Paper Towels for Bearded Dragon? Paper Towels for Ball Pythons? Are paper towels easier to clean? Are paper towels a good reptile substrate? What are risks to using Paper Towels as a Reptile Substrate?

Paper Towels are the first substrate that was recommended to me by more than one person. It is a “fixed” or “stable” reptile substrate. Similar examples are eco carpet, puppy pads and shelf liners.

Initially, I was not a fan of the thought to using paper towels. It did not seem “natural”, I figured there was something other than paper towels. Secondly, aesthetics was a concern. I thought paper towels looked “cheap” …boy was I right and wrong. Yes, paper towels can be bought pretty cheap, but that is only an added bonus. Being new to the reptile world I was quickly learning that some odd things work great for reptiles, paper towels being one of those things.

What will be explained:

As in other posts, here we will look at positive and negative things with using Paper Towels as a Reptile Substrate. Any health risks associated if any. Any health benefits. What animal to use with this Reptile Substrate. Also, what Different enclosures to use paper towels in.





I want to begin with how paper towels are great to use during quarantine of a new reptile. If you just received a snake or some other kind of lizard that may have mites, you will want to use paper towels as the substrate. Even if you have owned your reptile for years, mites are always a risk with substrates, visit reptile shows handling other reptiles or sometimes new decorations can have mites in them.


Mites usually cannot survive on paper towels. With white paper towels mites are more visible when compared to aspen or mulch.

Collecting fecals

If you are preparing for a Vet visit and need to collect a fecal sample. Often vets will accept them with feces on paper towels (in a bag of course).

Medical care

Or, if your pet has some type of medical condition that requires close monitoring of bowels/urates/watching for blood…. etc. Taking care of a prolapse in a pet. Any type of open wound that your pet may have, majority of medical care will want to be provided with Paper Towels as the Reptile Substrate at least temporarily if not permanently.


Difficulty Level: HARD

High Humidity Levels

If you have a reptile requiring high humidity in a large enclosure such as pythons, iguanas, or tegus will make maintaining proper humidity levels difficult. As with other dry substrates like Aspen, there are ways to compensate though with minimal risk to your pet. (See below) Requires significantly more work and monitoring.

Difficulty Level: MODERATE

Mid Humidity Levels

Reptiles that require high humidity but are in a small-medium enclosure like various gecko’s or anoles. Also, ball python rack systems. With a smaller enclosure the way to maintain humidity would be to dampen the paper towels directly since there is not much room to compensate with humid hides or humid boxes. This does increase risks to your pet if not monitored carefully. (risks below)

Difficulty Level: Easy

Low humidity Levels

Most arid species in any size of enclosure paper towels work great for. With all substrates there are still minor risks associated, but far less risk than many other reptile substrates. Will work for Tortoises, Bearded Dragons, Veiled Chameleons…etc. Any kind of enclosure wood/glass/screened vivarium or terrarium.



While it does have a decent absorbency rate, paper towels do absolutely nothing for odor control. Paper towels must be changed once they have been soiled to avoid any lingering smells.


With some reptiles there is a slight impaction risk. Insectivores that hunt live bugs like bearded dragons are what have the higher risk. Not likely to cause a major impaction issue requiring veterinarian intervention, but too much of anything can cause problems.

Extra Maintenance:

Maintaining higher humidity levels in a larger enclosure will mean quite a bit of extra work that can easily be prevented by using a better suited substrate for the enclosure.


Lastly some people think paper towels are just ugly looking in their reptile’s home. Some keepers want to keep their reptile in the closest environment that they are originally from. Not necessarily in a bio-active enclosure, but something more “natural”. I was and still am that type of person depending on the reptile.


Overall Risk Level for Arid/Humid dwellers: Very Low/Minor


If using paper towels appropriately there is very little risk. With improper use there will be an increased risk.

Risks Associated with Improper Use of Paper Towels

Scale Rot:

Keeping paper towels saturated in a high humidity environment runs the risk of causing scale rot. There are ways to avoid this by using humidity boxes or hides, placing multiple water dishes in the enclosure…etc. Paper towels that are completely saturated for extended periods will cause scale rot. Scale rot is a risk for any reptile that has a “wet” floor. There is no time that standing water should be on the floor of the vivarium/terrarium. Something as simple as a large amount of urination can soak the paper towels causing health issues. Similar to Aspen Reptile Substrate and risk of mold/RI. Seek veterinarian care for scale rot. Untreated or improper care of scale rot can lead to death.

RI (Respiratory Infection):

This is a risk associated in keeping any Humid dwelling reptile in an Arid environment. It does not matter what substrate you use, if it is not used appropriately and proper humidity is not maintained they will be at risk for RI.

Risks When Using Paper Towels Appropriately


Secondly, there can be an impaction risk when feeding live feeder bugs to smaller reptiles like bearded dragons. I had this issue once occur with my bearded dragon. To avoid any paper towels being ingested use an escape proof feeding dish. I have also met keepers who will just totally remove the paper towels during feeding to avoid this issue as well, but a bare bottom often makes it more difficult for the reptile to hunt without sliding around all over.


Humid Hide

One way to compensate for the low humidity is to use a Humid Hide. Different than humid box or humid containers (will get to those in a moment). A humid hide is a hide that has a compartment in the top to put wet paper towels, wet sponges, sphagnum moss…etc. Pretty much anything that does not breed bacteria rapidly and retains humidity. Your animal will have the option to go into that hide to reach whatever humidity they are seeking.

Issues to be aware of:

Common issues with the humid hide method to be aware of. Often owners keep it too humid in the hide. Causing the reptile to end up developing scale rot (As mentioned above). Scale rot occurs when a reptiles’ scales don’t have a chance to dry. They develop an infection that spreads. Eventually the infected scales rot and fall off. Once began Scale Rot requires medical attention. Scale Rot can require antibiotics. Death can and will result from untreated scale rot in a reptile. (See above for risks)

Humid containers

While like the hide box, A humidity container, your animal cannot hide in or access directly. All it is, is a plastic box or container with a lid that has holes in it. Inside the container you would put your humidity holding item; paper towels, sponge, moss, eco earth…etc. The amount of humidity boxes that will be put in the enclosure will depend on, the species of reptile and the relative humidity where living. You will want to monitor the moistness of the Paper Towels that are on the floor through the entire enclosure often to ensure they are not becoming “wet” from the humidity in the air. (See Risks Above)

Multiple water Dishes

Sometimes the placement of water dishes can also help to raise humidity. If you are using a Heat Lamp or CHE overhead for heating, you can place the water bowl under it. Add another dish on the cool side of your enclosure as well. I have also seen where people have put a 3rd dish right in the middle of their reptiles’ home.



Very low risk, cost efficient and very versatile. If you for some reason run out of substrate and cannot find anymore, paper towels are a readily available option. It is something that anyone can find at almost any store even most gas stations carry rolls of paper towels for sale.

Medical Benefits:

Wound/Injury Care

Various medical care uses for a sick or injured pet. Paper Towels for reptiles makes wound care much easier and significantly decreases infection risks. Collecting fecal samples, watching urates…etc.


Quarantining new reptiles from your others, if you end up with a mite problem paper towels are one of the best substrates to combat it. Can also use paper towels to physically wipe your reptile down with whatever mite remedy you are choosing to use for your pet.

Closer Monitoring Visually

Overall monitoring of a pet is increased making it easier to see messes that will need to be removed. Which makes for a cleaner environment for the reptile decreasing health risks.


Ending with aesthetics, I did put this under “Why is Paper towels a bad substrate” along with including here because to some paper towels give their reptile home a “clean” look to it. Sometimes people like the “less is more” look for their reptile enclosure theme. Paper towels can also be a preferred accent to different “themes” when decorating habitats. For the same reason that some think paper towels are ugly is the same reason other people like the look of paper towels. Everybody has their preference.


Why I would:

Cost/Low Risks/Readily Available

Paper towels can be an all-around good to use substrate for any level keeper or reptile. Depending on the housing you have will determine the amount of extra work required for Paper towels to work efficiently. But there is very little risk overall to your pet when used correctly. All substrates will have some level of risks associated with it. It is nearly impossible to remove all potential hazards in a reptile home. Paper Towels is a Reptile Substrate with very low risk. (Risks Above)

Quarantine/Medical Care

When a new animal is in a quarantine or when giving medical care paper towels is the way to go. It is highly advised to do so by many long-time experienced keepers and veterinarians alike.

How I use Paper towels:

It was recommended when I first purchased a snake but was not really an option for us. This is because he is in a glass tank. Not a plastic tub, wood, or PVC enclosure. Humidity is more difficult to maintain in a glass enclosure vs a tub.

I was told to use paper towels for my Veiled Chameleon. It is what I currently use in the bottom of her enclosure, but it is not what I started with.

In addition to the chameleon, I use paper towels in my Bearded Dragons wooden vivarium. Similar to the chameleon, not what I began with. Eco carpet was the starting substrate, albeit not by my choice. We switched Reptile Substrates shortly after my beardie joined the house.

Why I would not:

Risks with Improper use/More work

I do not recommend using paper towels in a large enclosure for a high humid reptile, not because it can’t or won’t work, but because of all the additional work to maintain proper humidity levels. It really adds more risks than reducing risks. Often RI’s (respiratory infections) occur due to a lack of humidity in a humid dwelling reptiles’ environment. It can become a balancing act between having too low or too high humidity. Battling between an RI (from dry environment) or Scale Rot (from too wet environment). (Risks Above)


Odor control is something to think about when owning multiple reptiles. As stated above, Paper Towels do nothing for odor absorption! Depending on where in your home you keep your reptiles if you only have one or two more than likely odor won’t be an issue, but if you have multiple, it will get smelly pretty quick. Paper towels for large collections of reptiles requires immediate cleaning and removal of dirty paper towels to keep the smell under control.

Middle Ground:

Using paper towels in a snake rack for either arid snakes or high humidity snakes has equal pros and cons. I like to use them during certain events in the year. Snake pairing is a major time I use paper towels because it gets very messy in their breeding area. As a result, my tubs are cleaned thoroughly and more frequently during breeding season. During the off season I typically like to use a cypress mulch or coco husk. But there are plenty of breeders who swear by just paper towels and use them for their entire collections though.

For You and Your Reptile:

Only you can decide what will work best for you and your reptile in their enclosure. There will always be an opinion on why what is being done is right or wrong.

What works for some does not always work for others.

If you are willing to put in the additional work to meet your reptile’s humidity needs to be able to use paper towels with a humid dwelling species, then go for it. (Proper ways to raise humidity above)

If you’re a minimalist that wants something quick and easy to manage for an Arid dwelling animal that is great too.

No matter your reason If you think paper towels fits you and yours best, then use it.

If the animal is thriving that is all that matters.

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