How Often Should You Clean the Litter Box?

litter-box

When it comes to litter boxes, cleanliness truly is next to godliness. Cats are fastidious creatures. Using a dirty litter box is, at best, uncomfortable for them, and at worst, will cause them to eliminate outside the box.

A dirty litter box, to a cat, is the same as a public restroom with unflushed toilets and toilet paper all over the floor is to us. How many times have you walked out of a restroom like that without using it, no matter how badly you needed to go?

Keeping a clean litter box is one of the responsibilities of being a good cat parent. The following recommendations are based on the assumption that you use some sort of clumping litter, regardless of which type.

Scoop solid waste at least twice a day

Remove urine clumps and feces at least twice a day, or more frequently if you’re home. If you can scoop as soon as your cat has finished doing his business, that’s great, but be aware that with some types of clumping litter, the clumps may be firmer after they’ve sat a while, so if you scoop too soon, it’s going to be harder to get the clumps without them breaking apart.

Refill litter as needed

Refill your litter box with fresh litter to maintain a height of two to three inches at all times.

Clean the entire box once a month

Once a month, dump out any remaining litter and thoroughly clean the litter box. Use hot water and a mild, unscented soap (such as a dish detergent) and scrub thoroughly. Do not use harsh, scented chemical cleaners or ammonia. Cats are very sensitive to scent, and any lingering detergent smells may deter them from using the box.

Replace litter boxes every six months to a year

No matter how well you clean, the porous plastic will start to break down and eventually absorb bacteria. Plan on replacing litter boxes completely after 6 months to a year. The frequency of replacement will depend on the type of plastic, quality of the litter box, and how many cats you have and how frequently they use the box.

Litter additives

While litter additives can help keep your box clean longer, be careful about which ones you choose so you don’t inadvertently create a litter box aversion. Use enzyme or probiotic based products with no added scent. Baking soda is an inexpensive litter additive that provides good odor control.

Liners and litter mats

Even though litter box liners make clean up easier, most cats don’t like them. Be careful about using litter mats. These mats are designed to trap litter so it doesn’t track, but the rough surface of some of these mats are hard on soft kitty paws and can lead to litter box avoidance for some cats.

Our favorite litter box and litter

Our favorite litter box is the NVR Miss. Ruby is a vertical pee-er (who, for some weird reason, also likes to sleep next to the box sometimes!), and this is the only box I was able to find that was high enough to prevent urine from going over the sides.

NVR_Miss_litter_box

Two alternatives to the NVR Miss with similar dimensions, but about half an inch lower, are the Nature’s Miracle High-Sided Litter Box and the LitterMaid High Sided Pan, both available from Amazon with free shipping for Prime members.

I do not recommend covered or automatic litter boxes.

Despite the availability of many alternative litters, the best cat litter that I’ve found, and have used for many years, is Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat. This clay litter clumps harder than any other litter I’ve tried, it has virtually no dust, and, most importantly, cats like it. If you want to experiment with different types of litters, always make sure you keep the original litter that your cats are currently using in at least one box. A word of caution: if you don’t have litter box problems, don’t tempt fate by offering different litters. You may inadvertently create a problem by confusing your cats.

 

25 Comments on How Often Should You Clean the Litter Box?

  1. Karen Lucas
    June 27, 2016 at 9:51 am (12 months ago)

    Hi Ingrid: We use the Breeze system which is made by Tidy Cat but uses pellets instead of the scoopable litter and has a pad on a tray which collects the urine so you never have urine to scoop. The only drawback is that most cats do not bury the poop but those cats usually don’t bury it in scoopable litter either. I just pick it up when I see it and the pads get changed once a week. NO dust at all and no tracking and the cats had no problem using it. I have gone back periodically to the clumping litter and it is such a mess, just by comparison, that I always return to the Breeze. It is much cleaner. Just another idea.

    Reply
    • betty ann beam
      December 29, 2016 at 8:06 am (6 months ago)

      I really like this system as well. My cats are not digging in dirty litter. I use Feline Pine instead of the zeolite pellets and also line the tray with free newspaper. The tray gets washed and changed daily. My cats are happy with the system and no clay litter is being dumped in the landfill.

      Reply
  2. Susan
    June 22, 2016 at 10:42 am (1 year ago)

    QUESTION: Since I use heavy duty plastic litter box liners, do I still need to replace litter boxes every 6 months to a year? If not, then how often? Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Susan
    June 22, 2016 at 10:32 am (1 year ago)

    We’ve been using the Clevercat Top Entry Litterbox for decades with great success. It is high on all 4 sides, so if your kitty kicks the litter, it still stays in the box. You can also buy plastic litter box liners that fit the Clevercat. I highly recommend it!

    Reply
  4. Jo Singer14
    June 21, 2016 at 8:31 am (1 year ago)

    We really love that lower sided (in the middle of the box) litter box. We have an elderly kitty who is having a little difficulty at times hopping into the CleverCat Litter boxes that we have. He prefers to stand up to pee- so this box is really great for him. He gets to “spray” on the sides of the box and has the comfort of getting in. The box is easy to clean also. We are very happy that we found it! Most of all- so is he!

    Reply
    • Susan
      June 22, 2016 at 10:35 am (1 year ago)

      Just a thought to help your sweet kitty…. If he likes the Clevercat, and if he’s not having trouble getting out, you could just place a small step stool beside the box to help him get in. Hope this is helpful to you!

      Reply
  5. Sally Bartlett
    June 20, 2016 at 8:55 pm (1 year ago)

    I have to admit I am not as good about the litter box as you are, but will take your suggestions as my goal! I have 3 sweet kitties who are pretty tolerant of me, and since I work at my computer writing in the same room as their box, I can get a pretty good visual of it plus the odor when I use the wrong littler. I will check the one you recommend out but have never heard of it. I usually use 2 types; clumping on the bottom and plain on the top.

    Reply
    • Ursula
      June 21, 2016 at 11:03 am (1 year ago)

      I have tried every litter there is and am using World’s Best – and it outperforms all others. Instant clumping. nothing sticks to the sides and so easy to keep clean.

      Reply
  6. Ursula
    June 20, 2016 at 9:09 am (1 year ago)

    Ingrid, where is the NVR Miss Litter box sold? I was unable to find it anywhere.

    Reply
      • Ursula
        June 20, 2016 at 1:04 pm (1 year ago)

        I cannot find the price on their website and no place to “add to cart”. I don’t particularly want to establish an account with them before I decide whether the pricing is affordable for me. Why are they not forthcoming with info about their product?

        Also I saw a review which was not favorable…

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          June 20, 2016 at 1:10 pm (1 year ago)

          You’re right, their website is a little hard to navigate. Here’s the buy page: http://www.nvrmiss.com/index.php?cPath=15 If that doesn’t help, I suggest that you contact them for more information. I think it’s a great litter box.

          Reply
          • Jill
            June 20, 2016 at 3:57 pm (1 year ago)

            We have purchased a NVR Miss from them twice and they are wonderful! Professional Canadian company with a secure site!

  7. Lucky The Newborn Little Kitten
    June 20, 2016 at 8:25 am (1 year ago)

    As a newborn kitten I need to become familiar with using my litter tray as early as possible to help prevent those little accidents occurring in the corner or behind the TV. After all, I am in training.

    If my litter tray smells or I am struggling to find a place to deposit or if I am having to step on what I previously left in it then I won’t use it and I will do my business somewhere else. I don’t like doing this because I know where I should be peeing and pooping but it’s not my fault if I have nowhere to go.

    So my hudad knows that to keep me regular, keep me happy and to keep the house smelling nice that I need my litter tray cleared after every solid use and cleaned thoroughly at least twice per week with a disinfectant solution that is not too harsh for me.

    Reply
  8. Emily
    June 20, 2016 at 8:07 am (1 year ago)

    Hi Ingrid,

    Thank you for such an informative post. I discovered your blog last week and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I have turned to your blog for the cat food I chose (and hope he likes, Tiki Cat with chicken) and even the carrier you list in your store, the Sturdi Bag!

    I am bringing a 16 week-old kitten into my home on July 1st– my first time owning a cat since my childhood cat passed away at age 17 a few years back. Do you have any opinions/experience with top loading litter boxes? I am considering purchasing a model called “Modkat” but am unsure if cats realistically enjoy this type of litter box entry. I have read many reviews on it thus far and overall the feedback has been positive– but you’re an expert so I’d really like to know your thoughts.

    I’m sorry if you’ve written on this topic before as I don’t want to waste your time. Enjoy your Monday!

    Reply
      • Emily
        June 20, 2016 at 8:55 am (1 year ago)

        Hi Ingrid!

        Thank you so much!

        Yikes, guess I’ll be looking for an alternative! Thank you for the link; I will check it out and make a better selection. 🙂

        Reply
  9. Sue Brandes
    June 20, 2016 at 7:34 am (1 year ago)

    I try to keep mine clean. I don’t like dirty litter boxes. Thanks for the tips.

    Reply
  10. Nancy
    June 20, 2016 at 6:45 am (1 year ago)

    I have several indoors cats of my own, and foster a few. I wash the boxes once a week with a solution of bleach and water.

    Reply
    • Ursula
      June 21, 2016 at 6:36 pm (1 year ago)

      I really don’t think bleach is a good idea – it should be something mild that doesn’t leave a lingering smell. I discovered litter box wipes several years ago and love them.

      Reply
  11. Margaret
    June 20, 2016 at 3:37 am (1 year ago)

    Reading the first paragraphs of your article I thought I was doing all the right things….reading the rest of it I find myself at fault so I must do better. All makes sense as usual and thank you for bringing things I didn’t know – or had let lapse – to my attention

    Reply
  12. Lisa Lugo
    June 20, 2016 at 2:12 am (1 year ago)

    I am wondering why you do not recommend automatic litter boxes? We have Cat Genie as well as two others and I loooove the automatic one, I wish we could have all 3 of them. It cleans itself every time they go and so is always clean and the cats seem to prefer it. Depends on where they are because they use the other two if they are nearer. We have 4 cats. I am sending my husband a copy of your article, I clean the litter boxes several times a day but I travel and he does not clean them as often as I would like. This is wonderful advice . Thank you!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 20, 2016 at 5:49 am (1 year ago)

      If the Genie works for you, that’s great, Lisa. The reason why I don’t recommend automatic boxes is that some cats are spooked by the mechanical action of automatic boxes, and I don’t believe it’s worth taking chances with creating a litter box aversion for the sake of convenience.

      Reply
      • Sherry
        June 20, 2016 at 2:13 pm (1 year ago)

        I like to see the poop & how big the pee clumps are. Any changes may indicate a problem. That’s why I don’t use an automatic one.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          June 20, 2016 at 4:19 pm (1 year ago)

          I agree, Sherry – another reason why I don’t like the automatic boxes.

          Reply

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