Different Substrates For Hamsters

There are tons of different brands of substrates, but there are only a handful of good substrates for hamsters. This week I’m going to be talking about the different materials used for hamster substrates, which ones are safe, and some popular unsafe ones as well.

Feel free to check out my sources, research resources for you, and related posts linked at the very end 🙂

Paper Based

Paper based substrates are one of the most popular varieties. There are two types of paper substrates: shredded paper (made of newspaper or tissue) and expanding, pellet-like paper-based substrate (like Carefresh or Kaytee).

Shredded paper substrates are a lot cheaper than their expanding paper-based relatives, because a lot less work goes into making them. You can actually make it yourself without too much trouble.

Newspaper shreds aren’t the best substrate because they don’t hold burrows well, control odor, or absorb urine at all, and it has been known to rub ink off onto hamsters. Shredded paper substrates made from napkins, paper towels, or toilet paper and very good options.

Commercial paper-based hamster beddings are typically on the pricier side, but are very good for holding burrows and absorbing urine. Paper-based hamster substrates are available scented, however these scented substrates are not good for your hamster’s respiratory system and should never be used.

Corn Cob Bits

Corn cob bits are sometimes used as a substrate, but there are much better options.

There is no odor control in corn cob bits, resulting in a smellier cage. Hamsters cannot burrow in corn cob bits, not to mention they aren’t comfortable to walk on.

It would be okay to use them in a small section of the cage for texture, but definitely not for the whole cage.

Wood Shavings

Wood shavings are a very popular substrate to use, and one I definitely recommend, especially for natural cage setups.

They provide texture and hold burrows reasonably well, but if you wanted stronger burrows you could definitely layer some soft hay into the substrate to improve burrows.

When selecting a wood shaving substrate make sure not to use a softwood like pine or cedar. Those woods contain naturally occurring chemicals which usually result in respiratory infections.

The most common safe shaving is Aspen, but there are tons of other safe options such as:

  • apple
  • arbutus
  • ash
  • bamboo
  • blackberry
  • blackcurrant
  • cholla
  • cottonwood
  • crabapple
  • dogwood
  • elm
  • grapevine
  • hawthorn
  • hazelnut
  • kiwi
  • magnolia
  • manzanita
  • mulberry
  • pear
  • pecan
  • pine – kiln-dried white
  • poplar
  • quince
  • rose hip
  • sycamore
  • willow (but not white willow)

So as you can see, there are tons of hamster-safe wood shavings out there, but there are also tons of unsafe woods, including:

  • almond
  • apricot
  • beech
  • birch
  • black locust
  • black lotus
  • blackwood
  • box elder
  • buckthorn
  • cashew
  • cedar
  • cherry
  • chestnut
  • chinaberry Chinese snake tree chokeberry
  • citrus woods – orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc.
  • cypress
  • ebony
  • elderberry
  • eucalyptus
  • fir
  • ginkgo
  • hemlock
  • holly
  • honey locust
  • hydrangea
  • juniper
  • kumquat
  • laurel
  • mahogany
  • mango
  • manufactured/glued woods like plywood or fiberboard
  • maple
  • mesquite
  • myrtle
  • nectarine
  • oak
  • oleander
  • peach
  • pine – fresh, pressure treated, red — kiln dried is thought to be safe
  • pinecones
  • pistachio
  • plum
  • redwood
  • sandalwood
  • sequoia
  • spruce
  • teak
  • walnut
  • weeping fig
  • white willow
  • yew

Those are all unsafe woods.

*Thank you so much kirani100 on the Hamster Hideout forum for those lists!

Coconut Based Substrates

There are many different coconut based substrates, such as EcoEarth (coconut-based dirt), coconut fiber, and coconut chippings.

Ingredient-wise these are all safe substrates, however, there have been cases of hamsters getting tangled in coconut fibers, hence why I personally wouldn’t use it. It’s very similar to cotton nesting, which is made of thin strands which wind around limbs or get stuck in cheek pouches and teeth.

EcoEarth is very safe, and I have used it for my past hamster Beanie without any problems. It doesn’t have long, dangerous strands in it, and is excellent for adding texture. When it’s dry it does not hold burrows, so I wouldn’t recommend using it for the whole cage.


Sometimes I see people use litters or gravels in their hamster cages. Gravel is not recommended because it’s not comfortable to walk on and it’s not good for burrowing at all.

Litters similar to gravel or grit are not good either for the same reasons. A litter you can use is wood pellet cat litter. ErinsAnimals on YouTube mixes pelleted litters with other substrates which is apparently great for odor control. Using it as a main substrate is not recommended because hamsters cannot create burrows in pellets.


Soil is an amazing substrate for hamsters. When packed down it is great for burrowing, and mimics their natural habitat, creating a more enriching enclosure.

Soil can be used as the main substrate because of the burrow-bility (new word). It does not have very good odor control, but personally I would love to try it with my future hamster since I don’t really mind hamster-smells.

When selecting soil for your hamster check the packaging and make sure it does not contain any fertilizers (typically called ‘organic soil’). It is normal for there to be little white pebbly-things in organic soil; they are natural minerals which are harmless hamsters.


There are many options of substrates for hamsters, safe and unsafe. When choosing substrate for your hamster it is crucial that you research that specific substrate to determine whether or not it’s a healthy, beneficial choice.

YouTube videos, hamster forums, and some blogs are good places to gather information. Always collect information from several sources to ensure the information is up-to-date.

If you know of any other interesting substrates, safe or unsafe, please share your experience and/or knowledge with us in the Reply section below!

If you’re interested in more hamster-related content be sure to like this post and follow the blog, and I’ll be back on Tuesday with more small pet care, DIYs, recipes, cage setups, stories and more, have a ham-tastic day!


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