Litter Box Maintenance: How To Keep Your Cat Happily Using The Litter Box

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Cleaning and scooping the litter box isn’t the most pleasant task in the world. When Class Act Cats’ Chief Whisker Officer and Chief Catnip Officer came home, one of them brought with giardia as a welcome gift. I had to clean, clean, clean their litter boxes daily for multiple bouts of what I affectionately called their butt parasites. Nobody had a good time.

While that level of cleaning isn’t normally required, proper litter box maintenance is an important part of being a cat parent and a crucial part of making sure your cat uses their litter box. Failure to properly clean and maintain a litter box will result in unpleasant odors, a cat who doesn’t use the litter box, and ultimately more work for you. While there’s probably more to litter box cleaning and maintenance than you think, it’s not that hard so let’s talk about how to keep your box clean and home odor-free!

Scooping And Litter

Be honest with yourself: how often are you scooping the litter box? If your answer is anything less frequent than daily, you’re asking for trouble. Ideally, you want to scoop twice a day, though I typically check whenever I walk by my litter boxes and just scoop right into the Litter Genie.

The litter itself should be refreshed at a minimum whenever you clean the box, though you wouldn’t be wrong to do a full dump and replace the litter once a week. If you notice any odor developing and don’t have time to do a full clean that day, dumping the litter and replacing it can buy you time until you can deep clean the litter box. As you scoop, you’ll be removing some litter so remember to top it off.

A word about litter: keep it consistent. It may not seem like a big deal to you to switch between different brands of litter, different scents, or even different types of litter by the same brand, but your cat cares. Stick with an unscented litter with small particles. Keep it consistent unless you can’t find your cat’s regular litter.

Cleaning The Box

Believe it or not, you need to clean the litter box itself on a regular basis. There’s also a wrong way to clean the litter box that can make it so the box is unpleasant for your cat. Here’s how I suggest cleaning your litter box:

  1. Dump all the used litter into the trash.
  2. Rinse out any litter that is stuck to the sides with water. Ideally, you’d do this outside, but if you don’t have access to a hose, a bathtub can work. Just make sure you flush the litter with a lot of water so it doesn’t clog your pipes.
  3. Take a sponge or clean cloth and use a mild, ideally unscented dish soap to wipe down the insides of the box. Make sure you get into any nooks and crannies where bits of litter may be stuck.
  4. Do one more quick rinse of the box until the water runs clean.
  5. Allow the box to drip dry or wipe it down.
  6. Return the box to its usual location and replace with fresh, clean litter.

You’ll notice how I didn’t mention any special cleaners or bleach. While it may seem like a good idea to bleach the box, bleach isn’t great for cats’ noses. There are some times when you may need to use diluted bleach to clean a litter box (as I unfortunately found out when my dudes had giardia), it’s not something that is usually necessary or advisable.

A person's hands with blue disposable gloves, a rag, and a squirt bottle clean a desk with a red laptop, disposable coffee cup, calculator, and plant on it.
Keep it simple when it comes to cleaning the litter box. Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya.

Replacing The Box

Litter boxes are not meant to last forever. Over time, there will be micropockets of bacteria and gunk that will build up as your cat scratches the sides of the box. This will lead to odors lingering longer even if you’re thoroughly cleaning the box and changing the litter regularly.

The solution? Replace the box. Generally, once a year is enough for most litter boxes. However, if you notice things are getting funky smelling quickly after a deep clean and replacing the litter doesn’t quite seem to take the edge off the smell, you may want to replace the box sooner than once a year.

When you do replace the box, try to keep the box as similar to the one you are replacing as possible. If you get too creative, you may accidentally get a box that your cat doesn’t like or accidentally change something in a way that will drive them to stop using the litter box. If you can buy or make your own box so it’s as close as possible to the original one, you won’t have a litter box usage problem on your hands.

Litter Box Maintenance Doesn’t Have To Be Tough

It may seem a bit overwhelming to keep a litter box well-maintained for your cat, but each step isn’t that much work. Once you figure out a system that works, you’ll find it can be easy to keep your litter box clean. Your cat will appreciate it and will thank you by continuing to use the litter box.

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!