How to Minimize Odors From Your Cat’s Litter Box


When people use my guest bathroom, they’re always curious as to what the mysterious dome is next to the toilet. They’re surprised when I tell them that it’s the cats’ litter box.

“Wow … but it doesn’t smell like you have a cat!” they’ll exclaim.

It certainly struck me as odd, but I finally realized what they meant when I visited someone else’s home that had a cat. They didn’t follow the same cleaning procedures that I do, and I was aware of their cat’s presence the moment I walked in the front door. It wasn’t the cat himself that smelled — it was the litter box, a vile, odorous thing piled high in nondescript clumps of kitty waste.

We humans use toilets. We flush away waste almost as quickly as it happens, and we keep our toilets scrubbed clean. Cats don’t have the luxury. They use the boxes we provide for them, and they are subject to our whim at the cleanliness of those boxes. Some cat owners trying to avoid odor will often buy the “odor control guarantee” or “seven-day odor free guarantee” litters. When those fail to control the odor, they resort to air fresheners. Here’s a tip: If your litter box is surrounded by air fresheners, you’re doing something wrong.

First of all, cats can be sensitive and finicky creatures. They aren’t likely to be happy about all of these extra odors around their area. They’re even less likely to be happy about a smelly litter box. If the box gets bad enough, they’ll refuse to use the box, choosing to soil carpets, rugs, or other “cleaner” areas. It’s important to follow a simple but thorough cleaning routine for your litter box. Here are three tips:

1. Scoop your box daily

“Clean my box, human, or else,” says Toby.

There is absolutely no reason to leave your cat’s waste in the box. Scoop it now! Some people opt for individual baggies for each scooping. Other methods include devices such as the Litter Locker II. Scoop the box, place waste in Litter Locker, pull lever, call it a day. Remember to clean the Litter Locker thoroughly with an enzyme cleaner each time you put in a new bag refill. Keep your scoop clean, as well.

2. No less than once a month, empty your litter box and wash it

“I like my box to smell fresh, like the outdoors,” says Odin

Use an enzyme cleaner to thoroughly clean any remnants of urine or fecal proteins from the box. If you don’t believe it’s there, get a handheld UV light. You’ll be simultaneously amazed and disgusted. Clean the floor and surrounding surfaces where the box was. Dry the box thoroughly and fill with fresh litter. To help with odor and absorbency, you can sprinkle some unscented baking soda in the very bottom prior to putting litter in the box.

It’s also vital to use a quality litter. Now, when I say “quality,” that doesn’t automatically equal “expensive.” What you’re looking for is a litter that your cat will like (texture), preferably low- or non-scented, and one that quickly and tightly clumps around waste. This makes it easier to scoop, and it also cuts down on remnant odors as you’re not leaving little bits of waste here and there.

3. Use a UV light to identify any areas outside of the litter box that the cat has soiled

A handheld UV lamp via Shutterstock.

The proteins in the urine will glow bright yellow/yellowish green on fresh stains. Treated or old stains will appear as a dull yellow. Thoroughly clean soiled areas with an enzyme cleaner made specifically for cat urine. If your box is clean and your cat still refuses to use it, it’s possible that your cat doesn’t like the placement of the box, or they may have a medical condition. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a major cause of cats urinating outside of the litter box, and, as they can quickly turn into a worse infection, it’s important to see your vet if you suspect your cat has a UTI.

Remember, scoop your litter box at least once a day, clean the box, scoop, clean any other related items regularly with an enzyme cleaner, and use a quality litter. A clean litter box makes for a happier, healthier cat and an odor-free home for you!

Orange cat in a litter box by Shutterstock.

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About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby (cat) and Axle (dog). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.

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