The Safest and Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons

I’m sure you will agree with me when I say there is too much conflicting advice about the safest substrate for bearded dragons!

Well, it turns out that selecting the best substrate may not be as complicated as you thought.

All you have to do is know the needs of your beardie to make the correct decision for them.

In this guide, I am going to lay out some of the possible options you could choose for your beardie’s tank.

If you want to know more, simply continue reading on.

What is Substrate?

A substrate is a name for the flooring that goes in the base of your bearded dragon’s habitat.

It needs to be soft enough that it won’t cut the skin on their feet, and smooth enough so their claws won’t get stuck.

And most importantly, it needs to be easy for you to clean.

The last thing you need is to spend your days scrubbing because the flooring you’ve chosen isn’t suitable. So, what are your choices?

What Types of Substrate Are There?

There are two distinct groups of substrate that bearded dragons can have in their tank- loose particle substrates and non-particle substrates.

What are Loose Particle Substrates?

A loose particle substrate closely resembles the natural environment where bearded dragons come from (i.e. the desert). Loose particle substrates include things such as:

  • Play Sand
  • Wood Chips
  • Walnut Sand
  • Calcium Sand

Are They Safe?

The thing with these kinds of substrates is that the small particles can get into the eyes and ears of your beardie, this can cause small scratches that can later become infected.

Also, your beardie can accidentally swallow the particles, when these build up in your beardie’s gut it can cause a condition called impaction, which is similar to constipation but far more serious.

The effects are far more serious and likely with baby bearded dragons – so it is advised to NEVER use loose particle substrates with a baby beardie. 

However, for older bearded dragons, a loose particle substrate can present some benefits, particularly for females, we will come on to that in a bit…

Are Non-Particle Substrates Better?

The opposite type of substrate to a loose particle substrate is a non-particle one, this includes things such as:

  • Reptile Carpet
  • Newspaper
  • Clay Sand

If you want a less risky option then a non-particle substrate is a better choice. 

This is because they can’t be ingested and they are usually much easier to clean, providing your beardie with a much more hygienic environment.

The Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons

1. Zilla Terrarium Liner

This substrate comes in a roll and has a felt-like, grassy appearance, much like the top of a snooker table.

It’s really low maintenance and allows your bearded dragon to get about easily.

To fit it in your habitat, all you need to do is use scissors to cut it to the right size.

It’s a great idea for any aged bearded dragon too. It’s all in one piece, unlike some other substrates.

This means that, if you have a baby bearded dragon, they’re unlikely to swallow it by accident and choke.

Bearded Dragon Terrarium Kit Substrate

This one-piece mat is made to reduce odors naturally and is easy to wipe clean, just with water and dishcloth or even hose down.

It’s also double-sided, so once one side gets too worn down, you can just flip it and it lasts twice as long.

2. Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate

Excavator clay is great as an enrichment tool. In the wild, bearded dragons would naturally dig burrows in the sand to hide away from predators.

This clay allows them to mimic that behavior, which will keep your beardie happier and healthier in the long run.

It also holds its shape really well, so there’s no danger of it falling in and trapping your bearded dragon.

If you have a younger bearded dragon, you’d need to be careful with this though. When they eat, they might accidentally pick up a bit of the loose sand in their mouths as well.

If a lot of it is swallowed at once, it could be really dangerous to baby bearded dragons.

Supplies for Bearded Dragon Burrowing Substrate

The clay is great for cleaning though, you don’t even have to clean the whole tank out.

You could just grab a scoop, throw out the dirty bits, and replace them with new. It’s as simple as that.

3. Zoo Med Eco Cage Carpet

This beardie-safe carpet is an ideal solution. It is safe in the warm areas of the tank for your bearded dragon to bask on.

If you have the type of flooring that attracts heat, such as lino, or sand, it can get really hot from the heat lamp.

When your bearded dragon comes down from his basking spot for a bit of a cool down, he doesn’t want to be presented with a scorching hot floor.

Laying this down under the UV lamp will ensure that the floor stays warm, but it doesn’t get too hot that they won’t be able to comfortably walk on it.

Best Substrate for Bearded Dragons Zoomed Carpet

It’s so easy to lift out, and hose down, then put back in once it’s clean. But because it is easy for you, it is also easy for your beardie who will more than likely try to burrow beneath it.

You might want to get a couple of strips of Velcro for the underside. It works perfectly to hold it in place.


Can I Use Newspaper?

Sheets of newspaper are ideal for short term use. The smooth flooring is great for a bearded dragon to walk on and it doesn’t attract the heat too much.

This means that they would be able to lay on it without getting burned.

It’s also the perfect solution if your bearded dragon becomes ill. It’s the fastest, throw-away solution.

If your bearded dragon makes a mess, you can just bundle it up and replace it.

But with all good things, there are also drawbacks. Newspaper can get wet and soggy very easily.

One nudge of a water dish and you have to start all over again.

Note: Wet ink from a newspaper can also stain your bearded dragon’s skin, so be mindful that you replace it regularly.

Is Lino/Vinyl Safe?

Lino is a great flooring alternative for your bearded dragon. The best thing about it is that it’s easy to wipe clean and it’s really cheap to find and replace.

Your bearded dragon will find it easy to walk on and because it’s a more solid surface, it will naturally keep your bearded dragon’s claws at a sensible length.

u003cstrongu003eNoteu003c/strongu003e: Don’t place the lino directly under the UV lamp, it absorbs heat, and can get too hot for your beardie.

Meaning they won’t be able to lay on it during the day as it may damage their skin.

Have Mixed Thoughts About Sand?

Certain types of sand are good for the mental health of your bearded dragon. Sand allows them to dig and create burrows which will also keep your beardie’s nails trimmed.

Non-particle substrates will not allow your beardie to dig, this can be a problem if you have a female who is trying to lay eggs.

But you need to be really careful what type of sand you buy when using it as a substrate.

Firstly, sand should not be used within the whole of the tank, avoid putting it in the places that your dragon usually eats.

This is because the sand can be easily swallowed and compacted inside your beardie’s gut, causing health issues such as impaction.

But sand in a ‘play corner’ is excellent for encouraging their natural digging behavior, just be sure to keep it well cleaned and always remove any poop right away.

Have You Heard About Calcium Sand?


Calcium sand is harmless if swallowed as it’s made to aid the digestion process. However, it isn’t good for skin.

As you’re intending your dragon to walk on this every day, this isn’t the one for you.

It dries out the skin causing painful cracks and can also dye the skin color if used too much. Just steer clear entirely.


So there we have it, you can see why it can be a delicate matter choosing the best substrate for bearded dragons. You have several options to choose from either loose particle or non-particle substrates.

If you want a low-risk solution for your beardie, then your best option is to go for a non-particle substrate.

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Best substrate for bearded dragons

  • About Matthew Cantell

    I was just 15 years of age when I first met a bearded dragon. It was at my friend's house and I instantly grew an immediate attraction to, what has now become, my favourite animal on the planet! Making fantastic pets for both children and adults alike, they each have their own personality and are certainly full of character. There are, though, some important things that we should all know when it comes to caring for these amazing animals!
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