What's The Best Bearded Dragon Substrate?

Oh, the heated debate with substrate types for bearded dragons.

Us reptile owners are very passionate about our critters’ well being. 

This article will describe the commonly used substrates. The two types are:

  • Loose Particle substrate
  • Non-Particle substrate

We will give our recommendation on the best bearded dragon substrate for each type as well as the pros and cons.

Let’s get started.

Why The Heated Debate?

best bearded dragon substrate black beard dragon

Loose particle substrate is a bit controversial due to the topic of possible impaction

Bearded dragon impaction is a condition where they are unable to defectate due to a blockage in their system. Oftentimes it proves to be fatal.

Impaction can be caused by:

  • Eating an insect that is too large for them
  • Eating a foreign object when running free around the house
  • Eating loose substrate *gasp*

Think about when your beardie snaps up a cricket or juicy dubia roach.

They can easily get some loose substrate in that mouthful. 

A perfectly healthy bearded dragon will usually not have any problem with this. 

On the other hand, if your bearded dragon tank isn’t setup correctly or you haven’t been providing a nutritious diet, they can have issues.

Many bearded dragon owners will argue back and forth. Let’s look at the different types and the pros and cons of each.

Loose Particle Substrate

The most common loose particle bearded dragon substrate is sand. 

But there are a few others that you can consider.

If you plan to use loose substrate, make sure your bearded dragon is an adult or sub-adult. 

Adults are more established and can get away with ingesting some loose substrate.

If you want to be on the safe side and use loose substrate, you can always take your bearded dragon out of the enclosure for feeding. If you only feed dubia roaches, you can use a deep bowl so they can’t climb out.

Let’s take a look at three common substrates and then we will talk about our recommendation – a bioactive setup. 


At one time sand was considered the standard for a bearded dragon substrate choice. A lot of options with sand:

  • Play sand (found at hardware stores)
  • Terrarium sand
  • Sand mats

reptile sand substrate

Eco Earth Coco Fiber

Coco fiber is used in many reptile habitats, but the main issue is that it can raise humidity in the enclosure.

Being desert creatures, high humidity can pose problems. If you wanted to use this substrate, we recommend mixing it with sand.

eco earth coconut fiber bearded dragon bedding

Excavator Clay

Excavator Clay by Zoo Med is pretty cool. This substrate actually allows you to mold and create burrows that your dragon can use.

You get an opportunity to use your imagination and create a really fun beardie habitat.

You add water to mold it and then let it dry. It’s basically clay sand with rocks added in it.

The fact that is clay means it will compact and there won’t be much chance of your bearded dragon picking up any loose substrate when it hunts live feeders.

zoo med reptile excavator clay burrowing substrate

Our Recommendation - Go Bioactive

A bioactive setup is self-sustaining. You use multiple substrates and load it with microfauna.

Microfauana translates to “small animals” and the most common I’ve used in bioactive setups for bearded dragons are springtails. They are pretty much the “cleanup crew.”

Here are some of pros of a bioactive setup:

  • Extremely natural habitat for your bearded dragon.
  • The microfauna eat the poop. A healthy population will eat poop within a day.
  • You can plant live leafy green plants (like mustard greens).
  • Your bearded dragon can burrow, dig and live the high life.
best substrate for bearded dragons

For an all in one setup, check out the Bio Dude. Josh over there has some ready made packages for you to build your own ecosystem successfully.

If you want to setup on your own, here is a common setup that I’ve used before.

Bottom drainage layer – This will be a drainage layer. Use a few inches of red lava rock and mesh wiring to cover the top

Substrate layer – Do a 50/40/10 mix of play sand, Eco Earth coco fiber and organic top soil. Use enough to give your bearded dragon some nice depth to dig into.

You can also sprinkle some leaf litter over the top of the substrate.

After that, grab yourself some springtails and toss them in.

And there you have it!

Maybe throw in some dubia roaches and plant some mustard greens and you’re all set.

Common Non-Particle Substrate

Non-particle substrates come highly recommended, especially for beginners.

It’s very rare to have a chance for impaction.

And you can still make them look good in a habitat (although they won’t be as realistic as a loose substrate option). 

They are always recommended to start with if you have a baby bearded dragon. 

Reptile Carpet

Reptile is commonly found in the starter kits and is a great substrate for your bearded dragon.

You can usually find the carpet in green or brown and in a variety of sizes.

The main disadvantage of reptile carpet is that you have to be extremely vigilant in cleaning off poop. Like, spot cleaning it every day.

It’s good to have multiple carpets so you can replace them every few days and throw the dirty ones in the wash.

reptile carpet


The great thing about tiles is that you have so many patterns and color options available.

You can find tiles for cheap at hardware stores.

Vinyl or laminate tiles will work just fine.

tiles for bearded dragon cage

Paper Towel Or Newspaper

A lot of times people will use paper towel or newspaper for bearded dragon substrate.


It’s okay as a temporary solution, but there are so many other better options. 

It is cheap, but it doesn’t look that great. Your bearded dragon could also eat the paper which can cause issues. 

Aspen and Pine Bedding

This type of substrate is commonly used for small mammal pets and is not recommended for bearded dragons. 

Like the paper towels and newspaper, there are just so many other options available.

We do not recommend using this type of substrate for your bearded dragon enclosure. 

So What's The Best Substrate For Bearded Dragons?

And the best bearded dragon substrate is…

Drumroll please….

Whatever works for your bearded dragon!

Quite uneventful, right?

If you have a baby bearded dragon, go for the non-particle substrate. Reptile carpet is a perfectly fine choice as long as you keep it clean.

As your bearded dragon turns into a sub-adult, you can start venturing into some excavator clay or a bioactive setup. 

If you currently have a healthy bearded dragon and are looking to change substrate, just stick with what you have.

Why mess with a good thing?

So, what type of substrate do you have going on in your beardie’s habitat? 

Leave a comment below and let us know. Talk soon!

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