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What is Safe Wood for reptile enclosures?

Using wood a substrate for your reptile is quite common. But, you have to be careful because not all wood can be used. If you choose the wrong one, it can cause health issues for your reptile.

What is safe wood for an animal enclosure? Shredded Aspen and Cypress Mulch is a good safe wood for reptiles. If you have the budget you can pick them up in most pet stores. However, you can also consider using some types of wood from outside, as long as you are prepared to clean and sterilize it first.

To further expand on this, I am going to explain which other types of wood you use. As well as types that you need to avoid because they can be very bad for your reptile, and much more,

What is safe wood for an animal enclosure

To start off with let me list a few wood substrates that you can use safely without any concerns. Later on in the article, I will outline some that you should avoid at all costs. I will also explain how you can prepare wood that has not been purchased from a conventional pet shop.

Here are some types of wood you can use for substrate:

  • Aspen (Shredded)
  • Orchid Bark
  • Cypress Mulch

Generally speaking, most hardwoods can be considered as well,  such as:

  • Oak
  • Dogwood
  • Maples

Which wood should you avoid for your Reptile?

I’m going to outline certain types of wood that you should avoid to keep your reptile safe.


Cedarwood is a popular wood that is used for furniture products, such as closets, it is used because it is good at avoiding long-term decay of furniture. Also, it repels insects. However, for reptiles, it is not a good idea, especially for lizards.

The reason it is not good for your reptile is that it can cause skin lesions or even respiratory health problems for your reptile.

Some of the most dangerous versions of this cedar wood include White or Japanese Cedar.

The biggest issue with this wood is that most commercial products very rarely say exactly which type of cedar that they use in their products. So as a general rule, you should avoid using them.

Eucalyptus and Pine Trees

These trees have similar issues to cedar wood. Although, there is not as much evidence to back it up. However, as a general rule, they are to be avoided to maintain the health of your reptile.

The main issue is the fact that it secretes aromatic phenol, which causes health issues with reptiles.

Wood that has been treated with chemicals

Any wood that has been treated with chemicals is a big no-no! This obviously encapsulates quite a range of wood types. Sometimes it’s quite hard to identify which wood has been treated with chemicals. But if you suspect that it has been chemically treated, do not use it with your reptile.

These chemicals can contaminate the air or seep out onto your reptile, so they are not to be used.

Fruit trees are notorious for being sprayed with pesticides to keep away insects, that eat their fruit. These pesticides can have serious health effects on your reptile and should be avoided at all costs.

A general rule is, any tree that has been treated with chemicals should be avoided. This includes herbicides, pesticides, wood preservatives or anything along those lines.

Trees that have sharp Thorns

This one is relatively obvious to see and common sense. Basically, avoid using any wood which has got sharp edges that could scratch or impale your reptile. The good thing is, this can be seen quite easily.

However, there are a couple of known trees that have exceptionally thorny branches that you should avoid, such as Hawthorn or Honey Locust.

Preparing wild grown wood for your Terrarium

Wood is often used in Terrariums in the form of branches, logs or any kind of wooden climbing apparatus. It’s fun for your reptile and is encouraged in most cases.

Most people tend to buy these accessories from their local pet shop or online.

However, if you are on a budget or have access to a large amount of wild grown wood, you can consider using it.

The reason you need to prepare it first is it may contain bugs, bacteria, viruses or dangerous fungus. Without prep, this can easily pass on to your reptile and cause unknown health issues. So, to avoid this you need to prepare the wood.

Preparation is essentially cleaning and sterilizing the wood so it is safe for your reptile to use.

Step 1 – Cleaning and preparing the wood

The first step is to clean off all of the surface level dirt. Give the wood a good bang just to get rid of any of the dirt that may be collected on it.

Once you have removed some of the obvious dirt, you then need to use some hot water to clean the wood. The best way to do this is to use a steel bristle brush, so it can clean off the dirt properly.

Step 2 – Sterilizing the wood

The objective here is to remove any germs, viruses, fungus or any other related bacteria that are not visible to the naked eye.

Because wood is porous it is not a good idea to try and use chemicals to sterilize it. Because this would just contaminate the wood. The best way to do this is to use a handheld steaming unit. Alternatively boiling or baking the wood is a good way to remove all of these potential issues.

If you are going to consider doing baking or boiling, then take it from me, baking is the easiest and fastest option.


To bake the wood you need to place it into an oven and set the temperature to 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. However, be warned, never leave the wood unattended. Because it is a fire hazard!

You can expect it to take up to an hour before it is completely sterilized.


If you would prefer to go down the boiling route then you can set it at a slightly lower temperature such as 210-212 degrees Fahrenheit. But you will need to boil it for a lot longer. In particular, up to 6 hours to ensure that all the bacteria and viruses are removed.

Drying the wood

After you have sterilized the wood you need to make sure that you completely dry it off. The reason that you need to do this is, is because leaving it wet will allow it to decay very fast. So you need to get it dry and usable for a substrate.

To do this you need to put it in a dry and clean area. Ideally not outside, because if you put it outside it could be susceptible to being infected again, by insects or other pathogens.

Once it is in this clean and safe area. You need to leave it to dry out for a number of days to be 100% certain that it is dried out properly. Especially if it’s a larger piece of wood.

Another option that you can use to dry it is by placing it into an oven for a few hours. You will need to set the temperature to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. You need to take some caution though. Never leave it unattended while it is drying in the oven because it is a fire risk.

Related questions:

What kind of wood can you use to build an iguana cage? For Iguanas you can use most hardwoods. Such as Birch, Walnut or Cheery wood. However, be warned, it is always going to be quite an expensive job. If you want to reduce the costs, Oak and Birch are the most economical options at approximately $1 to $2 per foot.

Why do some people use vinegar to clean their reptile vivarium? If you are a reptile keeper you will know from experience that from time to time they will start to smell.

In addition to this, you need to clean the enclosure for good maintenance and to keep your reptile healthy.  For that reason, white vinegar, in particular, is used. It is good because it cleans well, removes the smell and does not contain dangerous chemicals.


Hi, this is me with my daughter and my Lizard friend. I hope you enjoy my research. Please feel free to check out my "About Me" page to find out more about me.