How to Keep Your Cat's Litter Box Clean

litter box with clumps of waste

The Spruce / Candace Madonna

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 5 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Poor litter box maintenance is often to blame for a cat's mishaps. Cats hate dirty litter boxes and may be driven to search for substitutes, whether that's a corner of the carpet or a basket of clean laundry in the closet. Your cat's sense of smell is 14 times stronger than yours, so a litter box that smells reasonably clean to you may outright stink to your cat.

While automated litter boxes are gaining popularity, their prices are prohibitive to many cat owners, and many cats tend to prefer standard litter boxes.

Preparing to Clean Your Litter Box

The rule of thumb is that a household should provide one litter box for each cat resident plus one extra. Any variance should be on the plus side. For example, seven boxes for four cats.

If you have more than three litter boxes, you'll probably find yourself running out of logical places for them. A "Litter Station" with two or three boxes side-by-side will accommodate more than one cat at a time (as long as the cats tolerate it), and will also make scooping and clean up a bit more convenient.

Which litter box and cleaning products to use are very personal choices, and the "one size fits all" rule rarely applies. Most important is to let your cats be the guide. If they are not happy with your litter boxes and accessory products, they'll let you know. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Wastebasket or disposal pail


  • Litter box
  • Cat litter
  • Litter box liner (optional)
  • Litter scoop
  • Unscented dish soap
  • Paper towels


materials for setting up and cleaning a litter box
The Spruce / Candace Madonna 
  1. Select and Place the Box

    Unless your cat has a preference for covered boxes or the box is in an area where you'd like to keep it inconspicuous, such as the kitchen, the best box to start with is a plain rectangular one. Make sure the box is large enough that your cat can move around in it comfortably, with no overhang. 

    The box should be placed for maximum privacy, away from noisy appliances, and with an easy escape route, in case you have a cat who likes to bully other cats. Being trapped in his litter box will surely frighten the cat, and may lead him to avoid the box later.

    litter box in the corner of the room
    The Spruce / Candace Madonna 
  2. Line the Litter Box

    The use of litter box liners is optional, but they are convenient for tidy disposal of the used litter when it is time to empty and wash the box. Liners are a definite advantage when using non-scooping litter because they contain the excess urine that seems to pool, which is the reason most non-scooping litter must be changed frequently.

    litter box and liners
    The Spruce / Candace Madonna 
  3. Pour in the Cat Litter

    Most cat litter manufacturers recommend using two to three inches of litter. You may want to use three to four inches if your cats are deep scratchers who will dig to the bottom of the litter box if you use less. Start with two inches and experiment until you find the ideal depth for your cat.

    A clumping litter such as World's Best Cat Litter is a good choice because you don't need a pan liner and unscented, clumping letter tends to be preferred by most cats. After filling the litter box, give the litter a final leveling off so the cats have a nice, smooth surface to dig in.

    adding new litter to the box
    The Spruce / Candace Madonna
  4. Scoop up Waste

    With clumping litter, scooping is easy because urine clumps into fairly solid chunks which can be scooped out while sifting the clean litter back into the box. Poop gets coated with the litter so that it doesn't stick to the scoop.

    The litter box should be scooped a minimum of twice daily, and more often if needed. You may need to add fresh litter after scooping to replace the amount that was lost.

    person scooping a litter box
    ​The Spruce / Candace Madonna 
  5. Dump the Scoopings

    No matter how you do it, you're going to need to dispose of your cat's waste properly, and odor can be an issue. With a product like the ​Litter Genie, scooping as well as disposal of litter is much easier. You just insert the roll of plastic bagging material inside the Genie, tie a knot at the end of it, secure it to a wheel, and turn the handle a half turn. Then open the top and drop in all the scoopings. Turn the handle again, and the waste is safely hidden at the bottom of the Litter Locker to keep all of the odors confined inside. On garbage day, just remove the bag and contents and discard in the garbage can.

    dumping out litter box waste
    ​The Spruce / Candace Madonna

Preventing Problems With Litter Boxes

Using clumping litter that you regularly scoop and replace will keep the litter box smelling fresh and clean for a while, but at some point, the box itself will need to be emptied and cleaned thoroughly. Depending on the type of litter you use, this may be as often as every week or as long as every four or five weeks.

Non-clumping litter must be emptied and washed much more often, primarily because the urine collects at the bottom of the box, and the odor becomes very strong very quickly. 

Empty the used litter into a sturdy plastic bag and tie securely before discarding it in the trash. Note that although some natural litters are flushable, the entire contents of a litter box should never be dumped into the toilet.

Next, wash the box thoroughly with unscented dish soap and hot water. Rinse completely, then dry with paper towels.

Clean litter box
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