Choosing The Best Substrate for a Bearded Dragon

The substrate is the covering of the floor in your bearded dragon’s enclosure. There are many different types of substrates you can use for your bearded dragon.

The best substrate for a bearded dragon is a highly debated subject within the bearded dragon community. Many people are vehemently against using certain substrates, while others claim it’s the only one to use. Which substrate you use can be determined by the age of the bearded dragon, how much time you have to keep it properly cleaned, and just personal preference.

Here are several different substrates you can use in your bearded dragon terrarium.

Sand and Similar Materials

Bearded Dragon SubstrateIn the wild, bearded dragons spend their entire life running across sands and pebbles. Many bearded dragon owners feel that using sand as a substrate can increase the chances of gut impaction.

Gut impaction is when an object (or objects) are ingested by the bearded dragon and leads to a blockage of the intestinal tract. These blockages can most likely lead to death if not treated immediately.

Pebbles and gravel are often times offered as a substrate in many pet stores. These pebbles and gravel can also cause impaction if the bearded dragon swallows a small one. Peebles can also damage teeth and jaws if one is accidentally grabbed while going after an insect.

Non-silica sands can be used with adult bearded dragons with a limited worry of the chance of impaction. Sands are not recommended for baby bearded dragons.

There are some sands on the market that are made of calcium, called Vita-Sand. The idea is that the calcium based sand will become metabolized when swallowed allowing the bearded dragon to easily pass it.

Some bearded dragon owners use Vita-Sand exclusively, while others say it can still cause impaction.

Reptile Carpets

Another substrate that you can use for your bearded dragon terrarium is reptile carpets, or cage liners. These are generally a synthetic carpet made to simulate grass or deserts.

Cage liners are simply laid across the floor of the enclosure to cover the bottom glass.

One worry of using cage liners is that the loops of the liner may get caught in the bearded dragon’s claw causing it to get snagged. The bearded dragon may react by pulling against the snag causing the claw to be ripped off.

Try to use a cage liner that has a tight weave to avoid this.


Old newspapers make a suitable substrate for bearded dragons. They are easy to maintain, although they do not look as pleasing as sand. If you are worried about impaction problems then newspaper is a sure-fire way to avoid it.

Some pet stores sell a newspaper substrate that consists of washed and shredded recycled newspaper. This make a great substrate for bearded dragons that love to dig without the possibilities of impaction. The downside to this substrate is that it can retain humidity.

Bark and Mulch

Bark and mulch can also be used as a substrate but not highly recommended for bearded dragons. Bark and mulch can retain humidity, causing the humidity levels in the enclosure to be higher than desired.

Ceramic Tiles

One of the latest trends in bearded dragon husbandry is to use ceramic tiles for a substrate in the terrarium. You can use tiles from Lowe’s or Home Depot that are usually used in bathrooms or kitchens.

The tiles are easy to clean and gives the terrarium a nice look while practically eliminating the chances of impaction issues.

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  1. Chris Swisher says

    I have had a baby bearded dragon for about six months. This morning i found him dead in his cage. He hasn’t seemed to grow much at all. The only thing different was I purchased another baby dragon, and it was a bigger one, and put him in the tank with my other dragon 15 days ago. They seemed to get along fine. The one that died had a little bit of more watery stools the last few weeks. Was it ok to put them together? I feel terrible about this! What could have happened?

    • Allyson says

      I have done the same thing, put two lizards in the same tank together. Bad bad idea :0 Some people think that only Males are Territorial, but Females are just as territorial as the males. Both of mine are females, and i purchased them from a friend of mine. When they came to my house in two separate tanks. I asked why this was so and he said that when he got them, they were in the same tank, and the bit bigger Female over domatanted the smaller one, but luckily i gave my lil’ sis the smaller dragon. And sweetie PLEASE don’t feel terrible about it. You did not know, it is okay!! If you ever decide to purchase another dragon, just keep that in mind. Good luck with your next Beardie :3

      • Izzy Worley says

        Bearded dragons are solitary and should never be kept together permanently….they fight and dominate so one is always likely to get hurt or die.

      • says

        I had 2 females and a male in a big tank they got along great but some can be protective over food but they all got along great

    • Ryan says

      Stop buying beardies if they keep dying why waste the money and kill 2 innocent reptiles who could have livewd a long happy life with a different owner

  2. nancy says

    We just got a Bearded dragon, Its 1 month old. This morning she looks as though she shedding her skin. Do they do that?

    • says

      Hi Nancy! Thank you for visiting our site and adding your question.

      Shedding is absolutely normal! Bearded dragons shed their skin as they grow. It is quite common for a baby bearded dragon to shed as much as 6 – 10 times a year. Mist your beardie frequently while they are shedding to help loosen the skin. A bath in lukewarm water will help as well. Hope this helps!

  3. Justin says

    I have a 3 and a half year old bearded dragon I out pellets in the cage reptile pellets and bedding is that fine? Bc crickets kept comeing under the news paper

    • says

      Hi Justin, what kind of pellets are you asking about? At 3 and a half years old, pellets should be alright to use as long as they are either digestible or large enough that the beardie can’t swallow them. If the pellets are not digestible but small enough to swallow then they could (and most likely would) cause impaction issues. Make sure the pellets are not made of materials that could be toxic to reptiles or develop any harmful fumes. If it is made specifically for reptile then it may be okay to use.

      As far as bedding, I wouldn’t recommend using the wood shavings-type of bedding. That’s mainly used for snakes and not good for bearded dragons.

  4. says

    Hi Liz
    Newspaper is your best bet for a baby bearded dragon. Mine are about 8 months old now bit I still keep them on newspaper and they are very jappy and healthy babies. DO NOT use sand whatever you do when they are babies as it could impaction which you definitely dont want to happen.
    Good luck with your new baby! ^_^ xxxxx

  5. says

    I am going on different websites and there telling me to not us walnut sand for bearded dragons but that is what i have been using for about 3-4 years so should I stop using it and get something else and what is the BEST for bearded dragons

    • says

      Hi Brandon,

      I highly recommend NOT using ground walnut shells. There is a very high risk of impaction with this substrate. The ground walnut shells clump together very easily when wet increasing the chances of an digestive tract blockage. I once found this out the hard way when I first started caring for bearded dragons. The best substrate I recommend is either newspaper, terrarium carpet, or ceramic/stone tiles.

      I hope this helps and good luck!

  6. Leeann says

    Yesterday I gave her chopped up small pieces of Apple , I hope that didn’t cause any kind of blockage we are all so upset . She was the most placid beardie ever !

  7. Megan Voyer says

    I have recently gotten my long term Bf a baby beardie who is doing very well :) We have done a TON of research and I myself have cared for a king snake and 2 leapord geckos. As it is a baby we have it on reptile carpet to keep impaction from being an issue. We will be putting her/him on some kind of sand substrate when it is large enough. I appreciate that it is a bit controversial but i have used it before with no issue and intend on doing so again. Now my question is, what is the best sand/faux sand to use? I have heard regular sand box sand is the best but am looking for a bit more direction.

    • says

      Hi Megan,

      That’s a very good question, and one that is open to much debate. Everyone has their own preferences and opinions on substrate. In most cases once a bearded dragon is a full adult you can use a sand-type substrate, but there is still always a chance of impaction. Anything they can potentially swallow can cause a blockage. Even if the bearded dragon just swallows a tiny bit it can build up over time leading to impaction. Impaction doesn’t occur all at once in most cases, but builds up over time leading to a partial, or full-on, blockage.

      I recommend waiting until your bearded dragon is at least a year and a half old until introducing a loose particle substrate, and even then I also recommend feeding in a different terrarium that has a reptile carpet, newspaper, or bare bottom to reduce the chances of impaction.

      If you are set on using a sand style substrate I would go with a non-silica playground/sand box sand over using the calcium-based “reptile” sands.

      • says

        I think it is also a good thing to really watch a Beardie. They lick everything all of the time and once you realise how often they do lick I believe that it may help make your mind up not to use sand or chips for them.

        Mine have sand coloured towels that they have and get washed easily when needed with spares always kept to change them with. I have no issues with it at all and am very fortunate that bath time is also toilet time so the enclosure is always clean other than the tossed salad by the end of the day… Food dish and water dish are on a small tray to help with spillage so towels tend to last about a week I find.

        Hope that helps… oh and for anyone that thinks it strange to use towels… I was watching some videos on YouTube and there is a guy who has a dogs cushion in one of his vivs. Its the type that has the cushion around the edges and the flat bit in the middle. Looked funny but they liked that too as there was climbing angle where the cushion is for them. I guess it can also wash easily when needed.

  8. Andrew says

    Would paper towels be fine? What if I put the paper towels through a shredder? Could that cause blockage and what is the chance of it eating the paper? Paper towels that are cut into thin long shreds.

  9. Courtney says

    I have had my 18 month old bearded dragon for about a month now. He has a sand substrate and I want to change it as I’ve read so many bad reviews of sand, I don’t want him to get ill and am worried this will happen and I won’t be able to see any signs, what substrate would you recommend I change it too? I’ve done lots of research but could really do with some help :(

  10. Stephanie says

    I just got my first ever bearded dragon yesterday and was wondering how to feed it. I read all different things they can eat, so I got a thing of crickets (not alive) and a can of worms also not alive is this ok? And how do we feed it the veggies and fruits is that suppose to be in the tank at alll times?

  11. Brianna says

    I will be going to Scotland for two weeks and was wandering what would be the best thing to do with my beardie. Most of my family is coming with and my best friend has 5 syblings so I can’t place him in her care.
    What should I do?

  12. Rich says

    I have a 9 month old Beardy that I recently moved to a larger 50 gallon enclosure. I also changed from carpet to sand substrate. He doesn’t seem to like it at all. He has also not been eating much since moving into his new home. It’s been about a week now. Not sure if it’s the new surroundings or the floor that’s bothering him.

    • Dez says

      Hey rich,
      It could be that the new enclosure is too large for your juvenile beardie. As I see your post is old and he has probably grown a few inches…but for future reference placing a baby beardie in an overwhelmingly large tank can stress him out, make it difficult for him to find a sufficient temperature gradient, and also make it extremely difficult for him to find his food with so many places for his live insects to run away to.

      Hope all is well!

  13. gina says

    So i have a 3 year old beardie and he is on pellets. My question is do we have to freezes the pellets frist to kill any bugs?

  14. Jessica says

    My son recently got a baby bearded dragon. He named him Destro and because my son is only 6 I have been caring for him. He was purchased January 9th, Im not sure how old he was but he was definitely a baby. He was doing great and had gone through a shedding process and then one day about 4 days ago he just stopped being active. He wasn’t running around anymore, he stopped eating, he wasn’t drinking (well he/she, never were sure yet what sex it was). Anyway, I did a ton of research online and a lot of signs seemed to point to brumation even though under a year seemed rare but possible. Until this morning…. when we went to turn his light on and wake him up he was dead :( It crushed me and when my son got home I had to break the news to him and it wasn’t pleasant to say the least. The only thing I can think of was that he had eaten a cricket that was maybe a little too big and it caused blockage. Im so upset at the fact that he may have died from my stupidity but the pet stores have big and small crickets separated and I still get medium to large ones that slipped by me. I fell inlove with the little guy so im definitely going to try this again but I want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Should I be the picky person the pet store hates and make them pick out tiny crickets only or just pick them out myself and lose a little bit of product for what I pay? Or is there a better food I can feed the little guy until he gets bigger so I can assure that he grows happy healthy and big and stays with us for years this time?

  15. rocky says

    I have two 7 month old bearded dragons. I got a bigger tank and I’m not fond of the carpet. What else can I use. Is a mix of sand and top soil ok. I read an article that said it would work.

  16. john says

    Hey my bearded dragon aka Paarthurnax, is 9 1/2 inches long can I go ahead and switch out my carpet for substrate? Or will I need to wait a bit longer if so how big do you suggest he gets?

  17. Cody says

    My beardie has always used a standard pet store sand as a substrate (I would never use sandbox sand) because I find it has the lowest chance of building up mildew when I mist her. I do feed her salad and fruit in a bowl inside the tank, and take her out so she can hunt superworms on the floor without risk of them hiding, and I DO make sure all sand is out of her bowl before filling it, but I’m wondering if i should switch to calcium sand and if it would still be as resistant to moisture. She’s never had a problem and she’s already 6 years old, But I do worry about my girl.

  18. Rich says

    I rescued a beardy from someone that wasnt caring for it at all..long story..about 6 months ago. I have him on the carpet-like stuff. Other than vacuuming it regularly, is there a way to clean it more thoroughly or would replacing a couple times a year be best? He’s a few years old but I don’t know exactly how old he is.

  19. Ron says

    I recently bought a baby beardie and the guy at the pet store told me to use a calcium based sand for substrate. Upon further research I found out that sand is not good for the babies due to impaction. I’m ditching the sand this weekend and replacing it with tile because it looks nice and it’s easy to clean. My question is would tile be fine for a baby? If so what type should I get?

  20. Alyssa says

    I just want to say ‘be careful’ with the vita sand. We bought two baby beardies, and used the vita sand, as we thought it would be the most beneficial to our little babies. Well, they both ate the sand, and died from compaction. We now have 3 that we have been using ground walnut shell bedding with, and they are 3 years old. I think that calcified sand is not a good idea, but I’m sure others have had success with it.

    • Alyssa says

      I forgot to mention that, when we went to visit our local aquatic store after the two we had passed, one of the owners who had been breeding beardies for years was there, and had informed us that the lizards, especially babies, can be attracted to the nutrients in the vita sand, causing them to consume, where they wouldn’t with normal sandbox sand.

  21. melissa shoske says

    I’m planning on getting a bearded dragon and i have adult pellet food already. I’m hoping a breeder might have an adult for sale but i can’t find one anywhere that i can actually buy the dragon. other breeders show you who they sold, who they’re breeding with, and then you cant actually buy any adults! does anyone know where i can get an adult bearded dragon from a reliable resource?

  22. says

    Hi all i have a beardy and he is in a 4 foot tank. I keep getting told the best flooring for him is sand paper because firstly it keeps their nails down and second it cant be eaten and bugs cant hide under it is this a good thing if so please let me know and ill change it today

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