jumping into the top picks of bearded dragon substrate, let’s first discuss the types of substrates used for bearded dragons.

There are seven different types of substrate for bearded dragons:

  • Reptile carpet, lino, fake grass, or astroturf.
  • Newspapers or paper towels.
  • Ceramic tiles or slate.
  • Rubber, shelf liner.
  • Alfalfa pellets.
  • Wood chips.
  • Sand (e.g. play sand or calcium sand).

All the above-bearded dragon substrates can be grouped into two main categories, i.e., loose particle and non-loose particle substrates. 

Loose Particle Substrates

Loose particles substrates are made up of many individual pieces of material. They can be bought in bulk and are usually cheap and relatively easy to clean. However, many bearded dragon experts will advise AGAINST using a loose particle substrate. Because it presents a certain potential health risk. Apart from being indigestible, it can also come into contact with the eyes and nose of your beardie, potentially leading to serious infections. 

Some popular examples of loose particle substrates include:

  • Play sand and calcium sand
  • Crushed walnut shells
  • Alfalfa pellets
  • Millet
  • Wood chips/shavings

Non-Particle Substrate

As the name suggests, non-particle substrates aren’t particle based, meaning it’s a solid piece of material.

Non-particle substrates are an all-around safer option for bearded dragons. With a non-particle substrate, you don’t have to worry about your bearded dragon swallowing the substrate and becoming impacted.

These substrates are relatively easy to clean and don’t present the risk of parasites and hygiene issues that loose substrates do.

Some popular examples of non-particle substrates include:

  • Newspapper
  • Ceramic tile for bearded dragons
  • Reptile Carpet
  • Rubber Shelf Liner

Now let me explain the top 7 best bearded dragon substrates in detail.

Top 7 Substrates for Bearded Dragons

We have considered three major factors – safety, stability, and appearance – when evaluating and ranking the best bearded dragon substrates.

1. Reptile Carpets / Cage Liners

reptile-carpet-substrate

A cage liner is a special synthetic carpet that is made to simulate natural bearded dragon habitats such as grass and desserts. A carpet is really easy to use; all you have to do is spread the carpet across the floor of the bearded dragon enclosures.

The Reptile carpet is popular among keepers because of its subtle and natural appearance.

We always recommend reptile carpet when someone asks what substrate they should use for their Bearded Dragon.

The Reptile carpet is the best substrate for all ages of bearded dragons.

It lasts for years and is resistant to the wear and tear that comes with temperature changes and reptile activity.

The only disadvantage to this substrate is that it must be removed from the enclosure for cleaning. It also takes a long time to air-dry. As a result, you’ll need to purchase two carpets and switch them out during cleaning.

Less expensive options for this substrate include linoleum flooring or synthetic grass.

Lino is easy to cut and install and can be found at any hardware shop. Lino is also easy to clean with a washcloth, unlike reptile carpet. Unfortunately, it can not withstand temperature changes and will split and buckle.

Another cheaper alternative to reptile carpet is “fake grass”. Because it resembles a reptile carpet, fake grass might be a tempting substrate to use.

Unfortunately, fake grass is hard to clean and the uneven surface may trap microorganisms. Artificial grass “carpets” also include small plastic loops that your beardie’s toes or claws can get caught in.

Also, real grass should never be used because it is difficult to maintain low humidity in a planted tank.

For two carpets, the annual cost ranges from $14 to $40.

Pros

  • Easy to install
  • Safe for bearded dragons,
  • It will not warp or overheat.
  • wide variety of patterns to choose from.

Cons

  • Cleaning carpets is very time-consuming and intensive.

2. Newspapers

newspapar-bearded-dragon-substrate

While old newspapers aren’t as aesthetically appealing as sand, they are really easy to maintain. Moreover, the risk of impaction is completely eliminated, making it the perfect substrate for baby bearded dragons.

When climbing or exploring, adult bearded dragons may mistakenly tear this substrate. This, however, can be swiftly remedied by weighing down the substrate with décor to help avoid damage and bunching.

Its low cost and ease of replacement compensate for its flimsiness.

If your bearded dragon loves to dig, you can buy washed and shredded newspaper substrate from the pet store. The two major problems with newspaper substrates are that they retain humidity and its fake appearance.

Newspapers and paper towels absorb a lot of liquid. As a result, they require more frequent cleaning than other substrates. As a result, they are less environmentally friendly than permanent substrates like tiles.

The most significant disadvantage of utilizing newspapers as a substrate is the fake appearance. This is not the best option for individuals who want their dragon to live in a naturalistic environment.

If you don’t care about aesthetics and want to save money, the newspaper is might be the best option for you.

It costs $10 each year.

Pros

  • A great low-cost substrate (especially for younger beardies)
  • It is easily replaced and is not abrasive.

Cons

  • It can not be reused and is unattractive.

3. Ceramic Tiles

ceramic-tile-substrate

Ceramic tiles are a relatively new addition to the list of bearded dragon substrates. Lowe’s or Home Depot, which are usually used in bathrooms or kitchens, can be used as a substrate for dragons. These tiles are easy to clean and look nice. They also eliminate the chances of impaction problems.

Ceramic tiles are an excellent choice for anyone looking for a visually appealing, low-cost, and environmentally-friendly substrate.

Tiles, unlike reptile carpet, can be spot-cleaned and sanitized with a damp cloth.

They also don’t absorb water and won’t warp if they become wet.

Because ceramic is a good heat conductor, it will not increase or decrease the intensity of an under-tank heater.

The only disadvantage is how difficult it is to cut and fit ceramic tiles to the exact size of your tank.

Because tiles are normally sold in 12″ by 12″ or 3″ x 6″ sizes, they will need to be cut to fit appropriately. It’s very tough to cut ceramics cleanly and safely without the right equipment.

Slate is a similar alternative to ceramic tiles.

Slate is a fine-grained rock that is usually used in landscaping but also works nicely in reptile aquariums. It has a more natural appearance than ceramic, but it is also significantly more expensive.

For a 120-gallon tank, the total cost ranges from $5 to $20.

Pros

  • Natural look
  • Cheap
  • It is easy to clean.

Cons

  • It is difficult to install
  • Not made for reptiles.

4. Rubber Shelf Liner

rubber-shelf-liner-bearded-dragon-substrate

Rubber shelf liners are more durable than paper towels or newspapers.

Shelf Liners are a low-cost substrate available at hardware and home improvement stores. They come in a variety of styles and thicknesses.

Thinner mats are quick and easy to cut with scissors, and they are often packaged in rolls large enough for several changes.

Rubber liners are good thermal insulators but poor conductors, which is the biggest issue with using them as a bearded dragon substrate.

As a result, they take a long time to heat up and cool down compared to other substrates. It makes it difficult to keep the right temperature gradient that your bearded dragon requires to stay healthy.

Also, when exposed to intense heat, thinner rubber liners can potentially shrink or crack.

Choose a firm mat if you do opt to use shelf liners. Perforated mats are difficult to clean.

This substrate should be changed every two weeks to prevent bacterial growth because it can absorb waste over time.

The cost per roll is $10 per year.

Pros

  • Durable and cheap

Cons

  • When exposed to heat, it can break or shrink, and it can not sustain stable temperatures when placed over an under-tank heater.

5. Alfalfa Pellets

alfalfa-pellets-substrate-for-bearded-dragons

Alfalfa pellets are a great option if you want to use a loose substrate.

This is normally fed to rabbits and horses. It can, however, be used as a substrate for bearded dragons and other pet reptiles.

These pellets can be safely digested if your dragon eats them. However, there is still a slight chance of intestinal blockage.

Because of the risk of impaction, we don’t recommend using any loose substrate such as sand, wood chips, or alfalfa pellets.

Alfalfa pellets do not absorb much humidity, but they quickly decompose and generate mould when become wet. That is why they should be spot-cleaned on a daily basis.

Alfalfa pellets are sold in large bags at pet stores, but purchasing enough to fill a 120 gallon tank can be costly.

A 120-gallon tank costs $120 per year.

Pros

  • can be purchased in bulk.
  • It is easy to replace.

Cons

  • Some risk of impaction
  • It quickly becomes mouldy.

6. Wood Chips or Bark

wood-chips-bearded-dragon-substrate

Another type of bearded dragon substrate that many people recommend is wood chips and bark. These two substrates also carry the risk of impaction. 

If all the small or sharp bits are removed, large adults can be housed on orchid bark. But never use pine or cedar shavings, as they contain oils that are poisonous to reptiles.

This substrate should not be used for babies or juveniles. Because they will most likely eat the shavings, and the splinters will irritate their skin.

Wood chips are very effective at absorbing moisture from the air, resulting in a reduced total tank humidity. Bearded dragons require a low level of humidity in their environment, but too little moisture might cause respiratory problems and shed retention.

Pellets made from wood and bark look attractive in a tank. However, you must consider whether the risk of impaction is worth the aesthetic attractiveness.

You will need to feed your bearded dragon from a dish or container outside of the tank if you decide to use this substrate.

For a 120-gallon tank, the annual cost is $60.

Pros

  • Good looking
  • inexpensive
  • It is easy to clean.

Cons

  • Some risk of impaction
  • It absorbs moisture.

7. Sand and Gravel

bearded-dragon-sand-substrate

Unfortunately, sand is the most common substrate used for bearded dragons.

Sand is used in bearded dragon enclosures because of a popular misconception. In the wild, bearded dragons spend all their time scurrying on the sand. That’s why some people, especially new owners, consider bearded dragon sand to be the most “natural” substrate.

The sand sold at pet stores is mistakenly thought to be the same as the sand in their natural habitat by new bearded dragon owners.

Sand is commonly referred to as “calcium sand,” “reptile sand,” or “play sand.” in pet stores. 

Real desert sands are more compacted clay-like sand than the loose substrate sold in pet stores.

One of the reasons why sand is so popular as a substrate is because it is easy to spot-clean with a scoop or sieve.

Unfortunately, beardies can develop impaction if they accidentally eat them. It’s also quite dusty, which gets into their food, water, and eyes.

Sand, especially silica sand, should be avoided at all costs. It has sharp-edged grains that might cause damage to your dragon’s gastrointestinal tract even without causing an impaction.

For a 120-gallon tank, the annual cost is $60.

Pros

  • Natural appearance
  • It is easy to spot-clean.

Cons

  • High risk of impaction
  • It cannot be reused.

Comparison Table

SubstrateProsConsRank
Reptile CarpetEasy to install
Safe for bearded dragons,
Will not warp or overheat
Wide variety of patterns to choose from.


Cleaning can take a lot of time
1
Newspaper or Paper TowelsGreat low-cost substrate
Good for beginners
Cannot be reused
Not attractive
2
Ceramic TilesNatural look
Clean
Easy to clean
Difficult to install
Not made for beraded dragons
3
Rubber Shelf LinerDurable
Cheap
When exposed to heat, it can break or shrink, and it can not sustain stable temperatures when placed over an under-tank heater.4
Alfalfa PelletsAvailable in bulk
Easy to replace
Some risk of impaction
Quickly becomes mouldy
5

Purpose Made Best Bearded Dragon Substrate

Below are some of the purpose-made substrates that can be used in a bearded dragon terrarium.

1. Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner

This is a great bearded dragon substrate. It’s available in 8 different sizes ranging from 10-gallon to 125-gallon. It can be easily cut to fit the enclosure. One of the reasons why we love Zilla Reptile Bedding so much is that it cannot be digested and is safer for bearded dragons.

Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner
  • A low maintenance bedding, cut to size as needed
  • Safe because as it cannot be digested
  • Treated to reduce odors
  • Easy to clean

2. Tfwadmx Reptile Carpet Mat Substrate

This is another very good substrate for bearded dragons. It is made of high-density tech fiber material that is durable and can be washed very easily. It’s also perfectly safe for your bearded dragon. If it doesn’t fit the enclosure, you can simply roll it and cut it with a scissor.

Tfwadmx Reptile Carpet Mat Substrate Liner
  • Durable, Washable and Reusable
  • Safe to use with Bearded Dragons
  • Made using a non abrasive felt material
  • Easy to cut down into the right size

3. Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate

This substrate will make your bearded dragon feel right at home. It allows bearded dragons to borrow and dig tunnels just like they do in nature and the best part is that the tunnels will hold position and won’t collapse.

Though the above bearded dragon substrates aren’t exactly perfect, there are some substrates that you should avoid at all costs.

Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate
  • Holds its shape so tunnels won’t collapse
  • All natural, no dyes or chemicals
  • Make your reptiles feel like they are at home

Substrates That You Need to Avoid

There are quite a few substrates for bearded dragons that you need to avoid altogether.

Shredded Bark and Mulch

Bark and Mulch can also be used as a substrate for bearded dragons however they are not highly recommended. One of the downsides to bark and mulch is that it retains humidity causing the humidity level to rise above the appropriate level.

Crushed Walnut Shell

It has sharp and jagged edges and it can cause severe impaction if ingested by the pet lizard.

Corn Cob

It is hard and highly indigestible.

How To Properly Clean The Substrate?

No matter what type of substrate you are using, cleaning should be done on a regular basis! Your bearded dragon won’t be able to survive in its own feces.

Even with the best bearded dragon substrate, you must stick to regular cleaning and maintenance to avoid diseases.

Cleaning is as simple as tossing out filthy material and replacing it with new if you’re using something like newspaper or paper towels. If you prefer to use loose-particle substrates, the same rules apply.

How to clean a permanent substrate?

The first step, of course, is to spot clean messes as soon as feasible. This is especially true when it comes to reptile carpets. The longer you let the problem sit, the more difficult it will be to clean up.

You can use a paper towel to blot liquid messes and pick up solid debris. For tiles, you can simply wipe messes off.

For spot cleaning, we recommend using a disinfectant. You can use a reptile-safe sanitizer or a severely diluted vinegar mixture. Simply spray the area and wipe it clean.

We recommend cleaning the entire terrarium once a month including all the components. This also includes substrates.

To clean a reptile carpet, soak it in hot water and scrub it thoroughly to get it clean! You can use a large tub and unscented soap. If you can find an antibacterial product that would be even better.

Spend time scrubbing the carpet thoroughly. To eliminate any seeped-in messes, soak the material completely.

Don’t throw your carpet in the washing machine, even if it’s tempting. Bearded dragons salmonella. Putting your family at risk of zoonotic diseases is the last thing you want to do. Instead, the carpet should be cleaned in its own tub.

How Often To Change Bearded Dragon Substrate?

To prevent bacterial growth, a bearded dragon’s substrate should be spot-cleaned on a daily basis.

It’s also a good idea to periodically check on your dragon’s intestinal health by spot-cleaning the tank. Keep an eye on their feces. The feces should be brown in coloration and solid with a white urate. If you notice any unusual feces or if your lizard has stopped producing it altogether, then it’s a sign of sickness.

Bearded dragon substrate should be deep-cleaned or fully replaced every two weeks.

For paper towels or newspapers, simply discard the old layer and replace it with a new one.

For reptile carpets, it is recommended that you remove it and wash it with hot water and dish soap.

Permanent substrates (for example, ceramic tiles, slate, or rubber) should be sprayed with a reptile-safe cleaner:

  • One to three ounces for one quart 1:4 diluted bleach-water mix
  • a delicate scent-free dish soap
  • White vinegar.

Before replacing the substrate, remember to remove your Bearded Dragon from the enclosure.

Before returning your Beardie, ensure that the tank and substrate are fully dry and soap-free.

Should You Use Sand For A Bearded Dragon?

No. When hunting and eating, your Bearded Dragon can accidentally consume sand substrate causing intestinal obstruction over time.

Dragons that are young or sick are more likely to consume sand and develop an impaction.

So, it’s better to avoid using loose substrates like sand.

What bedding should you use for a bearded dragon?

We recommend using reptile carpet. It carries no risk of impaction and is 100% safe to use for bearded dragons. In addition, it is not very expensive.

What can I put in the bottom of my bearded dragon tank?

We always recommend reptile carpet as it is safe to use and also looks attractive. There are many other options available, however, most of them are not entirely safe to use with bearded dragons.

Is sand or carpet better for bearded dragons?

Reptile carpet always! Sand is actually very dangerous as your beardie might accidentally eat it and resulting in impaction.

What can I use instead of sand for my bearded dragon?

There are quite a few options available as a substrate but we always recommend using reptile carpet. Reptile carpet is the best and safest substrate for bearded dragons.

Conclusion

Your money and how much effort you want to put into keeping it clean will determine which Bearded Dragon substrate is best for you. Reptile carpet is an excellent choice if you don’t mind regular cleaning.

Low-maintenance substrates like paper towels and tiles are also good options.

The majority of these substrates are available from any pet or hardware shop. If you are purchasing from a hardware store, ensure that the material is free of harmful chemicals that could hurt your beardie.

About Tariq Aziz

I am working as Chief editor at MY BEARDIES. I have been working in the publishing business for over a decade now. I love reptiles and I love talking about them. I have years of experience in herpetoculture. I have cared for many reptiles including bearded dragons, geckos, and skinks since childhood.

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