How To Clean a Litter Box Step by Step


PetMD Editorial

. Reviewed by Teresa Manucy, DVM
Updated May 12, 2024
tortoiseshell tabby cat looking into an uncovered litter box

Adobe Stock/Alex Photo

Very few pet parents enjoy having their home smell like it's saturated with cat urine. The good news is that with proper litter box practices, you can have an odor-free home—and a happy cat that’s less likely to pee outside the box.

Here’s how to properly clean a litter box.

Litter Box Cleaning Supplies

Before you start scooping, make sure you have everything you need to clean the litter box:

How To Clean a Litter Box

1. Scoop the Clumps

Using a litter scoop, clean the clumps out of the litter box and place them in the waste bag. Tie the bag closed and throw it away. You should do this at least once a day.

If you’re simply scooping the litter box and not doing a deep clean, replace the litter you removed with fresh litter. You can sprinkle some baking soda on top of the fresh litter to help remove any odor.

2. Wash the Litter Box

Empty the entire box and soak it in hot water for a few minutes. It’s not necessary to use detergents or cleaning chemicals; hot water alone will generally do the trick.

Add a small amount of liquid dish soap to the hot water to help loosen any dirt on the interior sides and bottom. This will also refresh the box without leaving any toxic residue behind. 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.

3. Dry and Refill

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

How Often To Clean a Litter Box

You need to scoop the litter box at least once a day. If you have more than one cat, you may need to clean the litter box more often. You should wash the litter box at least once a week.

Litter Box Tips

1. Take Precautions if You’re Pregnant

If you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or have lowered immunity, always wear gloves and a dust mask when cleaning the box. This is because cat feces can contain a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can be transferred to humans and cause birth defects in fetuses

2. Find a Litter Your Cat Likes

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. One popular type of cat litter is a clumping type of clay granule.

If you decide to try a new type of litter, mix it slowly with the old litter (about a half and half mix) to get your cat used to it. Some cats will stop using the box if the litter is changed abruptly.

3. Set Up Multiple Litter Boxes

It’s a good idea to have more than one litter box, especially if you have more than one cat. As a general rule, you should have one litter box for each cat, plus one extra. So if you have two cats, three litter boxes is ideal.

4. Try an Automatic Litter Box

Automatic litter boxes can reduce the time commitment litter boxes require. Instead of scooping every day, you just need to empty the waste receptacle when it gets full. However, you’ll still need to deep clean the litter box on a regular schedule.

5. Avoid Using Scented Products Near the Litter Box

It's best not to use anything scented in or around the litter box. Chemical smells, even the kinds of things that smell good to us, can repel cats and cause them to avoid the box.

Some scented products can even be toxic for cats if they inhale them. The best method for addressing a smelly litter box is to neutralize and remove the odors rather than try to cover them up.

6. Stay Away From Harsh Cleaning Products

Avoid products that have ammonia, bleach, or any type of caustic ingredient. Many cats dislike the smell of bleach and other disinfectants, so this can discourage them from using the litter box.

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health