Improper litter box cleanliness leads to foul odors and unexpected surprises throughout your home. Learn how to clean your cat’s litter box to keep your home fresh with these hacks.

By Leah Lopez Cardenas
August 24, 2020
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Cleaning the litter box is one of the less glamorous aspects of cat ownership, but it’s an important part of properly caring for your beloved pet. Follow this step-by-step guide to safely and effectively clean your cat’s litter box.

Why It’s Important to Regularly Clean Your Cat’s Litter Box

Ever wonder why cats are always licking themselves? It’s because they like to be clean, which means they won’t be too keen to use a dirty litter box. In fact, if you don’t clean the litter box regularly, they may start looking elsewhere for places to go (e.g. your favorite rug or worse— under your bed). A clean place to go is also important for your kitty’s overall health and can prevent illnesses like urinary problems and bacterial infections. Same goes for you and your family, as humans can contract issues like cat scratch disease and salmonella from a dirty litter box.

Recommended Litter Box Cleaning Supplies

Before you get started, make sure you have all the cat supplies you need to clean the litter box with proper hygiene in mind. 

You’ll need:

  • Litter box
  • Fresh kitty litter
  • Rubber gloves
  • Mild soap
  • A scoop (preferably with holes in it to filter out excess litter)
  • Trash can or trash bag nearby
  • Fresh litter box liner and floor pad (optional)

If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to clean a litter box with bleach, vinegar or other pet care cleaning supplies, the answer is yes—as long as you rinse them properly. However, you’re probably better off just using good old soap and water.

“If you have indoor cats that don’t have access to the outdoors, then full disinfection of the litter box is probably not going to be necessary,” said Dot Baisly, certified pet behaviorist at Northeast Pet Shelter in Salem, Mass.

“The only time I would consider disinfecting the litter box would be if your cat has had potential exposure to a pathogen. In between cleaning with soap, something like Nature’s Miracle is probably the best option to combat the usual litter box smell,” said Baisly.

Litter preference is also important, as cats don’t like floral scents or aroma additives. A good tip to test whether the scent might be too strong: Baisly says if you can put your face near the litter, give it a whiff and not be overwhelmed by the smell, then it’s probably OK for your cat.

How to Clean the Litter Box Step-by-Step

  1. Designate a place to put the litter box and prep yourself with all the tools you’ll need to clean it.
  2. Introduce it to your cat.
  3. Once your cat has gotten familiar with the litter box location and successfully used it a few times, it’s time to clean!
  4. Scoop out the solids using a shovel tool and flush them down the toilet or place them in the garbage.
  5. Dump out the rest of the litter box contents into the trash.
  6. Rinse the empty litter box in the bathtub or shower with soap and water. Use a mildly scented or scent-free soap if you can so your cat isn’t adverse to the odor. If the weather is nice outside, you can also take the litter box out there to hose it off instead of using the bathroom.
  7. Sweep or vacuum the floor space around the litter box area before returning the clean litter box.
  8. Optional: Place a pad on the floor and a liner at the bottom of the litter box before adding more litter to help improve the smell and contain the mess throughout the week.
  9. Fill the litter box with new litter and you’re done!

How Often You Need to Clean the Litter Box

We can’t stress enough how important it is to clean the litter box regularly for the overall health of your pet and family. These are the regular tasks you should complete in order to keep the litter box area clean.

  • Daily: Scoop out poop or clumps of litter and dispose of them. Some kitty litter is marketed as flushable, but you may be better off putting it in the trash outside using a doggy bag or similar to protect your plumbing. If you have more than one cat using the same litter box, it may be necessary to scoop it more than once per day. Sweep up or use a designated hand vacuum to remove any loose gravel that gets knocked out of the box throughout the day to keep your floors and walkways clear.
  • Weekly: Empty kitty litter into the trash, preferably the outdoor trash can or dumpster so the interior of your home doesn’t take on an unpleasant pet odor. If you wait longer than about a week to clean the kitty litter box, then your cat may start going elsewhere in the house. Pet stains are not fun, but luckily, there are some easy hacks for removing pet urine stains if that has already become a problem in your home. Thoroughly clean the litter box and replace with fresh litter each week. Also make sure to replace or wash your floor covering. Leftover newspaper or floor pads are good disposable materials, or you can purchase a reusable cat litter box mat to place underneath your litter box system.
  • Monthly: Thoroughly clean the floor space around the litter box at least once a month—or more if you prefer—using a mop and floor cleaning agent or soapy water. This might mean moving the litter box to another spot in the room while you clean the entire floor space.

Other Litter Box Cleaning Hacks

Do you live in an apartment? Cleaning your cat’s litter box in an apartment entails similar steps as any other type of home. However, keep in mind that small-space living can exacerbate foul litter box smells, so it’s important to keep up with a regular and potentially more frequent cleaning schedule. You may also want to immediately take any litter box-related garbage straight out to the dumpster to avoid any lingering odors.

Litter box location is extremely important for cats, particularly in a multiple species household. Don’t put a litter box next to your kitty’s food and water—cats won’t want to go to the bathroom near their eating place. Find a place that’s secluded, but easily accessible. Your cat needs to feel safe using the litter box and making sure they can see their surroundings while going is also important, so don’t put the box right around a corner. The laundry room is a common place people think to put the litter box, but cats are averse to the sounds and vibrations that washers, dryers and other appliances make. Baisly says they may start to associate those unpleasant sounds with using the litter box, therefore they won’t tend to use it like you want them to.

Wondering if it’s safe to clean a litter box when pregnant? Many pregnant mothers worry about contracting toxoplasmosis from their cat’s litter box. However, the chances of contracting toxoplasmosis from your cat is slim if proper precautions are taken. If you’re worried about taking any chances, ask another family member or friend to help with cleaning your cat’s litter box while you’re pregnant. If you must clean the litter box yourself while pregnant, wear protective gloves, avoid touching your face, and thoroughly wash your hands after dealing with used cat litter. Don’t assume you have to give up your cat if you’re pregnant!

If you follow this helpful guide for cleaning your cat or kitten’s litter box, you’ll be on your way to establishing a regular cleaning schedule and a happy cat.