When it comes to choosing the best substrate for bearded dragons, there are two basic types to choose from. There are pros and cons to both types, and with conflicting information out there it can be difficult to make an informed choice.
Which means that all you can do is educate yourself on all the substrate options out there, and then make the best personal decision on the best substrate for your bearded dragon based on it.
The first type, particle substrates, allow a bearded dragon to dig, which is something they do naturally and can be emotionally beneficial. However, you do need to consider the following potential problems with particle substrates:
- There is a risk of impaction from ingestion
- Particle substrate is more difficult to keep clean
- There is a risk of infection from bacteria growing
However, you shouldn’t get too hung up on their need to dig. Bearded dragons come from an environment where there is actually an incredible amount of rocky terrain and not a lot of sand at times, so although it’s nice thing to provide them, it’s not something that is essential to their well-being.
The second type, non-particle substrate, usually comes in a roll of fabric material that you simply lay on the floor of your bearded dragons terrarium. They are easy to clean, but again you have negatives to consider:
- The claws of the bearded dragon can sometimes get caught in them
- A separate digging source will have to be considered
- When you wash them you will need a second while it is drying
So there are pros and cons to both basic types, and it is very much personal choice in determining what you consider to be the best substrate for bearded dragons. In fact, trial and error with different types over weeks and months will help you work out what’s best for your pet.
To help you to make an informed decision, we’ve put together a bearded dragon substrate buying guide, giving you a quick overview of the main types available.
On top of that, we are also going to take a detailed look at five high quality bearded dragon terrarium substrate products, reviewing each one in depth to help you in deciding which type to consider for your pet.
Bearded Dragon Substrate Types: Buying Guide
When it comes to considering the use of sand or clay as the substrate for a bearded dragon terrarium, there is far more to it than you would at first think.
In terms of sand, there are several different types to consider. You can use everyday sand that has not been refined in any way, but there are also more specialist types available now such as calcium sand and special colored sands that may work better.
Normal sand contain a lot of variation in what it contains and if ingested could cause problems. So just grabbing a bag builder sand or place and is not a great option, however attractive it seems due to the low price.
The problem with calcium sand is that contains a high proportion of calcium carbonate. One potential side effect is that if it ingested it can neutralist stomach acids, making food digestion more difficult.
Colored sands also suffer from the same ingestion problems, as well as having the potential to stain the skin of your bearded dragon, which is obviously not ideal.
Clay is a slightly better choice than sand, especially in terms of giving the dragon something to dig in. However on the downside it can be incredibly difficult to keep clean.
Specialist clay products allow burrowing that retains its shape, so that your bearded dragon can create tunnels, however it can become quite expensive to constantly provide enough clay to achieve this, while keeping it clean. On top of that it can harden and require regular dampening soften the reshaping and reuse.
A popular choice of non-particle substrate are special reptile carpets. These basically come as a roll and are often felt or a similar fabric. However, there are more advanced forms around now which have a simulated sand texture on them.
These carpets are ideal for bearded dragons in terms of cleanliness and convenience, but they can be problematic in terms of digging. There have been issues with dragons getting their claws stuck in them, and unless an alternative digging source is provided then they can get ripped up quite quickly.
Some bearded Dragon owners use newspaper, or specially designed paper-based lining products.
These can be affordable and practical. You don’t have to worry about impactation, and it’s a practical substance for digging in.
However, paper-based substrate can retain humidity easily, and will need replacing very frequently. If left damp they can also become breeding grounds for bacteria.
Bark & Mulch
Some people do use bark or mulch. However it is generally not considered the best substrate for bearded dragons due to its ability to maintain humidity, making the environment more humid than it should be.
A variation on using bark is wood chips or sawdust. However these rarely provide the best substrate for bearded dragons due to sharp edges in the chips, and even in softer sawdust. This makes impaction a real possibility and more dangerous should it occur.
On top of that, sawdust and even rough chip can become compacted when damp and will also retain smells easily, in addition to becoming a breeding ground for bacteria.
A growing trend is towards lining the base of a bearded dragons terrarium with ceramic tiles. There are several practical advantages, including cleanliness and the absolute zero risk of impaction.
On top of that, ceramic tiles retain heat in an even and controllable way. You can also use ceramic tiles as the base on which you put a thin layer of a particle substrate to create a hybrid environment that retains heat, is clean, and has some variation in it over plain tiles.
However, they are a little soulless, and you will still need to provide some sort of digging option for your bearded dragon you want to allow it to have that natural outlet.
1. Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner
If you’re looking for a high quality, low maintenance bearded dragon substrate liner, then this terrarium bedding sheet from Zilla is superb option.
It’s a fast, safe way of providing an environment suitable for a bearded dragon that they will feel comfortable on and thrive with.
It’s made from an absorbent and non-abrasive material that minimizes the chance of your pet catching it’s claws. However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible and keeping claws trimmed with this sort of bearded dragon substrate is essential.
On top of that, it’s impregnated with a biodegradable enzyme that helps to fight odors, keeping the environment smelling clean. This enzyme remains in place even after maintenance cleaning with water.
|Low maintenance, simply cut and place|
|Cannot be ingested|
|Biodegradable enzyme that is water resistant|
|Automated reordering service if you don’t want to keep ordering replacements|
|Not large enough for bigger terrariums (40 gallons+)|
|You might need two as washing will require drying time|
|Always a chance of claws getting snagged|
2. Zoo Med Excavating Clay Burrowing Substrate
This is a premium burrowing clay specifically designed for bearded dragons. It is easy to burrow into, plus is durable enough to create terraces and textures to further enhance the layout of the floor of your terrarium.
It’s an all natural product that does not contain additives, coloring or chemicals of any type, which makes it an ideal natural solution.
It’s a mid-price range product and to get the full potential out of it is not going to be cheap however, but if you’re willing to spend a little more on creating a varied environment for your bearded dragon then certainly great option.
|Can be sculpted and retains its shape safely|
|Completely all natural product|
|Ideal for owners who wants to get imaginative with their pets environment|
|Can dry quite hard and needs spraying to allow reshaping|
|Difficult to keep clean in hard to reach areas|
3. Zilla Ground English Walnut Shells Desert Blend
If you are looking for slightly more unusual, but incredibly practical particle substrate in order to provide the best environment for your bearded dragon then ground walnut shell blends are incredibly affordable and durable.
This large 10 quart bag of ground English Walnut shells from Zilla helps to replicate a natural looking environment for your bearded dragon.
It’s durable like sand, but not inconsistent in the same way. Walnut shells are also free from sharp edges, which means you won’t get scratched glass.
Around 2 inches will be enough to provide a fantastic natural environment that allows digging. However, because of its loose nature of walnut shells, and the way that they don’t retain their shape, it’s not suitable for much younger and smaller dragons if it is deeper than an inch.
|Allows natural digging behavior|
|Easier to maintain than sand|
|Excellent heat conductor|
|Does not produce dust|
|Smaller and younger dragons might struggle in it|
|Can be easily kicked around and get into open water|
4. Zoo Med Repti Sand Desert White
This is a very competitively priced particle substrate that is completely natural and in addition is white, giving a slightly different look to your bearded dragons terrarium.
As with other particle substrates, it stimulates natural digging behavior and can provide a relaxing and fun environment for your dragon.
A strong selling point in this sand from Zoo Med is that it is fine, consistent and doesn’t contain anything else. Normal sand has small rocks and other inconsistencies, which this specialist product does not suffer from.
So you get the heaviness of sand, allowing constructive digging, plus a fine and consistent look, and it doesn’t contain calcium or quartz which could be a problem if the sand is ingested.
|The white color of the sand gives a fantastic look|
|Good for bearded dragons to dig in|
|More consistent than normal sand|
|Doesn’t contain impurities|
|Very fine grained and soft|
|Will not stain your bearded dragons skin|
|Reports of bags being ripped in transit|
|Can be difficult to maintain hygiene as with other particle substrates|
5. Zoo Med ReptiFresh Odor Eliminating Substrate
ReptiFresh from Zoo Med is an odor eliminating particle substrate specially designed for terrarium use.
It can be used on its own, or mixed in with high quality sand to create a clean environment that encourages the natural behavior of digging. If you want to take it to the next level it can also be mixed in with the same companies clay burrowing substrate to create an environment that is exciting but stays fresh for longer.
It’s coarser than sand, which is why some people prefer to mix it in with sand products to get a finer substrate. However it is perfectly fine to use on its own and is not dusty.
Its key benefit is certainly the way that it can be mixed in with sand to provide odor protection, working in the same way as treated cat litters do. Mixed with sand it, in practical terms it could provide the best substrate for bearded dragons.
However, it can get quite expensive to use ReptiFresh because the odor fighting ability does not last for a huge amount of time. So refreshing your substrate and keeping a constant fresh supply of ReptiFresh going into it is vital.
|Incredibly good at reducing odor|
|Mixes well with sand or clay|
|Consistent sized granules|
|Produces very little dust|
|Will require regular refreshing|
|Larger particles could be problematic if ingested|