Litter Box Maintenance

  • 01 of 08

    The Importance of Litter Box Maintenance

    Kitten using litter box
    Yuko Yamada/iStock

    Poor litter box maintenance is often the cause of litter box mishaps. If your cat misses the litter box, it is second only to physical problems as the culprit.

    People often surrender a cat to a shelter because the cat avoids using the litter box. Give the cat a fighting chance by making sure his or her litter box is immaculately clean at all times.

    Cats hate dirty, stinky 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's discerning olfactory senses.

    While automated litter boxes are gaining popularity, their prices are prohibitive to many cat owners, so we'll concentrate on the less-expensive plain box, which may be favored by more cats, anyway.

    First, a couple of tips:

    • The One + One Rule
      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, i.e., we have seven boxes for four cats.
    • For Multiple Cats, Try "Litter Stations"
      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, and will also make scooping and ​clean up a bit more convenient.

    Supplies for Proper Litter Box Maintenance

    Choices of litter box products are very personal and the "one size fits all" rule rarely applies. The important factor always is to let your cat(s) be the guide. If they are not happy with your choices of litter boxes and accessory products, they'll let you know in no uncertain terms. Remember, though, that the more diligent your litter box maintenance, the less likely that your cat will have a problem with his or her litter box.

    These are some choices determined by a select group of cats, which you can buy from

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  • 02 of 08

    Select and Place the Box

    Plain rectangular litter box tray
    Franny Syufy

    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 the litter box will surely lead to litter box avoidance by the victimized cat.

    If you are cramped for space, a screened-off corner of a room will work well. If you want to spend the extra money, there are some very attractive pieces of furniture that also conceal litter boxes.

    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 box.

    Make sure the box is large enough that your cat can move around in it comfortably, with no overhang. For example, a large size box from Van Ness is approximately 18 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 5 inches deep.

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  • 03 of 08

    Line the Litter Box or Not

    Litter box with liner
    Franny Syufy

    The use of litter box liners is a personal preference. They are convenient for tidy disposal of 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.

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  • 04 of 08

    Pour In the Cat Litter

    Filling litter box with World's Best
    Franny Syufy

    Most cat litter manufacturers recommend using 2 to 3 inches of litter. You may want to use 3 to 4 inches of litter if your cats are deep scratchers that dig all the way 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.

    The World's Best Cat Litter is a good choice. It is a clumping litter, so you don't need a pan liner.

    After filling the litter box, give the litter a final leveling off so the cats have a nice, smooth surface to dig in.

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  • 05 of 08

    Pause While Cats Investigate New Litter Box

    Cats snooping newly-filled litter box
    Franny Syufy

    Cats are often very excited when litter box maintenance time comes around. They'll gather around, sniff, and eagerly watch your every move. It can be a race to see which cat will "anoint" the newly-prepared box.

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  • 06 of 08

    Time to Scoop

    Scooping clumping litter
    Franny Syufy

    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 nicely coated with the litter so that it doesn't stick to the scoop.

    Scoops come in all sizes and shapes, but the most important factor is selecting one with the openings sized to fit the litter. Large-particle litter, such as crystals, will require larger holes to sieve the clean litter out, while fine-grained litter, such as World's Best, need a narrower sieve space to prevent small urine clumps from filtering back into the box.

    The art of scooping is an acquired one. Just pretend you are digging rocks out of a garden with a pitchfork. The same concept, only these rocks are clumps of urine and feces. The litter box should be scooped a minimum of twice daily, more often if needed. You may need to add fresh litter after scooping to replace the amount that was lost.

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  • 07 of 08

    Litter Locker: A Place to Dump the Scoopings

    Petmate LitterLocker Plus
    Franny Syufy

    In the olden days, cat lovers just lined a paper grocery bag with a plastic grocery bag, put it on the floor next to the litter box, and dumped the scoopings there. When finished, they tied the plastic bag closed, rolled up the paper bag around it, and dumped the whole thing into a big plastic garden bag to hold in the utility room until garbage day.

    With the Petmate LitterLocker Plus, scooping as well as disposal is much easier. You just insert the roll of plastic bagging material inside the Litter Locker, tie a knot at the end of it, secure it to a wheel, and turn a 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. On garbage day, just remove the bag and contents and discard in the garbage can. It's a pretty neat litter box accessory, and it really does keep all the odors confined inside.

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  • 08 of 08

    Empty and Wash the Litter Box

    Clean litter box
    Lree / Getty Images

    Regular scooping and replacing will keep the litter box smelling fresh and clean for a while if you are using clumping litter. Eventually, the ecology of the box will break down and you'll need to empty and clean it 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 will have to be emptied and washed much more often, primarily because the urine will collect at the bottom of the box, and the odor will become very strong very quickly. Remember that if you don't like the smell, neither will your cats. You'll probably need to dump and wash every two to three days. Let your nose be your guide.

    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 detergent and hot water. Rinse completely, then spray inside and out with a mild bleach solution, about 1:32 (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water). If it's sunny, let the box dry outside for an hour. Rinse again thoroughly, then dry with paper towels.