Choosing a Leopard gecko substrate is one of the most difficult decisions, especially for novice reptile parents. The litany of options available and the abundance of misconceptions make it more confusing to choose the right substrate for your gecko. The most common misconception is that Leopard geckos come from deserts, and they live in hot and sandy environments. It is not exactly the case—Leopard geckos actually come from arid grasslands and rocky-desert like regions (not sandy desserts).

As a result of this myth, many reptile owners put sand in their tanks. This is incorrect as well as harmful (according to most experts) for your Leo’s health because these lizards belong to barren grasslands and rocky outcrops of Asia— Pakistan, Afghanistan, northern India, Iran, and western Iraq. The substrate found in their natural habitat is mostly hard, clay and gravel covered in a thin layer of sand and scattered with boulders, shrubs, and grasses.

The Leopard gecko habitat, including the substrate in your gecko’s tank, must mimic its wild habitat as closely as possible. Having natural habitat will ensure that your Leopard gecko is happy and healthy.

Leopard Gecko Ideal Habitat

Geckos prefer horizontal tanks with a humidity range of approx. 30 – 40% and temperature gradient of 75 – 85 °F. Despite being nocturnal, they also need a proper Leopard gecko lighting setup that will help them maintain their day-night cycle.

An ideal Leopard gecko habitat should have plants (real or artificial) to provide shade, hiding spots, and shelter for sleeping and cooling down.

Glass enclosures (15 to 20 gallons) are better than wire as there are chances of gecko’s feet getting caught in the wiring.

How Does an Ideal Gecko Substrate Look Like?

Most geckos are very good at climbing as they have sticky paws but not Leopard geckos—they are clumsy climbers as they have claws but no sticky pads. So unlike most gecko species, Leopard geckos are ground-dwelling creatures. The substrate is an important aspect of their life as they spend most of their time on the ground, especially for pet geckos, because they walk, sleep, and run on the substrate. That is why they are very concerned about their habitat like all other lizards.

Mealworms and crickets are the most favorite prey of geckos. They are known for getting excited while hunting them live after chasing them for a while around the tank. The risk is that these specialized tongues of geckos pick up some pieces of the dangerous substrate when eating. Choosing the right substrate for your gecko is crucial because these harmful substances can cause digestive distress if packed in the intestines during digestion, leading to death.

Leopard Gecko Substrate Requirements

The bedding or flooring placed at the bottom of the tank is known as substrate. The gecko will walk on it, sleep on it, and it will catch the waste produced by them. That is why the substrate must be kept cleaned and maintained all the time to make it safe for your gecko.

The frequency with which the substrate should be cleaned will depend on the type of substrate you use. To reduce the hassle of cleaning and maintaining the habitat, you can use substrates that are easy to clean or replace.

The substrate should be non-irritating for your gecko’s skin and should not allow the gathering of dust, which can irritate the gecko’s respiratory system.

Good vs. Bad Substrate

Good Substrate

  • It’s fairly inexpensive.
  • It is cheap and easy to obtain.
  • It is easier to clean or replace.
  • It is free from odors and dust.
  • It can retain and transmit heat.
  • It goes well with your Leopard gecko setup.
  • It cannot be ingested (not even accidentally) by your gecko.
  • It does not create a hiding space for feeder insects.
  • Unsuitable Substrate

  • It is expensive and difficult to obtain.
  • It cannot be cleaned easily and is hard to replace
  • It is smelly and full of dust.
  • It does not retain or transmit heat.
  • It does not go well with the setup.
  • It can be accidentally ingested and may cause impaction.
  • It provides hiding spaces for feeder insects.

  • 7 Best Leopard Gecko Substrates

    There are many substrates available in the market, but not all of them are good for your gecko. Choosing the right gecko substrate is important because it will allow them to show their natural behavior, such as digging, climbing, hiding, and hunting live insects. We have narrowed down some best substrates for your gecko. Continue reading to know everything about them.

    1. Reptile Carpet

    Reptile carpets are artificial substrate that is highly absorbent and supportive. It ensures that geckos can get a good grip while walking. When buying a reptile carpet, keep in mind that it is designed specifically for Leopard geckos.

    Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to wash the carpet and how many times you should wash it as they get dirty and smelly very easily.


  • It’s fairly inexpensive.
  • It’s easy to wash and clean.
  • It was pre-treated with biodegradable enzymes to reduce any odor.
  • It’s easily resizable.
  • Cons

  • Some carpets have long fibers; your gecko’s claws can get stuck
  • Some reptile carpets are not much aesthetically pleasant.
  • 2. Paper Towels

    Paper towels are one of the most favorite substrates among reptile owners. They are super beneficial for juvenile geckos, which create a lot of waste, and baby Leopard geckos, as they eat and defecate frequently. Just like reptile carpets, they are super absorbent.


  • It’s cheap and easier to replace.
  • Mites and other health issues can be seen earlier than other substrates.
  • Cons

  • It does not look natural.
  • It provides a poor grip for adult geckos.
  • It’s not environmentally friendly due to deforestation and habitat destruction.
  • It might get too hot for geckos. Cardboard should be used as a barrier.
  • 3. Linoleum

    Linoleum is a mat-like flooring that looks like stone or hardwood.


  • It’s super cheap.
  • It is easy to install because of its peel-and-stick method of installation.
  • Hassle-free cleaning, just take a damp cloth and wipe all the dirt away.
  • It has a variety of designs.
  • It is lightweight and flexible.
  • Cons

  • It is difficult to replace once set in place.
  • The gecko’s enclosure’s high heat can melt down the adhesive glue.
  • 4. Tile Flooring

    Stone, ceramic, or slate tiles can be a suitable addition to your gecko’s enclosure. They are placed over some other substrate like paper towels or carpets to regulate the temperature.


  • Easy installation; you just need to lay them down in the enclosure.
  • It is easy to remove or rearrange them.
  • It has a huge variety of colors and styles.
  • The rough texture resembles the rocky outcrops of gecko’s natural habitat.
  • Simple cleaning like linoleum—deep cleaning is required only once a month.
  • Cons

  • If tiles are smooth, they can cause geckos to slip.
  • It is difficult to trim and resize them.
  • 5. Bioactive

    Bioactive substrates are closest to the natural home of geckos. It consists of several layers of gravel (for drainage), soil, and clay mixtures. It also has live plants and branches.


  • It is a natural-looking substrate.
  • Your gecko will like to climb, dig or burrow on this substrate.
  • It requires less cleaning and little maintenance once set up.
  • It is mostly self-sustaining due to beneficial bacteria and other organisms that live in it.
  • Cons

  • Its installation is a bit difficult and time-consuming.
  • It is highly expensive. The price depends on the size of the tank.
  • It requires deep knowledge of horticulture and self-sustaining ecosystems.

  • 6. Newspaper

    Newspaper is the simplest and cheapest option. Two layers of newspaper should be placed in the tank. Always leave the newspaper to dry for at least a week. The ink used for printing is toxic for geckos.


  • It is easy to clean.
  • It is more environmentally friendly than paper towels, as they can be recycled.
  • It is excellent in absorbency.
  • Cons

  • It looks unnatural and unsightly.
  • The newspaper should be replaced every week due to high absorbency.

  • 7. Excavator Clay

    When clay gets moist enough, it can be molded in any shape. When it dries, the shape you created stays firmly in place.


  • It is low in price.
  • It is more similar to natural habitat.
  • Looks organic.
  • It holds heat efficiently.
  • Cons

  • Messy to work with.
  • It is easily replaceable.
  • It is easy to spot-clean.

  • Other Substrates

  • Looks natural
  • Economical
  • Easily available
  • Risk of impaction
  • Very messy
  • Difficult to clean
  • Sand Mats
  • A good alternative to sand and other loose substrates
  • Natural-looking
  • Uncomfortable to walk on
  • Hard to spot clean
  • Wood Chips
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to replace
  • Sharp edges may cause impaction or splintersInsects can hide or escape from geckosHard to clean
  • Shelf Liner
  • Cheap and sturdy
  • Cost-effective  
  • Can breed bacteria if not cleaned properly
  • Does not hold heat
  • Coconut Fiber
  • Cheap to buy in bulk
  • Looks natural
  • Has antimicrobial properties to prevent bad smell, rotting, and mold
  • Retains a lot of moisture
  • Risk of impaction
  • Can cause skin and respiratory infections
  • Gravel
  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Easy to cleanLow in cost
  • Sharp edges can infect a gecko’s underbelly and feet.
  • Can collapse on geckos while digging.
  • Sphagnum Moss
  • Soft texture gives it a natural look
  • Comfortable to walk on.
  • Suitable for use in a moist hide as shedding
  • Helps in Leopard gecko shedding process
  • Too much moisture
  • Allows breeding of molds and bacteria
  • Little risk of impaction
  • Conclusion

    Choosing a Leopard gecko substrate is surely a challenging task. It is hard to say which substrate is best for Leopard geckos, but after having read the article, you can find decide which substrate would be best for your Leopard gecko tank setup.

    In a nutshell, a good substrate is the one that does not cause impaction to your gecko due to ingestion, doesn’t cause injuries, and mimics their natural environment as much as possible.

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