Top 5 Substrates for Ball Pythons (and which to avoid)

There are a few types of substrates that work well for ball pythons specifically:

  1. Coconut Husk
  2. Cypress Mulch
  3. Bioactive Soil
  4. Aspen Shavings
  5. Paper towels or blank newspaper

The best substrate for ball python enclosures is one that mimics their natural environment, keeps humidity high, and is safe. 

Ball pythons are naturally found in the coastal areas of Africa where it is hot and humid, and these are the ones that work best.

What to consider when picking your ball python’s substrate:

  • Humidity
  • Texture
  • Price
  • Clean up

1. Coconut Husk

Coconut husk is one of the best substrates to choose for ball pythons when it comes to holding humidity. It’s sold in most pet stores and can be found online. 

The great thing about coconut husk as a substrate for your ball python is that they come in all textures. 

There are finer textures like Zoo Med’s Eco Earth which contains fine pieces of coconut fiber. You can also opt for a chunkier texture like the one offered by ReptiChip, conveniently sold on Amazon. 

Many different companies offer every texture in between and even a combination of both separately that you can combine to your own ratio preference. 

Another benefit of coconut husk substrate is that you can purchase it in a compact brick which saves space and it’s a little easier on the wallet. 

The downside of these compressed coconut bricks is that once you decompress them, you’ll need somewhere to store the substrate if you don’t use it all.

Try ReptiChip, our recommended compressed coconut husk substrate

Humidity retentionGood
TextureAll types available
Price$$
Clean upEasy

Not sure which ones for you? Check out this article where we review the different brands. 

2. Cypress Mulch

Cypress Mulch is another safe option of substrate for your ball python. 

Bags of cypress mulch can be found at your local pet stores and in the gardening section of your local store.

The one thing to be aware of is when shopping for cypress mulch somewhere other than the pet section, make sure there is no fertilizer added to it, which could be harmful to your ball python. 

This is another great substrate to hold humidity as long as your ball python doesn’t burrow. 

The reason I don’t use cypress mulch as a substrate is that the texture is usually too coarse and pieces are too large for a burrowing animal which could end up hurting your snake. 

Luckily, ball pythons aren’t big on creating burrows, they’d rather steal a burrow from another animal in the wild. 

The downside to using Cypress Mulch is that holds moisture so well, it has often lead to mold issues.

One thing to consider is that cypress mulch may develop mites that aren’t visible in the bag but once you have it in the enclosure where it’s warm and humid the mites may pop up. 

You can fix this by baking your mulch at a low temperature before using it to kill the mites.

This does add an extra step when purchasing cypress mulch for substrate, but It is fairly inexpensive.

Humidity retentionOk
TextureCoarse
Price$$$
Clean upEasy

3. Bioactive Soil

Bioactive soil is a substrate option that uses microfauna such as springtails and isopods to clean waste from your ball python. 

According to TheBioDude, bioactive soil creates the perfect microenvironment for your ball python by releasing natural scents and textures for your ball python to enjoy. 

The purpose of using bioactive soil is to have a self-sustaining environment with little effort to clean.

Although this is a sustainable option for your ball python’s substrate, TheBioDude still believes that you’ll have to spot clean feces because of the fast metabolism a ball python has. 

Another downside to using Bioactive soil is that the soil layer needs to be fairly thick and dense, so underbelly heat may not be suitable for this type of substrate. 

This means you’ll have to use radiant heat from a bulb which isn’t always the best option for you and your ball python. 

For some, bioactive soil can be hard to figure out. 

The bioactive soil has live critters that balance decomposition while adding nutrients to the soil. 

To maintain bioactive soil successfully, you’ll have to make sure that these critters, like isopods, have the right environment to survive. 

Although this is the most natural type of substrate you can use for your ball python, it requires more maintenance than coconut husk all other substrates mentioned in this article.

The starter kits are much more expensive than any of these other substrate options, but purchasing the soil itself is inexpensive.

Humidity retentionGreat
TextureFine
Price$$$$
Clean upEasy

4. Aspen Shavings

You can use aspen shavings as a ball python substrate as well. 

Although it’s safe for your ball python it’s not the best substrate option

Aspen is really great for absorbing liquids which is helpful for cleanups, but not great for holding humidity. 

Ball pythons need high humidity to have healthy sheds and prevent and respiratory issues. 

Aspen substrate works best for snakes that live in dry environments, whereas ball pythons live in high humidity areas.

Aspen will soak up the water you spray and unless you are drenching the enclosure, including the aspen. 

It is beneficial because it’s an inexpensive option for ball pythons. 

So why do I put this on the list? It’s inexpensive and it’s safe. 

You’ll also avoid issues like mites and mold since it keeps things dry.

Humidity retentionNot good
TextureSoft
Price$$
Clean upEasy

5. Paper or Paper Towels or Newspaper

The most budget-friendly option of substrate you can use for your ball python is unprinted newspapers. 

Opting for a paper substrate instead of one that’s a mess gives your ball python’s enclosure a clean look.

Lots of snake keepers will use unprinted newspapers or even paper towels as a liner for enclosures. I recommend non-printed newspapers since the ink may cause harm to your ball python and create issues in the long run. 

The simplicity of the paper liners means once your ball python makes a mess on it, you simply pick it up in one piece and replace the whole sheet. 

The problem with using newspaper or paper towels in your ball python’s enclosure is that it doesn’t absorb liquid well at all. The pee dries up eventually, but you’ll still have to deal with the smell more than you would if you had any of the substrates listed above.

Another problem is that ball pythons usually find their way under the paper liner, and if they make a mess there, the liner is pointless. 

If you can get past these negatives, paper liners are definitely worth it.

Humidity retentionOk
TexturePaper
Price$
Clean upEasy

Household cleaning products that are SAFE for your ball python.

AVOID THESE SUBSTRATES

Photo by Carly Jamieson from Pexels

The substrates listed are great for Ball Pythons and many other reptiles. The substrates you absolutely need to avoid are 

  • sand
  • gravel
  • Pine

 Sand is too fine for ball pythons. They have sensitive heat pits they the sand can get into. Sand also conducts heat and with a heat mat or lamp can cause the snake to overheat. 

Gravel is too rough and doesn’t absorb anything. 

Pine can release chemicals that are poison to reptiles.

With that being said be wary of the substrate you use. No one substrate is perfect, you just have to find what works for you. Some of them are in the garden section of your local store. Just make sure there is no fertilizer in it and it can be just as good as the bags you find at the pet store. Good luck! Let me know what substrate you prefer in the comments.

Click here to see what you can use for a ball python besides an aquarium.