How To Choose The Best Substrate For Your Leopard Gecko: A Guide

A lot of effort goes into caring for your leopard gecko, and one of the most important things to consider when putting together your leopard gecko’s substrate is what substrate you choose to use in your leopard gecko’s enclosure.

As a first-time leopard gecko owner, it can be difficult to choose which substrate to use as there are so many different options available to you.

leopard gecko’s substrate

However, you need to make sure that you choose the correct substrate for your leopard gecko, as choosing the wrong substrate could eventually lead to potential health issues further on in their life.

If you want an in-depth guide into the types of substrate that are going to be suitable for your leopard gecko, then look no further, in this article we’ll provide you with everything you need to know about leopard gecko substrates, and which one is going to be best for your reptile friend!

For those who are looking for a quick answer, then you need to make sure that the substrate is safe for your leopard gecko to eat off, safe to lay on, without irritating their skin, and should prevent dust from gathering, which could have an effect on your leopard gecko’s breathing.

So, if you want to learn more about the best substrates for your leopard gecko, and what substrates to avoid, as well as more information about the effects that poor quality substrates can have on your leopard gecko, then read on, as we discuss all the information you need to know!

What Is Substrate In A Gecko Tank?

If you’ve never had the opportunity to own one of these magnificent animals before, then there’s a chance that you may not know exactly what substrate is, or maybe you just need your mind refreshed, so allow us to explain a little more about what substrate actually is.

The substrate is the material that you will often see at the bottom of a leopard gecko’s tank, the substrate is extremely important, as it is what your leopard gecko will eat off of, lay on, walk on, and lay waste on, so picking the correct substrate is an extremely important decision for any leopard gecko owner.

Requirements For Leopard Gecko Substrate

Leopard Gecko Substrate

If you’re trying to decide on a substrate for your leopard gecko, then it’s important that you consider what is required of the substrate in your leopard gecko’s tank before you go ahead and pick one.

Choosing the wrong substrate could have a detrimental effect on your leopard gecko’s health, and in extreme cases, could even be fatal. So, it’s important to pick the right substrate.

The basic requirements for the substrate used in a leopard gecko’s tank are that it should be completely safe for your leopard gecko to eat off of, and it shouldn’t irritate the skin of your leopard gecko in any way at all.

There are also some factors that you should consider when choosing a substrate, which includes the type of substrate you use, which might have an effect on how regularly you need to change the substrate, as well as picking a substrate that is going to be easy to clean out and replace, which will make caring for your leopard gecko much easier.

Before we go ahead and look at some of the best substrates to use in your leopard gecko’s enclosure, it’s first important to understand the sort of health risks that can occur when you use an ill-suited or low-quality substrate for your leopard gecko’s tank.

What Is Impaction? And How To Prevent It In Leopard Geckos

If you’ve never heard of impaction before, then it is important that you’re aware of what it is, what it can look like, and how it can affect your leopard gecko.

Impaction is something that is an incredibly big threat to most domesticated lizards, which includes leopard geckos, so it’s important as an owner to do everything you can to prevent this from happening to any of your pet lizards.

Impaction is something that happens once a foreign object gets eaten or ingested accidentally by your lizard and is unable to be digested at all, which then results in a backup in your lizard’s digestive system.

Impaction is serious, and if your leopard gecko is afflicted with impaction, then it’s common for them to stop eating or defecating entirely, which will lead them to lose a lot of weight.

Impaction is much more common than you might think and is ultimately life-threatening if not discovered early on.

Unfortunately, many cases of impaction are discovered much too late for any treatment to work.

You might be wondering what exactly this has to do with choosing the right substrate to use for your leopard gecko’s tank, and that’s because one of the most commonly recommended substrates for leopard geckos is sand.

However, sand also happens to be the most commonly identified culprit for impaction.

Many leopard gecko owners will opt to use sand as a substrate for their leopard gecko because it allows your gecko to burrow into the sand, and it’s also incredibly easy for you to remove and replace when you need to.

However, since sand can cause impaction, which could be fatal for your leopard gecko, we feel like the benefits that sand provides are far outweighed by the negatives, and as a result, we will not be recommending any form of sand substrates to be used for your leopard gecko in this article.

Some leopard gecko owners may turn to sand mats as an alternative to regular sand, but the reality is that these are just as unsafe for your leopard gecko too.

Although the sand or rocks featured on a sand mat are generally stuck to the mat itself, it’s not uncommon for loose parts to break off of the mat after a certain amount of time, which could then easily be accidentally ingested by your leopard gecko, and again result in impaction.

So, with all of this in mind, it’s time to go ahead and look at some of the best substrates you can use in your leopard gecko’s tank.

Best Substrates To Use For Your Leopard Gecko

Leopard Gecko

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpet is one of the most commonly recommended substrates to use for your leopard gecko’s tank, and it’s a fantastic choice to go for, it’s known as being super easy to clean up, as well as being completely safe for your leopard gecko.

Reptile carpets get their name due to the fact that they are soft on top, which is great for your leopard gecko, as it means that the substrate won’t irritate your leopard gecko’s skin at all.

On the reverse side of this soft outer layer is a stiff and absorbent liner, which is impossible for your leopard gecko to eat, which will help to ensure that they don’t suffer from impaction.

So it definitely makes an attractive choice for leopard gecko owners!

Reptile carpet is also extremely easy to clean too, and you’re able to remove it and wash it a few times before you need to replace it, which makes cleaning out your leopard gecko’s tank super easy, and also keeps the cost of upkeep of the tank low too.

You should be sure to replace the carpet regularly though, as sometimes loose fibers can end up getting tangled in your leopard gecko’s toes.

Cleaning: Spot clean daily where necessary to remove any fecal matter, wash as instructed on the packaging up to 3 times a month, then replace after the 3rd – 4th wash, or when the fibers begin to loosen.

Risk of impaction: None


Although it might seem less natural, and make your tank slightly unattractive, using newspaper is actually a great way of providing your leopard gecko with a suitable substrate.

Unlike other substrates, you will have to replace the substrate pretty much daily, as you won’t want to promote any bacterial growth that could lead to your leopard gecko becoming infected.

But, compared to other substrates, newspaper is easily accessible and is also much cheaper, so it’s a great backup option if you can’t get a hold of your usual substrate for a couple of days.

Newspapers also can’t be ingested by geckos, which means it’s perfectly safe to use and is usually favored for use with baby or juvenile geckos.

Cleaning: Replace the newspaper if it ends up being wet or soiled. All newspaper lining should be replaced at least twice a week.

Risk of impaction: None

Paper Towels

Another slightly unattractive option for sure, but paper towels are a favored substrate among many leopard gecko owners for numerous reasons.

Using paper towels as a substrate makes it extremely easy to spot where your gecko has soiled, and makes identifying waste areas extremely easy, which ultimately makes cleaning up after your leopard gecko super easy.

Cleaning the substrate in your leopard gecko’s tank is extremely important for their health, so this is a great way of ensuring that they stay healthy.

Another great thing about using paper towels as a substrate is that they won’t irritate your leopard gecko’s skin thanks to their soft texture, plus, they don’t pose any risk of impaction as well, which means that using paper towels as a substrate for your leopard gecko is completely safe.

The only possible downside to using paper towels as a substrate is that leopard geckos do like to burrow, and paper towels aren’t exactly a natural substrate, so your leopard gecko might be slightly disappointed at not being able to burrow in their tank.

However, whether or not your gecko wants to burrow can vary from gecko to gecko, so it might not bother them at all.

Cleaning: Replace the paper towels as and when they are soiled, and replace all of them on a bi-weekly basis.

Risk of impaction: None

Prepackaged Bedding

There are a whole load of different prepackaged bedding options out there, with many of them claiming that they’re going to be the best substrate you can use for your leopard gecko, especially because they help to “replicate their natural environment”, these prepackaged bedding options tend to use crushed or shredded coconuts or shells to help form the substrate.

The problem with a lot of these prepackaged bedding substrates is that they end up causing a similar issue as sand does because it’s actually quite easy for your gecko to accidentally consume some of the substrate, which can lead to them being afflicted with impaction.

Some of the prepackaged bedding options could be used for fully adult geckos, however, it is incredibly important that you do proper research into these products before choosing to use them as a substrate.

As a general rule, you should avoid using dirt, wood chips, or sand as a substrate entirely when it comes to caring for your leopard gecko.

Plus, these prepackaged bedding substrates tend to be a hassle to clean, so they definitely should not be the first choice when it comes to picking a substrate for your gecko!

Cleaning: Depends entirely on the type of prepackaged bedding that you go for, follow the directions found on the packaging.

Risk of impaction: Moderate risk of impaction depends on the bedding, but avoid any kind of nuts, shells, or wood chip-based bedding.


As we previously mentioned, using anything that is small enough to be accidentally ingested by your leopard gecko is not a suitable substrate to be used in your leopard gecko’s tank.

This means that small rocks and stones should definitely be avoided.

However, it is possible that you could use larger stones, or even pieces of slate, to help create a more natural-looking habitat for their leopard gecko, especially since it’s important that you provide them with adequate hiding places and basking spots.

So, if you want to add these to your tank, then you can definitely add slate or large stones as useful decor, but they should be paired with a much more suitable substrate, such as reptile carpet, or newspaper, to provide the best environment for your leopard gecko.

Cleaning: Spot clean as and when is required, remove from the tank and clean completely around once a month.

Risk of impaction: None.


If you’re looking for a suitable substitute for your traditional substrates, then flooring tiles are actually a great replacement for a few reasons!

The best part about flooring tiles is that they’re super easy to spot waste on, and are even easier to clean too, which means maintaining your leopard gecko’s tank hassle-free.

Floor tiling is also great at retaining heat well, so you can be sure that your leopard gecko is going to enjoy laying on them in the heat.

Floor tiles are also completely inedible (obviously), so there’s absolutely no risk of impaction, which means that they’re perfectly safe to use.

Plus, tiles are much more attractive than newspaper or paper towels, so will look great in the bottom of your leopard gecko’s tank!

Cleaning: Spot clean as and when is necessary, daily is best. Remove from the tank entirely and clean thoroughly once a month.

Risk of impaction: None.

Shelf Liner

Although a slightly unusual choice, shelf liners, which are typically used in bathrooms and kitchens, make for a great alternative to the traditional substrate options and are perfectly suitable for use in your leopard gecko’s tank!

Shelf liner is both easy to clean, and also really cheap to buy too, so it’s an excellent choice if you’re looking for a substrate that is cost-effective and easy to maintain.

The only thing to be aware of when buying shelf liner to use as a substrate in your leopard gecko’s tank is that you pick one that is non-adhesive, this is because not only will it make cleaning easier, and prevent any bugs from getting trapped on the substrate, and it won’t irritate your gecko’s skin liked adhesive shelf liner will.

Cleaning your shelf liner on a regular basis is important though, because it can be known to harbor harmful bacteria growth if it is left uncleaned, which most people resolve by topping the liner with paper towels or newspaper to make cleaning easier.

Cleaning: Spot clean as and when necessary, wipe down thoroughly on a weekly basis, and replace either monthly or bi-monthly depending on the type of liner used.

Risk of impaction: None.

Other Things To Consider When Setting Up A Tank

When you begin to set up your leopard gecko’s tank, there are some other things you should consider aside from the substrate.

The first of which is the decor you’re going to add to the tank, geckos love places to hide, and need somewhere with a higher humidity level to help shed their skin, so a hide box is definitely a necessary addition.

You should also ensure that you clean their tank regularly and thoroughly, otherwise you might have issues with things such as mites, which can be a nuisance to your leopard gecko. This is why tank maintenance is so important!


So, to summarize, choosing the correct substrate for your leopard gecko is fairly simple, and as long as you avoid anything that could be accidentally ingested by your gecko, then you should have no problem whatsoever.

Just be sure to clean and maintain your leopard gecko’s tank on a regular basis, and you’ll be sure to have a healthy and happy leopard gecko!

Dorothy Razo