bearded dragon handbook

Get our pet owner's guide for bearded dragons and help your special friend live its best life.

Best Substrate For Bearded Dragons

Are you looking for an affordable, but safe bedding for your reptile?

Do you want to pick the perfect substrate for your bearded dragon?

Picking a suitable substrate for your bearded dragon is an essential part of setting up your pet’s habitat.

It often goes overlooked when compared to lighting and heating.

However, choosing a suitable substrate can have a significant impact on the health and happiness of your bearded dragon.

But, what is the best substrate for bearded dragons?

Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner

*Editors Pick* - This substrate is very easy to install, affordably priced, reused easily, and limits odor. It's easy to clean with a quick rinse. Non-abrasive and won't cause irritation.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

It all comes down to material, cleanliness, and safety.

Read on for more details and reviews below.

Substrate Or Bedding?

In a lot of bearded dragon forums, the words “substrate” and “bedding” are used interchangeably.

In the most important ways, they mean around the same thing.

Substrate is most often used to refer to a bottom layer in the tank of any kind.

Whether it’s a liner, newspaper, or any natural material like walnut, wood chips, or clay, it’s all considered substrate.

Bedding seems to refer to the more natural kinds of substrate such as walnut shells, wood chips, clay, or sand.

These definitions aren’t hard and fast rules.

There is some leeway in these definitions, but keeping the general uses in mind may help you navigate the bearded dragon world.

Liners Vs. Natural Substrate

There are two main groups of substrate available for use with bearded dragons: liners and natural substrate.

Liners are usually artificial materials covering the bottom of the tank easily.

Liners may include the following types of products:

  • Reptile carpet
  • Shelf liners
  • Newspaper
  • Plastic sheets

A natural substrate is, as the name suggests, often broken up materials found in the wild.

The natural substrate may include:

  • Ground shells
  • Plant meal
  • Wood chips
  • Clay
  • Sand
  • Rocks/Pebbles

Here is a quick table of the two compared to one another.

Make sure to read the next section for an important health concern with young bearded dragons.


Pros – Usually more cost-effective, lasts longer, and is cleaned easily or replaced easily.

They’re easy to install and remove while being safe for juvenile bearded dragons.

Cons – Not natural and usually doesn’t absorb odor as much while additionally they cannot be dug or burrowed into and some aren’t “stylish” looking.

Natural Substrate

Pros – Simulates a natural bearded dragon environment, absorbs droppings and odor, can dig and burrow, and provides a more realistic environment.

Cons – Harder to remove and clean, cannot be reused once soiled, may pose a choking hazard for young bearded dragons, and material may have been treated with chemicals.

Juvenile Bearded Dragons And Bedding

Young or juvenile bearded dragons have a particular risk associated with bedding in their enclosure.

When they eat, they tend not to be as safe as they eat and consume anything in front of them once they start.

This means if the bedding is made from small material, such as sand, small wood chips, or pebbles, there is a chance the beardy may accidentally eat this.

This can pose a severe risk to the bearded dragon’s health and life in some cases.

Experts recommend you use a newspaper lining or no lining at all.

At the least, a reptile carpet or liner will do the work well.

If you do decide to go with a natural substrate, take great care of the material making sure it is not treated with any chemicals, and the size of the material is large enough it can’t be eaten on accident. 

Review Of The Best Substrate For Bearded Dragons

In this section, we review our picks for the best bedding for bearded dragons.

These can all work, but it depends on what you’re looking for in these products.

best substrate for bearded dragons

Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner

Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner

*Editors Pick* - This substrate is very easy to install, affordably priced, reused easily, and limits odor. It's easy to clean with a quick rinse. Non-abrasive and won't cause irritation.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Zilla’s bedding liner is a safe and affordable choice for anyone looking for a substrate for their beardy.

All you need to do to use this liner is roll out the green or brown liner carpet and then trim to the size you need for your tank.

The liner is completely safe for your pet and is made of absorbent material.

This helps clean up urine and water spills.

Zilla’s product is also non-abrasive so the reptile won’t get irritated feet even if they’re sensitive.

It also includes a biodegradable enzyme to limit odors from droppings.

Cleaning is simple; all you do is rinse with cold water and reuse.

Unlike with other substrates, the lining can’t be accidentally eaten making this great for baby and juvenile bearded dragons.

This carpet is very low maintenance and easy to install.

Here is what other users had to say:

Pros For This Product

  • Very easy to install
  • Affordable price
  • Reused easily
  • Limits odor

Cons For This Product

  • Sometimes nails may get stuck in the liner

Zilla Ground English Walnut Shells Desert Blend

Zilla Ground English Walnut Shells Desert Blend, 25-Quart Bag
  • Creates a natural and attractive desert environment
  • Excellent heat conductor
  • Stimulates natural digging and burrowing behavior
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

For those looking for something more natural, opt for the Zilla walnut shells desert blend of substrate.

Zilla’s slightly above average-priced product is specifically designed to better simulate the natural environment of desert reptiles such as the bearded dragon.

The blend is made from 100% natural ground English walnut shell.

Zilla worked the shells until they reached a uniform size.

The size and materials retain heat better, which is excellent for the warm-loving beardies.

Other reptiles this works well for are as follows:

The size is ideal for adult bearded dragons.

Younger ones may accidentally ingest as they eat.

All of this product is made in the USA and is environmentally friendly.

The shells are composted when done with everyday yard waste.

For animals used to digging and burrowing in the wild, this bedding is ideal, including bearded dragons.

Customer experience boils down to this:

Pros For This Product

  • Absorbs moisture and retains heat very well
  • Available in different size bags
  • Bearded dragons like the natural feel
  • Limits odors

Cons For This Product

  • More difficult to clean
  • May pose a choking hazard for bearded dragons

Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate

Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate, 10 Pounds
  • Holds its shape so tunnels won't collapse
  • All natural, no dyes or chemicals
  • Make your reptiles feel like they are at home" in their natural habitat"
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Zoo Meds substrate is the standard type you’ll find a lot of pet stores selling, but this company ups its game with some extra care in the processing of this product.

For an average price, use a clay-based substrate.

Clay is an interesting choice, and some would argue it’s better than most other substrate materials.

As the bearded dragon digs its burrows, the clay will retain the shape the reptile digs it into.

In this way, your pet can help set up the tank to its natural satisfaction. 

Clay as a substrate is also more aligned with what the bearded dragon may find in its natural desert habitat.

Your pet may instinctively like this more than other materials.

Unlike cheaper substrates, the clay material is made all-natural with no dye or chemicals.

This keeps it safe for all reptiles, including your beardy.

The natural clay also helps absorb droppings and reduce odors.

Here’s what the user experience boils down to:

Pros For This Product

  • Natural material good for digging
  • Good value
  • Reduces odor
  • Suitable for adult and juvenile bearded dragons

Cons For This Product

  • May not disburse heat as well as other materials
  • More difficult to clean

Oxbow Animal Health Eco-Straw

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

This substrate may seem like an odd choice for bedding material, but it works quite well. 

This substrate is 100% natural and won’t be poisonous if the bearded dragons accidentally eat it because it’s a form of food!

In fact, as an omnivore, it’s perfectly safe for bearded dragons.

Still, you may only want to use this with adult bearded dragons.

Even though it’s not directly harmful to baby beardies, if they accidentally eat much of it, they may get impacted.

As a material, this bedding is exceptionally absorbent.

Droppings will be kept in one place and easily removed.

To use it, all you need to do is spread 1″ – 2″ of bedding down.

You can’t clean the bedding, so you need to remove and replace it as you need to, depending on your cleaning schedule.

This bedding works for bearded dragons and other reptiles such as:

  • Iguanas
  • Monitors
  • Land turtles
  • Tortoises

The natural bedding also reduces germs and bacteria, lowering the risk of infection.

This is what customers had to say:

Pros For This Product

  • Makes cleaning up droppings very easy
  • Good value
  • Naturally reduces germs and lower infection risk
  • Safe to ingest in small amounts

Cons For This Product

  • Cannot be cleaned, just removed and replaced
  • May be messy if your pet likes to kick around a lot

Duck Solid Grip Tool Box Easy Shelf Liner

Duck Brand Select Grip EasyLiner
  • Ideal for: drawers and utility cabinets or in campers and RVs to keep objects from sliding while on the move
  • Non-adhesive grip top and bottom holds liner and objects in place
  • Open weave construction allows liners to breathe and provide cushion and protection
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

This liner by Duck fits in kind of a unique place in this substrate/bedding list.

While many bearded dragon purists may scoff at the idea of this, it’s an affordable, safe, and comfortable option. 

The liner wasn’t meant as a reptile substrate; it started life as a shelf liner.

However, it works well in this capacity.

All you need to do is line up the material and then cut to shape and size.

One of its best features is how machine washable it is.

When it comes time to deep clean the tank, just pop it in the dishwasher or your sink and wash it off.

The solid material prevents droppings from seeping through.

This makes it a little easier to clean up. 

A gripping bottom keeps the liner from sliding around while the bearded dragon moves around the tank.

It’s a non-adhesive and non-chemical liner, so you don’t have to worry about any accidental ingestion of chemicals.

Because it’s a liner, you don’t have to worry about adult or juvenile bearded dragons eating the liner while it’s having its meal.

There are different types of grips to pick from.

The best choice may be the Smooth Top grip.

This grip makes it easier for the beardy to run around while still not getting slipped around.

Here is what users had to say about this as a reptile product:

Pros For This Product

  • Good value
  • Easy to install
  • Multiple reuses and easy to clean
  • Grips the surface and doesn’t bunch up

Cons For This Product

  • Doesn’t absorb moisture or odors

Commonly Asked Questions

Is Aspen bedding for bearded dragons?

Aspen is an excellent substrate to use with bearded dragons.

The reason it didn’t make our list is because of the concerns it offers when treated with chemicals or used with juvenile beardies.

If it’s all-natural and in large enough chunks it should be fine.

Is tile a suitable substrate for bearded dragons?

Ceramic tile also works well as a substrate.

The material is easy to clean, and bearded dragons don’t have any problems with the texture of the material.

As a substrate below the basking lamp, tile is excellent!

It retains heat a lot below the lamp and makes a warm place to rest.

We suggest using tile if you’d like, below the basking lamp and one of our other picks for the rest.

Do bearded dragons like to dig?

Yes, they love to dig!

In nature, bearded dragons dig and burrow below the dirt and sand to cool off when their body temperature gets too high.

They also dig at night or to find places to hide and rest.

It’s this love of digging which makes natural substrate another common choice.

If you took away their love of digging, artificial liners would win out easily.

But, if you want to watch your beardy dig and burrow, go for a natural substrate.


Now you know the best bedding for bearded dragons.

Any of these choices are great and used quickly, but make sure you read in the details for what situations they fit the best.

Remember, if you want something very owner friendly and great value, pick one of the liners.

If you’d like something more natural for the reptile to dig into, choose a natural substrate.

Pick one out and give it a go.

Choosing one of these can make your life easier and your beardy happier!

Leave a Comment