There are quite a few different options that owners of crested geckos can use as substrates, and each one comes with its own pros and cons.
The type of substrate you choose to use in your crested gecko’s enclosure will depend on the age of your crested gecko, whether there are any safety concerns, and also the look you are wanting to achieve in their enclosure.
You really do have to put quite a bit of thought into choosing the right substrate, as the wrong one can end up causing health issues for your crested gecko, and might be difficult to clean.
Which substrates should I choose for my crested gecko? There is no one best substrate to use, but some of the best include coconut husk, moss, and organic soil. Many owners choose to mix a few substrates together to get the benefits of all of them, but this will be up to you and the needs of your crested gecko.
To help you pick out the best substrate for your gecko, we have listed the best options below, and some more helpful info that you should know!
What Is Substrate?
To be able to pick out the best substrate, you will need to know exactly what substrate is. In the crested gecko’s tank, the substrate acts as the floor. Substrate covers a wide range of organic and man-made materials, but overall, it is what covers the floor, as a bedding material.
There are three main uses for substrate. The first is to cover the floor of the vivarium, to make it easier to clean the enclosure. The second is to control odors made from urine and feces. The third is that the substrate can help absorb spilled water, and absorb water which you mist into the vivarium, instead of it just settling on the floor.
Other than this, the substrate also adds to the comfort of the vivarium for the crested gecko, and it just finishes the look of the enclosure overall. Many owners keep in mind what they want the vivarium to look like when picking out the substrate.
Do I Need Substrate In A Crested Gecko Vivarium?
It is advised to have a substrate in a crested gecko vivarium, but it is not fully essential. Without substrate, your gecko will not run the risk of ingesting the material, and this can make life a little easier for you. Not having substrate is also a more affordable option, but it does come with its downfalls.
Without substrate, you will have to clean the vivarium daily, as pools of water will settle on the floor, as there is nothing for the water to absorb into.
This means that you will also need to mist the vivarium regularly, to achieve a humidity level of 50% or more. The pools of water left by this misting could lead to bacteria growth if not cleaned regularly, which could be harmful to your crested gecko.
The Best Substrate Options
Now more than before, there are many different options for substrates in a crested gecko vivarium. The substrate that works best will depend on their vivarium, as well as the type of look you are wanting to achieve in the enclosure.
While there are many options, the best and most popular are newspaper, moss, carpet, wood shavings, coconut husk, mulch, soil, and bark. Here is more on each, as well as their pros and cons.
Newspaper is the most budget-friendly substrate option available and is ideal for those who do not want to spend so much money constantly on a substrate, but who do not want to leave the floor of the vivarium bare.
Old newspapers are often very affordable and even free and are some of the oldest types of substrates used for a vivarium. Newspaper is made from wood pulp, and this means that it is absorbent and it can hold waste from the crested gecko.
The downside of newspaper is that it does need to be replaced daily, and you cannot spot clean any areas. You will have to remove the whole sheet of newspaper and place a fresh sheet down. However, as newspaper is free or very affordable, this isn’t too big of a deal outside of the effort it takes.
Some people do consider the ink used on newspapers to be toxic for reptiles, but most newspapers now are printed with a non-toxic, soy ink that is safe to use.
Moss is a great option as a substrate in a crested gecko vivarium and works best in smaller enclosures and for smaller geckos, and for when you want to create a rainforest enclosure for them.
Some people are able to find suitable moss in their area to use in the vivarium, which means that the moss is free, but most people need to buy the moss from a pet store.
Moss, being natural, is safe to use and helps to create an environment with medium to high humidity. It is soft and grows slowly, and does create a more natural feel in the vivarium.
The moss that is most commonly used is sphagnum moss, which is sold in small bales or in flat sheets. It is able to hold a large amount of water and create a very natural environment. The moss also helps to maintain a slightly acidic pH balance in the soil, which reduces the growth of bacteria.
The downfall of using moss is that it can be expensive, and some crested gecko owners have noticed fungal infections when using sphagnum moss.
Carpet is another good option to use as a substrate in a vivarium and can be an affordable option too. You can also choose carpet off-cuts in different colors, such as green, to better suit the vivarium you are wanting to create.
Being soft, carpets are comfortable for crested geckos. They can also be treated with a waterproof liner to prevent leakage, which allows them to last for longer.
The benefit of using carpets is that the carpet can be washed and reused, so you are not creating too much waste or spending too much money. You should have at least two carpet substrates available, so one can be used while the other is being washed.
Carpets are also a good option as a base substrate, and you can then place other substrates on top of it to reap the benefits of those. Just be wary of placing very moist substrates on top of a carpet, as it could lead to bacterial growth.
Wood shavings can make for a good substrate for crested geckos. The wood shavings that you purchase from pet stores, specifically to use as a substrate, would have been heat-treated to remove toxic oils, making them safe for your gecko to use.
Aspen shavings are a popular choice, as they are dust-free, but pine is also used quite often. Aspen shavings are also free from toxic chemicals and have a uniform shape, but it is an expensive option.
The benefit of wood shavings includes them looking and feeling natural in the vivarium, being able to absorb water and waste with little odor and being fairly easy to come by in pet stores, with most options being fairly affordable.
You do need to be selective on the wood shavings you use, as some can be toxic or contain oils that might cause health issues for your crested gecko.
Coconut husk, or coconut bedding, is becoming quite a popular choice as a substrate in crested gecko vivariums. This is made from the hairs of a coconut being chopped and processed and then sold as substrate. The coconut shell can also be processed to be used as a substrate too.
This type of substrate is not nearly as popular as other options, but it does offer good absorption rates and can be inexpensive.
Mulch is a very popular substrate used and can help to create a very natural-looking vivarium. It is a biodegradable substrate that you can use in your garden once you have removed it from your crested gecko’s vivarium.
The benefit of mulch is that it has a good absorption rate, and it can hold onto a lot of waste and water before it needs to be changed again. It also adds a foresty, natural smell to the vivarium, and you can either use fine mulch or larger chips.
The issue with using mulch is that it can be too moist at times, which can be uncomfortable for your crested gecko, and which could lead to bacteria growth. When too moist, the mulch can begin to smell bad too. The mulch will need to be replaced, as it is not that easy to clean.
Soil is the first choice for many crested gecko owners, as it is affordable and easy to come by, and it has many benefits that are perfect for a crested gecko.
You can make your own soil substrate to use in the vivarium, but this can be difficult, as you will need to keep it free from any chemicals, toxins, and bugs. Many crested gecko owners choose to purchase an organic soil substrate from a pet store instead, which is a safer option.
You have to avoid any soil which contains manure, fertilizers, herbicides, perlite, and vermiculite. Perlite and vermiculite can cause impaction, whereas herbicides, fertilizers, and manure can contain toxic chemicals.
Bark can create a natural look in a vivarium and can be easy to come by and low-cost. Most pet stores sell ready-to-use bark, with most being bark from a fir tree. It is a low-ingestion risk substrate and does great at absorbing water in high humidity terrariums.
Fir bark can be easy to clean, but you should fully replace it once a month.
What Is The Best Substrate For Juvenile Crested Geckos?
Some substrates which are good to use for adult crested geckos are not suited to be used for juvenile or hatchling crested geckos. When young, the crested geckos are at a higher risk of ingesting the substrate in their vivarium, which could cause quite a few health issues.
The safest option is to avoid using a substrate when the geckos are still young. This completely reduces the risk of them ingesting anything, which reduces any health complications. The downside to this is that you will need to clean the vivarium daily to avoid water puddles and bacteria growth.
If you want to use a substrate, then newspaper or paper towels are the safest options. Sometimes, juvenile crested geckos might try to rip at the paper and eat it, and if you notice this happening, you can use stronger paper instead. You will also have to clean the newspaper or paper regularly.
Which Substrates Should Not Be Used?
There are a few substrates that you should definitely not use for your crested gecko. These can be harmful or unsuitable for various reasons and are best avoided. With the number of suitable substrates available, there is really no reason to use any of the below.
Do not use animal litter, such as cat litter, in your crested gecko’s vivarium. The litter is made up of very small granules, and these can be easily ingested by the crested gecko. When ingested, these can cause impaction and serious health issues.
Cedarwood shavings should be avoided altogether. These contain toxic chemicals that can be stronger than normal in a closed, warm environment, such as in a vivarium, and this can have some really bad effects on your crested gecko’s health.
Avoid the urge to use non-organic potting soil as a substrate in your crested gecko’s vivarium. This could contain a whole host of harmful toxins and chemicals that are completely unsafe for your crested gecko.
Sand, and even reptile sand, can be very frustrating for your crested gecko. It will stick to them at the smallest sight of moisture, and will even stick to the insects you feed your gecko. This can lead to ingestion and complications.
There are some types of sand that can be used in small play areas, but they should never be used as the main substrate.
Gravel and pebbles can be so tricky to use as a substrate, as they need to be washed well and they offer no absorption of moisture.
The Best Crested Gecko Substrates
There are some suitable substrates to use for your crested gecko that help create the perfect environment in their vivarium, with the right humidity and moisture absorption, and just being safe and comfortable for your gecko overall.
Make sure to do your research before choosing a substrate to use, and even consider using a mix of two or more to provide your crested gecko with the perfect vivarium, and to make cleaning and maintenance of the substrate and vivarium easier for you too.
How much soil must I mix with moss for my crested gecko?
If you have chosen to use a mix of soil and moss as a substrate for your crested gecko, you will need to use an adequate ratio of the two.
A good ratio to use is 2 parts soil to 1 part sphagnum moss, which will offer good moisture retention but which will not compact easily. You will also be able to plant some live plants in this mix.
Are paper towels a good substrate for crested geckos?
Paper towels are an especially good substrate to use for baby geckos, who are at a higher risk of ingestion. Paper towels are inexpensive, they retain moisture well, and are easy enough to remove and replace in the vivarium.
Up Next: How Often Do Crested Geckos Shed?