I know, I know: Cleaning the litter box is about at the bottom of the list of “fun things to do for your cat.” But it’s crucial to know how often to clean a litter box if you don’t want to have a hurricane of pee and poop stink everywhere except the litter box. So how do you get the most out of your litter — and your litter box?
These tips represent the minimum to do to keep your cat happy, and they’re based on clumping cat litter. If you use non-clumping litter, you will have to clean more frequently, as that type of litter tends to accumulate odor faster than clumping varieties. With that in mind, here’s the scoop on how often to clean a litter box.
Clean clumps and feces out of the litter box at least once a day. I try to do this chore once in the morning and once at night. After all, kitties like clean toilets. It’s a good idea to top off the litter box every few days to make up for the clumps you removed.
Do not flush clumps! In my experience, even some litters that say “flushable” might clog your waste pipes and septic system. Plumbing systems vary. Trust me, you do not want to deal with the results of a clog; I have, and it wasn’t pretty.
Dump the entire contents of the litter box and rinse out any dust with warm water weekly or biweekly. Dry thoroughly, then add the cat litter. Put a little baking soda or cat-specific odor control product on the cat litter to boost the odor control. My cats prefer their litter to be 2 to 3 inches deep, but different cats have different preferences.
Sweep or vacuum around your litter box. If you use a litter mat, vacuum any particles out of that, too.
Don’t dispose of used cat litter in compost. Unless the compost is getting warm enough to kill bacteria and parasites, you run the risk of having dangerous stuff in that compost. Instead, discard it with your regular garbage.
Dump the entire contents of the litter box and give it a good washing. Use a sponge and dish detergent (preferably unscented) or a mild cleaner specifically made for litter boxes in order to avoid leaving tiny scratches in the box’s plastic.
Dry the box thoroughly and add new litter — plus a little baking soda. Also, place a box of baking soda near your cat’s litter box to control odor. Keep an eye on your cat to make sure she isn’t playing with the baking soda box. If she does, remove it.
I live in an apartment, so the best place I have to clean out my litter boxes is the bathtub. If you have a laundry sink or the ability to wash your litter box outdoors, that’s usually the best choice. If you clean your litter box in the bathtub, you’re going to have to clean your bathtub after you clean the litter box.
Do not use bleach cleaners on the litter box. Cats find this scent too strong. Some cats might be sensitive to citrus-scented cleaners, too. You don’t want your cat to avoid the litter box because of cleaning odors. Don’t use ammonia, either, as that will strengthen any urine odors rather than removing them. Powdered abrasive cleaners like Ajax can leave scratches in the box’s plastic, too.
Buy a new litter box every year. After a year, the scratches in the plastic from your cat’s claws and any cleaning products you used will do more to hold odor than eliminate it.
If you use an automatic litter box, replace the waste receptacle and rake at least once a year — depending on how many cats you have. Disposable litter boxes can last at least four weeks.
There’s a lot of fear-mongering when it comes to pregnant women and cat waste, and the vast majority of it is unfounded. While it is possible to contract toxoplasmosis from cat litter, it’s only possible during very short windows of time. Nevertheless, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you’re pregnant (or your immune system isn’t up to par, either because of disease or because of immunosuppressant medications), consult your doctor. At minimum, wear a new pair of medical gloves whenever you handle the litter box and litter utensils. A mask will help you keep any wayward particles from getting into your respiratory system and causing trouble.
If you follow these simple tips on how often to clean a cat litter box, you’ll have happy cats and a stink-free home.
Thumbnail: Photography ©ZoranMilisavljevic83 | Getty Images.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
JaneA Kelley is the author of the award-winning cat advice blog Paws and Effect and a contributing writer at Catster.com. She is a volunteer with Diabetic Cats in Need, a nonprofit that helped save her diabetic cat’s life.