Leopard Gecko Enclosure Setup Guide: Tank, Lighting, & More

Although leopard geckos are known for being pretty low-maintenance reptiles, their enclosure settings are relatively specific. 

This guide will cover all the basics of leopard gecko care, from tank size to lighting to substrate options.

Your leopard gecko’s enclosure should be around 20 gallons in size. When setting it up, you’ll need a heat source, a UVB bulb, a proper substrate, dry and humid hides, a thermometer/hygrometer for each end of the tank, food and water dishes, and any decorations of your choice. 

Keep reading to learn more about the ideal leopard gecko enclosure setup. 

Maintaining a suitable habitat for your gecko is crucial to their health and happiness, and there’s a lot to cover! 

leopard gecko enclosure

How Do You Set Up A Leopard Gecko Enclosure?

With any reptile you plan on keeping as a pet, it is essential to emulate their natural habitat as closely as possible while also meeting their needs. 

This is particularly important for any pet reptiles, including your leopard gecko, as they are cold-blooded and depend on their external environment to maintain their body temperature and digest food properly.

Leopard geckos are hardy, docile lizards. 

These lizards are pretty adaptable and relatively easy to care for compared to other reptile species, but they shouldn’t be perceived as “easy” reptiles, as there are no “easy” reptiles to care for; they all have particular needs. 

You’ll need to make a reasonably pricey investment into your lizard’s enclosure, diet, and long-term care in general, so make sure you are ready to commit to all of this before going out and purchasing your gecko.

There are many factors to keep in mind when setting up a leopard gecko’s enclosure, such as: 

  • Enclosure size
  • Heat and UVB lighting
  • Temperature and humidity
  • Proper substrate
  • Dry and humid hides
  • Food and water dishes
  • Decorations for the enclosure

Once you’re sure you can commit to caring for a leopard gecko and meeting all of their unique needs, it’s time to start addressing each of the above factors one by one to set up your enclosure for your new pet properly. 

Tanks: Types and Sizes

As a general rule, a 20 to 30-gallon size tank is ideal for these lizards, and anything smaller than 20 gallons shouldn’t be considered. It is crucial to find an enclosure large enough to accommodate the lizard yet small enough to prevent overwhelming them.

Since leopard geckos are relatively small reptiles, it is possible to house one in a relatively small tank.  

Many different types of enclosures are suitable for a leopard gecko, with the most common being standard glass terrariums readily available at most pet shops in various shapes and sizes. 

You’ll want the tank to have adequate ventilation, so choose one with a mesh screen on top to allow plenty of airflow inside. 

This 20 gallon Exo Terra enclosure is perfect, as it has a screen on top and two easy-to-open doors positioned in the front.

Most glass tanks either open on the top with a lid that slides open or at the front with two doors that open outward and close securely. 

Either option is acceptable; it’s best to pick whichever suits your preferences best. 

Think of where you’ll be setting up the tank; make sure it’ll be easy to get inside the tank to clean it, refill the gecko’s water and food dishes, and rearrange decor when needed.

In general, it’s best to avoid cohabitating multiple leopard geckos in the same enclosure. 

While it is possible to cohabitate more than one gecko in a single tank, it usually comes with more downsides than advantages for all the geckos involved.

You can read our dedicated post on leopard gecko cohabitation to learn more on the subject of tank mates.

Once you’ve found a tank of adequate size and is shaped to fit your preference, you’ll be able to move on to setting up the lighting for the enclosure. 

Remember, leopard geckos are cold-blooded, so you’ll have to make sure the tank is warm enough for them to be comfortable. 

We have a dedicated post on leopard gecko tank size that goes into more details on nuances for those interested.

Lighting & Heating

There are two different types of lighting you’ll need for your new gecko: heat and UVB. A plain white heat bulb of around 70 to 100 watts, commonly known as a basking bulb, and a UVB bulb with a 5% or 6% output are essentially what you should look for, but we’ll get into the specifics soon.

Keep in mind the bulbs will also need hoods to house them, so you’ll be able to plug them into your electrical outlets. 

Heat Lighting 

For heating, you should first be aware of the ideal temperature for your lizard’s enclosure. 

You’ll need to establish a warm side and a cool side of the tank on opposite ends; this is easy to accomplish simply by setting up your heat bulb on the far side of the tank and moving it closer or further away, depending on the temperature reading in the tank. 

The cool side of your gecko’s enclosure should be around 75 to 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C), while the warm side should be about 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C) with a basking area no hotter than 95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C). 

It is best to set up two dual thermometers and hygrometers, one near the basking area and one on the cool side of the tank, to monitor and adjust the temperature (and later humidity) accordingly.

Now, when it comes to your heat bulb, you have a variety of options. 

Most basking or heating bulbs are measured in watts, and the exact wattage you’ll need will vary depending on how you have the lighting set up. 

Avoid colored heat bulbs and opt for a plain white bulb, as red or blue bulbs will irritate your gecko’s eyes and disrupt their sleep cycles.

Some gecko owners claim heating rocks and heating pads are acceptable for your gecko’s enclosure to keep them warm, but in reality, they present far more risks than they’re worth. 

These heating elements often become pretty hot and are unfortunately known for causing severe, painful burns on reptiles’ sensitive bellies, limbs, claws, and tails.

There’s no way to tell how hot the surface of the heat rock or heat pad is without actually touching it, so your gecko won’t know to avoid it until they’ve already been burned.

Generally, a 70 to 100-watt white basking bulb is ideal, such as these Zoo Med bulbs

Ensure the hood you purchase can handle the wattage of the basking bulb you’ve chosen; this Repti Zoo hood is perfect for the aforementioned bulbs, as it supports up to 100 watts.

You’ll need to adjust the height and angle of the bulb until you have the temperature within an acceptable range on both sides of the tank. 

For most enclosures, you’ll be able to mount the lamp above the tank or place it directly on top of the screen.

Keep in mind that this kind of setup is only acceptable for heating bulbs; you’ll need to mount the bulb and hood inside of the enclosure. 

If you place the UVB bulb on top of the screen, it will end up filtering out the essential UV rays your lizard needs.

Even though leopard geckos are crepuscular (not nocturnal!), meaning they mostly sleep during the day and are more active in the evening, it is best to mimic the lighting of their natural habitat (the sun!) and leave their lights on during the day and turn them off at night in 10-12 hour intervals. 

Since you’ll be setting up hiding spots for your gecko later, they’ll be able to avoid the bright lights to get the rest they need anyway.

If your home gets cooler than around 68 to 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C) or so at night, you might want to also invest in a ceramic heat emitter to keep the temperature in your gecko’s enclosure warm at night when the lights are turned off. 

heat emitter like this one will give off warmth without disturbing your gecko’s sleep cycles. 

UVB Lighting

Next, on to selecting and setting up a UVB bulb. 

UVB rays are essential for your gecko to process calcium, digest its food properly, and keep its bones and muscles strong and healthy. 

You must understand, first and foremost, UVB is not optional; it is essential, even if leopard geckos need a lot less of it than most other reptiles commonly kept as pets.

Most UVB bulbs are measured by their total output, usually denoted by a certain percentage of decimal number on the bulb’s packaging. 

The ideal UVB bulb for a leopard gecko should have a 5 or 6% output; this Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 bulb, for example, is perfect. 

It’s long and thin enough to cover the entirety of your gecko’s enclosure regardless of where your gecko decides to hang out, and it even comes with a hood for you to easily mount it inside of the tank.

Remember, don’t just place the UVB bulb on top of your gecko’s enclosure. 

The mesh screen will prevent your lizard from getting those precious UV rays they need to thrive. 

Just like with your heating bulb, you should leave it on during the day and turn it off at night, in the same 10-12 hour intervals. 

Humidity Settings

Overall, the humidity in the enclosure, on both the cool and warm sides, should stay somewhere between around 30 to 40% at most. Anything higher is too humid, and your gecko will risk developing respiratory issues. 

Once you’ve set up your gecko’s heat and UVB lighting, the next item on your list should be setting up your dual thermometer/hygrometers, one on each side of the enclosure. 

With most thermometer/hygrometers, such as this one by Repti Zoo, you’ll be able to stick them to the wall of the enclosure and not worry about it falling off. 

Some gecko owners opt for a thermometer/hygrometer which stands up on its own, but we’ve found the ones you stick to the walls of the enclosure to be much more convenient. 

Plus, they’ll save space in the tank for things like your gecko’s dry and humid hides and tank decorations. 

You’ll also be setting up a moist hide later with higher humidity concentrated inside (by misting it every day with water) to help your gecko shed.

Still, in general, the humidity level will stay pretty low otherwise, as these lizards are desert animals. 

If you have trouble with high humidity read our post on how to lower humidity in leopard gecko tanks for a solution.

Substrate Options

As a whole, the easiest and cheapest substrate for leopard geckos is paper towels or reptile carpet. Other slightly more pricey options include stick-down linoleum or ceramic tiles. 

Avoid loose substrates unless you’re setting up a bioactive enclosure, which isn’t recommended for beginners anyway. 

Loose substrates will cause impaction if your gecko happens to get any of it in their mouth while eating or to remove their own shedding skin, which will quickly become painful and even deadly for the lizard in some cases.

Although paper towels might not be the most attractive option, they are the easiest to clean and least expensive. 

Tiles are also great, as they are easy to wipe clean. 

Reptile carpet is so-so, as while it is nice and soft under your gecko’s feet, it is a lot harder to clean.

Most geckos prefer to poop in the same spot, so if you want to use reptile carpet, figure out where your gecko tends to do their business and put down either tile or paper towels in only this section of the enclosure while leaving the carpet in the rest of the tank. 

It’s up to you; just don’t use loose substrates. 

Hides

Another essential component of your gecko’s tank will be their dry and moist hides, one of each. 

These will give your gecko a place to hide when they’re feeling tired or shy, and the moist hide especially is excellent for helping them remove their shedding skin.

As far as both hides go, small cave-like hides like these from Exo Terra are perfect. 

They are large enough for your gecko to crawl around inside comfortably yet small enough to fit in their tank.

If you aren’t concerned with a natural-looking option and are looking to save some money, a small plastic container turned upside down with a hole cut in it to give your gecko access to the inside also works fine for both the dry and humid hide. 

Truthfully, your gecko won’t care much if you choose a more artificial-looking hide.

For the dry hide, you won’t need to do anything extra with it other than just placing it in the tank towards the cooler side (but still within range of the heat lamp, so it doesn’t get too cold). 

For the humid hide, you’ll need to place it under the warm side of the tank with a moist substrate inside.

There are plenty of substrates that work great for humid hides, and this is the only case where loose substrates like coconut fiber or sphagnum moss are acceptable. 

Still, though, paper towels work just fine for the moist hide. 

Just place a few layers of your chosen substrate inside and mist the inside of the hide with warm water every day so it stays damp. 

Replace the substrate at least weekly to prevent mold and mildew growth; check it daily and replace it sooner if necessary. 

Decorations

Although tank decorations like plants and rocks aren’t necessary for your gecko’s survival, they will undoubtedly help your gecko feel a lot more comfortable in their enclosure and make their habitat look a lot more attractive. 

Remember, it helps to mimic their natural habitat as closely as possible, and things like rocks and plants will go a long way.

Now, let’s go over some materials you should use to decorate your gecko’s enclosure. 

Plants

Fake plants are highly recommended, especially for beginner reptile keepers.

While real plants look a bit nicer, they also require a lot more maintenance, and your gecko won’t really be able to tell the difference anyway. 

Since leopard geckos are total insectivores, they won’t eat the plants, so just go with whatever looks nice to you.

Fake vines are an ideal option and look quite lovely adhered to the walls of your lizard’s tank or placed on top of their dry and humid hides. 

Some, like this AQUA KT climbing vine, even come with conveniently placed suction cups to help you place it in just the right spot. Feel free to get creative here! 

We have an awesome list of the best leopard gecko terrarium plants (with pictures) we recommend you take a moment to look at.

Rocks

Use rocks of varying sizes and place them however you’d like. 

If you’re using natural rocks, be sure to clean them thoroughly to get rid of any bacteria or potential pesticides present on their surfaces.

Like with the enclosure’s plant decor, feel free to get creative with the placement of the rocks in your gecko’s enclosure. 

Just make sure you aren’t hindering your gecko’s movement or putting too much clutter in the tank to overwhelm them. 

Avoid heat rocks, as they might burn your gecko’s limbs and belly. 

Heat rocks are now notorious in the reptile enthusiast community for causing severe burns on reptiles’ sensitive skin, so it is best to avoid using them altogether. 

We encourage you to read our post on heat rocks for leopard geckos to learn more.

Other Decorative Options

Plants and rocks aren’t your only options when it comes to decorating your gecko’s enclosure. 

For example, look into aquarium decorations, such as this cool skull mountain ornament or this fun set of neon accessories for your gecko’s tank.

Another option many gecko owners opt for is decorating the tank with stickers or setting up a wallpaper-like backdrop in the enclosure to make it look more exciting and dynamic.

While mimicking your gecko’s natural habitat when it comes to temperature, humidity, and diet is essential, as far as tank decorations go, your lizard really won’t mind if you have some fun with it. 

Just don’t go overboard and end up filling the enclosure with unnecessary clutter, as your gecko needs enough room to move around comfortably, too. 

Food and Water Dishes 

The final components of your leopard gecko’s enclosure are dishes for food and water. 

Choose something shallow enough for your gecko to access comfortably but deep enough to hold a decent amount of water or food. 

These ceramic bowls by DoubleWood, for example, are ideal.

When finding the perfect location for your gecko’s food and water bowls, it’s best to position them towards the cooler side of the enclosure. 

If you place the water bowl directly under the heat bulb, for example, you’ll find yourself having to refill the bowl often, as the heat bulb will quickly evaporate any water you put in it.

Some lizards are more willing to drink water from a bowl than others.

If you’re worried your gecko isn’t drinking enough water, it will help to use the spray bottle you usually use to mist their humid hide to gently spray the gecko’s skin with water from time to time. 

Leopard geckos can absorb water through their skin, and the water will be beneficial to remove excess skin when they’re shedding. 

A food bowl is good to have so you won’t have to place feeder insects directly onto the floor of your enclosure, where they’re more likely to crawl away and hide under substrate. 

Plus, you’ll be able to sprinkle the insects with your calcium powder supplements (which are a must, not optional!) without getting the messy powder all over the enclosure. 

Plus, you never want to leave uneaten feeder insects inside your gecko’s enclosure, especially if they’re superworms, for example, which will climb on your gecko and pinch them while they’re sleeping. 

By placing the insects in a bowl with tall enough sides they aren’t able to climb out of easily, you will be able to keep an eye on them and prevent them from scurrying away. 

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