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5 Best Substrates for Leopard Geckos (& 3 You Should Avoid!)

I get this question ALL the time: “What is the best substrate for leopard geckos?”

Typically, I find that every person will give you a different answer to this question. Some people think it’s paper towel while others prefer loose substrates.

However, after doing countless hours of research and testing-out every substrate under the sun, I’ve come to the following conclusion:

The best substrate for leopard geckos is Eco Earth. It’s inexpensive, retains heat, is great for laying eggs, absorbs unpleasant odors, is easy to cleanup, and is easily digestible (in case your leopard gecko swallows it). Furthermore, Eco Earth will provide a natural look and feel that will make you leopard gecko feel as if it were in the wild.

However, there are several other great options you can use as a substrate as well. So, now that we know my personal favorite, let’s dive a little deeper into the various options you have and their pros and cons.

Furthermore, we’re going to go over the three popular substrates that you should NEVER use for leopard geckos.

Jump to..

Eco Earth

Eco Earth is easily one of my favorite substrates for leopard geckos and for many different reasons.

First and foremost, Eco Earth is very inexpensive. You can purchase a bag for a few dollars, and it should last you several long weeks. Additionally, Eco Earth is easy to find. They usually have it in most large pet stores such as Petco and PetSmart. Moreover, Eco Earth masks the smell of your leopard geckos poop and is very easy to clean. You simply scoop up the poop and you’re done. You don’t have to immediately replace it like you would with paper towel. Finally, Eco Earth looks and feels natural. Your leopard gecko can dig in it, poop in it, play in it, and basically anything it wants. It’s also the best substrate for laying eggs.

There are a few to consider when it comes to Eco Earth, however. This includes the fact that it’s a little messy. Keep in mind, it is dirt we’re dealing with here. Therefore, when you take your leopard gecko out, it may have some dirt of its feet. It may also give your room an “earthy” scent to it since it is natural. Finally, Eco Earth comes in a compact brick and takes a very long time to dry out before it’s ready to use for the first time. However, you can buy it “loose” which means it is already dried out and ready for use right away. We highly recommend buying it this way!

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Inexpensive
  • Safe
  • Easy to clean
  • Natural look and feel
  • Great for laying eggs
  • Easy to find in pet stores
  • Absorbs bad odors
PROS

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • Smells earthy (some people don't mind, some do)
  • Must be dried out before use (which takes a while)
CONS

Vinyl

Vinyl is a less popular choice but despite its lack of popularity, it is easily one of the best substrates you can use for your leopard geckos enclosure. Luckily, it is catching on with the reptile crowd and more people are starting to use it in their enclosures.

The great thing about vinyl is that it’s super easy to maintain. When your leopard gecko poops, all you have to do is take an organic wet wipe and clean it right up. Best of all, you never have to replace it. Moreover, insects can’t hide under vinyl which is a common problem with most other substrates. Finally, vinyl substrate comes in tons of different colors and styles. You can get anything from gray, black, white, or wood or brick designs. Therefore, you can really give your enclosure a custom look with this substrate.

Although vinyl is one of the best leopard geckos substrates, it can be a bit on the expensive side. Also, you probably won’t find it in your local pet store. Instead, you’ll probably have to look at your local Walmart or Home Depot. Other than that, vinyl is an excellent choice and if you’re not interested in Eco Earth or any other loose substrate, vinyl is definitely the way to go.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Many different styles allows you to customize the appearance of your enclosure
  • Super easy to clean
  • Never have to replace it
  • Insects can’t hide underneath it
PROS

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • Can be expensive
  • Not typically available at pets stores
CONS

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpet is another one of the more popular choices among leopard gecko owners and rightfully so.

Reptile carpet is a great option, especially is you’re looking for something that is low maintenance and easy to install. It looks fairly natural (more natural than paper towel at least) and it’s also relatively cheap. Also, it can be easy to clean since you can use a vacuum or scrub it with a rag. Moreover, your leopard gecko can’t swallow it, so you don’t have to worry about impaction.

Although reptile carpet is a decent substrate option, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with its list of cons. The first and most prominent con is the fact that your leopard geckos claws can get stuck in the carpet. I’ve personally witnessed this issue and it can be uncomfortable for your reptile. Furthermore, although reptile carpet is pretty easy to clean, calcium powder tends to get all over the carpet and this can be very annoying to clean.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Easy to install
  • Inexpensive
  • Looks decent
  • Can’t ingest
PROS

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • Calcium powder gets stuck to it
  • Claws can get stuck
CONS

Exo Terra Plantation Soil

Another amazing substrate you can use for your leopard gecko is Exo Terra Plantation Soil.

Plantation Soil is similar to Eco Earth in many ways. It comes in a brick and must be dried out, it’s loose, and it’s super easy to maintain. In fact, you only have to change it out once every six months. It smells very natural and it absorbs the smell of poop very effectively. Similar to Eco Earth, your leopard gecko can safely swallow and digest it in case the accidentally eat it along with their food.

Exo Terra Plantation Soil does have couple cons. The most common issue people complain about is the fact that it takes forever to dry out. Like Eco Earth, it comes in a brick and you must dry it out to expand it before use. Furthermore, some people complain that it doesn’t always break up well and sometimes you’ll find an occasional chunk of bark or dirt

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Looks good
  • Natural
  • Only have to replace twice a year
  • Self-cleaning
PROS

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • Can be a little clumpy
  • Must dry it out to expand it before use
CONS

Organic Paper Towel

Ahh – paper towel – the substate that 90% of beginners start with when they first get their leopard gecko.

The truth is, paper towel isn’t bad. In fact, it works pretty well and is considerably better than a lot of other substrates. It’s easy to clean since all you have to do is replace it every time your leopard gecko poops. Furthermore, it is relatively safe as your leopard gecko can’t swallow it. It’s also a good idea to get organic when you buy anything for your leopard gecko that isn’t intended for reptiles.

Although paper towel works fairly well, that’s not to say it doesn’t have its downfalls. Although it’s easy to clean, you’re going to have to be replacing your substrate constantly. Trust me, this will get very annoying fast! Furthermore, paper towel smells really bad. It does a very poor job of masking or absorbing the odor of your leopard geckos poop. Last but not least, paper towel looks bad. It doesn’t look natural and it gives your enclosure a very cheap feel.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Inexpensive
  • Safe
  • Easy to clean
PROS

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • Requires frequent replacing
  • Smells bad
  • Looks cheap
  • Bugs may hide underneath it
CONS

3 Leopard Gecko Substrates to Avoid

Now that we’ve covered some of the best leopard gecko substrates, lets go over some of the ones you should avoid at all costs. Using these substrates can lead to impaction, injury, or even death. Therefore, it’s important that you take note of these dangerous substrates!

Calcium Sand

At one point in time, Calcium Sand, also known as Calci-Sand, was thought to be one of the best substrates on the market.

However, people started to notice that their leopard geckos were getting sick and dying. Not long after, we realized it was due to impaction caused by the Calci-Sand.

If you’re not already familiar, impaction is basically when a reptile swallows something and they are unable to digest it. Thereafter, it basically stays in their body and builds up over time. Usually, if it’s caught early enough, you can treat your leopard gecko. However, if you wait too long, it can lead to death.

This is why Calci-Sand should be avoided like the plague. It’s very easy to swallow because it gets stuck to your leopard geckos food. Moreover, they may accidentally eat it while trying to catch prey.

All in all, stay away from Calci-Sand! Even if you hear someone else using it with no problems, it’s not worth the potential risk as you never know how your leopard gecko will react.

Gravel

Some people like to use gravel as a substrate for their leopard geckos enclosure. I highly advise against this.

Gravel, similar to Calcium Sand, is ingestible. Your leopard gecko will more than likely accidentally eat a piece of gravel at some point. Unfortunately, once they do, they will probably not be able to digest it. As a result, your leopard gecko will more than likely suffer from impaction and require veterinarian care.

Gravel may be cheap and seem like its easy to clean, but it’s not worth the potential risks. If you want to use a natural looking loose substrate, you should either go with Eco-Earth or Exo-Terra Plantation Soil.

Large rocks

I’ve seen this in a few enclosures and it definitely should be avoided. People will stack large rocks in their leopard geckos tank and spread them out throughout the bottom as a substrate.

While the concept is nice and it usually looks pretty cool in your tank, it’s actually quite dangerous for your leopard gecko. Even though they can’t swallow it, they can get injured.

The first way they could get injured is if a large rock falls on them. Leopard geckos are very lightweight so if a large enough rock topples on top of them, it could lead to serious or even fatal injuries.

Moreover, even if the rocks don’t fall because they are glued together, they could still cut your leopard gecko on the jagged edges.

Plus, your leopard gecko may get caught in between the rocks. Even though leopard geckos are pretty athletic, it’s very possible they get stuck in between two rocks and can’t move.

Finally, large rocks will give crickets and bugs places to hide. Therefore, your leopard gecko may struggle with hunting and you may end up with bugs living in your tank. This alone is bad enough, but crickets can actually feed on your leopard geckos toes if they are left in the enclosure. Trust me, you definitely don’t want that.

Tips for Your Leopard Geckos Substrate

Test Different Substrates

If you’re trying to determine which substrate to use, just try different ones until you find the one that works best for you and your leopard gecko. Sometimes, one substrate will work great for one leopard gecko and won’t work at all for the next. It’s all about trial and error and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

Keep Your Substrate Clean

One of the biggest concerns people have when choosing a substrate is determining how easy it’s going to be to clean.

This is understandable as poop is not only unsightly, but can make your house or room smell pretty awful.

Fortunately, there’s a fairly simple fix to this. This is especially useful for those with reptile carpet, artificial grass, or other substrates that are difficult to clean poop.

Basically, leopard geckos like to poop in the same spot every time. Almost all leopard geckos do this, and they usually do it in the corner of their tank.

All you need to do it place a piece of paper towel in that particular area where they like to poop. Once they poop on the paper towel, toss it out and add more.

Use Multiple Substrates

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your enclosures setup! Throw in a combination of substrates and see how your leopard gecko reacts. More than likely, they’ll enjoy it since in the wild, they will come across various different substrates.

For example, you could use vinyl or tile in one part of the enclosure, Eco-Earth on the other side, and put a couple large rocks (not too big that they’re dangerous but not too small that they’re ingestible).

Customizing your enclosure can be super fun and will really pay off when you see your leopard gecko having a great time!

Conclusion

Finding the best leopard gecko substrate doesn’t have to be a difficult task. There are plenty of great options out there including Eco-Earth, vinyl, artificial grass, reptile carpet, and Exo-Terra Plantation Soil. Most of these substrates are easy to clean, relatively inexpensive, and don’t require too much maintenance.

However, it’s also important to remember that there are various other substrates that are bad for your leopard gecko. Some of these include Calcium Sand, large rocks, and gravel. Using these substrates can lead to dangerous, sometimes deadly consequences.

So, we really hope this guide helps you find the perfect substrate for your leopard gecko! Be sure to check out our various other guides on leopard geckos!

As always, have a great day, fellow reptilians!

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