Bearded Dragon Substrate – Which One Should You Use?

What substrate should you use for your bearded dragon?

There is a lot of debate on the substrate for your bearded dragon’s habitat. I remember a couple weeks ago I was at the pet store picking a Petco employees brain. I was asking questions about substrate and bearded dragons. To be honest with you I knew the answers to my questions but wanted to ask some questions just to drive home a point.

So, the following substrates will be covered in this article:

Reptile Carpets

A lot of bearded dragon owners prefer to use reptile carpet.  Reptile carpets were made to make sure that the reptiles would have something with traction to grip onto.  The carpet is not like the carpet you would put in your home. It is very different, and it has fine fibers that are good for a bearded dragon to walk on. You will find out that you can easily get this to work when you are trying to make the tank as easy to walk in as possible.

There are a lot of these carpets that you can buy online, and you can lay them across the bottom of the tank. The texture is not like these other substrates, but it is helpful when you are trying to give your bearded dragon a place to rest.  Not to metion its pretty easy to clean and looks decent.

What I like about reptile carpet:

  • Comes in different colors.
  • Pretty cheap.
  • Easy to clean.

What I don’t like about reptile carpet:

  • Some might not like the look of it.
  • Crickets, worms, etc. can hide under it.


Newspaper SubstrateNewspaper works great because it gives them something to walk on that is easy to clean out, and it has a nice texture and crunches when they walk on it. Someone who is trying to use newspaper needs to spread it before they put it in the tank, and they need to make sure that they have taken the time to make their substrate as heavy as possible. You need to get more newspaper to put in there because there is nothing else that you can do besides pile it up higher. This is the smartest thing for you to do because it makes your life much easier when you are cleaning up. They can also hide under it if they want to.

You can easily change out newspaper unlike anything else, and there is an abundance of it that you can have lying around so that you can use it when you need it. This is much smarter than just sitting around cutting up a newspaper that came in today. You can run it all through your paper shredder, and then you will be able to make the newspaper work. You can arrange it how you want, and you can give them a good hiding place at the same time.

What I like about newspaper substrate:

  • Free.
  • Easy to clean. (Simply, just throw it away).

What I don’t like about newspaper substrate:

  • Will have to get a paper shredder unless you don’t mind cutting up newspaper.
  • Might not look that appealing depending on your taste.

Bark and Mulch

Mulch SubstrateI asked them at Petco if they recommended I use bark or mulch. I almost slapped them when they told me they were both good options for bearded dragons. Actually, this is not true at all. Bark and mulch should never be used for bearded dragons.

They could end up swallowing the bark or mulch. This would leave to impaction and they would die from it. Not, to mention they could end up cutting themselves on these types of substrate.

What I like about bark and mulch:

  • Nothing. DO NOT USE IT.

Ceramic Tiles

Ceramic Tiles SubstrateCeramic tiles will get very hot, and that is good for your bearded dragon because they need that warmth during the day. However, you don’t want it to get so hot that it burns them. Typically, it won’t get too hot because the lights will be 18 inches above it.

But, if you do use a heat emitter or heating pad you want to make sure the tile isn’t so hot that it burns them. You can purchase an infrared lightgun to check the temperature of the tiles, though.

However, you need to make sure that you have picked ceramic tiles to only use on part of the floor because you might need other kinds of substrate material so that you can give the bearded dragon a place to relax when they are not on the tiles.

You do not want them to get burned, and they need to be spread out so that your bearded dragon can go one place and then another depending on what they want.  Not to mention it just looks aesthetically pleasing, too.

What I like about ceramic tiles:

  • Easy to clean.
  • Looks amazing.
  • Lots of different patterns.

What I don’t like about ceramic tiles

  • Can be costly.
  • Conducts heat very well. (Can make the ground kind of warm or cool).

Calcium Sand

Calcium Sand - Bearded DragonsRemember at the beginning of this article when I mentioned that I wanted to pick the Petco’s employees brain. Well, one of the questions was do you recommend calcium sand for bearded dragons? The employee told me, yes they “highly recommend it”. Wow, is all I could think in my head. I know that you should avoid using calcium sand because bearded dragons are kind of unpredictable when they eat. Meaning they might go for a cricket and could miss and end up getting a mouthful of calcium sand.

Calcium sand can cause impaction which will kill your bearded dragon. The shards in calcium sand are very jagged and should never be used in your bearded dragons enclosure.

What I don’t like about calcium sand:

  • Nothing. DO NOT USE IT.

Washed Play Sand

Washed Play SandA lot of bearded dragon owners do use washed play sand. It looks great and makes it look like you have a little desert in your tank. Obviously, this looks very natural to the bearded dragon. You can get it pretty cheap at Home Depot, Lowes, or your local hardware store. It usually costs about $5 for a 50-pound bag.

Personally, I have used washed play sand for my bearded dragons over the years. I haven’t had a bearded dragon eat it and die from impaction. The grains are a lot finer than regular sand and pretty easy to clean. You just use a hermit crab scoop to scoop out the dead insects and poop.  Also, make sure you give your bearded dragon a bath at least once a week in case they do swallow a little-washed play sand. If you do go this route make sure you switch out the washed play sand once every 3-4 months.

What I like about washed play sand:

  • Looks natural.
  • Bearded dragons can dig.

What I don’t like about washed play sand:

  • Have to change it out every 3-4 months.
  • Is a small risk for impaction.

Hopefully, this article has helped you in deciding which substrate you want to use for your bearded dragon. It’s important to remember that you do have a lot of different options. So, make sure you weigh the pros and cons to each.

If you have any questions please leave a comment down below.

12 thoughts to “Bearded Dragon Substrate – Which One Should You Use?”

  1. I’m getting a bearded dragon and had no idea that bark and mulch was a big no-no. I might go with the cheaper option – newspaper – since it is nice to walk on and easy to clean. Although the ceramic tiles might be good. If I can get my hands on some I will definitely choose them, otherwise newspaper it is!

    1. Yeah, a lot of newbie bearded dragon owners think you can use bark, but it’s a huge no-no. Newspaper is pretty easy to clean too. You could always do a combo or ceramic tiles and newspaper, too 🙂

  2. Thanks for the in-depth information. I always wondered how much these sellers really know. Some actually just want to sell things and will always say yes to every question.
    I think I would go for washed play sand. Could I use beach sand as well if I wash it first?

    1. Yeah, honestly I believe the employees at Petco and Petsmart are usually just high school employees that don’t really know much about reptiles. Heck, the kit that they sell for bearded dragons comes with alfalfa pellets. I still can’t understand why?

      I wouldn’t use beach sand though. It could come with glass or other material that could hurt your bearded dragon. Also, it could be contaminated. I would highly encourage you to stay away from it.

  3. I like the idea of newspaper. I have tons of it lying around, and I for some reason end up with 3 or 4 newspapers a week.. So it’s good that I can use it after shredding it (I also happen to have a paper shredder!).

    How much paper should I use? Is an inch or two of paper enough? Or do they need more?

    1. I would use an inch of newspaper. Keep a bucket close and whenever you need to clean it out add in some fresh newspaper.

      It’s not the most attractive substrate for your bearded dragon, but it does do the job.

  4. I am wondering about the crushed walnut (also sold to me by Petco as being GREAT for beardies). It’s very very fine, like play sand is, but do you recommend it?

    1. Bad idea to get crushed walnut shells. They are actually quite dangerous for bearded dragons. There are lots of little sharp cubes. It’s actually like little tiny glass shards. But, this can get stuck in their stomach.

      I have seen the aftermath of using crushed walnuts and it can be fatal to bearded dragons. Impaction is something that can end up killing your pet!

  5. Which one do you personally use? I noticed you had a lot of pros and cons, which confused me a little about which one to choose.  There are a few of them I will now never use.  Like calcium sand! But is their a happy medium one that really doesn’t have any cons I wonder? 

    I’m going to be getting a bearded dragon shortly.  I’m pretty excited about it!

    1. Personally, I have always used washed play sand. It’s a great option and it’s really cheap. Again, make sure you switch it out every 3-4 months.

      Yeah, calcium sand is horrible I can’t believe they even sell it at pet stores! It’s horrible for reptiles, not just bearded dragons.

      Good luck finding the perfect bearded dragon!

  6. Pretty new to bearded dragons, but I am fascinated with them.  Thinking of getting one over Christmas.  Looks like a low maintenance pet and pretty easy to take care of.

    Thanks for this article.  What about clay substrate for bearded dragons.  Do you think that is a good idea.  I was reading some stuff online, but could find a clear answer.

    1. They do sell a clay burrow substrate at most pet stores. Personally, I haven’t ever used it for any of my bearded dragons. It seems pretty messy and kind of hard to set up though. Your bearded dragon does run a risk of impaction if they do ingest it, though.

      I don’t really recommend clay for bearded dragons, though. Might be better suited for leopard geckos and possibly uromastyx.

      Don’t get me wrong it does look cool, though.

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