Best Substrate For Ball Pythons

When setting up a ball python’s enclosure, the substrate is one of the most essential components.

Ball pythons like to burrow, and they need a safe substrate to dig into.

There are several substrate options on the market today, but which one is best for a ball python?

The best substrate options for a ball python include coconut fiber, cypress mulch, and aspen shavings. These substrates are safe, easy to clean, and allow a ball python to burrow in its enclosure. Ensure the substrate is 2-4″ inches deep, depending on the size of your snake.

It is also important to remove snake feces every day and completely replace the substrate regularly to keep the enclosure clean.

Keep reading to learn more about the best substrate for ball pythons, as well as which ones to avoid.

Some of our favorites are:

What To Look For In The Best Bedding For Ball Pythons

In this section, we’ll go over the features of good substrates for ball pythons.

Use this information to help you decide which product is right for your needs.

You may also enjoy reading about the best ball python enclosures.

Material

The material of the ball python bedding is key.

Each type of substrate has its pros and cons.

The most common material is aspen chips.

These are affordable, and the clump around the droppings well makes cleanup easier.

Cypress mulch is also common.

This bedding material looks more like a natural forest floor and is excellent at helping retain moisture.

Coconut fibers or coconut husk are another good choice, although less common and more premium.

Coconut reduces odors and bacteria, as well as helps keep the humidity up.

It doesn’t do as good of a job clumping around the droppings, but this may not be a problem for you if the odor is a higher need.

Note: Some people use liners such as newspapers or reptile carpets.

There’s nothing wrong with this for ball pythons, but they do need something to dig into in their hide spots.

A good compromise if you’re insisting on a liner for most of the tank is to use substrate in the hide box and a liner for the rest.

Antibacterial

Not every substrate will handle the high humidity, water, and droppings well.

Some will gather mold easily and even spread it.

Good substrate (like the ones on our list) will trap the bacteria or even begin to break it down to a certain degree.

Mold is a problem with any substrate, but if you get a good one and also make sure to spot clean daily and replace the substrate every month, you’ll be fine.

Clumping

Clumping is when the substrate sticks together around the droppings.

A substrate that clumps up well makes it easier to clean up these droppings.

All you need to do is scoop it out!

The downside of the “clumpy” substrate comes when the ball python accidentally knocks some water out of its water bowl.

This gets stuck together and makes it a little messier.

We’ll make a note of how well the substrate adheres to the droppings and let you decide which one is right for you.

No Chemicals

Some common mulches like aspen and cypress are also available at hardware stores or greenhouses.

Don’t buy your substrate from these places!

Often, they’ll treat the mulch or chips with chemicals to prevent weeds from growing or bugs from infesting the area.

This is great when you use the mulch as a place to plant your greens, but you don’t want these chemicals anywhere near your ball python.

Even if someone tries to convince you this is safe, you should only buy from pet stores in person or online (as our picks are from).

Even if it seems safe, when the substrate gets wet, it will leak out the chemicals which can cause serious illness to your pet.

Cost

The cost of the substrate is important to consider.

You have to balance higher prices with how often the brand will need to be replaced and how large the bag is.

Remember, you’ll need to replace the substrate every month or two fully.

Keep this in mind when you buy your product.

Review Of The Best Substrate For A Ball Python

best substrate for ball python

In this section, you’ll see the details on our picks for the best substrate for ball pythons.

Use this information to help you decide which is the best fit for your needs, and don’t forget to click to check current pricing information.

Zilla Snake and Lizard Litter

Zilla Snake & Lizard Litter 8 Quarts
  • Laboratory grade aspen chips
  • The choice of many professional herpetologists
  • Hypo-allergenic, containing no harmful oils
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This Zilla litter is a simple but effective and affordable choice for ball python substrate.

The bedding is made from laboratory-grade aspen chips.

Aspen is one of the common choices for snake bedding in general.

This material is untreated with chemicals making it safe for your pet.

The fine aspen chips clump well around the dropping of the snake and help with cleanup, although they don’t have many natural bacteria-blocking properties.

The aspen chips are soft on the snake’s body and good for digging and burrowing.

Buy this option in 4-quart, 8-quart, or 24-quart sized bags.

Pros For This Product:

  • Affordable
  • Safe for snakes
  • Absorbs dropping very well for easy cleanup

Cons For This Product:

  • Doesn’t block bacteria or mold
  • Makes a mess if the snake spills its water in it

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding, 24 Quarts
  • 100% natural cypress mulch
  • All natural " Green" Product
  • Recommended terrarium substrate for many species of snakes, lizards, land turtles, tortoises, frogs, toads, salamanders, tarantulas
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Zoo Med’s forest floor bedding is a medium-priced substrate option, but the good quality of material and trustworthy brand make it one of the best bedding for ball python snakes.

This product is made from an all-natural cypress mulch.

It gives your floor a natural forest look and aligns more with the ball python’s instincts.

It still is soft on the snake’s belly and provides a good digging and burrowing material.

Cypress mulch walks the middle line when it comes to beddings. It’s a jack of all trades.

It clumps up OK around droppings making cleanup a little easier.

The mulch retains heat and moisture fairly well.

Cypress does have some bacteria blocking properties and is somewhat resistant to mold.

Buy this product in the following sizes:

  • 4 quart (3.79 l)
  • 8 liters
  • 2 pack of 8 liters
  • 24 quart (22.71 l) package

As with all Zoo Med products, this bedding is completely safe for ball pythons with no chemicals in it.

Pros For This Product:

  • Good value
  • Nice clumping
  • Good humidity retention
  • Natural look and product

Cons For This Product:

  • Gnats may be attracted to the material

Reptile Prime Coconut Fiber Bedding

Critters Comfort Coconut Reptile Bedding Organic Substrate - Coarse, 21 Quarts
  • PERFECT BEDDING MATERIAL: Ideal for snakes, lizards, geckos, iguanas, turtles, frogs, crabs
  • SUPERB ODOR CONTROL: Enjoy living with your pet – odor free because of coconut coir’s incredible ability to absorb, encapsulate, retain and break down moisture
  • PEACE OF MIND: 100% organic coconut coir is non-toxic, dust free, and chemical and fragrance free giving you peace of mind knowing that it’s safe for your pets and you, too
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What is the best bedding for ball pythons?

The answer could very well be this Reptile Prime coconut fiber mix.

It costs more than other beddings, but the benefits may be worth it to you.

This 24-quart bag is made of shredded coconut fibers.

Coconut fibers are known for their ability to be used in a wide variety of situations.

It does a great job of holding on to moisture and raising the humidity of the tank.

Coconut fibers are also more naturally resistant to bacteria and mold.

They do clump around the droppings, although not as well as some other materials.

Reptile Prime made sure this bedding was all-natural and safe for pets, including ball pythons.

The smell of the fibers is quite pleasant and will break down the dropping’s odors and bacteria.

This makes interacting with your pet more enjoyable and actually may keep them healthier in the long run.

Pros For This Product:

  • Safe for ball pythons
  • Reduces odors and bacteria
  • Natural feel for the snake
  • Helps with humidity

Cons For This Product:

  • Higher price
  • Doesn’t clump around the dropping as much

Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding

Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding (24 qt)
  • #1 Preferred snake bedding by professional herpetoculturists worldwide!
  • Provides a safe, naturalistic substrate that allows snakes, lizards, and small animals to form burrows and nests as they would in the wild.
  • It has a 191% absorbency rating and is odorless-safe for all snakes.
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Zoo Med’s aspen chip bedding is a fine option for any ball python.

This affordable option is from a trusted reptile company.

The aspen material is fine and absorbent.

This particular brand is a favorite of many reptile breeders.

It’s completely safe and free from chemicals.

Snakes seem to enjoy burrowing underneath this product.

Zoo Med claims the aspen bedding has a 191% absorbency rating.

The substrate is very absorbent and makes cleanup a snap.

However, if the water is knocked out of the snake’s water bowl, it also clumps up quickly and will need to be removed.

This Zoo Med brand does seem more resistant to mold and odor when compared to other aspen beddings.

If you have other pets, this bedding is useful for many other pets, including birds, lizards, turtles, tortoises, tarantulas, and other insects.

This product comes in the following size options:

  • 4 quarts (3.79 l)
  • 8 quarts (7.57 l)
  • 24 quarts (22.71 l)
  • 4 pack of 24 quarts (22.71 l)
  • 6 pack of 24 quarts (22.71 l)

The bulk orders may seem more expensive, but you’ll be saving quite a bit of money in the long run.

Pros For This Product:

  • Safe and absorbent for easy cleanup
  • Affordable and good value
  • Snakes seem to enjoy burrowing into it

Cons For This Product:

  • Makes a mess when wet

ReptiChip Premium Coconut Reptile Substrate

ReptiChip Premium Coconut Reptile Substrate
  • 🐍 CREATE A HEALTHY HABITAT for your ball python or iguana with ReptiChip Coconut Substrate for reptiles. Its superb humidity retention helps form a tropical paradise in turtle and reptile terrariums.
  • 🐍 72-QUART COMPRESSED BRICK equals 10 lbs of safe, comfortable reptile bedding for professional breeders and serious hobbyists. Just add water to moisten and our pet snake substrate is ready to use.
  • 🐍 ODOR-ABSORBING ReptiChip Coco Substrate encapsulates waste product, making your gecko, python or turtle bedding a healthy environment for your pet and ensuring your own home is pleasant-smelling.
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

The ReptiChip coconut bedding is a premium option for owners who want only the best for their pets. 

This substrate is made from shredded and then compacted coconut fibers.

These are all-natural and chemical-free.

ReptiChip sends this in compacted packaging for easier transport.

To use it, you have to add water according to their instructions (it depends on the species) and spread it out around the cage.

For the higher price, you get a massive 72 quarts (68.14 l) of the substrate.

As with most coconut beddings, the material naturally absorbs and breaks down odors from droppings.

This bedding also looks natural, and ball pythons seem to enjoy digging and slithering around in it.

The coconut also helps to retain humidity.

With ball pythons, this is important as they’re more prone to shedding issues.

But the coconut fiber substrate will help you keep the humidity up to the 50-60% range it needs to be.

ReptiChip also uses an eco-friendly process for creating the product and offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Pros For This Product:

  • Breaks down odors and mold resistant
  • Helps keep high humidity
  • Large package of material
  • Snakes seem to enjoy it

Cons For This Product:

  • Requires some work to put in the tank

Substrates To Avoid

There are several substrates to avoid placing in a ball python’s enclosure due to safety and comfort issues.

These substrates may increase the risk of impaction or are simply toxic to your snake.

Substrates to avoid using include:

  • Cedar shavings
  • Sand
  • Alfalfa
  • Walnut shells
  • Gravel
  • Artificial outdoor carpet
  • Recycled fiber fluff/pellet products

Cedar Shavings

Cedar shavings should not be used because they may emit toxic oil, which is very dangerous for a ball python.

This toxic oil and other compounds produced by cedar shavings will cause your snake to suffer from respiratory and neurological damage.

Sand

Sand does not retain moisture, and it will reduce the humidity in the ball python’s enclosure.

Mold is also more likely to grow in a sand substrate, which does not create a healthy environment for a snake.

In addition to being too dry, sand may cause respiratory irritation or lead to impaction if your ball python accidentally ingests it.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa is another bad choice for a ball python enclosure, as it tends to be very dusty and will cause respiratory infections in the snake.

Like sand, alfalfa is also known for promoting the growth of mold.

Walnut Shells

Walnut shells are especially dangerous for a ball python due to their sharp edges.

Not only will the walnut shells be uncomfortable against a snake’s skin, but they will also cause a great deal of harm if they are ingested.

Gravel

Gravel is very easily ingested by a ball python, which will result in a serious impaction.

Not only is the risk of impaction elevated, but the gravel is very abrasive to a snake’s skin and does not absorb odors or retain moisture.

Artificial Outdoor Carpet

Artificial outdoor carpet does not give a ball python anywhere to burrow, and it is also challenging to keep clean because it is not absorbent.

In addition to these very obvious reasons not to use artificial outdoor carpet, it is also known to release harmful chemical compounds which will cause your snake to suffer respiratory and neurological damage.

Recycled Fiber Fluff and Pellet Products

These types of substrates are very dusty, and they will also lower the humidity in a ball python’s enclosure.

Recycled fiber fluff and pellet products are also unsuitable for burrowing, abrasive to a snake’s skin, and cause impaction if they are accidentally ingested.

Commonly Asked Questions

Do ball pythons need to be misted? – Not usually.

The goal for humidity is 50-60%.

With a hot tank and always having a water dish in the space, it shouldn’t be hard to keep it there.

A good substrate will help too!

But if you notice there’s a problem with humidity, an occasional misting won’t hurt.

Can you use sand for ball pythons? – No. Don’t use sand with ball pythons.

The sand gets under their scales and causes irritation. Stick with our choices above.

How deep should the ball python substrate be? – A 2.5″ – 3″ inch (7.62 cm) layer of the substrate is deep enough to provide some room for the snake to burrow itself in when it wants to.

This depth will also prevent droppings from coming into as much contact with the bottom of the tank, making the overall space cleaner and healthier for the pet.