Bearded Dragon Substrate: Why You Should Only Use This

bearded dragon substrateLooking for a great bearded dragon substrate, but you just don´t know which substrate you should get since there are so many different substrates and opinions on those substrates? Let me help you!

The best substrate for a bearded dragon in captivation is the ZooMed Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate. It is easy to use, you can form hills and caves with it and your bearded dragon can digg its own caves with this substrate.

This article will show you why the Excavator Clay is the best substrate for beardies, which alternatives you can get and why you don´t have to worry about your beardie getting impacted.

The right bearded dragon bedding choice – Do not do that!

I think before I tell you which substrate I use, I should tell you what not to do. Why? Well, I have seen a lot of bearded dragon videos and videos of other reptiles on Youtube and I was shocked!

I was shocked that so many people just buy a fish tank for their bearded dragon, put a few paper towels in there or even newspaper and that´s it.


There is no excuse for that. A lot of people say that bearded dragons might eat too much sand, if sand is used as a substrate, and die from that.

Well first of all, that is not completely true. Baby bearded dragons tend to lick on everything, since they want to explore everything. It can happen that they eat sand while doing this and then they can get impacted and die from that. Adult bearded dragons, however, do not lick on everything.

There is no real danger for them if you do not use sand which is mixed with calcium. If it is mixed with calcium your beardie might eat too much of it and get impacted.

Secondly, loose sand is also a very bad substrate. If you only use loose sand and do not give your dragon the possibility to get off the sand, it will cause damage to its joints over time.why is my bearded dragon eating sand

Why is my bearded dragon eating sand?

Have you ever asked yourself the following question: Why do bearded dragons eat sand and why do they get impacted from that in captivity, but not in the wild?

At the end of the day, eating sand is a natural behavior in bearded dragons. Whenever a bearded dragon feels that it needs some minerals, it will eat some dirt. This way the bearded dragon balances its minerals.

This can happen if a bearded dragon doesn´t get enough food and water in the wild. As you see, this isn´t only a natural behavior in bearded dragons, it is actually a very important behavior.

If a bearded dragon doesn´t get enough minerals, it can get sick and if it is really bad, the beardie might even die from that.

So what does that mean for you and for your choice of the right substrate? Here is what it means:

How to stop your bearded dragon from eating sand

If your bearded dragon is eating sand all the time, it means that you have to offer some additional minerals. Those minerals must be available to your bearded dragon all the time.

If you offer minerals, it does not matter which substrate you use. You can definitely use loose sand partially, but you always have to make sure that your beardie can balance its minerals easily and that the minerals are not in the substrate, as known as calcium sand.

I said it before in this post, calcium sand is not the right choice as substrate nor as a mineral source.

So, you might ask yourself what kind of minerals your bearded dragon needs and how you can make sure that your beardie gets it easily. With minerals I mean that you have to offer calcium. That is it. Nothing fancy, just calcium.

If you already use a calcium supplement and think that you are on the safe side, you might be wrong. While it is great that you use a caclium supplement, it still might not be enough and your bearded dragon might eat sand nevertheless.

That´s why you should offer calcium seperately in a food bowl.

However, you should not just put calcium powder into the food bowl and that´s it. This way, your bearded dragon probably won´t notice that the powder is eatable.

You should offer small pieces of to stop my bearded dragon from eating sand

Simply break it down into small pieces and put it in a food bowl, so it is available to your bearded dragon all the time. The good thing about this is, that you don´t have to worry about that your bearded dragon gets too much or too little calcium.

Your bearded dragon knows exactly how much calcium it needs. You might see your bearded dragon eat the sepia every day, or you might see your bearded dragon eat it once a week. Both is totally fine.

If you do that, your bearded dragon does not feel the need to eat substrate anymore as its minerals are balanced. If you need some sepia, I recommend to get this sepia here. It might be for turtles, but it is absolutely fine bearded dragons and other reptiles, too.

Can I use Reptile Carpet for my bearded dragon?

To be honest, I am not a fan of reptile carpet. Many people use carpet, because they are afraid that their bearded dragon could die from eating loose substrate. However a carpet is not natural. When it comes to my beardies I like to keep it natural. I want to create a natural habitat for them.

Do you think there is reptile carpet in the wild?

Further you have to keep in mind that bearded dragons are passionate diggers. It is their normal behavior and with carpet, they can´t dig. Besides that, their nails will get longer and longer if they do not have the possibility to dig.

Clipping a bearded dragon´s nails isn´t really fun. Not for you and not for your bearded dragon.

reptile carpet

Click here for more images!

I only would use reptile carpet in a quarantine tank, or in small beginner terrariums for baby bearded dragons which will be in use for only a few weeks. If you want to use reptile carpet, I recommend to get this reptile carpet here. It is inexpensive and high quality.

Clay Burrowing Substrate – The best bearded dragon substrate?

Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate

Click here for more images!

The Clay Burrowing Substrate is the substrate I would go with. I used it several times and I never had problems with it.

Why do I use it?

  • Bearded dragons can´t become constipated from eating substrate, since the clay gets hard.
  • You can form hills and caves for your dragon.
  • It is very close to a natural habitat.
  • Bearded dragons love to dig, with this substrate they can even dig their own caves. Digging will make your beardie happy, since it is a great exercise for them. And your dragon will never have problems with long nails.
  • No problems with damaged joints because of loose substrate.
  • You can stick plastic plants and branches in this substrate before it dries. This way they will stick in the clay and can´t be knocked over.
  • It will last longer then any other substrate.
  • You can re-arrange it if you wet it down again. That means you always can create a new environment for your pet.
  • It is easy to clean.
  • Cheap and you most probably only have to buy it once, since you can re-arrange it.

How to use it

The substrate comes as sand. You have to mix this substrate with water, after that you pour it in your terrarium, form ways, tunnels, caves and hills and let it dry. Please note that you will need a little bit more of this clay to form hills or something like that.

I like to add a little bit of normal sand to the substrate, in my opinion it will be a little bit more loose when it dries. This way the dragons can digg their own ways and caves, but you don´t have to combine it with loose substrate.

The terrarium should contain a layer of substrate of about 7 inches. However, you can form small hills here and there and have a little less substrate in some places of the cage.

As you can see in the video below, the clay is absolutely amazing.

Read the instructions on the package to know how much water you need. The video above should be helpful when preparing the substrate. It is actually pretty easy.

Get The Clay Burrowing Substrate here!

How to form caves and tunnels

If you want to form caves, you need something to hold the shape while it is drying. You can use normal balloons for that and pop them after the clay dried.

I have tested the Cavern Kit for this substrate and for me it was really easy to create some great tunnels and caverns for my beardies.

The Cavern Kit includes:

  • 12 lbs Excavator substrate
  • 7″ Tunnel Tube
  • 5″ Round Balloons (2 pieces)
  • Balloon attachement assembly
  • 10″ shovel
  • Excavator Mixing Bag
  • Full Installation Booklet
Zoo Med Excavator Cavern Kit

Click for more images!

The cavern kit definitely helped me and it worked fine! However you don´t have to buy it.

A lot of customers on Amazon who bought this cavern kit posted some awesome pictures of the caves and hills they formed for their bearded dragons with this kit. Simply click here and scroll down to the customer images to see the pictures on Amazon!

best bearded dragon beddingSo I hope this article on bearded dragon substrate helped you. If you use paper towels or newspaper as bearded dragon bedding, please keep in mind, that bearded dragons are diggers. Even if your beardies are fine, there is a difference between only existing and actually living.

By the way, is your beardie refusing to eat greens? Here is how to make your beardie eat greens within 7 days!

What kind of substrate do you use and why? Do you also think that the Excavator Clay is the best bedding for bearded dragons? Would you suggest another substrate? If yes, why? Let´s discuss this in the comment section below, simply leave me your message and I will get back to you!

Need more décor for your tank? Click here!

If you have any questions, just leave a comment and I will be more than happy to help you out!



About the Author


Hey! I am Pierre. I own bearded dragons and many other reptiles for a very long time. I know from experience that it can be very hard to find the right information about a specific reptile, since there is so much misinformation out there.That´s why I created this website. To help other people to have the best time with their reptiles.

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I love your tips, I’m getting a baby beardie soon for our annivery and would like to know if the excavator clay is good for the babies too? Also you say it’s good to mix with sand, what kind of sand?


    Hey Terri,

    I am happy to hear that, you must be very excited 🙂
    It really does not matter which sand you take as long as you do not take too much sand. Let´s say 90% cla and 10% sand.

    The excavator clay is definitely good for bearded dragon babys.




I use linoleum because I can clean it daily. How do you get the urine and feces out of the clay?


    Hey Maryjo,

    yes linoleum is easy to clean.
    I remove the poop with a little shovel every day and then I clean it with a slightly wet sponge every week. I never had any problems with that method at all.




Great article! I have a 1 year old bearded dragon and I am currently using alfalfa. The humidity love of her cage is extremely high. If I switch to the clay. Do you think the humidity levels will drop a little bit or is the clay pretty humid? Thanks




    Hey Allen,

    the humidity might drop, however you have to let the clay dry for a time.
    In the beginning the humidity can be a little bit higher with the clay, but as soon as it dries out completely it will be perfect.




Thank you for the tip! I am strongly considering trying out the clay!
I noticed that my bearded dragon (a little less than 1 year old) loves to dig and I was wondering about how well (or strongly) the clay/sand mix will harden so that the top of the burrow doesnt collapse but she can still dig as much as she wants?

Thank you!


    Sure, I am always happy to help 🙂

    That is the reason why I use and recommend this clay, because the clay is “soft” enough for beardies to dig, but it won´t collapse immediately. Don´t worry about it, I use this clay for some time now and there was never an accident.

    Very good that you observed your dragon and saw that it likes to digg. Bearded dragons are naturally diggers and that is why I am not the biggest fan of newspaper/ paper towel/ mats as substrate. They do the job, however if you want to build the best tank for your beardie, you should definitely go with the clay.

    Good job!



Hi Pierre I’ve had my dragon for a year and half now great reading as was going to get rid off sand ! Am going to get the clay stuff sounds great thank you
have a fab day .


    Hey Heike,

    good to hear that!
    Wish you an awesome day as well!



Thank you this is the best and most relatable information I’ve found so far!! I’m getting my new baby soon and I’m so excited! I will definitely be using your advise thank you!


    Hey Kerry,

    I am happy that I could help.
    Wish you a lot of fun with your baby! Baby beardies are always great 🙂




thanks one of the most non bias site i visited man ….. i been looking for a while i just got my baby beardy just few days back … he is now living in a 3 feet long tank well paradise i think for him……. but seriously now i am scared coz i am using exo terra plantation soil for his substrate coz i am doing a bioactive setup for him i have been monitoring him for the past two days he seems fine and i know it will take him a few days to start eating fully
As u say baby tend to lick everything to explore should i change it or just use it coz like u i dont like carpet ,tiles or newspaper it dont look natural and the tank look like a mess if i used that as i spend like a quater of my salary to get him i dont want him to die?


    Hey Kobykawa,

    thank you for your comment. I am happy that you like my website. I am doing my best 🙂

    Great that you have a bio active setup. Keep monitoring your beardie. If he shows weird behavior bring him to a vet, but I doubt it.
    This soil is different from sand. Of course, your baby should not swallow soil the whole day, but it is okay if it happens from time to time.

    Cover your entire tank with leaves, that will help to avoid that the baby swallows too much substrate.

    Death to the repti carpet, newspaper and paper towels! Lol

    Hope this helps!

    All the best,


Lucy Jones

Hi Pierre,
I am glad I found your web site. We have a beardie and I have wanted for some time to build him a play area for when we get him out of his tank because he sometimes runs off and tries to get up the chimney or under the furniture. I’m glad to hear they like swimming, I was worried he would become too cold.
I bought him a hammock the other day so next time we clean the tank I’ll fit it in. We also considered taking him out for a walk so glad to read they enjoy that as well.


    Hey Lucy,

    I am happy that you found my website, too. 🙂
    Yeah build him a play area, that sounds so nice! Beardie enjoy quite a lot of stuff, it is awesome!

    All the best,



Hello! I can’t get the subtrate i’d like until tomorrow. is if okay if I use a towel until then?


    Hey Cat,

    sorry for my late reply. A towel can be dangerous as you dragon can get stuck with its claws. Use paper towel or a newspaper instead.



Hi Pierre, I was just wondering when my bearded dragon becomes an adult, could I use the Clay Burrowing Substrate with sand if I make just half of his habitat a digging area?


    Hey Regina,

    that sounds like a beautiful idea. You can and should do that.
    Make sure that your beardie get´s enough calcium. This prevents them from eating substrate.



Hi Pierre,

Any idea how many cubic feet a 10 pound bag covers? If I am going to order from Amazon, I want to be sure to buy enough in one shipment. Thanks.



    Hey Traci,

    I recommend 3 – 4 bags for a 40 to 50 Gallon tank.

    Hope this helps,


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