Top Substrates For Crested Geckos (Moss And Alternatives)

One of the most essential parts of your crested gecko’s enclosure is your choice of substrate. 

With many options on the market, how do you know which are safe and comfortable for your gecko?

Ideally, your crested gecko’s substrate should be easy to spot clean and shouldn’t interfere with humidity in the enclosure. Some great choices include: 

  • Sphagnum moss
  • Coconut fiber/husks
  • Cypress mulch
  • Orchid/fir bark
  • Organic potting soil
  • Paper towels
  • Reptile carpet

To learn more about the best choices of substrate for crested geckos, keep reading! 

Since these geckos are arboreal and spend the majority of their time above ground, you have a wide variety of options to choose from.

substrate for crested gecko terrarium 1

What To Look For In Crested Gecko Substrate

Your crested gecko’s substrate should be lightweight and easy to spot clean. Additionally, it shouldn’t interfere with or alter the humidity settings within the enclosure. Avoid loose substrates with tiny, non-biodegradable particles like sand, as they often cause impaction.

You have many potential options to choose from when it comes to a substrate, but not all of them are equal or even safe. 

Many are outright dangerous for crested geckos, as they will cause impaction if ingested.

Thankfully, there is also a wide range of safe options for you to choose from too. 

Not all loose substrates are dangerous! 

Many of them are great for crested geckos, as they retain moisture well and promote the high humidity settings a crestie needs to thrive. 

Additionally, many loose substrates are dense and have large enough pieces to make impaction very unlikely. 

For example, sphagnum moss is technically a loose substrate, but your gecko probably won’t accidentally ingest it as it isn’t small or fine enough.

Other loose substrates, like coconut husks, are made of natural materials your gecko will be able to digest and pass safely if they happen to accidentally ingest a few pieces of it from time to time. 

If you opt for a loose substrate, just be sure it is safe for your gecko to digest or has large and dense enough pieces to prevent impaction.

If you don’t want to bother with a loose substrate, though, there are options like reptile carpet or even paper towels that are easy to clean and retain moisture well enough not to interfere with your gecko enclosure’s high humidity levels.

Is Moss Substrate OK For Crested Geckos?

substrate for crested gecko terrarium 3

Sphagnum moss is an excellent choice of substrate for crested geckos. It’s easy to clean, safe for your gecko if they happen to ingest it, and retains moisture exceptionally well. Don’t just put any old moss in the enclosure, though; opt for sphagnum moss, as it has the perfect density and texture.

Not all mosses are the same. 

Some are unsafe or even toxic to crested geckos. 

However, sphagnum moss is one of the top choices of substrate for crestie habitats for several reasons.

First and foremost, sphagnum moss presents minimal risk of impaction. 

It’s dense and a bit stringy yet bushy enough, so your gecko likely won’t eat it accidentally. 

If your gecko does happen to ingest a small amount of it, they will likely be able to pass it with minor issues as it is soft, breaks up quickly, and is relatively easy to digest.

In addition, sphagnum moss is perfect for retaining the ideal humidity settings in your gecko’s habitat. 

It absorbs and holds moisture very well yet doesn’t promote fungal or bacterial growth, provided it is spot cleaned regularly and replaced every month or two as needed.

Finally, this popular substrate looks great and promotes plant growth well if you happen to opt for natural plants in your crestie’s enclosure. 

It mimics the sort of substrate your gecko would see in their natural rainforest habitat very closely. 

It’s nice and soft, too, so when your gecko does come down from the branches hanging in their enclosure from time to time, it’ll feel comfortable under their delicate feet.

Overall, sphagnum moss is one of the top choices of substrate for crested geckos. 

It’s safe, inexpensive, looks natural, and promotes high humidity settings. 

Many reptile keepers will mix this substrate with other safe, moisture-retaining substrates like soil, coconut husks, or mulch.

Is Soil A Good Substrate For Crested Geckos?

Soil is a popular choice of substrate, though it is crucial to opt for organic potting soil with no added fertilizer, herbicides, perlite, or vermiculite, as these materials are not safe if your gecko accidentally ingests them.

Like with moss, not all soil is the same. 

Many potting soils include harmful additives like: 

  • Fertilizer
  • Insecticides 
  • Herbicides 
  • Vermiculite 
  • Perlite

These aren’t designed especially for crested geckos to use as substrate; they’re designed to promote plant growth.

Still, the soil is a good choice of substrate, provided you are very particular about the type you choose. 

Many organic potting soil mixes, for example, will be free of any of these additives, making them ideal for a crested gecko habitat.

It is common for reptile owners to use a mixture of soil and another substrate like sphagnum moss, orchid bark, or coconut husks. 

The soil has tiny particles, which occasionally cause impaction in crested geckos if ingested. 

Fortunately, the particles in soil aren’t nearly as sharp or coarse as outright unsafe substrates like sand.

By adding another larger, denser substrate to the mix, you’ll significantly decrease any risk of impaction. 

As we discussed earlier, crested geckos spend most of their time above ground anyway, so impaction risk is already relatively low.

What To Avoid When Choosing A Substrate

Avoid substrates with small, rough, non-biodegradable particles, as they present a risk of impaction. Additionally, avoid any substrates with additives like vermiculite, perlite, or fertilizer, as they are unsafe if your gecko ingests them.

In general, you’ll need to choose a reasonably dense, soft, and porous substrate. 

The main risk you’ll need to control is impaction, as this condition is excruciating and sometimes even deadly for crested geckos if they happen to ingest enough of their substrate.

On the flip side of this, you’ll need to avoid any substrates with very tiny, sharp particles. 

Sand and crushed walnut shells, for example, are not safe substrate choices for this reason.

Thankfully, with crested geckos, their overall risk of impaction is relatively low since they aren’t ground-dwelling animals. 

They will rarely come in direct contact with their substrate aside from mealtimes, and you’ll ideally be feeding them in a dish anyway.

Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so be sure to avoid the following substrates:

  • Sand
  • Wood chips
  • Non-organic soil with vermiculite, perlite, fertilizer, or herbicides/insecticides
  • Crushed walnut shells
  • Gravel
  • Cedar wood shavings (contains toxic chemicals to crested geckos)

Best Crested Gecko Substrates

substrate for crested gecko terrarium 2

The best crested gecko substrates are soft, dense, natural, and good at holding moisture with little risk of impaction. These include:

  • Coconut husks/fiber
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Organic potting soil (ideally mixed with a larger, denser substrate)
  • Cypress mulch
  • Orchid/fir bark
  • Paper towels
  • Reptile carpet

Do you know which option you’ll choose yet? 

If not, take a look at the following list below before buying substrate for your gecko.

Remember, if you opt for organic soil, it helps mix it with a larger substrate to lower the risk of impaction. 

For best results, many reptile experts recommend mixing organic potting soil with sphagnum moss, cypress mulch, or coconut husks.

There’s also the option of making your bioactive substrate if you plan to house your gecko in a bioactive enclosure. 

While these types of enclosures take a lot of effort in terms of initial setup, they are highly self-sustaining afterward and require little future maintenance.

Check out our guide for how to make a bioactive substrate for your crested gecko.

We’ve included links to where you will be able to purchase each of these excellent substrates below.

Coconut Husk Fiber 

Coconut husk fiber, also known as coconut coir, is a typical substrate choice ideal for crested geckos. It’s all-natural, retains moisture well yet prevents mold growth, and is easy to spot clean. Plus, it’s inexpensive and accessible from most pet shops and online retailers.

Coconut fiber is an excellent substrate popular amongst crested gecko owners for the reasons listed above. 

It presents little risk of impaction and is easy to set up and spot clean. 

It lasts a long time, too, making it a very cost-effective choice if you’re on a budget.

Another great thing about this particular substrate is it absorbs and masks odors very well. 

Although crested geckos don’t produce a whole lot of waste due to their small size, it’s good to have a nice-smelling substrate, especially if the enclosure is kept in a small room with little ventilation.

This substrate is often packaged in one of two ways: loose in a large bag or compressed tightly into a small brick shape to save space.

If you’re interested in this choice of substrate, we highly recommend something like Zoo Med’s Eco Earth

It’s compressed into tiny bricks, so all you have to do is remove it, fluff it up a bit, and add some moisture from a spray bottle, for example. 

You’ll be surprised at just how much substrate is packed into one of these bricks!

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss is another highly popular choice of substrate for crested geckos as it promotes high humidity very well and presents little risk of impaction thanks to its dense, bushy texture and shape. It’s nice and soft for your gecko to walk on and looks great, too.

Sphagnum moss is an ideal substrate commonly used in crested gecko enclosures. 

It looks great and is perfect for humidity management as it holds plenty of moisture.

One of the best things about this particular substrate option is it is naturally anti-microbial and resists mold and fungal growth extremely well. 

This makes it easy to clean and maintain, and it lasts a long time. 

Ideally, spot clean it daily and replace it every month or two, but in some cases, it will last even longer.

Sphagnum moss is also a very cost-efficient choice, thanks to how well it resists mold, fungus, and bacteria. 

Just mist it with water (or even soak it in water beforehand to save time), fill up the floor of the enclosure with it, and you’re good to go.

Like the coconut fiber mentioned above, it typically comes in one of two types of packaging: either loose in a bag or compressed tightly into a brick-like shape. 

The compressed moss is great for saving space, and you’ll be surprised at how much substrate you’ll get out of such a tiny brick!

Finally, if you want your gecko’s enclosure to look as natural as possible, sphagnum moss mimics the forest floor of the crested gecko’s natural habitat extremely closely.

If you’re interested in purchasing this type of substrate, we highly recommend something like Zoo Med’s Terrarium Moss

It’s made of all-natural sphagnum moss with no added dyes or harmful substances.

Cypress Mulch

Cypress mulch is made of cypress tree shavings and is a great choice of substrate for crested geckos. It retains moisture well, looks very natural, and is very lightweight and easy to spot clean. It presents a fairly low risk of impaction thanks to its large, dense, fibrous pieces.

Cypress mulch is a popular choice of the substrate not just for crested geckos but also other reptiles like snakes and even farm animals like chickens and goats. 

Unlike other wood shavings, cypress mulch is soft and doesn’t tend to splinter. 

It’s not quite as soft as coconut fiber or sphagnum moss, but it’s still a great option as it’s very inexpensive.

In addition, cypress mulch looks great in a crested gecko enclosure. 

It promotes high humidity very well as it can hold a ton of moisture, so it will stay fairly soft and comfortable to walk on as long as you keep it properly hydrated.

This substrate option is naturally fungus and pest-resistant, so you won’t have to worry about any unpleasant growth or unwanted tiny visitors, provided you clean it regularly and replace it every three to four weeks or so as needed.

If you’re interested in purchasing cypress mulch for your crested gecko’s enclosure, we highly recommend something like Josh’s Frogs Super Cypress

This product is designed especially for reptile and amphibian enclosures and is made of 100% pure, safe cypress mulch. 

It’s also been double milled to make it even softer for your gecko to walk on!

Soil

Soil is a good choice of substrate, though you’ll need to be sure to purchase organic potting soil with no additives like fertilizer, perlite, vermiculite, herbicides, or insecticides. It’s best to mix soil with another more dense substrate to minimize the risk of impaction.

While it’s a great choice for a crested gecko enclosure’s substrate, soil comes with a few unique caveats. 

You won’t be able to just scoop soil out of your garden and plop it into your crestie’s tank.

You’ll need to be pretty specific about the type of soil substrate you purchase. 

Be sure to opt for organic potting soil, ideally mixed with coconut fiber or peat/sphagnum moss for best results. 

Don’t purchase any soil with fertilizers, herbicides, or perlite/vermiculite, as these are unsafe if your gecko ingests them accidentally.

In addition, the soil does present a small risk of impaction, so most reptile experts recommend blending it with a larger, denser substrate option like coconut fiber or cypress mulch. 

Ideally, it’s best to put a small layer of the denser substrate on top, too, to form a protective layer between the soil and your gecko. 

This way, the soil acts as a base substrate hidden safely underneath the larger substrate.

If you’re interested in purchasing soil for your gecko’s enclosure to use as a substrate, we recommend something like Exo Terra’s Plantation Soil

This product is designed especially for reptile and amphibian habitats and is primarily made of coconut fiber, so it’s perfect for your crestie’s habitat. 

It also promotes live plant growth very well if you happen to have live plants in the enclosure!

Fir/Orchid Bark

Orchid bark, also known as fir bark, is a great choice of substrate for crested gecko habitats. It is made primarily of bark from coniferous trees and retains moisture very well. It also looks great and mimics the appearance and texture of a rainforest floor.

This choice of substrate is another highly popular option amongst reptile owners. 

Once it’s been saturated in enough moisture, it becomes soft enough for most reptiles to walk on comfortably.

In addition, orchid bark is hygroscopic, meaning it pulls in water and releases a small amount of moisture into the air. 

This makes it especially great for reptiles like cresties who need enclosures with very high humidity, as water retention is important.

Orchid bark also looks very natural and has large, dense enough pieces to not pose much risk of impaction, especially for adult geckos. 

Overall, this good-looking substrate is great for most species of reptiles, and it’s a particularly great choice for a crested gecko habitat.

If you’re interested in purchasing this type of substrate, we highly recommend something like Zoo Med’s Repti Bark

This product is designed especially for reptile and amphibian habitats and is fairly inexpensive.

Paper Towels

Paper towels are a great choice of substrate for crested geckos, especially baby geckos, who are at an increased risk of impaction. They are extremely inexpensive and retain moisture surprisingly well. The only downside is it doesn’t look as natural as some of the alternatives listed above.

If you want a cheap, hassle-free substrate, paper towels are the way to go. 

They are particularly great for baby crested geckos as they present absolutely no risk of impaction whatsoever. 

Just be sure the paper towel brand you opt for has no added dyes, as these are often mildly irritating and toxic to your gecko’s sensitive skin.

While they don’t look as great as coconut fiber, sphagnum moss, or soil, for example, paper towels are very easy to clean and replace and are by far the cheapest option on this list.

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpet is a good substrate option for crested geckos. It is fairly inexpensive, presents no risk of impaction, and won’t interfere with the humidity in your gecko’s enclosure. However, it is at a slightly increased risk of developing mold and fungal growth.

One of the most popular choices of substrate for reptiles, in general, is the ever-present reptile carpet commonly found at most pet shops and online retailers. 

It’s cheap, easy to set up and clean, and it looks nice, even if it doesn’t look particularly natural.

The only issue with reptile carpet is that it is sometimes problematic for enclosures with high humidity, as it is more prone to fungal and bacterial growth than most other options on our list. 

However, if you clean it often and keep a watchful eye out, you’ll rarely run into this problem.

If you’re interested in purchasing reptile carpet for your crested gecko’s habitat, we recommend something like Zilla’s Reptile Terrarium Liners

They’re soft and easy to trim to fit any size or shape enclosure.

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