Corn Snake Substrate Options: The Good, Bad, and In-Between

Corn snake substrate options - coconut husk

“Substrate” is another word for corn snake bedding — the material that you use to cover the floor of your pet’s enclosure.

Using the right substrate in your corn snake’s terrarium can help regulate humidity and promote good health. Using the wrong substrate can be unhygienic and can even kill your snake in severe cases.

For best results, substrate should be layered at least 3″ thick to facilitate natural burrowing behavior and help maintain healthy humidity levels. Remove waste and contaminated substrate immediately, and replace all substrate at least once every 3-4 months.

BEST Corn Snake Substrates

These substrates are the best because they mimic a corn snake’s natural habitat, promote natural burrowing behavior, and help maintain a healthy average humidity between 65-75%.

  • DIY naturalistic mix — 40% organic topsoil + 40% Zoo Med ReptiSoil + 20% play sand. Cheap and effective!
  • Coconut fiber — Cheap and holds humidity well. Can get dusty when dry, should be kept moist at all times. Available under many names, including Eco Earth and Plantation Soil.
  • Zilla Jungle Mix — Fluffy, holds humidity, and has a pleasantly earthy smell. Although it does contain bits of fir wood, it does not pose a risk to reptiles because it’s kiln-dried. Can become quite dusty when dry.
  • Bio Dude Terra Firma kit — Bioactive-ready, plant-friendly natural substrate that retains humidity well. Expensive, but it never has to be replaced, so it’s worth the investment! Because this substrate is bioactive-ready, however, it’s only worthwhile if you fully convert the enclosure to a bioactive setup. For more information about bioactive, read these articles and join Bioactive Reptile and Amphibian Setups USA on Facebook.
For best results, scatter a layer of clean leaf litter on top!

GOOD Corn Snake Substrates

These substrates are not the best because, although they can retain humidity, they tend to have some weird interactions with water or may cause other problems like fungus gnats. However, they’re still naturalistic, burrowable, and humidity-friendly, so using one of these will not be the end of the world.

  • Hemp bedding — Fluffy (burrowable), moisture-retentive, mold-resistant, and eco-friendly. Easy to buy in bulk, so one bag can last a long time. Available under many names.
  • Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding — Holds humidity well, isn’t dusty, and absorbs odors well. Tends to be a bit water-resistant, though.
  • Zoo Med ReptiSoil — Holds humidity well, plant-friendly, and resists odor. However, it can get muddy when wet and tends to compact over time.

NOT GREAT Corn Snake Substrates

These substrates are, well, not great. They are unlikely to kill or substantially harm a corn snake, but it’s best not to use them in the first place. They do not contribute to humidity at all and prevent natural burrowing behavior. However, they can be used in a pinch for quarantine setups. Note that if you use these substrates, you will need to work extra hard to keep humidity levels up.

  • Paper towels — Absorbent and disposable, which is convenient. However, corn snakes like to get under it and make a mess, and the towels must be replaced each time the snake urinates. A good substrate for hatchlings and small juveniles, but not adults.
  • Reptile carpet — Not very absorbent, but less wasteful than paper towels. A decent substrate for hatchlings and small juveniles, but definitely not adults. Must be washed weekly with very hot water and chlorhexidine or another veterinary disinfectant.
  • Contact paper/shelf liner — Not absorbent at all, but wipes clean easily and comes in an array of attractive designs. Make sure whatever you choose doesn’t have VOCs.

AVOID These Substrates!

  • Aspen/Lignocel — Molds easily in the presence of water and is generally not very humidity-friendly.
  • Pine/cedar shavings —  Pine and cedar contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can potentially cause respiratory damage and other harm in reptiles (source). 
  • Gravel —Not absorbent at all, which promotes bacterial and fungal growth. it’s also very abrasive and may cause injury if the snake attempts to burrow.
  • Bark/Wood chips (of any kind) — These can cause legitimate impaction and even damage to internal organs if accidentally ingested. Will it kill the snake immediately? No, but with better options available, there’s simply no real reason to use it.

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