Keeping Odor Away With a Clean Litter Box

By PetMD Editorial. Reviewed by Katy Nelson, DVM on May 29, 2020
cat looks at pink litter box

Reviewed for accuracy on May 29, 2020, by Dr. Katy Nelson, DVM

If you can count yourself as one of the lucky cat owners who has never had the misfortune of walking into a room and smelling “cat,” then you very likely have a cat that is fastidious about going in the litter box every time, and you are indeed fortunate.

Very few pet parents enjoy having their home smell like it's saturated with cat urine, and it's one of the biggest complaints amongst cat owners who relinquish their cats. To help encourage good litter box habits, you need to make sure you keep your cat's litter boxes clean.

A Clean Litter Box Is a Welcoming Litter Box 

The cleaner the cat litter in the box is, the less likely your cat is to get fed up with putting her feet in it and going on the nice, clean floor. Cats also have preferences when it comes to litter type.

Use the Type of Litter Your Cat Prefers

A favorite type of litter among tidy homeowners is a clumping type of clay granule. It has been found that most cats prefer small, loose granules that can be easily pushed about with their feet and that shake off easily as they exit the box; nothing too fine or soft.

Unless you have been using a scented litter since your cat was a kitten, you might not want to experiment with changing from an unscented litter to a scented litter. If you do decide to try a new litter, mix it slowly with the old type of littera half and half mixto get your cat used to it. Some cats will stop using the box if the litter is changed abruptly.

Scoop the Litter Box Frequently

Using a litter scoop with small and closely set holes, clean the clumps out of the litter at least once dailymore often if you have more than one cat.

To keep the smell to a minimum after cleaning, add some litter to replace what you removed while cleaning. Sprinkle a small amount of baking soda into the cat litter before using the litter scoop to turn the freshened litter.

How to Clean a Cat Litter Box

While scooping the litter box daily is essential, you should also be regularly cleaning out the entire litter box. 

Washing a Litter Box

The best way to clean a litter box is to dump the entire box and soak it in hot water for a few minutes at least once a week. It is not necessary to use detergents or cleaning chemicals, as hot water will generally do the trick. A small amount of liquid dish soap added to the hot water will help loosen any “dirt” on the interior sides and bottom, and will refresh the box without leaving a toxic residue behind.

Avoid products that have ammonia, bleach, or any type of caustic ingredient. If you want to go a little further, you can mix a small amount of hydrogen peroxide or vinegar in the hot water to remove any bacteria or smells.

Scrubbing and Cleaning Out a Litter Box

If the box needs more than a simple washing out, here are some supplies you will need:

  • Disposable gloves 

  • Cleaning rag, scrub brush, or sponge that is set aside just for cleaning the litter box (and only the litter box)

  • Dust mask

If you are pregnant or have lowered immunity, always wear gloves for cleaning the box, along with a dust mask to prevent breathing in any of the litter dust. And always wash your hands and arms thoroughly after you have finished.

Once the box has been cleaned, dry it out with a paper towel or cleaning towel and then sprinkle the bottom with baking soda. 

Avoid Adding Scented Products or Items In or Near the Litter Box

It's best not to use anything scented in the box, or even in the same room as the box, since chemical smells, even the kinds of things that smell good to us, can repel cats and cause them to avoid the box or the room. Some scented products can be toxic for cats just through inhaling them in the indoor environment, so the best method is to neutralize and remove the odors rather than try to cover them up.

Finally, if you have more than one cat, many owners have found that having multiple litter boxesone per catis the best method for preventing, or ending, turf wars. Likewise, if you live in a home with multiple levels, one litter box per level will make a big difference for a cat that has to go now.

Just don’t forget to clean all of the litter boxes in the house.

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