How To Keep A Litter-Box Clean and Odor Free

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Keeping a clean litterbox isn’t just about controlling odors in your home. It’s also essential to your cat’s health.

Scottish fold cat sitting in a litterbox that needs to be cleaned

Cats lick their paws to clean themselves. If those paws walk through a filthy litterbox, their grooming could trigger urinary or kidney issues. And if your cats jump on counters or tables, well, you get the picture. That’s why it’s important for people who live with cats to know how to clean their litter boxes safely and how often.

How to Keep Your Cat’s Litter Box Clean

Cats will stop using their litterbox if it’s not kept clean to their satisfaction. 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. So, if your cat suddenly begins going outside of its box and isn’t elderly or suffering known health issues, you need to step up your litterbox cleaning efforts.

Daily Maintenance

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Litter Changes

If you stay on top of daily scooping and litter replenishment, you may only need to dump and clean the litterbox monthly. In homes with multiple cats, or if your cat has frequent UTIs or kidney issues, it’s best to dump out and replace all of the litter each week. While the box is empty, use an unscented, bleach-free disinfecting wipe to clean up any messes you find, then add a new liner and fill the box with fresh litter.


How often you need to wash your cat’s litterbox varies. With one-cat households, you may only need to do it once a month. If you have more than one cat, you may need to wash it weekly.

To wash your cat box, empty it and remove any clumps with a scooper or paper towel. Use a mild, unscented liquid detergent and warm water to wash the box outdoors if possible. Scrub with disposable paper towels, then dump the dirty water, either outside or down the toilet. (Never flush cat litter.) Rinse with fresh water and dry the box with more paper towels. Refill the clean box with fresh litter and discard the used paper towels in the trash.


Baking soda (bicarbonate in the UK) is an excellent, all-natural way to control odors in your cat’s litterbox, and it doesn’t pose any health risk for them. Sprinkle it on the bottom of the liner when changing the litter, and mix more into the litter after daily scooping. If your cats often shred the liner, sprinkle baking soda directly into the box before lining it. That way, it can catch and absorb any liquids that get through.

If your cat will tolerate one, a covered litterbox controls odors better than an open one. Look for a box with a removable cover that has an opening large enough for you to reach through to scoop it. (Or buy a robot litterbox that does all the work for you.)

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When to Replace a Litterbox?

In most cases, you should replace your cat’s litterbox annually. 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 damage the finish, so the plastic will begin absorbing odor and developing stains. For self-cleaning or robot litterboxes, see your manufacturer’s instructions.

Tips to Safely Clean a Litterbox

• Do not use bleach or bleach-based disinfecting wipes in your cat’s litterbox. Cat urine contains ammonia which will react dangerously with bleach.

• Don’t use citrus products to clean your cat’s litterbox. They do not like the smell of citrus and will stop using the box as a result.

• If you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, nursing, or have a compromised immune system, you should have someone else clean the cat’s litterbox if at all possible. Feline waste can contain a harmful parasite that you need to avoid. If no one else is available to clean the litterbox, be sure to wear rubber disposable gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

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  1. 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. 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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