Paper-based beddings have been the number one choices in other countries around the world for MANY years already, since this is the safest for hamsters. Thankfully these are locally produced in South Africa nowadays (hand-made by small businesses). Kaytee Clean & Cozy and Carefresh were imported by larger distributers for a number of years, but unfortunately due to rising import duties and unstable currency exchange rates, these seem to have been slowly discontinued. Before these, we literally only had those dreadful pine shavings in pet shops, which have been proven by various research studies to be incredibly toxic to many rodents even in kiln-dried state. After discovering this horror, those of us dedicated to ensuring the health of our hamsters (and other rodent pets) had to find other methods to provide safe bedding substrates, which was not always achievable for everyone.


While there is no longer any excuse to be using pine, many rodent owners and pet shops often protest that paper beddings are “too expensive”, and many are still reluctant to use or stock this product. However, there clearly needs to be a little help and explanation FROM THOSE OF US WHO AREN’T RECEIVING ANY COMPENSATION TO PROMOTE IT. This is therefore not a marketing hype!

Sure, if you compare the price of both products to pine shavings in the packaging, it SEEMS more expensive. But do you know how to use it in an effective way that it actually works out less expensive than the unsafe alternative/s, but will also be great for your hamster?  The tips that follow will give you the guidance to use it effectively.

1. It is very important that your hamster retains it’s own special scent within it’s habitat. If you remove all of this scent during cage cleans, your hamster will feel stressed and will have to go about remarking his/her territory to make it his/her own again. Therefore, never discard the entire mass of paper bedding that your hamster has been living with!  Keep back the top layer and cleanest sections and return it to the habitat after cleaning, and simply top up with some fresh stock (bits of old dried food, seed shells, and poop, will have filtered to the bottom layer and this is the only part you need to discard). You will therefore be going through way less bedding as what you would have imagined and the cost will be significantly less.

Good video to watch about reserving substrate during big cleans:

  • Taking into account the above, this will work best if you have the all-important sand bath/potty for your hamster to clean himself and to urinate in. Hamsters instinctively use sand for this part of their hygiene. If you do not provide this vital piece of equipment, the soiled patch of bedding will need to be removed and replaced on a daily basis. Furthermore, the entire tray of bedding may have to be discarded and replaced with each cage clean, since your hamster will not be properly clean and the risk of mites and skin infections will be increased, and you will have to do this huge clean more regularly. In such a situation, the cost of paper bedding will obviously be substantial… but that will be on your head and not the fault of the product!

  • If you have the recommended size habitat for your hamster, including all the required accessories within, with a few minutes of nightly spot-cleaning you will only need to do major cage-cleans a few times a year, and this will keep your ham much happier than being completely disrupted every two weeks. Big cleans will depend on the size, style, and location of your habitat, e.g. if it's an exposed wire cage (not recommended in any case), or in an area that gets a lot of dust, you will probably have to do a big clean about once every 2 months. Those with sheltered bin cages, tanks, trunks, etc. will only need to big-clean about 2 or 3 times a year. Amazingly, the bigger the habitat, the less often you will have to clean.

2. Another option, in addition to point 1, is to provide other section/s of alternative substrate within the habitat, thereby reducing the paper bedding area and your cost.  This can be in the form of a sand or cocopeat pit, or both, (in addition to the separate sand bath/potty) and will also provide extra enrichment for the little one. Please visit the pages Sand, Baths, Potties & Pits and Accessories & Enrichment for ideas.

  • It is important that you provide a deep section of paper bedding for your hamster to burrow in, but we recommend that you keep it shallow and accessible until the hamster is properly potty trained! Many untrained hamsters will burrow and nest in the depth of the soft bedding and will pee right there, which often makes it difficult to keep cleaning.

  • Once potty trained, you should deepen the burrowing area to at least 25cm deep. This can be a section cordoned off by a simple piece of cardboard, large logs of safe wood, or a fat tube or two on the sides, with access from the top (like via a shelf, ramp, or tube).  Or you could simply push a large pile of the bedding to one side of the habitat. If you have a wire cage, or habitat with a meshed front, that will not house that depth without spilling out, a burrow box can be made quite easily (refer to the DIY Stuff page, or purchase from a few local manufactures/online shops), or the sides of that area can be reinforced with something solid like plain cardboard, flexible chopping mats, or stiff placemats, cut to size and secured to the bars/mesh with cable ties (sharp fastening ends on the outside please). Some sides of an exposed wire cage should be covered anyway, to make the hamster feel more secure and to prevent drafts from entering.​


  • The paper bedding section should ideally be about 35% of a large habitat, or 50% of a minimum size habby, with a deeper (25cm+) zone for burrowing, and the rest being alternative/additional safe substrates. If you choose to cover the entire habitat with this bedding, then make sure you have the deeper section too. Partitions can be made as described above.

So, for the sake of your hamster and your pocket, we encourage every hamster owner to be informed and not simply balk at a price-tag on a packet. Paper beddings are not just for “larny” owners, and it is not a “high-end” product. It is an essential part of your hamster’s health and well-being, and most likely for many other rodent owners too!


As explained on the Bedding Substrates page,

please do not choose any of the scented Kaytee varieties

e.g. Lavender, Apple Spice, Tahitian Vanilla, and Summer Storm....check the packaging

*SAFE (UNSCENTED): Purple, White, Blue, Birthday Cake, Frozen Fun, and Natural.

If you are still in doubt about the dangers of pine shavings,

please refer to the official research articles posted on the page Dangers of Pine & Cedar, and note that you have been warned.