What Is Substrate & Why Is It important?

Substrate is basically a material that covers the bottom of your bearded dragon’s terrarium.

Choosing a high-quality substrate for your bearded dragon is hugely important. The truth is that most substrates will cause your Dragon a lot of health problems or just won’t be fit for purpose.

There are many things that you need to consider in a substrate such as the level of hygiene it provides, how easy it is to clean, the risk of impaction, does it look at feel like their natural habitat? and in certain circumstances, you also may it to allow your beardie and especially females to dig?

If you don’t have time to read what we think of each of our recommended options and products then you can check them out directly on Amazon below… 

Best Choice…

Recommended For Digging/Gravid Females…

Here are some secondary choices to consider…

Sand Mat

Exo Terra Sand Mat, 60-Gallon
  • Sand Mat - Desert Terrarium Substrate
  • Provides a natural desert look

Last update on 2023-11-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Sand mat is our recommended choice of substrate for your beardie and for good reason.

In short, Sand Mat is a substrate that is… 

  • Hygienic
  • Easy to clean
  • Easy to take out and re-install
  • Keeps nails short
  • Looks like your bearded dragon’s natural habitat
  • Doesn’t cause impaction

Sand mat is essentially a thin mat or sheet that has both small and large sand particles fixed to it.

Sand mat isn’t to be confused with loose sand-based substrates as the sand is firmly fixed to the mat which makes it impossible for your beardie can’t eat or ingest it. 

One of the main benefits of Sand Mat is that its coarse nature means it easily keeps your dragon’s nails nice and short as they naturally explore their habitat.

It also looks and feels like your bearded dragon’s natural habitat and once you add in your other tank decor it makes for an amazingly authentic look that your beardie will love and connect with.

When it comes to cleaning, Sand Mat is easy to remove, clean and replace in the terrarium.

You simply take up the sheet and either clean or replace it with a fresh one, it’s as simple as that. It comes in a roll that you can then cut to the exact size of your terrarium.

Top Tip: If you need a new piece of Sand Mat then simply use the old piece as a template so you don’t have to re-measure the tank again.

We recommend you use the Exo Terra Sand Mat and you can check the latest price on Amazon here…

Excavator Clay For Digging

Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate, 10 Pounds
  • Holds its shape so tunnels won't collapse
  • All natural, no dyes or chemicals

Last update on 2023-11-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Excavator Clay is the substrate we recommend for bearded dragons that are constantly trying to dig, this usually means gravid females and even beardies around the brumation period.

Digging is a natural behaviour for bearded dragons and most substrates don’t allow them to do this but Excavator Clay will allow your dragon to dig little hides to keep them stimulated and happy.

We just don’t trust loose particle substrate because of the health concerns they can pose and carpet or tiles obviously don’t give you the features that the clay does when it comes to digging.

Excavator clay has so many benefits compared to other substrates that allow your beardie to dig that it really seems silly not to use it.

It’s main feature and the one that sets it apart from other similar substrates is that it allows you to create an amazing habitat and mould little hills and valleys that your bearded dragon will enjoy roaming. This is because it sets like a firm clay rather than loose sand.

The risk of impaction is also virtually zero. If you use a loose substrate then little particles will almost certainly end up inside your bearded dragons gut and cause them to suffer from impaction which is basically the reptile version of constipation.

Another big plus of excavation clay is that looks and feels like a Bearded Dragons natural habitat and that’s something you should always look for. Using newspaper or similar just isn’t helping your Dragon to feel at home.

It’s also easy to clean which is important because if poop gets stuck in the loose particle substrates such as sand then it can cause infection and parasites so you will need to change the whole substrate for fresh.

There are other substrates that are hygienic such as substrate tiles but you loose so much with these like creating a natural rocky habitat and the ability to dig.

We would always recommend using Zoo Med Excavator Clay  for gravid females or beardies that love to dig and it’s now becoming increasingly popular with other Bearded Dragon owners too.

Reptile Carpet

Zilla Reptile Terrarium Floor Liners Green 30BR/40BR/50/65 Gallon, 17.25" x 35.25"
  • Bio-degradable enzyme reduces odors
  • Absorbent, non-abrasive material that will not irritate reptiles

Last update on 2023-11-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Just remember that every substrate has its pro’s and cons so finding one that is both good for your bearded dragon’s health and fits your needs as an owner is the optimal goal here.

Reptile carpet has a lot of pros such as the fact that is some in a big roll that you can easily cut and then fit into your Dragons tank with ease.

Tip: If you ever need a new piece simply use the old piece as a template so you don’t have to re-measure the tank again.

Reptile carpet is different from the normal household carpet as it’s made specifically for reptiles so they can’t chew any of the fibres and ingest them.

I do like the fact that reptile carpet is easy to replace and is totally safe for your Bearded Dragon and that’s why I’d always recommend using it if it appeals to you.

If reptile carpet is something that you like the look for for a substrate then I would recommend you choose Zilla Terrarium Bedding as it’s high quality and treated with a chemical so it reduces odours while not effecting your Bearded Dragon.

You can check the latest price on Amazon right here. 

There are a couple of cons with this substrate though. It takes a lot of cleaning and scrubbing to get 100% clean and it might often be better to put in a whole new piece once it gets dirty.

The other drawback is that it doesn’t allow your Dragon to dig which is a natural part of their behaviour.

However, with all things said reptile carpet is worth considering as a substrate for your beardie.

Ceramic Tiles

Ceramic tiles have many pros and cons and it’s going to be up to you as an owner to decide if the pros outweigh the cons.

A good thing about ceramic times is that once you have fit them into the tank they will very rarely need replacing if ever.

This means that the cost over time is extremely low.

They are also super easy to clean and very hygienic. Some substrates absorb pee and moisture from poop but with ceramic tiles, this simply isn’t the case so you can keep a clean tank with ease.

Something to consider when using ceramic tiles for a substrate is the fact that cutting and fitting the times to the tank can be tricky unless you have access to a tile cutter and can indeed use one with precision as the tiles will need to fit perfectly to the walls of the tank.

Something else to consider is that times will be slippery for your Beardie and they don’t give them the best surface walk on and they won’t provide a surface where they can keep their nails short either.

They also won’t allow your Dragon to dig and as this is a natural behaviour it’s always recommended whenever possible especially in gravid females.

All in all, ceramic tiles can be a good choice for a substrate but they also have their bad points too.


Newspaper has it’s place a substrate for Bearded Dragons.

I would not recommend using it as a long term solution but its always handy to have some stored away as a short term option.

you can always use newspaper if you run out of your normal substrate or you have put your Dragon in a second tank while cleaning their main tank.

Newspaper is cheap, easily accessible, easy to lay and easy to dispose of.

This makes it a good short term option when you really need it and it’s always recommended to have some stored away for emergencies.

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