Ball pythons are one of the most commonly-kept species of snake, and it’s for a good reason! This snake is relatively smaller in size and has a very docile nature, making it an optimal pet for beginner and experienced snake owners alike. A healthy ball python can provide hours of entertainment and years of companionship when cared for properly.
One of the keys to healthy ball python ownership is a clean and comfortable environment — specifically their substrate! A good substrate contributes to an enclosures cleanliness and a snake’s healthy, happiness, and overall well-being. Because of substrate’s importance, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best substrate options for ball pythons, in addition to a handy buyer’s guide.
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OUR #1 RATED
Zoo MedEco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate
Resembling an actual forest floor, this substrate has a very natural appearance while being very absorbent and compostable.
Zoo MedAspen Snake Bedding
This dust-free substrate is very easy to clean out of a habitat and excellently absorbs waste and eliminates odors.
Zoo MedForest Floor Bedding
Another very natural-looking substrate that holds moisture well but remains fresh and effective for a long time.
Reptile PrimeCoconut Fiber Bedding
The small fibers in this substrate make it very comfortable and absorbent while controlling odors effectively.
ReptichipPremium Coconut Substrate
This substrate is made from larger fibers, but still retains moisture exceptionally well and controls odors very well.
What Is Snake Bedding / Substrate
Snake bedding, also known by the more technical name of snake substrate, is the material that’s used to line the bottom of a snakes enclosure. This substrate serves several purposes that are absolutely essential for a clean and comfortable enclosure for your ball python. In addition to providing your ball python with a soft place to lay and burrow in, it also regulates the humidity of an enclosure and absorbs waste to keep the enclosure cleaner.
There are several different kinds of substrate that can be used for a ball python’s enclosure, ranging from coconut fibers to hemp. Some materials are more effective than others, but all of them do work towards providing a cleaner and more comfortable enclosure. Additionally, custom substrate can be made from paper towels or reptile carpet for pretty cheap, but these methods tend to be less effective.
Not all substrate is created equal, though. Certain kinds of substrate have different features that other kinds may not posses. As you’ll learn in another section of this guide, a substrate’s ability to retain moisture and its dustiness are huge factors to consider.
Are There Snake Substrate Alternatives?
If you’re looking to take a more DIY approach to your ball python’s substrate, there are alternatives to store-bought substrate. However, with those alternatives come some drawbacks. The most commonly-used alternatives are paper towels and newspaper, and they’re frequently described as the best alternatives.
On the positive side, these alternatives are very cheap to acquire and make a full cleaning of a python’s cage a lot less costly. Additionally, materials like paper towels make it much easier to see when a ball python has used the bathroom, allowing you to clean it up faster.
There are a few downsides, though. These substrates much be replaced more frequently, they don’t help with odor control in any way, and they’re also quite unnatural-looking. A snake might also not enjoy burrowing into a pile of shredded up newspaper as much as they would enjoy a pile of natural substrate.
Despite the fact that there is an even balance of pros and cons of alternate substrate, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you’re providing your snake with a proper diet and correct humidity and heating, opting for a DIY substrate would generally be okay.
Helpful Tips For A Ball Python’s Substrate
The concept of a ball python’s substrate is quite straightforward and doesn’t require too much thought. However, there are still a few things that you should know and consider in order to provide your ball python with the best living experience possible.
- How often should I change my ball python’s substrate?
- There is no strict timeline to follow when it comes to substrate replacement. This means that you need to be diligent and keep an eye on your ball python’s substrate in order to determine when it’s time to change it. If you notice the substrate getting stale, moldy, or dirty, then it’s generally a good time to change it.Ball pythons only use the bathroom around 1-2 times per week. Because of this, you’ll be able to spot-clean the substrate quite easily. Many owners find themselves completely changing out the substrate every 1-2 months.
- Will snake substrate control odor?
- In general, yes, snake substrate should help to control odor because of the fact that’s it’s absorbing and locking in waste. However, the efficiency of the odor control depends on the type of substrate that you choose. Some substrate won’t have many odor control abilities, while others can trap odor for days at a time.
- Is snake substrate dangerous to burrow into?
- No, it shouldn’t be dangerous to burrow into, but it is something that should be considered. Smaller fibers can accidentally be ingested or find their way into your python’s nose or eyes, which may cause problems. However, these issues are rare, so a quick checkup on your ball python every now in then is usually enough to make sure that they’re in good shape.
What Defines Good Ball Python Substrate?
Not all ball python substrate is created equal. In fact, some of the substrate that we’ve found was downright ineffective and a waste of money! The best snake substrate has certain traits that you need to be looking out for, and we’ve listed out these traits below to make your decision easier.
- Appearance – The appearance of a ball python’s substrate is quite an important aspect, albeit mostly for the owner. Snakes don’t care about how their environment looks, as long as it’s comfortable and safe for them to live in. However, providing your ball python with a natural-looking substrate can take a terrarium to the next level and make it look a lot more natural.
- Odor control – Snakes can be quite smelly — especially if their substrate doesn’t focus on having good odor control. There are several kinds of substrate that are very effective at retaining odor and making the environment much cleaner and more comfortable for your snake. Waste management is a huge aspect of keeping a clean habitat, so a substrate with a focus on that will make your job a lot easier.
- Price – The price of your snake’s substrate is an important factor to consider. As a responsible snake owner, you’ll want to keep your ball python’s environment clean. This is done primarily through keeping fresh substrate covering the floor of the terrarium. In order to maintain cleanliness over the lifetime of your python, you’ll end up going through a decent amount of substrate. Therefore, finding an affordable substrate is key.
- Fiber size – The fiber size of a substrate, in addition to its dust content, is a very important characteristic you’ll want to research. The fiber of a substrate should either be small enough to not cause harm or large enough to not be ingested. Snakes aren’t very smart creatures, but they won’t purposefully eat their substrate. Also, the substrate should be mostly dust-free in order to prevent irritation.
- Moisture retention – In terms of environmental factors, the humidity of a snake’s terrarium is one of the most important factors to consider. Because of this, you need to find a substrate that retains a healthy amount of moisture. Most substrate is really good at this, but it’s best to consult reviews of a substrate to see what owners have to say about it. A substrate that holds moisture for a long time will help eliminate the stress of humidity maintenance.
What Is The Best Ball Python Substrate?
There is quite a large selection of snake substrate available on the market, and this can make the process of finding the best substrate for your ball python quite stressful. That’s why we’ve compiled 5 of the best snake substrate options and gone over their individual pros and cons.
Remember, a snake’s substrate is only a part of their environment. You’ll need to make sure that all of their other environmental needs are being met as well in order to ensure your ball python’s well-being.
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OUR TOP PICK
Eco Earth Coconut Fiber Substrate
In the world of snake bedding and substrate, Zoo Med has made a name for themselves as the manufacturer of a diverse array of substrates. This substrate by Zoo Med lives up to the high expectations that Zoo Med has created for themselves, and it checks all of the boxes of the best substrate. Crafted from the husk of coconuts, this substrate is very natural-looking, comfortable, absorbent, and controls odors extremely well. On top of that, it’s easily compostable and easy to spot-clean, so it saves money over time. It’s commonly agreed upon by snake owners that coconut substrate is the best substrate option, and this substrate is no exception.
Ball python owners that use this substrate have some excellent things to say about it. To begin with, a common compliment that this substrate gets is that it’s able to hold and retain moisture extremely well without rotting. This makes the overall upkeep of a python’s habitat easier and keeps the snake healthier. Additionally, owners point out that waste is easy to spot and remove from the substrate, making it easy to remove only the soiled parts. As far as dustiness goes, there’s virtually nothing, making it easy on the respiratory systems of snakes and their owners.
A couple of owners noted that this substrate was slightly difficult to get to hold water, most likely due to its smaller fibers. This is an uncommon observation, though, as most owners have no problem ensuring that this substrate remains moist and contributes to a comfortable habitat.
- Natural appearance
- Great at eliminating odors
- Easy to remove waste
- Can be hard to hydrate
our #2 rated
Aspen Snake Bedding
As an alternative option to the coconut husk substrate, Zoo Med has already created this substrate that’s made out of aspen shavings. While there are a lot of substrates that are made for a variety of different reptiles, this one was crafted specifically for snakes — especially ones that love to burrow and don’t require an extremely moist environment. This substrate is oil-free, dust-free, odor-free, and very effective at being a substrate that does its job well and doesn’t interfere.
A big selling point for many ball python owners is that this substrate is very easy to spot clean as it helps waste stand out. It’s also very dust-free, and the fiber sizes are sized to where they won’t cause a problem for snakes — even those that are fed in-cage. Additionally, a few owners noted that this substrate is quite fluffy, making it easy for snakes to burrow through it.
The main downside of this substrate lies in its composition, which is aspen. Aspen is a material that can rot when it’s kept damp for too long, which certainly isn’t optimal for snakes that require a lot of moisture. Fortunately, ball pythons aren’t snakes that require a very high humidity level in their enclosure, making this substrate fine to use.
- Easy for snakes to burrow into
- Dust and odor-free
- Easy to clean
- Not the best with moisture
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Forest Floor Bedding
When the top three substrates in our list are all from the same company, you know that they make a good product. This forest floor bedding by Zoo Med is another fantastic option for your ball python’s enclosure. Made from a natural cypress mulch, this substrate is very natural-looking and is easy for ball pythons to burrow into. It’s also a substrate that holds moisture extremely well and provides consistent levels of humidity to a snake’s enclosure. Despite the fact that this substrate tends to be cheaper than other substrates, no quality is sacrificed as it performs all of the necessary tasks very well.
Ball python owners that use this substrate have similar things to say about it as the previous two substrates. Owners note that it’s not a dusty substrate and that it holds moisture well without getting moldy. The excellent value also doesn’t hurt. To add some variety to their python’s cage, some owners opt to mix this substrate with the Eco Earth Coconut substrate to add volume and make it better to burrow in.
Owners state that a precaution should be taken with this substrate due to its construction. This substrate is more of a mulch, so there’s a good amount of exposed wood fibers that have the potential to become a problem. If you are an owner that feeds your snake in their cage, it’s a good idea to feed them on a flat and clean surface to keep them from accidentally ingesting some substrate.
- Looks natural
- Retains moisture well
- Doesn’t rot
- Wood fibers can be ingested
our #4 rated
Coconut Fiber Bedding
Because of the fact that coconut fiber makes for such an effective substrate, companies other than Zoo Med have created some great products with it, too. Reptile Prime’s coconut fiber substrate has a bit more of a focus on absorbency in it, though. They state that this substrate can hold moisture and maintain humidity for a longer period of time, and the coconut fiber will last at least 35 days before it can start growing fungus. This makes this substrate a great option for owners that want a more damp enclosure for their ball pythons.
Ball python owners that use this substrate are pleased with their investment. A good portion of owners applaud the fact that the substrate has a great consistency as it’s not too coarse but also not too powdery. While this is a substrate that can be used wet or dry, most owners use it wet due to its great moisture-retaining properties. The fact that this substrate controls odors very well also doesn’t go unnoticed.
Despite the fact that Reptile Prime is very confident in their substrate’s moisture-holding abilities, a few owners note that it doesn’t do a phenomenal job with it. That is, when compared to a substrate like Forest Floor. Additionally, this is a bit of an expensive substrate, so you’ll need to determine if the perks of this substrate are worth the increased price.
- Great fiber size
- Generally holds moisture well
- Eliminates odors
- A bit more expensive
- Sometimes struggles to hold moisture
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Premium Coconut Substrate
Although two different coconut husk substrates have been listed already, this one brings a few new things to the table. This substrate comes in a dehydrated block that needs to be hydrated before it’s added to a snake’s habitat. This is done to maintain the freshness of the substrate before you get it, and it doesn’t have any negative effects after the initial hydration. On top of this unique trait, this substrate holds moisture well, creates a consistently-humid environment, and looks very natural inside of a ball python’s enclosure.
The fact that this substrate controls odors very nicely is pointed out by many of the owners that use it. These owners also note that there’s a great balance between the quantity of substrate that you receive and its quality, as you’re getting a large amount of substrate for a decently low price. The fibers are also too big for snakes to swallow, making it a safe option if that’s a concern of yours.
Some owners have noted that this substrate is a bit dusty — a problem that can cause respiratory problems if it’s really bad. On top of this, the fact that the substrate needs to be hydrated before use makes it a bit of a hassle and not as streamlined as a substrate that’s ready to use. However, most owners don’t have a problem with this substrate at all.
- Great value
- Large fibers hold moisture well
- Controls odors effectively
- Slightly dusty
- Has to be hydrated before use
Every substrate that’s been reviewed in this post is more than suitable for a ball python’s enclosure. They all meet the criteria necessary to provide a ball python with a safe and comfortable environment that they require. Snakes have specific needs, so it’s very important that a substrate meets all of those needs and more.
After carefully analyzing all of the substrate available on the market, we’ve determined that the best ball python substrate is Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding.
This is a substrate that’s made by a very established and trusted brand that’s been specifically crafted to meet the needs of a snake. It’s absorbent, dust-free, fresh, and looks fantastic at the bottom of any terrarium. While this is the best of the best substrate, any of the substrates listed in this post would take your ball python’s enclosure to the next level.