You will need the best substrate for a corn snake. But, since there are several excellent options (Aspen, Cypress Mulch, Lignocel, Reptichip, etc.), which should you buy? Is it necessary or should you use something free that you have at home already, like paper towels or newspaper?
best bedding material is aspen, or any substrate similar to it, like Lignocel. It allows your corn snake to burrow, and holds onto moisture, which helps keep the humidity between 40 and 50%. Aspen is also cheap and easy to source, but can be dusty. Reptichip, Lignocel, and hemp bedding are good alternative bedding for corn snakes.
We’ve detailed what makes each substrate for corns so useful. We’ve also looked at some common substrates that are bad for corn snakes (and should be avoided.) It’s important to select bedding for corn snakes, because what works for one species of snake doesn’t work for others.
Best Corn Snake Bedding: A Complete Guide
Choosing good corn snake bedding is essential. With no bedding, any moisture from your spray, from their water bowl, or their urates will be absorbed.
They’ll sit in a damp puddle, which will cause scale rot (a potentially fatal problem). You need something absorbent. But it also needs to look good, and be easy to burrow in.
Aspen bedding is probably the most popular kind of corn snake bedding. You can buy Aspen snake bedding on Amazon by clicking on this link. It’s made from shaved aspen wood, which is a perfect substrate for snakes for many reasons. Not only that, but it’s not that expensive. It’s just a few dollars each time you completely replace it.
If you use aspen, it’s vital that you use enough for your corn snake to burrow in. Two inches at the bottom of their cage is a good guideline, but you should use more the larger your corn snake grows.
- Pros: Aspen is completely natural, and contains no toxic resins, oils or inks. As such, it’s guaranteed not to make your snake sick. Since it’s one uniform, light color, it’s also easy to spot any poo or parasites that might be hiding in it. It’s also essential that you pick aspen or something like it, since corn snakes have to burrow. It’s highly absorbent, so can last a long time before you need to replace all of the substrate completely.
- Cons: Aspen is a little more expensive than other options like paper towels or newspaper. If you don’t practice regular spot cleaning, then poo or urates can soak through quite a lot of aspen and mean that you have to replace lots of it each time.
Cypress mulch is similar to aspen, in that it’s made of wood that’s shaved into tiny pieces (mulched). It’s used by many snake owners, especially in high-humidity settings, because it doesn’t mold as easily as aspen does.
- Pros: Cypress mulch looks nice, again helping to create a natural-looking enclosure. It does what you want it to, holding onto moisture and holding its shape when a snake burrows into it. Its effectiveness at holding onto moisture is great for corn snakes, that need humidity levels between 40% and 50%.
- Cons: When you buy some from a pet store, it may contain small bugs like ants or mites. You should treat it before you use it. Bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for at least half an hour to kill any critters that might be in there. Leave it to cool and give it a spray so that it can reabsorb some moisture before you use it.
If you go to a regular pet store, no doubt you’ll see pine shavings next to the aspen shavings on the shelf. They’re the same kind of thing. They’re just shavings from a pine tree instead of aspen. As such, don’t be surprised if the pet store owner recommends them for your snake.
You shouldn’t take advice from anyone that recommends pine shavings as a substrate. Why? Because they contain chemicals called phenols, which are toxic to corn snakes and other snake species. Phenols are what give pine its scent. That’s why they’re also present in disinfectants and bleaches. Phenols are caustic, and can cause liver and kidney damage in small animals.
According to a paper in the Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine, phenol-based products are used to repel snakes in rural parts of the world. All of this has been known to the scientific community for decades, which is why they don’t use pine shavings to house mats and rice used in scientific studies. Unfortunately, it’s not known to the wider pet-owning public.
- Pros: Looks nice.
- Cons: Can cause serious health problems if used as corn snake cage bedding. Should never be used in any circumstance.
Newspaper is a simple and effective choice. You don’t have to source newspaper from a pet store: we’re talking about regular papers that you can pick up in any shop. The best thing is that it’s versatile. You can use newspaper in the following ways:
- You can put the newspaper through a shredder to increase its surface area
- You can lay down a layer of newspaper as-is on the bottom of the tank
- You can scrunch the newspaper up into balls
- Or, you could use a combination of all three ideas—whatever works for you
But before you use newspaper, there are a few things you need to know. You should leave the newspaper out for a week for it to dry out. Newspaper paper isn’t good at holding onto moisture, so if it’s already a little damp, then putting it in your snake’s humid tank could give them dampness problems. You should also remove any staples in the newspaper before shredding it, or putting it in their tank, to make sure your corn snake doesn’t catch themselves on any.
- Pros: Newspaper substrate is cheap and easy to keep clean.
- Cons: It doesn’t hold onto moisture as well as other substrates, so bear that in mind and regularly measure the humidity level in your snake’s tank if you do use it. Because it gets soggy easily, it can cause scale rot if you don’t change it. It doesn’t look as nice as other substrates.
Paper towels are similar to newspaper, and you can use them in the same way: either laid along the bottom of the tank, torn or shredded, or scrunched up (although paper towels don’t scrunch up as well as newspaper does). This versatility makes paper towels an excellent choice. Besides that, they’re very cheap, and much more widely available and easily sources than aspen or pine.
Paper towels also have the bonus of being better able to absorb water from the air in the tank. If your snake’s tank is often too humid for them, then paper towels might help with that. They can absorb far more water than newspaper can before becoming too damp to use. Just make sure not to leave your snake sat in damp paper towels, or they could easily get scale rot.
- Pros: Paper towels are easy to use, cheap to source, and easy to find. When your snake goes to the toilet, it’s easy to pick up just the one paper towel and get rid of it. This saves you money. They work well with aspen, if they’re used to line the bottom of the cage.
- Cons: If you’re not careful, they can hold onto too much water and give your snake scale rot. Like newspaper, it doesn’t look as good as other substrates like aspen. They don’t hold onto their shape if a snake burrows into them.
By carpet, we don’t mean some special snake product called carpeting, or anything like that. We mean plain old carpet. You can line the bottom of a snake’s enclosure with carpet if you like, and they’ll happily live on it.
However, corn snakes don’t like flat surfaces. A boa or carpet python would enjoy it, but a corn snake would feel vulnerable on carpet.
- Pros: Carpet can look good in the right setup. It’s also comfortable for a snake, and there’s no chance they could hurt themselves on any sharp edges or grains like with pebbles or sand. Carpet is also cheap, if you pick up some remnants, or have some leftover from a renovation.
- Cons: Carpet is unsuitable for any snake that likes to burrow, which rules it out for a corn snake enclosure. It’s also difficult to clean, even if you spot clean. Plus, it’s not great at holding onto moisture. Overall, we wouldn’t recommend it.
Artificial turf is carpet that’s made to look like grass. The blades of grass themselves are made from durable plastic, threaded through a plastic underlayer.
Artificial turf is much easier to clean than carpet, because it’s made from plastic. All you have to do is wipe it with a damp cloth when you spot clean, and give it a thorough rinse and soap every time you deep clean. With good care, you’ll never have to replace it, which means you save money too.
Unfortunately, again, it’s not suitable for a corn snake. A corn snake that can’t burrow will feel unsafe and unhappy.
- Pros: Cheap, and you’ll probably never have to replace it. Also looks great when surrounded by other vegetation, real or fake.
- Cons: Your snake won’t be able to burrow underneath it, so it isn’t suitable for corn snakes.
Lignocel is made from spruce and fir, and is marketed as having particularly low levels of oil and dust, which is what sets it apart. It’s highly chipped, and dried at high temperatures before being sold. That means it’s very dry and very absorbent.
It’s best used for snakes that don’t have a high humidity requirement. Funnily enough, it wasn’t first manufactured as a kind of snake substrate. It was originally made for industrial purposes, such as filling in structures (i.e., in building) and for filtering things.
Why should you pick Lignocel? Reviews usually compare it to aspen. If you find yourself coughing from the dust whenever you use aspen, and that annoys you, Lignocel might be for you. If you’re concerned about the environment, ProRep (the brand that manufactures it) sources all their wood from sustainable forests, too.
- Pros: It’s ideal for snakes that like to burrow, because it doesn’t contain any sharp pieces or dust. And because it’s so absorbent, it stays relatively clean for a long time, and doesn’t get too smelly. It’s good for maintaining a corn snake’s humidity requirements, because it’s so dry and absorbent.
- Cons: Lignocel is difficult to source compared to aspen bedding.
Reptichip is a popular brand that makes their substrate from 100% coconut husk. You can buy it on Amazon by using this link.
One of Reptichip’s main selling points is that coconut husk holds onto moisture. The point is that you can wet it, and it’ll hold onto the water, giving it off slowly.
This helps keep humidity levels in your snake’s enclosure high. As such, Reptichip can help you keep the humidity between 40 and 50%, right where it has to be for a corn snake.
To use it, you have to soak it beforehand. When people order Reptichip online, they’re surprised to see how ‘little’ they get. The package doesn’t look like enough to fill one tub, let alone several (as it’s advertised). You have to fill up your sink or bathtub, or put it in a plastic container, and completely submerge it. You’ll notice bubbles escaping it, and slowly but surely, it’ll keep expanding before your eyes. When the fun’s over, that’s when you can start using it!
- Pros: Coconuts are sustainable, and work as an excellent substrate. Reptichip holds onto humidity very well, so you don’t always have to be spraying the enclosure.
- Cons: Like aspen, it’s quite dusty, which may or may not be an issue for you. Also, if the pieces are too big, it’s awkward to break them apart. Coconut husk is strong.
Hemp is a product made from the stem of the plant rather than the leaves that are used. Hemp has been used in various applications for hundreds, if not thousands of years across the world. Because it’s so fibrous, it’s the perfect material for rope, for example.
Either way, hemp makes soft, fibrous bedding, not unlike aspen. There are two different kinds of bedding made from hemp. The first looks almost exactly like Aspen. It’s shredded, soft and fibrous. But you can also buy what looks like pellets, which inflate when you submerge them in water. This kind is more similar to Reptichip.
- Pros: Hemp production is better for the environment than cutting down trees for aspen or cypress mulch. As far as bedding goes, hemp does the job, as it’s burrow-able and comfortable for corn snakes.
- Cons: Hemp bedding is more difficult to source than other kinds of snake bedding.
A Combination of Bedding
Even better than one kind of bedding is to use a combination. It’s important to identify what your snake needs from a particular kind of bedding.
Corn snakes need to burrow, for example; but aside from that, your corn snake’s enclosure may have specific requirements which make certain kinds of substrate preferable.
The best example is where you want to offer your corn snake a natural medium, but also one which has great absorbent powers, to completely prevent the possibility of scale rot.
For that, we would recommend aspen, used as normal. But also, you could line the bottom of the tank with paper towels. In the event of the enclosure being more humid than usual, the paper towels would absorb and hold onto the extra moisture.
As a final note, you should avoid using sand as corn snake substrate. Corn snakes do burrow, which is why many owners think that sand would be a good idea.
But when a corn snake (or any snake, for that matter) burrows into sand, it can damage their scales by getting underneath them. The snake can also accidentally ingest small grains of sand.
Besides that, sand is a nightmare to clean. If the snake goes to the toilet, it can affect the entire depth of the substrate as it leaks through.
Compare that to another medium like newspaper, which you can clean instantly by replacing the one soiled sheet. And since sand is so dry, it holds onto hardly any moisture. This makes the tank’s humidity level harder to maintain.
The same applies to many other bedding options. Gravel and pebbles aren’t good options either.
- Pros: Sand looks good, and can be sourced cheaply.
- Cons: Sand is bad for your snake’s health. It’s not recommended by anybody with a real knowledge of owning pet snakes.
Corn Snake Substrate Depth
How deep should corn snake substrate be? The amount of bedding you use depends primarily on whether the snake likes to burrow or not. In the wild, corn snakes like to burrow under loose material like sand, soil or leaves. That’s because:
- When they’re trying to get away from a predator, they prefer to hide rather than running away. If they feel afraid of you or something else in their environment, then their natural reaction will be to hide.
- Corn snakes have to regulate their temperature carefully. That’s because they’re cold-blooded. The layer of substrate underneath the surface is often several degrees cooler, so they’ll burrow to cool down. They might also burrow during cold weather to be closer to the heat mat underneath the tank.
How deep should their bedding be? Between two and three inches is a good guideline. This gives them enough room to be able to burrow, but also not necessarily sit against the very bottom of the tank (where they could potentially burn themselves against the heat mat). Also, using more bedding would be wasteful and cost more.
How Often Should You Change Corn Snake Bedding?
Caring for your corn snake by keeping their substrate clean doesn’t just mean replacing it once every week (for example). Instead, you should care for them by ‘spot cleaning.’ Corn snakes go to the toilet once or twice a week, and otherwise won’t get their bedding very dirty at all.
So, the idea of spot cleaning is to keep an eye on your corn snake and see when they go to the toilet. When they do, clean it up immediately, as well as the small amount of bedding that was soiled. Replace the small amount of affected bedding, and that should be fine.
You’ll need to replace your corn snake’s bedding once every one or two months. At this point, the general build-up of dirt, bacteria and so on will start to be detrimental to their health.
When it’s time, take your snake out of their enclosure and put them somewhere safe that you can see them. Take all of the bedding out and clean the enclosure fully with an antibacterial spray or mix. Allow it to dry before replacing the bedding, and finally, introducing the snake to their ‘new’ home.
There are two exceptions to this rule. The first is when you can see that the bedding is wet. If there are pools of water, or the bedding (whatever it might be) is sodden with water, then it has to be replaced. If not, your pet will get scale rot which is often fatal.
The other exception is if your snake has parasites like mites, ticks and so on. These parasites live both on the snake and in the bedding, so get rid of the substrate entirely during the process of treating the snake.
Which Bedding for Corn Snakes Should I Buy?
Corn snakes burrow in the wild, so should be allowed to do so in captivity too. As such, Aspen is the best choice for snake bedding. It holds its shape when burrowed into, but is still soft enough not to hurt your snake. It’s absorbent, too. And the best thing? It just looks better than the other choices.
Aside from aspen, you could choose Lignocel to achieve much the same setup. Crucially Lignocel has less dust than aspen, and its manufacture is quite closely monitored to ensure high quality. Depending on how easy it is for you to buy, though, that might be reflected in the higher price.
Whatever substrate you use, we recommend two inches of depth. This is a good balance, allowing the corn snake to burrow, but not using so much substrate that you waste money.
Underneath, have some paper towels to absorb any extra moisture that might get through, for example, if your snake tips their water bowl by accident. Spot clean every day to make sure that the bedding remains clean, and you can replace it fully each month, or when noticeably soiled.