When selecting bedding for your snake, you'll want to consider how well the bedding absorbs urine and odors, how it insulates or maintains humidity, and whether it provides adequate coverage for burrowing snakes. Finding the right bedding can depend on the species of snake and individual considerations like maintenance needs and aesthetic preferences.
"Look for something easy to clean, or replace quickly and easily," Dr. Lyle Cleary of the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York told The Spruce Pets. Dr. Cleary specializes in reptiles and exotic pets—he contributed his advice and insights to our search for the best snake beddings. He also keyed us in to what should be avoided: "Nothing that emits a smell when clean. Nothing that is loose or able to be accidentally swallowed by snakes fed in the enclosure or on the substrate.”
Our best overall pick—suitable for a wide range of snake species—is Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding for its dust-free, absorbent, and unscented qualities. For tropical species, try Galapagos Cypress Tank-Mulch, which is excellent for humid enclosures.
Best Overall, Arid
Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding
No pre-washing necessary
Odorless and dust-free
No color options
Can grow mold if not changed frequently
Aspen bedding is useful for a wide range of pet snakes, thanks to its neutral odor and high absorption. It allows for burrowing too. It’s especially good for corn snakes, hognose snakes, milk snakes, and other species that prefer drier environments and the ability to burrow. However, if you have a tropical snake that needs high humidity—such as a ball python—you’ll likely want a bedding that’s better at both retaining and releasing humidity, like cypress mulch.
Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding boasts 191 percent absorbency, and its wood shavings are un-dyed and virtually dust free. The aspen from which it’s derived isn’t as oily as pine and cedar, so the bedding doesn’t carry residue or stickiness.
Zoo Med bedding is also one of the best picks for most snakes and snake owners because of its reliability. Founded in 1977, it’s a central brand in herpetology, and its products are used in zoos, aquariums, and conservation organizations around the world.
While Zoo Med’s Aspen bedding is fantastic at absorbing liquids and containing odors, it’s important not to leave wet bedding in place, since it can encourage mold growth. In addition to regular cleanings, Zoo Med recommends fully replacing its bedding every 2-3 months.
Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding is available in a variety of sizes—a 24-quart bag of bedding is suitable for filling a 40-gallon tank.
Price at time of publish: $27 for 24 quarts
Size: 4-quart, 8-quart, 24-quart bags
Best Overall, Tropical
ReptiChip Coarse Coconut Chip Mix
Loose or compressed brick options available
Can be used wet or dry to obtain specific humidity levels
Washed three times
Only available in two sizes
ReptiChip washes its Coarse Coconut Chip Mix three times, eliminating agitating impurities like salt and thoroughly rinsing the staining tannins from its blend of coconut husk chips. Coconut fibers are very good at retaining moisture, and can be soaked in water for high-humidity snake species. It’s also excellent at capturing odors.
Reptichip sells a variety of coconut fiber chips for reptile bedding, ranging from small chips suitable for hatchlings to larger, more coarse varieties ready-made for pythons and boas. They also offer a compacted "Breeder Block" if you're looking to fill large or multiple enclosures, though you have to first soak it to rehydrate and expand the block.
Price at time of publish: $20 for 12 quarts
Sizes: 12-quart, 36-quart bags
Galápagos Cypress Tank Mulch Forest Floor Bedding
Dust free; washed and sieved
Highly absorbent for maintaining humid habitat
Often only available in an 8-quart size from major retailers
Cypress mulch is excellent at retaining moisture, making it (or similar substrates) an essential part of providing a humid environment for tropical or semi-tropical snake species. Mulch is especially good for burrowing species, since its light and loose pieces can be easily shifted. Made from timber byproduct, Galapagos Cypress Tank-Mulch is washed and sieved to be dust-free.
Galapagos’ Tank-Mulch Cypress Bedding comes in resealable bags, which make it especially useful for smaller terrariums that may not go through substrate as fast.
Price at time of publish: $17 for 8 quarts
Size: 8-quart, 24-quart bags
Fluker’s Repta-Bark Forest Floor Substrate
Rich, uniform color
Big pieces reduces chance of swallowing
Available in multiple sizes
Sourcing is not disclosed on bag
Fluker’s Repta-Bark Forest Floor Substrate uses orchid bark, named because it’s often used for orchid growing, though it’s typically made from fir tree bark. While similar to cypress mulch in its ability to retain humidity for tropical species, this bark is composed of big, rounder pieces, more like chips. This can make it a little less appealing to burrowers, but also creates a denser, more uniform “floor” to your snake’s habitat, which can be better for snakes who eat crickets and other live feeder animals.
Fluker’s Repta-Bark is our favorite alternative to Galapagos Tank-Mulch, especially because of its rich, uniform color. It’s also available in multiple sizes.
Price at time of publish: $17 for 8 quarts
Sizes: 4-quart, 8-quart, 24-quart bags
Zilla Terrarium Liner
Available in a wide range of sizes
Can be cut to size
Can’t be ingested
Available in brown and green
Not suitable for burrowers
Requires a little more maintenance than other substrates
If you like the simplicity of paper but want something a little more attractive, then Zilla Terrarium Liner is an excellent alternative. Rather than pouring in the bedding by volume, Zilla liners can be cut to fit the exact footprint of your terrarium. They come in a variety of sizes, so you can get the closest match right out of the box.
Carpet liner has several advantages over bedding. Most importantly, it can't be ingested, making it a good pick for anyone with a young reptile that is not well-acclimated to eating around bedding. It's also highly reusable: simply pull out soiled bedding, rinse it under cold water, and allow it to air dry.
However, this comes at the cost of absorbency. While Zilla Terrarium Liner can absorb quite a bit of liquid, it's not going to hide and contain solid waste as well as wood shavings or other types of bedding. Plus, while the Zilla floor liner can be spot cleaned, you’ll occasionally need to take out the whole carpet to clean it. It can be advantageous to have two liners cut to size, so while one is being washed and air-dried, the other can be installed.
The Zilla Terrarium Liner is available in brown and green.
Price at time of publish: $11 for 11.75 x 47.5 inch liner
Sizes: Multiple, smallest 9.75 x 19.75 inches, largest 17.25 x 71 inches
Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding is a favorite among snake owners for it’s affordable, dust-free, odor-eating dependability. For tropical snake species, check out ReptiChip's Coarse Coconut Chip Mix instead. This bedding is great for maintaining high humidity, with excellent odor absorption.
What to Look for in Snake Bedding
Types of Snake Bedding
Wood Shavings: Small, uniform pieces with high absorbency. Our favorite is Aspen wood, which doesn’t have oils that can irritate snakes. While excellent for handling messes—easy to scoop for spot cleaning too—this type of bedding isn’t meant to retain moisture for high humidity and tropical species.
Mulch: While mulch can come in a wide range of materials, when referring to snake bedding, it generally indicates varied small pieces of fir tree wood, including hunks of bark and interior wood. If you’re looking for a clean aesthetic, this probably ain’t it, but mulch has a lot of advantages for snakes that need humidity and love to burrow.
Bark: Typically more uniform and larger pieces than mulch. Bark can be used to create a denser floor layer, which is good for species that hunt live prey in their habitat, or would prefer more usable space for sunning than for hiding.
Coconut: Coconut husk replicates much of the advantages of mulch and bark, and is more absorbent than either, making coconut beddings a good pick for tropical species.
Paper and Fabric Liners: These types of liners lie flat and don’t provide depth for your snake to hide or burrow in. While paper is easy to replace, it doesn’t lock moisture away from your snake’s skin, and so requires frequent changing. Fabric liners can add some absorbency and padding, but are a little trickier to wash.
While snake bedding materials are typically washed, and sometimes even baked, there’s always the possibility of mites or other small insects coming along for the ride. We’ve picked products from well-established reptile brands with consistent quality control, but a little cautionary preparatory steps can’t hurt, just in case.
For additional guidance regarding snake care, we spoke with Dr. Beth Bystrom of Sea Island Animal Hospital, who recommended freezing natural substrates overnight prior to use. That will kill off any mites, and then you can feel confident adding the new substrate to your terrarium.
How often should you change snake bedding?
Dr. Bystrom recommends weekly bedding changes, but this can vary depending on the type of substrate you choose. Efficient spot cleaning—such as by shoveling out soiled bedding with a cat litter scoop—can extend the usefulness of bedding. But it’s important to fully swap out all bedding no less than once a month, since it can develop mold and bacteria, causing health issues for your snake.
Can you mix different types of bedding?
“You can mix different types of bedding as long as they are both safe for snakes," Dr. Bystrom told The Spruce Pets. For example, bedding that helps hold in moisture can be reserved for one part of a terrarium, while bedding more suitable for burrowing can be used elsewhere. You can even try custom mixes to achieve the best combination of strengths for your snake's habitat.
Can you use potting soil for snake bedding?
Potting soil can contain fertilizer and other chemicals designed to help plants grow, which makes it an inappropriate medium for snake bedding. Soil collected from outside may not have artificial fillers, but it's nevertheless a poor substrate that's most likely to just turn into mud.
Can you use mulch for snake bedding?
Dr. Bystrom says yes, “You can use mulch for snake bedding, and it’s great if your snake requires a lot of humidity.” Just be sure that the mulch you choose doesn’t contain fertilizers, pesticides, or insects. Mulch designed for outdoor flower beds should not be used as bedding for your snake. As with other bedding made from natural materials, be sure to freeze mulch before using it in your snake's enclosure.
Why Trust The Spruce Pets
This roundup was written by Ellie Welles, a freelance product researcher and writer for The Spruce Pets. A specialist in small pets, Ellie spoke with a variety of sources and utilized experts in small animal care to assemble the best guinea pig supplies, ferret toys, and chinchilla cages. Her two cats were a little more helpful when it came to finding great window perches.
A previous version of this article was written by Adrienne Kruzer, a Registered and Licensed Veterinary Technician in three states who has been writing on pet and vet topics for over a decade. She is also Fear Free Certified, has a special interest in exotic and pocket pets, pet nutrition, and loves researching, learning, and problem-solving in order to better help pet owners. Her years of working in various animal hospitals with dogs, cats, wildlife, and exotic pets like snakes, alongside her formal college education and elective continuing education classes, have provided her with a wealth of experience and knowledge to help snake owners select the best bedding for their pets.
Dr. Beth Bystrom is a veterinarian at Sea Island Animal Hospital in Beaufort, SC. She enjoys treating dogs, cats, and exotic pets, including snakes, and also earned her certificate for small animal abdominal ultrasound and echocardiology to continue her education. She has a passion for all things scaly, feathery, and furry and loves helping pet owners care for their pets.
Also consulted for this article was Dr. Lyle Cleary, a veterinarian at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York.