Here’s the truth: heat mats are great and affordable heating options that can help us keep our geckos warm! Experts have even advised its use to raise background temperature in large enclosures and for temporary emergency set-ups. It’s not the cream of the crop in terms of reptile heating elements, but it surely has its practical uses when used properly.
Regrettably, the market is saturated with low-quality heating mats that have greatly tainted the reputation of high-grade products. Because of this, the Reptile Hero team has collaborated with keepers and professionals to show you which heat mats are actually true to their claims.
The best heat mat for leopard geckos is this Premium Heat Mat from Fluker’s.
Nonetheless, it isn’t the only good option you have. Looking for a backup heat source for blackouts or sauna sessions? Go for the smaller, low-wattage heat mat. On the hunt for a more permanent supplemental heat source for your glass enclosure? We’ve got you covered too!
To heat things up, read this article until the very end!
Our Top 3 Heat Mats Picks For Leopard Gecko Tanks
|Dimensions (Length x Width)||18.5 x 8.5 in (47 x 22 cm)||17 x 11 in (43 x 28 cm)||7 x 4 in (18 x 10 cm)|
|Power Rating||24 Watts||20 Watts||4 Watts|
|Enclosure Compatibility||Glass||Wood, Glass, Plastic||Glass, Plastic|
Despite the increasing popularity of customizable wooden vivariums here in the US, great quality non-adhesive heat mats are still a rare find in local exotic pet supply shops and online stores. Fortunately, we were able to get our hands on this large Fluker’s Premium Heat Mat.
|Dimensions (Length x Width)||17 x 11 in (43 x 28 cm)|
|Power Rating||20 Watts|
|Enclosure Compatibility||Wood, Glass, Plastic|
- Measuring 17” by 11”, this heat mat will help you boost surface temperatures at the warm side even if you have a massive 50-gallon tank or bigger. You could even use it to heat multiple geckos housed individually in stacked deli cups if needed during, for instance, a power outage – just place prop it against the wall and place the stacks about 0.5 cm away.
- As you will use tape for internal and external mounting, uninstalling the heat mat is easier and safer.
- For its size, it has a lower power rating (20W) so you can save up on electrical costs and you can use it for a longer time while connected to a power bank in times of emergency.
- It is highly compatible with most vivariums and can be installed internally or externally. You won’t have to worry about buying a new one if you are going from a small 20-gallon tank to a much more spacious wooden vivarium.
- The material used for lamination is sturdy but relatively pliable so it can handle being slightly bent.
- It does not come with adhesives so you will have to buy aluminum foil tape separately.
- When used as an under-tank heater, you will need to buy a sheet of polystyrene foam for better heating results.
No one wants to have to spend a big amount of money to buy a replacement enclosure after having their leopard gecko’s glass tank broken because of an overly hot heat mat. This is why a lot of people still steer clear of using heat mats. But with this heat mat, that won’t be an issue whatsoever.
|Dimensions (Length x Width)||18.5 x 8.5 in (47 x 22 cm)|
|Power Rating||24 Watts|
- At 18.5” by 8.5”, this heat mat is perfect for generously sized enclosures starting with a total internal capacity of 30 gallons. Your baby leo won’t outgrow this even if you switch to larger tanks down the line.
- Packaged with a double-sided adhesive pad the size of the heat mat itself, you have the option of attaching it directly to the bottom of the tank. Otherwise, just use it as an under-tank heater.
- This heat mat has a temperature dial, so you have extra assurance that your baby leopard gecko’s vivarium won’t crack because of abnormally high temperatures.
- Unlike most other reptile heat pads for glass enclosures, this heating mat is considerably flexible and can be rolled or folded when not turned on. It won’t take a lot of space for storage.
- Since you can manually lower the temperature, you can also use this with reptile-safe plastics. Many others have done it without any ill effects on both the plastic and their precious reptiles.
- There is no digital display built into the heat mat despite having a temperature control knob, so you will still have to check it with a thermometer.
- Due to the large adhesive pad, cleaning up the leftover adhesive residue after removal may be troublesome.
- It is only compatible with glass vivariums when used at full power so you will have to buy another one if you’re planning on upgrading your leopard gecko’s home to a wooden enclosure in the near future.
Having several boxes full of those animal and plant shipping warmer packs may seem like a smart choice when preparing for possible power interruptions, but those have expiration dates and are much more costly in the long run. Buying a compact heat mat like this, along with a good power bank, would be a much better course of action to take.
|Dimensions (Length x Width)||7 x 4 in (18 x 10 cm)|
|Power Rating||4 Watts|
|Enclosure Compatibility||Glass, Plastic|
- Being only 7” by 4” in size, you won’t have a problem storing or bringing this heat mat along with you on a cold, day-long car ride.
- It comes with adhesive on one side so you can readily stick it to the side or bottom of the tank if you wanted to. But for temporary use, you could simply opt to not use the adhesive side.
- This low-wattage (4W) heat mat can be safely used with small and temporary enclosures for a very long time even if you only connect it to a low-powered portable power station.
- A heating pad of this size and wattage can be safely used with glass and plastic tanks without having to fear cracking, melting, warping, or off-gassing.
- As it is a heating element with a really low power rating, it cannot substantially raise temperatures to warm your leopard gecko in a big tank.
- The adhesive side wears off after long-term use so I do not recommend this wall-mounting for supplemental heating. If this does happen, you can still reinstall it with aluminum foil tape as long as it hasn’t been damaged.
How to Pick Out the Ideal Heat Mat for Your Leopard Gecko
Both beginners and long-time leopard gecko parents would attest to hearing a ton of horror stories when it comes to using heat mats. Contrary to popular belief though, heat mats aren’t actually the devil incarnate when it comes to reptile heating! As a matter of fact, experts recognize heat mats as good heating elements in a gecko tank, but only in certain situations.
In general terms, a keeper must take 5 aspects into account when selecting the heat mat appropriate for leopard gecko:
Remember, heating pads must never be permanently used as the sole heat source for reptiles as they only produce skin-penetrating warmth.
Read on to find out how to warm up your leopard geckos with a heat mat the right way!
5 Facets to Check in a Heat Mat for Your Leopard Geckomuch-needed
In the past, keepers have shared awful stories with heat mats. More often than not though, once they are pressed for more details, it becomes apparent that the heat mat might not actually be the culprit. To avoid having to face such traumatic events, consider the following facets when looking for the right heat mat for your adorable mini dinosaur.
#1 – Purpose
Although a reptile heating pad is not suitable for permanent use as the primary heat source in any enclosure, this product can still be safely used by leopard gecko keepers for 1) supplemental and 2) temporary heating.
The very first thing you should consider before buying a heat mat is how and what you are planning to use it for. It may seem nonsensical to some people, but your purpose for using a heat mat will largely affect all the other factors including size and power.
Heat mats can provide supplemental floor heat in tall vivariums (over 16 inches or 40 centimeters in height), mimicking the natural residual heat the ground gives off after prolonged sun exposure. They are especially useful when in places where average daily temperatures drop below 65°F (18°C).
Admittedly, I only ever used overhead heating for my gecko because I have heard countless nightmare incidents from people who have used them like cracking glass, melting plastic, and wood going up in flames.
However, based on science-based husbandry experts, talking to experienced reptile keepers, and listening to other professionals and readers in the community, I came to realize that heat mats aren’t as horrible as others have been making it out to be. What’s more, is that problems with heat mats are actually usually due to user error, but I will be discussing that in greater detail later on in this article.
Ectothermic animals like reptiles which rely on their environment to maintain optimal body heat to live happy and healthy lives will greatly benefit from this in the wild and – of course – in captivity.
Since heat mats imitate how soil, sand, rocks, trees, and most other organic materials reradiate the long-wavelength infrared radiation (IR-C) it gets from sunlight during the day, they could provide the much needed surface heat your cold-blooded baby needs . The warmth heat mats produce is indispensable on extremely cold nights, when they can’t depend on sunlight for heat so that they at least won’t freeze to death.
Just make sure to also provide them with a good overhead heat source for the day to make sure they are not only receiving skin-deep warmth. A good overhead heat source should also produce core-penetrating, short-wavelength infrared radiation (IR-A and IR-B), similar to sunlight.
Reptile heating pads are also useful heat sources in temporary housing during times of natural disasters, winter power outages, deep cleaning for enclosures, shedding problems, and quarantining.
In any of the aforementioned events, they may need to be homed in a smaller glass or plastic enclosure for a short – or long – while once their original enclosures’ ambient temperatures have plummeted significantly. Again, this means temperatures below 65°F (18°C).
Even I have one cheap but sturdy heat mat stocked away now as a backup heat source. I’ve never really had temperature problems before, but it’s always better safe than sorry right? More so now that we have been experiencing unusual weather events all over the world due to climate change.
#2 – Size
As a general rule, a heat mat must only cover approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of the vivarium to provide a sufficient thermal gradient, allowing hot reptiles to cool down on one side when necessary.
Heat mats are made to produce a very localized warm area, making them great options in boosting ground temperature for our scaly babies at one side of their tank – be it for supplemental or temporary use. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that size is an important factor to consider.
As a supplemental heat source, a heat mat that’s too small will basically be useless and one that’s too big will prevent them from engaging in proper thermoregulation.
With heat mats used for temporary heating, on the other hand, you could get away with the smallest size available specifically if you will be placing them in a smaller tank. In fact, you could use a single mini heat mat to keep 2 leopard geckos in individual mini faunariums (here on Amazon) or deli cups warm enough.
#3 – Type
There are two types of heat mats in general which are made specifically for reptiles:
Adhesive Heating Pads
This type is more commonly found in the US since they are normally only suitable for glass vivariums, which are still used by a great majority They are easy to install since they already come with an adhesive film or paper on one side. You would just need to peel off the protective layer and directly stick it to the side or bottom of your cage.
Others have also used this without directly sticking it on the wall and floor of reptile tanks. Adhesive heat mats can also be safely used with tanks made primarily from reptile-safe plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), provided that they are controlled with a thermostat.
My friends and I, as well as many other experienced keepers, do find this type of heat mat more fragile though. Unsticking them from an enclosure can also be quite troublesome. Plenty of adhesive heat mats have gone to waste after uninstalling as they may stop working from being bent in the process. They also normally leave behind large patches of residue.
Non-adhesive Heating Pads
Where wood enclosures are more common, such as in the UK and South Africa, non-adhesive heat mats can easily be found in local exotic pet shops and online stores because they can be safely used inside the tank. In the US though, it’s much more difficult to find.
Personally, I prefer this type of heating pad because they are much thinner, more pliable, and sturdier than the black adhesive heat mats we are more familiar with. Non-adhesive heat mats are usually laminated in a clear plastic covering and can be used in all types of reptile enclosures. Plus, they can be placed outside and inside vivariums.
The only drawback is you would need to use duct tape or aluminum foil tape like this one on Amazon if you want to install it directly inside a wooden tank or on the wall or underside of a raised glass or plastic vivarium. But this installation also has a few advantages over adhesive heat mats: they are easier to uninstall and leave a lot less adhesive residue if any.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of cleaning up adhesive residue, you can try installing it using suction cups too. A friend of mine has been doing that for years now without any issue. Of course, you could also just simply place it below a propped-up tank as an under-tank heater (UTH), with a thin panel of polystyrene beneath it.
How do you remove adhesive residue left by heat mats?
There are 3 simple steps in removing the adhesive residue on enclosures left by heat mats:
- Loosen and soften the residue for easier removal. Direct a hairdryer on the patches with leftover adhesive. Then soak a clean piece of cloth or paper towel with white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, acetone, or vodka. Wring it out until it is damp but not dripping wet and place it on top of the affected surface. Leave it there for about 3 minutes.
- Gently scrape the adhesive residue off the surface with a plastic scraper, plastic knife, or any solid but blunt material like a PVC card to avoid damaging the enclosure itself. You could also use your fingernails.
- Clean up the surface with a reptile-safe cleaning solution like this one on Amazon or a gentle fragrant-free soap and water mixture.
#4 – Power
A heat mat used as a supplemental heat source in a 50-gallon enclosure should have a power rating that is more than or equal to 20 Watts. Meanwhile, an emergency or temporary heat mat could have a power rating lower than 10 Watts.
Generally, heat mats have higher power ratings as they become bigger in size as the heat must be distributed on a larger surface. When comparing heat mats of similar sizes, those with higher ratings typically produce more heat if not connected to a regulating device such as a thermostat.
|Internal Tank Capacity (gallons)||Heat Mat Power Rating (W)|
|10-25||less than 10|
How long should you keep a heat mat on?
Like lighting fixtures, reptile heat mats should normally be on for 12 hours during the day, to replicate a natural day-night cycle, or at night so temperatures don’t reach dangerously low levels. However, they can also be used 24/7 as supplemental or emergency heating if needed.
If you are buying a heat mat for emergency or temporary use, power rating will be much more important since higher power (W) means more energy consumption (Wh or kWh) and/or less usage time.
For example: if you only have a 100Wh power bank, you could either get a 20W heat mat and use it for 5 hours. Or you could opt for an 8W heating pad and power it for 12.5 hours.
Hence, you can go for heat mats with lower wattage ratings as long as they can keep your gecko in an environment that has an ambient temperature range of 65-70°F (18-21°C). Take note of this if you have been regularly experiencing day and week-long blackouts during winter these past few years.
#5 – Compatibility
Heat mats are generally only fit for leopard geckos housed in basic set-ups that have a thin substrate layer or under an emergency tank that only has a paper towel flooring. Moreover, adhesive heat mats are usually only compatible with glass and plastic while non-adhesive types are compatible with wood, glass, and plastic.
Although most heat mats are marketed to be waterproof, this typically only pertains to the base of the unit and not the terminal block. The box-like or rectangular portion where the electrical cable is attached to toa heat mat is what’s called the terminal block.
Much like any other device that uses and/or produces electricity, it doesn’t mesh well with water. Ergo, you should never totally submerge a heat mat in water. If there’s a need to raise humidity make sure to mist away from the heat mat and place your leo’s water bowl away from the terminal block. By doing so, you can avoid electrocuting your baby and damaging the heat mat.
Burying heat mats under a thick layer of substrate, placing heavy dense objects (e.g. tiles, rocks) on top of it, or completely sandwiching the pad tightly between two solid surfaces are not advisable. Such mistakes could easily cause thermal blocking, the heat mat will be unable to release built-up heat due to being incorrectly insulated. Fire hazards and injuries are to be expected with improper use and installation.
Essentially, reptile heating pads must still receive ventilation to allow excess heat to dissipate and not build up to an abnormally high temperature which can cause damage to the unit, the vivarium, and your precious leopard gecko. Even when used as a UTH, it should have a 5-mm (0.39-in) gap with either the stand or the tank.
Lastly, heat mats can only be placed inside wooden tanks since wood is a great insulator and will be inhibiting instead of reradiating the heat it receives. I have tried digging into why exactly are wooden vivariums compatible with non-adhesive heat mats alone but I have yet to actually find a good answer. My advice is: follow what the manufacturers say – if they say it’s only for glass, don’t use it on wood.
Reptile Heat Mat Installation 101
There are 6 simple steps in properly and safely installing a heat mat for your leopard gecko: read, inspect, regulate, clean, mount, and test.
#1 – Read
Typically, a reptile heat mat will come with a small instruction pamphlet, warnings, and tips. Carefully read through all the information they provide to make sure that the product is suitable for your leopard gecko’s set-up and vivarium.
#2 – Inspect
Some heat mats can be folded or rolled when not in use and will be delivered like that to save space. Conversely, other units are quite fragile and will break and/or malfunction after being folded even if only for storage or by accident.
Assess the flat body, lamination, terminal block, cable, and plug as well. If you see any damage or abnormality, get in contact with the store or company for replacement or refund.
#3 – Regulate
Once you have ensured that the heat mat is without any flaw, plug it into a thermostat (here on Amazon) and not directly into a power strip or wall outlet. This is highly important because although they rarely ignite with proper usage (e.g., ventilated), they will easily go over 100°F (38°C) if left on without any temperature regulation.
How hot can reptile heat mats get?
Reptile heat mats can easily go over 100°F (38°C) if not connected to a thermostat while in operation. Higher wattage pads can even reach roughly 150°F (66°C). Such improper use normally causes thermal burns in reptiles .
Here’s a video of an unregulated heating pad test to help you see just how hot they can actually get:
#4 – Clean
Regardless of type and method of mounting, make sure to clean the area you will be laying the heat mat on top of or sticking it onto. Dust and dirt, in particular, will inhibit the adhesiveness of your heat mat and will inevitably result in it falling off.
Needless to say, sticking the heat mat onto a grimy surface within the enclosure is dangerous as it can fall on top of your adorable gecko.
#5 – Mount
When it comes to mounting a heat mat, it can be placed on the top, side, or bottom of your enclosure. However, you should take into consideration your pet’s species.
For primarily terrestrial reptiles like leopard geckos, I recommend floor or under-tank mounting for heat mats. This will allow them to move around a large area, on the warm side of the vivarium.
Wall and roof mounting are not recommended as heat mats are designed to heat whatever is placed close to it and not to markedly raise overall ambient temperature in a big space.
Under the Tank
When installing heat mats as under tank heaters, never directly rest your tank’s base onto the product. This will lead to thermal blocking which will then result in the overheating of the pad. Instead, elevate your tank (if it doesn’t have built-in footings) at least 2.54 cm (1 in) off the surface.
With an adhesive type, you can stick it directly onto the bottom of the glass or plastic tank. Just turn on the heat mat first to let the adhesive side warm up and make it adhere better to your vivarium. You could also opt to not use the adhesive side and simply lay it on top of your vivarium stand, table or shelf, leaving a 5 mm (0.20 in) between it and the tank.
If you have a non-adhesive heat mat, you can stick it to the base with tape. Apart from that, you can lay it on top of an expanded polystyrene (EPS) sheet, or another insulating material, that is at least 6-mm (0.24-in) thick. Doing so will prevent wasted heat and redirect all IR-C into the tank. If the terminal block is thick, just cut out a recess for it so it lays flat on the EPS.
To reiterate, for heat mats to work optimally they should only be covered with a thin layer of substrate (1 cm or 0.39 in). As a UTH, you have to take into account the thickness of the enclosure floor as well, so the substrate or bedding must be much thinner.
On the Floor
For internal installation in wood, plastic, or glass vivariums, experienced leopard gecko keepers and experts in the community only recommend non-adhesive heat mats. It must be attached securely to the floor and then topped with a substrate that is a maximum of 1 cm (0.39 in) in depth.
With a good quality aluminum foil tape, fasten it on all sides and corners so it will not slide around the vivarium after prolonged use. This will prevent your gecko and live feeder insects from getting trapped under it.
Reptile pet parents from the UK also recommend the use of heat mat holders for safer use inside wood enclosures. Holders are simply made of a glass panel with framing on three sides. The heat pad is then placed inside that free space. It also allows for the use of thicker substrate on the rest of the tank floor around the tray.
This erases the chances of your baby, insects, water, and substrate from getting into direct contact with the pad. Unfortunately, holders aren’t common in North America so others have resorted to modifying the bottom of their wooden enclosures.
#6 – Test
After your heat mat is fixed into place, set the thermostat probe in the middle and also tape it into place for more accurate temperature readings. You should also monitor temperature it’s temperature with a vivarium thermometer that has a probe and/or an IR thermometer gun like this one from Amazon.
Using the IR gun, check temperatures across the entire surface of the heat mat to check for the presence of hot spots which can potentially cause thermal burns.
Do this for at least 2 whole days to make certain that it will be safe for your lovely soft-bellied leo. If everything goes smoothly, you can finally let your gecko stay in the tank.
Share your thoughts with us!
Not everyone’s a fan of heat mats but they are actually great products when it comes to keeping our cute little buddies warm and cozy. After our thorough assessment, we were able to make a shortlist of the best ones.
Reptile Hero’s top 3 picks for leopard gecko heating mats are:
If you have other recommendations that weren’t included in our list, message us here!
To select the best heat mat for your leopard gecko, you must take into consideration 5 important factors: 1) purpose, 2) size, 3) type, 4) power, and 5) compatibility.
With these things in mind, the affordable, versatile, and sturdy reptile heating mat from Fluker’s tops our list.