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Keep It Clean: Litter Box Cleaning Tips That Can’t Fail

A combination of habit, timing and the proper materials goes a long way toward a clean litter box.

JaneA Kelley  |  Feb 24th 2017


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our March/April. 2017 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

Cleaning the litter box might be the one less-than-pleasant aspect of having a cat in your life, but you must keep that box as clean as possible in order to avoid inappropriate urination problems and bad odors filling your home. With that in mind, here are some easy ways to keep your kitty’s toilet as clean as possible.

Scoop the box at least once a day

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Regular daily maintenance not only prevents odors, but it makes your cat’s litter box experience as good as possible. after all, you wouldn’t want to do your business in a toilet filled with waste, so why would your cat? Scoop out solids and urine clumps daily or more often, if needed.

Dump the litter regularly

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Every cat litter is different in how long it lasts before it needs to be replaced. The number of cats using the box is also a factor. Once you start smelling urine odors even after you clean out the box, that’s a sign that your litter needs to be replaced.

Wash out the litter box at least once a month

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The perfect time to clean your litter box is when you have to dump the litter. the empty box can be rinsed out either in your yard or in a laundry sink or bathtub. Most kitchen sinks are too small for litter boxes, and it’s not a good idea to clean litter boxes in the area where you’re preparing food and washing dishes. Use a mild detergent and very hot water. The hotter the water is, the more odor-causing bacteria it will kill. Be careful about the detergent you use, though.

Some odors — like citrus — repel cats, and you don’t want to give your cats a reason not to use the box. I personally use lavender-scented castile soap, but dish detergent works well, too. Don’t use pine-based cleaners, ammonia or bleach; they’re toxic to cats, and ammonia can actually make urine odors worse.

Rinse the box thoroughly so you don’t leave detergent residue in the box. Air-drying the litter box is ideal, but if you only have one box, and your cat needs to use it, that could cause problems. If you can’t air dry, use paper towels to wipe away any water. Don’t forget to dry the outside and bottom of the box, too.

When you refill the litter box, begin by sprinkling a layer of baking soda on the bottom of the box, then adding litter. I recommend that the litter be about three inches deep for maximum long-term effectiveness because clumps won’t stick to the bottom of the box.

Replace the litter box at least once a year

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Cat claws and litter scoops leave little scratches in the plastic surface of the box, which can trap bacteria and make odors worse. If your litter box smells even after you clean it, it’s time to buy a new one.

Use baking soda to prevent odor

Use baking soda to prevent odor When you refill or add litter to your cat’s box, sprinkle a little bit of baking soda on top. It’s not toxic to cats, and it helps keep odors at bay.

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Other products that help control odor

Pet-specific air purifiers: CritterZone makes a cat “air naturalizer” that works by ionizing air particles like some high-end air purifiers. The company offers plug-in and battery-operated units. Visit critterzoneusa.com for more information.

Odor-removing crystals: This odorless, eco-friendly product comes in sachets of volcanic zeolite formed into crystals. Hang the sachet near your litter box, and the odor will be gone. Available at most pet stores and online retailers.

Litter mats: Litter mats help prevent litter from going everywhere, plus they prevent urine and fecal odors from getting into your carpets or floors. Get the right size mat to go with your litter box.