If you’re looking for the best substrate to line the bottom of your pet tortoises enclosure, then this buyer’s guide will be all you need. With a number of brands and multiple types of substrate, what you may have thought would be an easy task can soon become confusing. What is the most suitable and preferable for your tortoise and equally, what is going to make your life easier as an owner?
This in-depth buying guide will tell you all that you need to know to make a decision. You’ll know what substrate to buy by taking into account all of the various considerations.
IN A HURRY? HERE’S OUR TOP PICKS…
Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding
- 100% natural cypress mulch
- All natural " Green" Product
- Recommended terrarium substrate for many species of snakes, lizards, land turtles, tortoises, frogs, toads, salamanders, tarantulas
The Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding provides an entirely natural and comfortable environment for your pet tortoise.
It is made entirely of natural cypress mulch; ensuring that it is perfectly safe with no harmful additives that could prove toxic.
There is a reason why this is one of Amazon’s highest-selling products in the reptile substrate category; thousands of owners are using it and re-ordering it for use in their pet’s enclosure.
One of the main benefits of using a substrate like a cypress mulch is that it looks fantastic in the enclosure, whilst providing your tortoise with all that they need.
It’s a very soft and comfortable compound, and easy to lay and clean.
Things we like
- Perfectly sized chunks; no chance of a tortoise ingesting,
- 100% natural product, environmentally friendly.
- Looks great in the enclosure
ReptiChip Coconut Reptile Substrate
- 🐍 CREATE A HEALTHY HABITAT for your ball python or iguana with ReptiChip Coconut Substrate for reptiles. Its superb humidity retention helps form a tropical paradise in turtle and reptile terrariums.
- 🐍 72-QUART COMPRESSED BRICK equals 10 lbs of safe, comfortable reptile bedding for professional breeders and serious hobbyists. Just add water to moisten and our pet snake substrate is ready to use.
- 🐍 ODOR-ABSORBING ReptiChip Coco Substrate encapsulates waste product, making your gecko, python or turtle bedding a healthy environment for your pet and ensuring your own home is pleasant-smelling.
- 🐍 100% ORGANIC coco chips are highly sustainable and earth-friendly. ReptiChip Breeder Block has been meticulously cleaned so it is a dust and dirt free hermit crab or ball python snake bedding.
- 🐍 VERSATILE BIOACTIVE SUBSTRATE can be used as reptile or tortoise bedding. Its multifunctionality makes it an essential addition to your ball python tank accessories and hermit crab supplies.
Another excellent substrate from another well-recognized brand with a great reputation.
This substrate consists of a compressed coconut that has the ability to expand with the addition of water. It makes meeting your pet tortoises’ humidity requirements very easy to manage and control.
A coconut-based substrate is very effective for eliminating odor, whilst being easy to monitor and replace as and when required. It does not mold and does not have any dust that can be consumed by your tortoise.
Moreover, tortoises are known to enjoy living on this soft, natural substrate. It enables them to dig and engage in their instinctual behaviors.
Things we like
- Does not mold, nor does it require misting,
- Easy to clean, manage and lay
- Soft and odor-eliminating
Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Ideal for naturalistic terrarium type set-ups incorporating reptiles, amphibians or invertebrates
- Use it damp for tropical species as it naturally absorbs and breaks down odor and waste products
- 24 quart economy size for larger terrariums
Another substrate by the brand Zoo Med, specialists in reptile products, Eco Earth enables you to line your tortoise’s enclosure with natural and very soft coconut fiber.
This substrate is known for being economical and very versatile. Many owners report how effective it is for not only their pet tortoises enclosure but also for adding to plant pots to help retain moisture and nutrients.
Specifically for your tortoise, it is not dusty and it keeps their environment optimal with the right levels of humidity.
It’s great for absorbing excess moisture, breaking down odor and waste products ensuring that your pet’s enclosure remains clean and hygienic.
Things we like
- Can be safely composted/recycled,
- Looks great in an enclosure,
- Easy to clean/remove.
Exo Terra Forest Plume Moss
- Completely natural forest moss (no dyes or chemicals), real compressed moss grown in tropical Asia
- Great for use in humidifying shelters
- Excellent for use as egg-laying and incubation medium
- Ideal for amphibians and wetland environment reptiles
The Exo Terra Forest Plume Moss is a great addition to any tortoise enclosure, whether as a standalone substrate or in addition to a coconut fiber-based substrate.
Exo Terra has sourced and packaged moss that holds moisture well with regular misting and that is extremely absorbent.
It’s great for increasing humidity in enclosures and it does not cover your tortoise-like coconut fiber can.
It is 100% naturally grown moss from Asia; so is ecologically the same as what a lot of tortoises experience in the wild.
It’s very long-lasting, and expands dramatically when water is added; making it economical and lasting for a long period of time.
Things we like
- Green, vibrant and fresh smelling,
- Expands greatly in size; only a little is needed at each change,
- Works brilliantly as a standalone or as an addition to coconut fiber based substrate.
Exo Terra Coco Husk
- 100 percent natural substrate; Ideal for natural terrarium set-ups
- Increases humidity in terrariums
- Stimulates natural digging and burrowing behavior
- 7.2 quarts
The Exo Terra Coco Husk is another excellent substrate for tortoises. Made from compressed coconut husk from tropical Asia, it naturally keeps an enclosure at optimal humidity – both in air and with the moist ground.
It’s very functional and easy to work with, and soft and comfortable for your tortoise to live and walk on.
Things we like
- Comes as a compact brick – is for easy storage until you use it.
- Bug and mold-resistant substrate,
- Doesn’t make a tortoise mucky or dirty.
- Excellent for baby tortoises.
Choosing The Right Substrate For Your Pet Tortoise
There are a number of things you will want to consider when choosing a substrate for your pet tortoise, and it can become overwhelming.
That’s why we’ve covered the main considerations below! We’ve pulled together all the information you need to make an informed decision.
Types of Substrate
A substrate is used as bedding to line your tortoise’s enclosure.
The best substrates retain moisture, reduce bad odor, and will be easy to use and work with from an owner’s perspective.
The better substrates can hold more moisture, ensure sufficient humidity, are soft and comfortable and are also economical and cost-effective.
It’s important to note that not all types of substrate marketed for reptiles are either safe, practical, or ideal for pet tortoises.
Perhaps the most common are Sand, Newspaper, and Hay.
These can be ingested, causing digestive issues and complications that can arise from impaction.
Certain wooden chip shavings can also contain harmful and toxic compounds which can harm your tortoise. Cedar and pine are the most common two to be aware of.
So with this in mind, what are the safest and best types of substrate for pet tortoises.
Cypress Mulch is a soft organic material that helps your tortoise to feel comfortable in what appears to be a wild environment.
It has a pleasant fresh ‘woody’ scent that keeps optimal humidity and retains the appropriate level of moisture.
This is because it regulates the temperature of your tortoise’s enclosure; keeping it warmer in colder environments and cooler in hotter climates.
If you like or want to introduce plants to your tortoise’s enclosure, cypress mulch is an excellent choice and will make this possible.
A lot of tortoise owners actively use cypress mulch, with Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding from Amazon being a household name and brand.
Coconut fiber is one of the most popular types of substrates used by reptile owners, including tortoises. It is all-natural, soft, and comfortable bedding for your pet.
Coconut fiber also does a good job at removing odors; ensuring your tortoise’s environment is clean and hygienic. It does this by breaking down any waste and excrement produced by your pet.
It is also very easy to swap out because the soiled substrate is easy to observe and identify.
This makes cleaning effortless and is far more economical as you do not need to replace all of the substrates at a time.
Coconut-fiber substrate will retain optimal humidity within the enclosure, but you can also keep it dry if required.
ReptiChip Premium Coconut Fiber Substrate from Amazon is a popular and well-reviewed brand in this category.
Moss is another all-natural compound that is a popular substrate for baby tortoises. This is a small flowerless green plant that is dense and damp – that occurs and grows in shady locations.
Moss is highly absorbent and can contain large amounts of water at any one time. Its most suitable for warm and humid enclosures, and for hatchling to burrow into.
Additionally, slightly soiled moss can be washed in boiling water and reused – making it very economical and versatile.
Moss can be quite messy, and owners need to ensure that their tortoises are not consuming too much of it accidentally as it tends to stick to food and other items.
When looking for a Moss, you need to ensure that it is all-natural and grown in specific environments. This is partly why the Exo Terra Forest Plume Moss from Amazon is so popular.
It is sourced from Asia and does not contain any harmful additives or compounds.
As discussed earlier in this buyer’s guide, the substrate is used to line the enclosure for your tortoise. It is what they will live, sleep and walk upon.
When you lay the substrate, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions of how much to use and how to get the most out of their product.
This is usually contained on the side of the packaging – but contacting the manufacturer directly is a good alternative if this information is not available.
Generally, you will need to lay sufficient substrate to cover the base of your tortoise’s enclosure.
If you are working with just one substrate then this should suffice. However, if you want to use a combination of substrates, i.e. Coconut Fiber and Moss you’ll need to ensure you lay them down appropriately.
In this example, the Coconut Fiber-based substrate would be laid down first, and the moss on top.
You need to change the substrate often; especially soiled substrate. This will ensure your tortoise remains safe and healthy and prevents dangerous bacteria and germs from collecting and building up.
The best substrates will allow you to identify excrement. This will make cleaning a lot easier and it will also prove to be a lot more economical and cost-effective.
Keeping Your Tortoises Enclosure Clean and Hygienic
Your tortoise’s enclosure must remain as clean as possible. This will ensure that they do not suffer from any illnesses brought about by bacteria that are able to build in the enclosure.
Remember, bacteria and germs can grow very easily in a tortoise enclosure because it is kept moist and humid.
When it comes to cleaning your tortoise’s enclosure, you should be looking to conduct a light daily clean with a thorough deep clean every month.
Daily Enclosure Cleaning
Daily enclosure cleaning should consist of removing the soiled substrate. You should also look to clean the water bowl during this time.
Monthly Enclosure Cleaning
Once per month, you should be looking to conduct a deep clean.
To do so, you will need to remove and dispose of all of the substrates. From there, you will need to disinfect the enclosure and all accessories inside (hides, heat lamps, etc.)
When doing so, you should look to use particular products intended for cleaning reptile enclosures that are completely removed before your tortoise is returned.
A tortoise requires sufficient substrate. At a minimum, it should be 50mm/2 inches in depth at any one time. Of course, how much substrate you will need to use will depend on the substrate type and material it is made up of.
Soiled substrate should be removed and replaced daily. Whereas, the remaining substrate should be removed once per month during a thorough and deep clean of the enclosure. How long a particular substrate will last ultimately depends on the type of substrate used and the quality of the materials/ brand.
Wondering what substrates may be best suited to your particular species? My other buyer’s guides may be of interest:
- Best Substrate For Hermann Tortoise [Buyers Guide]
- Best Substrate For Russian Tortoise [Buyers Guide]
- Best Substrate For Sulcata Tortoise [Buyers Guide]
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.