Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons: The 5 Best (and Safest) Choices

When you’re designing your dream home, your choices for flooring are virtually endless! From lush carpet, to hardwood floors, and beautiful tile… there is no shortage of options for great flooring.

However, when it comes to the flooring or “substrate” in your bearded dragon’s enclosure, the options aren’t nearly so endless…

You see, bearded dragons need specific types of substrates that will not only help them feel at home in their tank, but also keep them healthy.

And unfortunately, not all substrates are created equal. As such, you’ll want to do your due diligence to ensure you make the BEST  decision for your pet’s habitat.

In less than 10 minutes this article will have you well on your way to

  • Understanding the different substrates available
  • Knowing the pros and cons behind each bearded dragon substrate
  • Learning the best substrate cleaning techniques
  • And so much more!

So, simply keep reading to fast-track your understanding of the best substrate for bearded dragons! Your beardie will thank you.

Curious or in a hurry? 
Buyer’s Tip: These specific substrate options are MOST popular amongst our readers because they’re affordable, safe, and easy to maintain. 

What Are the Different Kinds of Bearded Dragon Substrates?

Before diving headfirst into the top picks for bearded dragon substrate, let’s briefly go over the differences between substrates.

Loose Particle Substrates

When talking about reptile substrates as a whole, you’re going to need to be able to distinguish between 2 unique groups. The first group, known as “loose particle substrates”, consist of substrates which are made up of many individual pieces of material.

Some popular examples of loose particle substrates include:

  • Play sand and calcium sand
  • Crushed walnut shells
  • Alfalfa pellets
  • Millet
  • Wood chips/shavings

Many bearded dragon owners are going to advise AGAINST you using a loose particle substrate. Why?

Well, because loose particle substrates are in fact, loose, they present potential health risks to your dragon since they can not only be ingested but can also come into contact with the eyes and nose, potentially leading to serious infections.

Baby bearded dragons especially have been known to ingest particles while eating as they are not the most skilled and graceful hunters.

If you are adamant about using a loose particle substrate, I recommend you keep a VERY close eye on your dragon and avoid using it completely with a baby.

Non-Particle Substrate

The second type of substrate is regarded as “non particle substrate”. As the name implies, this type of substrate isn’t particle based, meaning it’s a solid piece of something.

Some popular examples of non-particle substrates include:

  • Newspapper
  • Ceramic tile for bearded dragons
  • Reptile Carpet
  • Rubber shelf Liner

Non-particle substrates are an all-around safer option for your bearded dragon. This is because they don’t run the risk of causing them to become impacted nor do they get stirred up easily and end up irritating your beardie’s nose or eyes.

They also tend to be the easiest to clean and as such, don’t present the risk of parasites and hygiene issues that loose particle substrates do.

The Best Substrates for Bearded Dragons

From reptile tile substrate to bearded dragon carpet, we’re breaking down the BEST substrates for bearded dragons. All of the options below are tried and true and have earned a spot on this list due to being:

  • Affordable
  • Accessible
  • Easy to maintain/clean
  • Safe for bearded dragons

Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons #1: Reptile Carpet for Bearded Dragons

Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner, Green, 40BR/50G

The top pick on our list has got to be bearded dragon carpet. Why? So many reasons!

For starters, it poses absolutely ZERO health risks. Because the carpet is solid, you’ll never have to fear about your bearded dragon ingesting it or becoming irritated by it. 

Additionally, bearded dragon carpet can be cut to size to fit any enclosure. This means you can easily and effortlessly customize your beardie’s tank.

The one downside to reptile carpet? It’s not exactly the easiest to clean.

In fact, if you’re going to go this route, I recommend having 2 carpets on hand that way you can switch one out for the other during cleanings. 

You’ll want to spot clean as often as possible to keep smells and bacteria to a minimum. For specific instructions, see the bottom of this post for how to clean reptile carpet. 

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons #2: Bearded Dragon Substrate Tiles

ceramic tile for bearded dragons is one of the best substrate for bearded dragons
Tile as a reptile substrate provides an easy solution for those looking for ways to keep bacteria at a minimum!

Whether slate, linoleum, or ceramic, tile is a great option for bearded dragon’s substrate. On top of being super affordable it is also low maintenance in that you never have to replace it!

Another benefit to tile is that it actually can help keep your bearded dragon’s claws trimmed.

This will be especially helpful for those who hate trimming their pet’s nails or have placed items such as rope hammocks in the enclosure that can catch their beardie’s claws.

Now, there are some small cons with tile, such as how slippery it can be. However, an easy way to get around this is making sure your dragon has plenty of other things to climb around on so they’re not always on the tile.

And if the tile is still too slippery? Well, simply use a little bit of non-toxic adhesive and some topsoil or sand to add some traction and make it a little grittier.

You won’t risk impaction as the sand will be glued to the tile and really fine – no need to coat the whole piece of tile completely!

🤓Expert Tip: Most bearded dragon tanks’ dimensions are taken from the outside and don’t always accurately represent the internal dimensions. As such, you will need to measure inside before having your tile cut to ensure everything fits. Also, to ensure assembly is easy after every deep clean, consider marking the tiles on one side with a sharpe to indicate where they go within the tank.  

In terms of where to get tile, you can go to any hardware store like Lowes or Home Depot and have them cut you the sizes you need. If they’re charging a lot to have the tile cut, try going to a tile store.

One last thing to keep in mind is to make sure you use a tile that does NOT reflect light/heat, but instead absorbs it. This is so important because your bearded dragon’s substrate should never be cold to the touch. 

Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons #3: Rubber Shelf Liner

Duck Smooth Top Easy Non-Adhesive Shelf liner, White, 12-inch x 20 Feet

A bit of a new discovery amongst bearded dragon enthusiasts, is shelf liner as a substrate.

Easy to clean and relatively inexpensive, shelf liner makes a GREAT substrate option and can last up to several years before needing to be replaced.

This is an especially great option for those looking for something fast and convenient, that they don’t have to deep clean more than once a week or so.

If you have high hopes of later customizing you beardie’s cage with tile or something else, but are short on time (or cash) at the moment, shelf liner will surely be your best bet!

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons #4: Clay Substrate for Bearded Dragons (AKA Excavator Clay)

Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate, 10 Pounds

Another option for substrates is excavator clay, which gives you the ability to actually form tunnels and hills for your bearded dragon.

By far the best option for a bearded dragon digging substrate, Excavator Clay is a great option for those willing to take the time and effort needed to really spend some time building a unique enclosure.

It should be noted that depending on the size of the enclosure, you could need 20 or more pounds of excavator clay.

However, you can always use the clay in just part of the enclosure as well. It works well on top of tile.

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons #5: Newspaper/Paper Towels

The most affordable substrate option by a landslide is going to be newspaper or paper towels.

The beauty of these is that they make cleaning your beardie’s cage really easy and fast.

This means that those who work long hours or spend less time at home will be able to still ensure their pet’s cage is clean.

Newspaper and paper towels are also wonderful options if you’re on a really tight budget or maybe are buying time between actually setting up something more permanent like tile.

Just make sure you regularly (Read: Daily) switch out soiled newspaper and paper towels to avoid leaving germs in your bearded dragons tank.

Is Crushed Walnut Good for Bearded Dragons?

Often found at pet stores, you may find yourself wondering if crushed walnut is safe for bearded dragons.

I mean, it’s all-natural… right?

While it might seem like a safe choice at first glance, crushed walnut actually proposes plenty of problems and it’s not the best substrate for bearded dragons.

From generating dust that can irritate a bearded dragon’s eye or nose, to having sharp edges that can actually break skin and cause bleeding or worse, internal injury, you’d be best to just avoid this altogether.

Is Sand Bad for Bearded Dragons?

bearded dragon stained from play sand
As you’ll come to find out after reading the section below, sand in any form makes a poor choice of substrate for bearded dragons. As seen in the image above, play sand, amongst other faux pas, can actually stain your bearded dragon’s skin!

A popular option at most pet stores, sand is one of the most frequently used substrates amongst owners. However, don’t let its popularity fool you…

First, it is important to note that when talking about sand for bearded dragons, we will be discussing 2 different variations, calcium sand and play sand.

Calcium sand is this sneaky sand that was designed to try and fool reptile owners into thinking it’s a “safe sand” since it has calcium in it. However, nothing could be further from the truth!

Many pet stores will tell you that calcium sand is safe and digestible but it most certainly isn’t. In fact, calcium sand is just as likely to lead to impaction issues as any regular old sand you might pick up at a hardware store. 

And while one might think that calcium sand would pose little to no threat given the importance of calcium in a bearded dragon’s diet, you’d be wise to think again.

🤓Expert Tip: Don’t let the name of popular brands like “Calci-Sand” fool you! Calcium sand is NOT digestible or safe for consumption by bearded dragons! You’d be wise to avoid it at all costs to ensure the utmost safety of your pet.

On the flip side, play sand is a better sand option than calcium sand. However, play sand is still not really an ideal substrate for bearded dragons because of the ingestion and infection risk.

Also, play sand, despite the name, isn’t necessarily ideal for “playing” since it doesn’t hold its shape well. So, if your beardie is looking to dig in their substrate, you can pretty much forget about play sand holding up.

Now, you could dampen it some, but then you’re likely just going to raise the humidity level in the tank and that will present a whole other array of issues.

Also, play sand has been known to literally STAIN bearded dragons’ skin. So unfortunately, there’s that to consider as well.

And lastly, as if there were not already enough reasons why sand of any sort makes a bad choice for substrate, we must now consider how hygienic it actually is.

When your bearded dragon poops in sand and you scoop the poop out, you’re bound to leave behind fecal matter, be it in juices, flecks, or both. 

Between the juices and flecks, your beardie can be plagued with parasites and health issues if these remnants are ingested or come in contact with food.

A bearded dragon that has sand substrate is essentially LIVING in one big litter box.

I don’t know about you, but I personally would not want to subject my pet to that.

Other Kinds of Bearded Dragon Substrates

So, you now know all about the most popular types of substrate as well as our top picks. But, what about other substrates?

Read on to discover the pros and mostly cons behind some other forms of particle based substrates.

Wood Chips/Shavings Substrate for Bearded Dragons

wood chips for bearded dragon substrate-min
Don’t let this cozy little guy fool you… wood chips and shavings are by no means a safe option for bearded dragon substrate.

Another substrate that might seem fairly innocent is that of wood chips or wood shavings.

However, I recommend avoiding this as a substrate since most kinds of wood are toxic for bearded dragons.

And should you somehow be able to find wood chips or shavings in a type of wood that ISN’T toxic? Well, you’d still be risking splinters

Bottom line? Avoid this as a substrate.

Alfalfa Pellets Substrate for Bearded Dragons

One of the only truly digestible substrates, Alfalfa pellets are perhaps a better loose particle option than many of the ones above.

However, they too can present the risk of impaction if too many are consumed. 

Also, just as with any other loose particle substrate, there is still the risk of parasites being left behind from urine and feces.

If you have your mind made up that you want to use a loose substrate (first of all, why?), then this is really the only one I can recommend.

Although, make no mistake… it’s by NO means my first choice. 

Millet Substrate for Bearded Dragons

Similar to everything mentioned above, millet also can cause impaction when ingested, can mold (gross), and lead to the spreading of bacteria and parasites.

In general? Skip this option.

How to Clean Bearded Dragon Substrate

Naturally, you may be considering how easy a specific substrate is to clean before making any purchases.

Or, perhaps you’ve selected your bearded dragon’s substrate but need some advice on how to keep it from smelling and harboring bacteria and parasites?

Either way, simply check out the tips below on how to keep your beardie’s substrate squeaky clean!

Buyer’s Tip: Need help eliminating odor? This plant-based and eco friendly odor eliminator works great! 

How to Clean Reptile Carpet

Truly, the only real con with reptile carpet is that it requires you to be vigilant in removing waste. Let waste sit for too long and the carpet will be past the point of simply spot cleaning.

However, if you are able to remove waste in a timely manner and commit to a deep cleaning at least once a month, reptile carpet is your best bet.

To spot clean, opt for a non-toxic cleaner of your choosing. I personally like F10SC, which can be diluted with water and provides a residual bacteria killing effect.

For your deep clean, throw the carpet into the washer and wash with hot water and mild fragrance-free soap.

🤓Expert Tip: Since you will need to remove reptile carpet for a deep cleaning at least once a month, it is helpful to have multiple reptile carpets on hand to switch in and out. This can also save you some stress and hassle in instances where you fail to spot clean quickly or miss waste.

How to Clean Ceramic Tile for Bearded Dragons

One of the major selling points for tile as a bearded dragon substrate is how easy it is to clean and maintain! 

Naturally, you’ll want to remove waste every single day, as soon as you see it. After, be sure to immediately disinfect with either a veterinary grade cleaner like this one OR a 9:1 mixture of water to red wine vinegar.

Be sure to let the disinfectant of your choosing sit for 10 minutes before rinsing clean. Do NOT place tile back into your beardie’s tank with remaining chemicals or if wet.

At least once a month give the tile a disinfecting by baking them in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-60 minutes. Be sure to let them cool completely before placing them back in your bearded dragon’s enclosure. 

⭐️Fun Fact:  Did you know? Red wine vinegar has actually been proven to be a whopping 100X more efficient at killing bacteria than bleach alone! As such, it makes a great household (not to mention affordable!) disinfectant to have on hand.

How to Clean Loose Particle Substrate

When it comes to cleaning loose particle substrates like sand or millet, your only option is to use a scooper to remove waste. Naturally, you’ll want to completely replace the entire tank’s worth of substrate at minimum every 2 months or so. 

Impaction issues aside, it will be impossible to remove every piece of waste with loose particle substrate, which is why no one in their right mind recommends it.

Wrapping Up Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons

So in conclusion, when it comes to choosing the right substrate for your bearded dragon, you will have several options to consider, typically categorized into either the “loose particle” or “non-particle” substrate categories.

Loose particle substrates are going to present several health hazards and hygiene concerns and as such, do not make as safe of substrates as non-particle or solid options.

As such, myself and virtually any other bearded dragon owner is going to recommend you stick to non-particle based substrate options. 


I’m Stacey, the owner of this website and lifelong reptile lover, caretaker, and educator. Here you will find everything from information on how to care for reptiles, to even how to give your reptiles the best fighting chances against a range of common reptile diseases and illnesses, and everything in between!

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