There are many, many different substrates to choose from. Some safe, some unsafe. Some are more enriching than others, but the most natural of them all is soil. Sometimes natural is not always better, but today I would like to argue that soil is just as good or perhaps better than other substrates, from my personal experience.
We’ll discuss the pros and cons of soil, whether or not it’s a good option for you, how to find a safe soil for your hamster, and how to clean soil substrate. Let’s begin!
The Pros of Soil
I’ve been using soil substrate for over a month now, and my hamster has been loving it.
When packed down, soil holds burrows amazingly. My little Roborovski has made many intricate little tunnels and chambers, which makes me so happy 🙂
If left out long enough in the soil, my hammy’s seed mix will sprout! Sprouts are very healthy and much more enriching, which makes my hamster happier and healthier.
Another pro to soil is that it is cooler than paper or wood substrates. The summers where I live are between 20-40C, and I can go about my activities without worrying about my hamster overheating, knowing he’s content in his cool, underground bed. In the winter I will probably switch to paper or wood based substrate for warmth.
I’m also big on saving some dough, and soil is pretty inexpensive. I purchase my soil for $4/15L bag, and filling my cage cost me $24, no more than paper based bedding.
Then you may be thinking, “If paper bedding is the same price why not get that?”
I personally love how soil looks in the cage. Some people can use paper bedding in a really aesthetically pleasing way, and I am not one of those people.
I love soil because it holds burrows, sprouts hamster food, keeps my hammy cool, is pretty inexpensive, and I like the look.
A Couple Cons
Soil lacks odor control. This can be fixed by mixing it with pellets or aspen shavings if you are sensitive to smell. I personally am not, hence why I use plain soil.
Soil is heavy, and most cages, namely bin cages, will not be able to hold a lot of weight without bowing outward or possibly breaking.
Soil may require a spray of water occasionally to keep it moist and stable for burrowing.
Say your water source leaks/spills a lot of water… you’ll have mud.
When soil has old food or pee sitting in it, it can develop mold within a couple days.
It may be too cold for your hamster if you live in a cold climate.
Overall, there are definitely some downsides to using soil, but I feel it doesn’t have any more problems than any other substrate. But the real question is:
Would It Work For You?
Soil is beneficial in the sense it can cool your pet in the hotter months, provide enrichment, hold stable burrows, and of course absorb urine. It meets all the requirements of a suitable substrate. Soil also looks nice and is relatively inexpensive.
If you are not very sensitive to smell and don’t mind the upkeep, soil can be a wonderful substrate for you.
If you live in a very cold climate or cannot find a safe soil it may not be for you. While we’re on the subject, what is a safe soil?
How To Find A Safe Soil
Soil is meant for growing plants, which means they will usually have some kind of fertilizer in them, whether that be a ‘time-release fertilizer’ or instant fertilizer, they are all the same: toxic.
Thankfully, several lines of safe soils exist! These safe soils are usually referred to as ‘organic,’ and lack any toxic fertilizers. Try to find one with an ingredients list to confirm that it’s safe.
Every soil will have little white specks in it. If the soil is organic, those are vermiculite, a naturally occurring mineral which is hamster-safe.
I use Pots and Plants Premium Organic All Purpose soil which I get at my local hardware store, and I love the texture of this soil. It’s made of moss, earthworm castings, and minerals. It’s also sanitized with steam before packing, so I don’t have to bake it before use or anything.
If you want to sanitize your soil before use, I would recommend freezing it for a day or two. That way any contaminants will die and the soil stays moist (so it can hold burrows).
So after you find a safe organic soil for your hamster and start using it, you’ll have to clean it. We’ll now discuss:
How I Clean Soil Substrate
I’ve seen a lot of criticism surrounding this subject; how do you clean a cage with soil substrate? Are deep cleans necessary?
Firstly, I just scoop out the soiled nesting material and substrate from my hamster’s nests twice a week, or whenever a distinct pee smell develops. This keeps the smell down and prevents molding, which can happen more easily with soil. I only do deep cleans once every month or two.
When I do deep cleans I remove all the accessories, pick out any soiled substrate, and will usually add in some new soil to compensate for all the soil removed in the weekly spot cleans. Unless my hamster had some kind of illness I won’t replace all the substrate.
I’ll mix the soil up, pat it down, and set up the cage again. It’s a system that’s been working well for me and my ham. The cage is clean, and we’re both happy. This method saves money and is less stressful for my hamster, since his old substrate smells familiar.
Soil is the second primary substrate I’ve used, wood shavings being the first. My new hamster is burrowing a lot more than my past hamster did in her shavings, and the burrows are holding significantly better.
I definitely prefer the soil to shavings, and look forward to using it for many hamsters to come. I highly recommend trying it out, but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine.
If you have used soil substrate, please share your experiences with us in the Reply section below this post!
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!