What Is The Best Substrate For Corn Snakes? – The Pros & Cons

You may have heard the word “Substrate” and wondered what it means, well it is just another word for corn snake bedding — substrate is the material that you use to cover the floor of your pet’s enclosure. But what is the best substrate for corn snakes. Read on to find out.

(Please scroll down to the bottom of the page to find ‘Other related articles you might like’, once you are done reading).

There are many types of substrate to choose from when housing your Corn Snake. In this article we will talk about the different types that are available, and help you answer the question: What is the best substrate for corn Snakes?

DIY naturalistic mix — 40% organic topsoil + 40% Zoo Med ReptiSoil + 20% play sand. Cheap and effective!

The Bio Dude Terra Firma — Bioactive-ready natural substrate that retains humidity well. Expensive, but lasts a long time, so it’s worth the investment. I recommend getting The Bio Shot with it!

Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding — Expensive, but holds humidity well, isn’t dusty, and absorbs odors.

One of the most popular types of substrate is aspen. Aspen is very good as it is regularly well priced soft and absorbent. It also holds is shape well when your Corn Snake burrows inside. Aspen is also good as it helps to prevent the snake from swallowing a piece of the mattress when it is feeding.

The only possible downside of using substrate is that does not retain humidity very well, so something to think about if you are in a particularly dry climate.

Also available is Lignocel it is very similar to aspen shavings and is a fine and dust free option and has similar quality’s to aspen shavings.

A Hemp version is also available, it is extremely absorbent, chemical-free, and has little dust. Also an eco-friendly alternative to wood-based substrates.


A cheaper alternative is newspaper, which many people prefer to use for large snakes, in comparison with the smaller snakes, which would not burrow as much in a substrate because it has bigger pieces. Scientist have proved that the ink in the newspapers is toxic.

A good alternative would be paper towels but not for adult Corn Snakes, only for hatchlings and small juveniles . Also make sure to change the paper towels every time the Corn Snake goes to the toilet.

Reptile Carpet

Reptile carpet is another interesting option, which you can wash with hot water and chlorhexidine in a washing machine and reuse. So is very good to keep your pet Corn Snake clean. This type of substrate is best for hatchlings and small juveniles. It is best to switch to something else when they become adults. It is not very absorbent, but it is more eco-friendly than paper towels.

Another option is Contact paper, make sure you do not use one that contains VOCs as these are harmful to your Corn Snake. It comes in many different patterns so you will be able to give your tank a nice unique feel. You can easily clean it with wipes, however it is not absorbent at all.

Beech Nest

With Beech nest substrate you must make sure that it is very coarse and contains large pieces. As when ingested can damage internal organs of your Corn Snake. It consists of pieces of beech wood, which is absorbent and biodegradable, is not dusty and also has no chemicals. As it is natural it encourages natural digging behaviour and is decorative so is ideal for your Corn Snakes living environment.

But be careful of some substrates…

One type of substrate to be careful with is ReptiBark. The aromatic compounds in the pine and cedar (what makes it smell good) can cause neurological damage in reptiles. So make sure that it does not have those aromatic compounds. Other than that it is a good choice as it can absorb moisture then release it into the terrarium. It is also washable and re-usable.

Also available is sand which is free of harmful microorganisms. Of course you should not use sand from the beach. However it is not absorbent at all, which promotes bacterial and fungal growth. These substrates are also abrasive to a corn snake’s scales, and can cause injury if the snake attempts to burrow.

Bark or wood chips of any kind. These should be a big enough size so that your Corn Snake does not swallow any. As the bark or wood can have an adverse affect or even damage the internal organs of your Corn Snake if accidentally ingested.

Why do you need a good substrate?

The primary reason and goal of substrate is to absorb any kind of fecal matter that the snake leaves behind and it’s also used to absorb spilled water.

Now people on a tight budget have their own little recipe and methods for making substrate, or some people even use substrate, but one of the great things about corn snakes or snakes in general is that you can use a pretty wide variety of different substrates without any harmful effects or negative consequences except for one particular type of substrate.

A big NO for Cedar Wood

So, what is the best substrate for corn snakes.

There’s one and only one type of substrate that you should never use for any kind of snake ever. That’s the cedar substrate. If any material of the substrate you’re considering has cedar in it, then you need to put it back and find something else. As what cedar essentially does to your snake is gives off toxic chemicals and will be lethal to your pet in time. So it’s highly recommended that unless you prefer shopping for new pets, that you stay away from using cedar substrate.

Substrate makes an amazing absorbent, but specifically some of them help better with the awful smell that can come with fecal matter that can build up. Some people prefer to use newspapers for this and while that’s fine, I definitely don’t recommend using this as a method of substrate if you’ve happened to use an under tank heater because, well you do the math. A 120 degree heater sitting there all day lit under some newspaper is just a recipe for disaster.

Your issue might be a bit bigger than the snake being harmed if that 120 degrees happens to catch that newspaper on fire, so you will want to use some common sense while choosing substrate in accordance with your cage setup.

Sand and Gravel

Also, among the cedar list there are two other substrates you don’t want to use especially for corn snakes. Those would be sand or gravel. There are actually quite a few decent reasons and solid logic behind the disallowance of using sand or gravel as substrate for snakes. First of all, they’re not absorbent and they aren’t going to help you much in collecting fecal matter but they sure will stick out like a sore thumb. Have you ever seen fecal matter in gravel or in sand? It sticks out but it doesn’t exactly conceal or absorb it very well.

Another reason not to use sand or gravel with corn snakes is because they’re prone to ingesting the gravel or sand and due to their size, this could be harmful. Imagine if one of the sharp rocks from the gravel got caught in the throat of the snake, you’d be purchasing a new snake.

Also, sand doesn’t mix well with sunlight and can actually blind your pet if they’re very sensitive to sunlight such as the corn snake. It’s not that they can’t handle sunlight but they’re on the ground all day with their eyes only a mere inch or less from the ground and that UV light is reflected.

While some snakes can handle sand,but they do not recommend it for corn snakes. So what’s the best recommendation for corn snakes and what’s the best recommendation for the majority of snakes?


Mulch is more than likely your best and most preferred choice for snakes. It is very cheap, economic and cost effective and it’s healthy for the tank as well. Not only that, but it’ll help make maintenance easy as well. Mulch absorbs fecal matter, excrement or anything else in the cage that shouldn’t be in there quite well. You won’t ever have to worry much about cleaning the cage because it’s really easy with mulch.

There you have it. All you need to know on the question, what is the best substrate for corn snakes.

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What Is The Best Substrate For Corn Snakes? – The Pros & Cons
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