How To Keep A Litter-Box Clean and Odor Free


Figuring out how to keep a litter-box clean and odor-free is something many cat owners struggle with. It’s not just about keeping your home from smelling bad, either — it’s essential to your cat’s health, too.

This guide explains how to clean and control litterbox odors to encourage your cat’s use of it rather than other spots in your home.

How to Clean a Litter Box

Tiny white kitten on a pink background

To keep your cat’s litter-box clean, you need to give it attention regularly. A little daily maintenance will encourage your cat to use their litter-box, while weekly and monthly cleaning will protect your cat’s long-term health.

Daily Maintenance

Cats instinctively bury their waste, but they won’t if it means getting a mess on their paws. If the litter-box is so full of messes that they can’t use it without getting dirty litter on their feet, they won’t use the box at all.

Scoop it daily. Remove your cat’s waste from the litter-box at least once a day. (If you have multiple cats, you may need to do this more than once a day.) Buy a scoop to do this, or use an old slotted spoon. Start with the clumps on the surface, then dig for those you can’t see, too.

Discard clumps in the trash. Don’t flush the clumps you find, however. Cat litter is one of the things you should not flush down your toilet because it can block your plumbing. Keep a pile of bags (paper or plastic) near your cat’s box and dump the clumps into one, then discard it in your garbage can.

Top up with fresh litter as needed. Cats need enough litter to cover their waste, but not so much that they can’t find stable footing while doing their business. Most cats prefer a depth of two to three inches of litter. So, after scooping, add fresh litter if necessary.

Weekly Changes

Even clumps in the best cat litter will fall apart under a cat’s paws, and bits of waste will get mixed in with the rest.

Once a week, discard the contents of the entire box. Using cat box liners makes this an effortless task: gather the liner, use a twist-tie to seal it, and toss the whole thing in the trash.

While the box is empty, use an unscented disinfecting wipe to clean up any messes you find, then add a new liner and fill the box with fresh litter. (If you have multiple cats or one with health problems, you may need to do this more often.)

Monthly Washing

Liners do an excellent job of protecting the litter box, but sometimes they slip, or cats’ claws poke holes in them if the level of litter gets too low. When that happens, you’ll need to wash the entire litter box.

Cats do not like the smell of citrus, and anything containing ammonia smells like a strange cat’s urine. Do not use either to clean the litter box. Some cats will also avoid anything with a strong fragrance.

So, use a mild, unscented liquid detergent and warm water to wash the litter box. Do this outside if possible. If you must wash it indoors, first make sure there is no litter remaining in the box, then use a jug to add warm, soapy water. After scrubbing with paper towels, dump the dirty water into your toilet, rinse with fresh water, and wipe the entire box dry.

Annual Replacement

Most litter-boxes are made from hard plastic that features a slick surface designed to make cleanup easier. Over time, stray bits of litter and cats’ claws can gouge the surface and make the box almost impossible to completely clean. So, it’s a good idea to replace your cat’s litterbox at least once a year.

How to Control Litter-Box Odors

As any cat owner knows, a just-used litter box can stink up your entire home no matter how recently you changed the litter or washed it. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to control litter-box odors as they happen.

Choose the Right Spot

Select a place for the litter-box that’s not in your main living area, so odors don’t take over the place where you like to relax. Cats prefer privacy while doing their business, so a corner of your laundry room or even a small closet can make an ideal spot.

To give them access even when you’re not home, you can even add a pet flap to the door. Although cats have excellent sight in the dark, they begin to struggle as they get older. A battery-operated motion light near the litterbox will help them see where to go.

Select the Right Litter Box

Kittens and older cats have problems using litterboxes with high sides and may wind up soiling in places you don’t want them to. For these cats, look for one with a lower entrance. Use binder clips to hold the liner down out of their way.

Cats in good health can use high-sided litterboxes with no problems. Some even prefer top-entrance boxes, which give them additional privacy and also keep them from kicking litter around.

Use Clumping Litter

Unless you or your cat are allergic to clay, an unscented clumping litter is safe to use. Clumping cat litter contains sodium bentonite — a natural clay that rapidly absorbs moisture. The clumping action makes it easy to scoop and discard waste, so your cat’s litterbox stays clean longer.

Although the FDA regulates many pet-care items, it does not oversee litter or litter additives. If you notice your cat sneezing more often or having skin reactions after using a scented clumping litter, try an unscented version.

If your sensitive cat continues sneezing, wheezing, or showing signs of skin reactions to even an unscented clumping litter, you may need to use a natural, non-clumping version instead. Pine-based natural litters are excellent at controlling immediate litterbox odors, though they do require more frequent scooping.

Sprinkle Baking Soda

Baking soda — bicarbonate of soda in the UK — is an excellent, all-natural way to control odors in your home, including in your cat’s litterbox. Sprinkle it on the bottom of the liner when changing the litter, and mix more into the litter after daily scooping.

If your cats regularly shred the liner, you might even want to add it to the box first. A thick layer of baking soda on the bottom can catch and deodorize any drips through holes they cause and will make your weekly litterbox cleaning easier.

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  1. LIZ Firmin AllcatLiz says:

    I use my used coffee grounds as a freshener and softscrub for my cats glass bowls.
    2 for one solution.
    Tackles both needs at once.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      As long as you’re rinsing them extremely well afterwards, because caffeine is highly toxic for cats, that sounds like a good idea.

  2. NorCalGal says:

    Katie, Very helpful kitty tips. I found a stainless steel litter box for my kitty girl. So far, so good and it cleans up nicely. (8 months use)

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Oh wow, a stainless steel one sounds fantastic! If my litter robot ever stops working, I’ll have to check that out.

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