The Best Bearded Dragon Substrate for a Healthy Habitat in 2023

by Joshua Paulson

The Best Bearded Dragon Substrate for a Healthy Habitat in 2023


Most bearded dragon owners assume that providing a spacious enclosure with a variety of food is all that matters. They overlook providing the right substrate or material that lines the bottom of the pet’s enclosure.

Choosing the right substrate goes a long way in ensuring the scaly pet remains healthy. Not only that, but it also provides a comfortable environment that mimics the pet’s natural habitat, ensuring it’s not stressed.

The choice of a good substrate for bearded dragons has been one full of controversy. When people started keeping bearded dragons, a loose substrate made of gravel and sand was common because it resembled its natural habitat. Later on, this was discovered to be unhealthy because the pets could ingest it, and it’s not digestible.

The change in preferences led to the introduction of non-loose substrates such as reptile carpets. As research about these fascinating creatures has increased, there has been a growing understanding of their husbandry that has led to the discovery of the best substrate.

Below is a look at the best-bearded dragon substrate in 2023, as well as a discussion of the tips for maintaining a clean and healthy substrate.

Understanding Substrate and Its Role

For reptile enthusiasts conflicted about owning an iguana vs bearded dragon, substrate is one factor to consider. Each reptile has unique natural behaviors it exhibits in the wild, such as burrowing, digging, and nesting, and bearded dragons are no exception. Keeping these animals as pets doesn’t make these instincts disappear.

A substrate or flooring for a bearded dragon’s enclosure helps to provide an environment mimicking the pet’s natural habitat. This way, the pet will be comfortable and continue living as it would in its natural habitat.

So, when choosing a substrate, it’s always important to have your scaly friend’s needs in mind. Some of the important aspects to consider include:

  • Absorbency: A bearded dragon’s substrate should be able to soak up moisture to prevent the accumulation of urine on the surface. Most importantly, it reduces the build-up of humidity, which can interfere with the pet’s scale shedding.
  • Ease of cleaning: Keeping the pet’s enclosure clean is always paramount for its health. So, it’s necessary to go for a substrate that’s easy to remove waste and spot-clean.
  • Potential ingestion risk: If a bearded dragon is suffering from malnutrition, it looks for the missing nutrients from any digestible matter. So, if its substrate is ingestible, it can feed on it and, as a result, develop digestion issues.

Why It Matters for Bearded Dragons

When it comes to bearded dragon care, considering the substrate is crucial. Choosing the incorrect substrate can affect the scaly companion in a number of ways.

First, if the substrate doesn’t allow the bearded dragon to dig and borrow as it would in the wild, it can lead to stress. When stressed, these pets lose their appetite and become aggressive.

Also, if the bedding for bearded dragons is damp or dusty, they can contract respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. This reduces their overall well-being and lifespan.

The Controversy of Sand and Loose Particles

Bearded dragons are natively from Australian deserts and arid areas. Since this natural habitat predominantly consists of sand, historically, people would use sand and loose particles as bearded dragon beddings.

On the one hand, sand and loose particles are ideal because they allow the beardies to dig and and borrow to regulate their body temperatures. On the other hand, discussions among reptile enthusiasts brought attention to potential health risks associated with sand and loose substrate.

First, bearded dragons are curious creatures and like to explore their surroundings using their tongues. If, in the process, they ingest the soil and lose material, their digestive system gets blocked. In addition, this kind of substrate harbors bacteria, and inhaling them causes respiratory irritation.

Experts such as Vae McCormick, a reptile rehabilitator from Vae’s Exotics, recommend not using sand and loose particles as bearded dragon substrate.

Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons

Bedding choices highly depend on your preferences and your pet’s needs. However, factors such as ease of cleaning and the age and size of the bearded dragon influence the choice of the best substrate. With many options around, this can leave you wondering what bedding is best for bearded dragons.

Here are examples of substrates owners can use for their pet bearded dragons.

Reptile Carpet

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpets are some of the best substrates for bearded dragons of all ages. They are soft, plush materials made from tightly woven, high-density fibers. Their varying patterns and colors mimic the look and feel of natural habitats.

These carpets are easy to clean since you can remove them from the enclosure and shake off any loose debris or machine clean them as needed. With their non-loose nature, you don’t have to worry about the risk of impaction. The best place to find reptile carpets is in an exotic pet store.

The major disadvantage of these carpets is their absorbent nature, which allows them to harbor bacteria that may cause respiratory issues for the reptile. The fibers also get caught on a bearded dragon’s toes and claws.

Ceramic Tiles

Ceramic tiles are popular among pet owners who wish for a more natural look in their bearded dragon’s enclosure. They are among the most popular substrate for reptile husbandry because of their resistance to wear and tear and ease of cleaning. Owners can simply wipe them with a cloth and disinfectant or soapy water.

Tiles do not soak when wet and have heat retention properties that provide bearded dragons with a comfortable and warm space to bask in. Nonetheless, they are prone to developing sharp edges that can cause harm to the pet’s feet. Owners should make sure they smoothen out such edges.

Slate Tile

Slate tiles are fine-grained rocks that are more textured and expensive than ceramics. They are good bedding for bearded dragons due to their more natural appearance. Also, they’re porous, and this prevents them from absorbing liquids, which may stain them or encourage odors and mold growth.

Similar to ceramic tiles, slates retain heat, making them useful in maintaining a suitable temperature gradient in the enclosure. Chipping on the edges, if not properly installed, is a possibility. Pet owners should seek professional help to fit them properly in a bearded dragon’s habitat.

Excavator Clay

Excavator clay is a substrate that hardens when mixed with water. Its moldable nature enables dragon owners to create tunnels and basking spots that resemble natural rock formations. It’s also suitable for burrowing and digging, making it one of the best substrates for bearded dragons since they can behave much like in the wild. The clay holds its form when dry to prevent the tunnels and burrows from collapsing.

However, bearded dragon owners should keep their pets away from the enclosure until the clay dries and hardens well. This is because these pets explore their surrounding with their tongues and can ingest the wet clay.

The only downside of this substrate is that it’s difficult to clean the enclosure without disrupting the setup.

Excavator Clay

Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring comes in many visually appealing designs that resemble natural textures. Some of these styles include vinyl tiles, vinyl sheets, and luxury vinyl planks.

This type of substrate is water resistant, which helps to prevent odors and mold growth. Plus, it has a smooth and shiny surface that allows easy spot cleaning for droppings.

But vinyl’s smooth surface causes slipping as the dragons don’t have any traction with this type of flooring. It also doesn’t retain heat as well as other materials, which means the enclosure can get cold if not fitted with warming pads.

Newspaper and Paper Towels

Dragon owners looking for a cost-effective substrate will find newspapers and paper towels an excellent choice because they are cheap and readily available. They also provide even coverage across the enclosure and do not affect or alter humidity levels.

Newspapers and paper towels are especially good bedding for young bearded dragons who are not heavy enough to tear through. Adults rip up the paper while climbing.

One of the drawbacks of this substrate is its high absorbency, which prevents it from being re-used. Paper material also lacks a natural appearance and may look unattractive in an enclosure.

Bioactive Substrate

As mentioned, bearded dragons naturally like to dig and burrow. Owners who want to break the monotony of traditional substrates can recreate their natural habitats using a bioactive substrate. The main outstanding feature of this substrate is that it’s self-sustaining.

It consists of plants, organic matter, preferably a mixture of coconut husk and sand, and leaf litter. Also, it’s inclusive of microorganisms that help in recycling nutrients and managing waste. This way, the scaly companion is able to exhibit its behavior in the wild. Besides, it’s simple to maintain the substrate because the waste gets recycled.

However, this substrate requires spot-cleaning from time to time. In addition, it’s crucial to select plants that require minimal watering to prevent humidity build-up in the encolure.

Paper-Based Substrates

There are various commercially available paper-based substrates that make good bedding for bearded dragons. Some of these include butcher paper, paper pellets, and reptile-specific paper substrates.

They are highly absorbent, which means they soak up and retain liquids to keep the enclosure dry. This property controls odors well and remains dust-free.

When compared to homemade paper substrates, commercial papers provide better quality and convenience despite being more expensive.

Bearded dragon in terrarium

Safety First: Avoiding Impaction and Other Health Issues

One of the common health issues that bearded dragons experience is the impaction or blocking of the digestive system. The common cause is always ingesting indigestible substrate. As mentioned, this happens when the beardie lacks certain nutrients in the body.

Fortunately, there are ways of preventing this. First is feeding the pet at least once a day and ensuring it’s in a dish instead of serving it directly on the floor. Also, design the enclosure into portions for different activities, such as feeding and hiding.

Mostly, when these pets have impaction or any other health issue, owners will notice their behavioral changes. They might lose their appetite, become withdrawn, or become aggressive. So, it’s important to keep monitoring them. And most importantly, take the pet for a vet check-up every 6 to 12 months.

Tips for Maintaining a Clean and Healthy Substrate

The maintenance of bearded dragons entails thorough cleaning of their enclosures to keep them healthy. Since different owners use different substrates for their pet dragons, cleaning needs also vary in line with the bedding applied.

Here are suggestions on how to clean various substrates.

  • Reptile carpets: Owners can remove the carpet and wash it with mild soap or machine cleaning. They should ensure the carpets are completely dry before placing them back in the enclosure.
  • Ceramic tiles, slate tiles, and vinyl flooring: These types of substrates have similar cleaning methods. You can use pieces of cloth or brushes to scrub off any stuck debris and wipe the surfaces with a disinfectant or a mixture of vinegar and water.
  • Paper towels and newspapers: Paper substrates get easily soiled or torn apart as the bearded dragons move about. Pet owners should monitor and replace them with fresh ones regularly to prevent odors and impaction from ingested pieces.
  • Excavator clay: Beardie keepers with such substrates in their enclosures can clean them by using soft bristled brushes to sweep off the soiled substrate. They can also sift the clay with small sieves to remove waste and debris.

Bearded Dragon

Make the Right Choice for Your Scaly Friend

Generally, the best substrate for bearded dragons should ensure overall health and safety. Loose substrate is not suitable because these scaly companions can ingest it and experience impaction. Also, it’s hard to clean, and the dust can cause respiratory diseases. Find out more about your options at Quality Cage for the best bearded dragon enclosures and exotic pet supplies.


What is the best bioactive substrate for bearded dragons?

The best bioactive substrate for bearded dragons is coconut hust, sand, and leaf litter. It provides a suitable texture for digging. Plus, it’s also absorbent and prevents humidity build-up.

What type of soil do bearded dragons need?

Bearded dragons need compacted clay-like sand, which is a 50-50 mixture of fine-grained sand and clay soil. It’s suitable because it creates a solid surface that mimics parts of the wild where bearded dragons originate.

What is the safest substrate for a bearded dragon?

The safest substrate for bearded dragons is one that has no risk of impaction. Such surfaces provide a solid surface that’s not only safe but easy to maintain. Examples include ceramic tiles, reptile carpets, and excavator clay.

Can I use coco coir for bearded dragons?

Yes, you can use coco coir for bearded dragons. It’s less likely to cause compaction, and it helps to maintain suitable levels of humidity in the bearded dragon’s enclosure.

How does substrate choice affect the health of my bearded dragon?

Substrate can affect your bearded dragon’s health positively or negatively. For instance, choosing a substrate that doesn’t imitate the pet’s natural habitat can result in respiratory discomfort and behavioral changes.

What are the environmental benefits of choosing a sustainable substrate?

Sustainable substrate uses renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable material. This reduces the carbon footprint as the demand for synthetic materials will decrease.

How deep should the substrate be in a bearded dragon’s enclosure?

The substrate depth of a bearded dragon differs depending on the size. Typically, adult bearded dragons require a 4 to 6-foot-deep substrate for digging and burrowing.

Can I mix different substrates, and what are the benefits?

Yes, you can mix different substrates because this provides varying textures that simulate the scaly’s natural environment.

What do experts say about the best substrates for bearded dragons?

Experts say the best substrates for bearded dragons are non-loose ones that reduce risks of impaction.


Have Questions About Bearded Dragon Care?

Email us at

Author: Joshua Paulson and Quality Cage Team
Josh is the owner and CEO at Quality Cage Crafters since 2015. During his time at Quality Cage Crafters he has been able to learn from tens of thousands of pet owners and pet educators. He blends his ambition for manufacturing and passion for animal care to create solutions for pet owners, breeders, animal rescues, and zoos. He has brought together a team of great animal lovers to create high quality pet care content for the Quality Cage Crafters audience.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.