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10 Best Substrates for Sulcata Tortoises: 2024 Reviews & Top Picks

Adam Mann

By Adam Mann

sulcata tortoise walking on sand

A lot goes into properly caring for a Sulcata tortoise, and unlike other non-exotic pets, it can be a bit challenging trying to figure out everything they need. That’s a challenge we understand, and it’s why we came up with this guide about the best substrates for Sulcata tortoises.

Not only did we track down the best, but we came up with comprehensive reviews and a great buyer’s guide so you can make an informed decision and get the best substrate for your pet tortoise!

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A Quick Look at Our Favorites in 2024

Rating Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Exo Terra Desert Sand Terrarium Reptile Substrate Exo Terra Desert Sand Terrarium Reptile Substrate
  • Lasts a long time
  • Natural, real sand
  • Suitable for egg laying
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Zoo Med Vita-Sand Reptile Sand Zoo Med Vita-Sand Reptile Sand
  • Affordable
  • Vitamin-fortified
  • No artificial dyes or colors
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Zoo Med ReptiSoil Reptile Bedding Zoo Med ReptiSoil Reptile Bedding
  • Easy to clean
  • Designed specifically for reptiles
  • Encourages burrowing, egg laying, and plant growth
  • Zoo Med Reptisand Reptile Terrarium Sand Zoo Med Reptisand Reptile Terrarium Sand
  • Easy to use
  • It comes in larger bags
  • Stimulates natural digging
  • Zoo Med ReptiSand Reptile Sand Zoo Med ReptiSand Reptile Sand
  • Easy to clean
  • It comes in a larger bag
  • It comes in two color options
  • The 10 Best Substrates for Sulcata Tortoises

    1. Exo Terra Desert Sand Terrarium Reptile Substrate – Best Overall

    Exo Terra Desert Sand Terrarium Reptile Substrate

    Size: 10 pounds
    Color: Red
    Substrate Type: Sand

    If you’re looking for the best overall substrate for Sulcata tortoises, look no further than Exo Terra Desert Sand Terrarium Reptile Substrate. It’s the perfect substrate type for tortoises, and with red sand, it pops out in their habitat too.

    It’s easy to apply, works great, and is easy to clean compared to many other substrate types. We wish there were more color options to pick from, but overall, that’s a pretty small complaint considering all the things this substrate does well.

    It’s the perfect tortoise substrate, so why not order it and worry about one less thing moving forward?

    Pros
    • A great mix of price and quality
    • Lasts a long time
    • Easy to clean
    • Natural, real sand
    • Suitable for egg laying
    Cons
    • Only one color option

    2. Zoo Med Vita-Sand Reptile Sand – Best Value

    Zoo Med Vita-Sand Reptile Sand

    Size: 10 pounds
    Color: White
    Substrate Type: Sand

    If you’re on a tighter budget but still want an excellent substrate, then Zoo Med Vita-Sand Reptile sand is just what you’re looking for. It’s a lower-cost substrate than many of the other options on our list, but it’s not a lower-quality substrate.

    It’s an outstanding mix of quality and price, and it’s easy to clean. This substrate doesn’t use any artificial dyes or colors, either. However, while there’s a lot to love about this substrate, there’s a reason it’s a budget pick.

    There’s only one color option to pick from, and it doesn’t have any of the advanced features many other substrates have. Still, with everything this substrate does right, it’s not hard to see why this is the best substrate for Sulcata tortoises for the money.

    Pros
    • Affordable
    • Vitamin-fortified
    • No artificial dyes or colors
    Cons
    • Only comes in one color option

    3. Zoo Med ReptiSoil Reptile Bedding – Premium Choice

    Zoo Med ReptiSoil Reptile Bedding

    Size: 2 pounds
    Color: Brown
    Substrate Type: Soil

    If you don’t mind spending a little more, then Zoo Med ReptiSoil Reptile Bedding might be the perfect choice for you. While it’s significantly more expensive than other options, especially considering the smaller size, it’s an outstanding substrate.

    It’s a soil substrate that can be easier on a tortoise, and it excels in every way. It’s easy to clean and use, and it works for all sorts of animals.

    Sure, it’s a bit more expensive, but when you want the best of the best, you won’t find a better choice than Zoo Med ReptiSoil Reptile Bedding.

    Pros
    • Easy to clean
    • Great for all types of animals
    • Encourages burrowing, egg laying, and plant growth
    • Designed specifically for reptiles
    Cons
    • Smaller bag size
    • Expensive

    4. Zoo Med Reptisand Reptile Terrarium Sand

    Zoo Med Reptisand Reptile Terrarium Sand

    Size: 10 pounds
    Color: White
    Substrate Type: Sand

    While Zoo Med Reptisand Reptile Terrarium Sand might not have a special accolade like our top three choices, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best substrate for your tortoise. It’s easy to apply, use, and clean, and it comes in larger bags, so you don’t need to purchase as much as you would with other substrates.

    It only comes in one color option, but white sand makes it easier to find the places you need to clean, and it goes great with all sorts of décor. However, it also doesn’t last the longest, so while it might go a long way, the white color might make you feel like you need to replace it faster than you would with other color options.

    Pros
    • Easy to use
    • It comes in larger bags
    • Stimulates natural digging
    • Easy to clean
    Cons
    • It only comes in one color option
    • It doesn’t last very long

    5. Zoo Med ReptiSand Reptile Sand

    Zoo Med ReptiSand Reptile Sand

    Size: 20 pounds
    Color: White or red
    Substrate Type: Sand

    With a Sulcata tortoise, you need lots of substrate simply because of their larger size, and since you can purchase this substrate in 20-pound bags, that means you need fewer bags to meet their needs. It also comes in two different color options, so you can go with either white or red, or you can even mix the two if you want!

    It’s easy to apply and clean, especially if you go with white sand. However, while it comes in a 20-pound bag, it’s still more expensive per pound than other substrate options.

    Pros
    • It comes in a larger bag
    • It comes in two color options
    • Easy to clean
    Cons
    • Not the best cost per pound
    • Mostly ideal for lizards

    6. Exoticare Just Calcium Reptile Substrate

    Exoticare Just Calcium Reptile Substrate

    Size: 3 pounds
    Color: Brown
    Substrate Type: Substrate

    Exoticare Just Calcium Reptile Substrate is an outstanding choice for younger Sulcata tortoises. It’s a super high-quality substrate that’s easy to apply, use, and clean, but there are several factors that make it inconvenient for larger tortoises.

    For starters, this only comes in a 3-pound bag, so if you need a ton of substrate for a larger space, that means you’ll need to order a ton of bags. It’s also a bit more expensive when you compare the cost per pound, which can mean you can completely blow through your entire budget without getting enough substrate.

    Pros
    • Very high-quality substrate
    • Easy to use
    • Contains natural calcium carbonate
    • Resealable bag
    Cons
    • Small bag size
    • Higher cost per pound

    7. Exoticare Desert Blend Reptile Substrate

    Exoticare Desert Blend Reptile Substrate

    Size: 12 pounds
    Color: Brown
    Substrate Type: Substrate

    If you want to avoid sand but don’t want a smaller bag, then Exoticare Desert Blend Reptile Substrate is what you’ve been looking for. It comes in a 12-pound bag which is bigger than most other substrate bags, and it’s even bigger than most sandbags.

    It’s also easy to apply and clean, saving you tons of time when you’re laying it out. However, the tradeoff is that it is a bit more expensive, so when you factor in how much you need, you might blow through your entire budget.

    Pros
    • Larger bag option
    • Pre-mixed
    Cons
    • Slightly more expensive
    • Only one size

    8. Exo Terra Plantation Soil Tropical Terrarium Reptile Substrate

    Exo Terra Plantation Soil Tropical Terrarium Reptile Substrate

    Size: 3.6 or 7.2 quarts
    Color: Brown
    Substrate Type: Substrate

    Exo Terra Plantation Soil Tropical Terrarium Reptile Substrate is a substrate that you need to add moisture to in order to get it to pull apart and expand. This isn’t a huge deal, but it does mean it’ll require a bit more work to apply.

    It also means it’s not the best choice for extremely large enclosures, which is exactly what Sulcata tortoises need. If you don’t mind the extra work and purchasing more of the stuff, it is an outstanding substrate, and you can order it in multiple sizes.

    Pros
    • It comes in multiple size options
    • Easy to use
    • Outstanding quality
    Cons
    • It comes in smaller packages

    9. Zoo Med Vita-Sand All Natural Vitamin-Fortified Calcium Carbonate Substrate

    Zoo Med Vita-Sand All Natural Vitamin-Fortified Calcium Carbonate Substrate

    Size: 10 pounds
    Color: Brown
    Substrate Type: Sand

    Zoo Med Vita-Sand All Natural Vitamin-Fortified Calcium Carbonate Substrate is another sand-type substrate you can use for your Sulcata tortoise. It comes in a 10-pound bag, and it’s a great value. It’s also easy to clean, which is a great thing for a substrate.

    However, it does only come in one color option, and it’s a very neutral brown. It also doesn’t last the longest, so you might find yourself replacing it more often than you would like. Still, it’s a great choice, even if it didn’t do quite enough to get higher up on the list.

    Pros
    • Easy to clean
    • Includes calcium
    • Extra-fine texture
    • No artificial colors
    Cons
    • It only comes in one color option
    • It doesn’t last the longest

    10. Exo Terra Plantation Soil Brick

    Exo Terra Plantation Soil Brick

    Size: 8 quarts
    Color: Brown
    Substrate Type: Substrate

    Exo Terra Plantation Soil Brick might be the last option on our list, but that doesn’t make it a bad choice for your tortoise. It beat out quite a few other options to make it on the list at all, and there are a few reasons it excels.

    For starters, it’s super affordable. All-in-all, it’s a super effective substrate, but it does only come in smaller sizes. As your tortoise grows in size, this might not be the most affordable option simply because you’ll need so much of the stuff. It’s not a bad choice, but it’s really only viable for younger tortoises.

    Pros
    • Very affordable
    • Good for burrowing
    • Ideal for terrariums
    • Nutritional for live plants
    Cons
    • It only comes in smaller sizes
    • Must mix with water

    aquarium plant divider

     

    Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Best Substrates for Sulcata Tortoises

    If you’re looking at purchasing substrate for your Sulcata tortoise, it’s a big decision. The last thing you want is to purchase something that isn’t good for them, and you don’t want to have to purchase it twice. You need quite a bit of the stuff, so it’s a decision you want to get right the first time.

    With that in mind, we’ve come up with this comprehensive buyer’s guide that will walk you through everything you need to know.

    How Much Substrate Does a Sulcata Tortoise Need?

    A Sulcata tortoise should have an enclosure that’s at least 80 square feet, and the entire floor of the enclosure needs at least two inches of substrate. This means you need at least 13.5 cubic feet of substrate for your tortoise, and we recommend getting a bit more since tortoises love to burrow into the substrate.

    It’s quite a bit of substrate, which is why we recommend sticking with bags that are at least ten pounds unless you want to order tons of the stuff.

    sulcata tortoise walking on sand
    Image Credit: Rumaisha Project, Shutterstock

    How Often Should You Replace Tortoise Substrate?

    As long as you’re spot-cleaning your tortoise enclosure each day, the substrate should last a long time. We recommend changing the substrate at least once every six months, but you might need to change it more frequently depending on your tortoise.

    However, this is for a complete substrate change. For high-traffic areas like the bedding, you should change it out every few weeks at a minimum.

    How Often Should You Clean Tortoise Substrate?

    You only need to clean tortoise substrate about once a week or so, but we recommend doing some spot cleaning each day to keep problems from cropping up. The substrate is their home, and the dirtier it gets, the more likely it is that your tortoise will get sick.

    What Type of Substrate Does a Sulcata Tortoise Need?

    Soil and sand are two of the best substrate options for a Sulcata tortoise. These substrates provide plenty of maneuverability for your tortoise and will let them easily and safely burrow into it. Sulcata tortoises prefer dry environments, so ensure the substrate you use matches those conditions without scratching or harming them!

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    Conclusion

    If you still can’t figure out which substrate to get for your Sulcata tortoise after reading through the reviews, don’t overthink it. The Exo Terra Desert Sand Terrarium Reptile Substrate is our top choice for a reason, and if you’re on a tighter budget, the Zoo Med Vita-Sand Reptile Sand works great too!

    What’s important is that you get a top-notch substrate on order for them sooner rather than later so you can set it up and watch your tortoise thrive!

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    Featured Image Credit: Christian Musat, Shutterstock

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