One of the best things about owning a cat over any other pet – aside from enjoying their fickle affection – is the fact that kitties take care of their bathroom business all on their own. The worst part? They take care of it in your house. And while we’re certain that you and your guests do not appreciate the smell of dirty litter box, can you imagine how your cat – the one who has to actually step in it and use it – feels like? Not great, if we had to guess.
Fortunately, controlling litter box odor is not as hard as you may think. Yes, keeping your pet’s bathroom clean and fresh-smelling requires some work, but we promise it’s easier than breathing in the nasty fumes. We’ve put together five simple but highly effective tips that will change your cat’s bathroom game completely. And no, you don’t need to use the ultra-scented litter or chemical-laden air freshener every 30 minutes. Interested? Keep on reading for the best litter box smell hacks!
1. Choose the right litter
Let’s start with the basics – the litter itself. As our readers will know, we’re fans of natural, biodegradable litters as they’re the best not only for the environment but for your and your cat’s health as well. Wood shavings, clumping sawdust and grain-based litters are all excellent eco-friendly options that absorb liquid practically instantly, preventing the odors from spreading out of the box. While some folks prefer the scented litter types, we recommend going for the unscented versions as they’re healthier for your kit (this is especially important if your cat has a keen sense of smell or is of sensitive health). Also, the artificial perfume that these types of litter have do very little to control the odor – instead, they just mask it (and poorly at that). It’s worth noting that most veterinarians also advise against using scented cat litter.
To get the litter that best controls the odor, we recommend setting up a simple test. Purchase a few smaller bags of eco-friendly litter (for example pine wood pellets, corn litter, and grass seed litter) and place about a cup, cup-and-a-half of each type in a different container. Then, add about ¼ of ammonia to each container and let it sit for a few hours. After about 4-6 hours, sniff each type of litter and follow your nose – which one smells the least bad? Go with that type.
2. Get the right box
The design and size of the litter box itself also matter. Generally speaking, any type of a large box that can accommodate your cat comfortably will do, however, since most litter boxes need to be replaced every year to year-and-a-half, we don’t recommend purchasing plastic ones. First of all, we should all try our best to reduce our consumption of plastic because the world is drowning in it, and secondly and perhaps most importantly, plastic is not durable nor particularly healthy for your cat. Unlike stainless steel and bamboo litter boxes, plastic ones are pretty easy to scratch and chip which means you’ll have to replace them more frequently (again, not good for the planet, but not good for your wallet either!). As many pet parents know, plastic boxes contain and emit BPA which is a proven endocrine disrupter (and this is why you want to avoid not only plastic litter boxes but plastic food and water bowls too). On top of this, plastic litter boxes are incredibly easy to scratch, and once this happens, bacteria and germs set in the cracks and crevices. Even frequent and thorough cleaning cannot thoroughly remove the bacteria that live in these tiny scratches, which, as you may have guessed, leads to that awful, lingering odor.
So, instead of buying plastic litter boxes every 12 months, we recommend picking out a nice stainless steel or bamboo box. These last longer and are easier to clean, which translates to a better-smelling kitty bathroom. As for the design, most cats seem to prefer open boxes as they don’t trap odors inside, making them more pleasant to use. Open, large litter boxes (at least twice as long as your cat) are the best options. This said, if you want to trap odors inside the box, by all means do it if your cat will tolerate it; however, instead of purchasing a covered plastic box, we highly recommend getting a stainless steel one and placing it in a large, easy-to-access cabinet. This way, you’ll not only cleverly hide the litter box (ideal for small apartments!), but also control the smell. This being said, some cats just don’t like covered and enclosed bathrooms; if this is your kitty, it’s best to keep the box in an open, quiet and well-ventilated area of the house.
3. Scoop daily, clean regularly
While litter type and box you buy can play a major role in how bad your cat’s bathroom smells, how often you scoop the box definitely matters the most. After all, the best way to get rid of the odor is to get rid of the odor-causing stuff! So, how to keep the litter box from smelling up the house? By scooping the litter box daily. And if you have time and can manage to scoop twice a day? Even better! A clean litter box not only smells better but is healthier for your kitty too.
There’s another important thing you need to do on a regular basis – clean the litter box every two to three weeks. Yes, it’s icky and you’d rather do anything else, but without this step, your kitty’s bathroom is bound to start emitting those nasty fumes! Pick up a cat-friendly cleaner or a mild dish detergent and scrub the box as well as the scooper thoroughly. To really get in there, we recommend using a small, slightly abrasive brush, and not a sponge. Don’t forget to rinse the box thoroughly as well!
4. Add baking soda to the litter
Now that we’ve covered the basics (and it’s crucial you cover them first!), it’s time to talk about the extra litter box tips and tricks. If you scoop daily, clean the box regularly, and use a quality odor-controlling litter, but still struggle with some odor problems, we highly recommend trying the baking soda trick. Simply sprinkle some of this antibacterial, pet-friendly substance on the bottom of the clean litter box, and then add your cat’s usual litter. Baking soda has some odor-controlling properties, making it a good yet perfectly safe litter box odor eliminator. Unlike many odor deodorizers that are packed with fragrance and irritating chemicals, baking soda has a neutral scent and is 100% safe for pets and people.
This said, if you’d like something with some proper ‘oomph’, you can opt for a scented but gentle cat litter deodorizer. However, if you choose to go down this route, make sure you’re using a deodorizer sparingly; many scented deodorizers can be very irritating to sensitive feline noses. In any case, we recommend sticking to natural, non-scented litter box deodorizers simply because they’re safer for your cat. But if you don’t want to buy any new products? No problem, just sprinkle some baking soda in litter box and that should do the trick.
5. Get a litter mat
Sometimes, it’s not the litter box and its contents that smell bad, it’s the area around the box. This is particularly true for folks who don’t use any kind of a litter mat. As anyone who’s ever observed their cat use their bathroom can tell you, upon leaving the box, cats always leave some litter particles scattered around their box. As you can imagine, dirty litter particles don’t exactly smell pleasant, and they will inevitably lead to the spreading of litter box odors. And the more residual litter there is, the more your carpets or hardwood/laminate floors will smell bad.
To prevent the litter box from smelling up the apartment, purchase a large litter mat and place it beneath your kitty’s litter box. The mat will collect any residual litter from your pet’s paws and stop it from reaching your carpets and floors and stinking up the place. Of course, you’ll also have to wash the litter mat regularly as well; but at least you won’t have to scrub the floors on all fours!
- Foul-smelling litter box: if you find that your cat’s litter box smells so bad you can barely stand to pass by it (despite you scooping it regularly), it’s time to visit the vet. All waste smells bad and that’s normal, however, foul-smelling urine or feces may be a sign that something’s not quite right with your kitty’s digestion.
- Litter box smells like chemicals: as mentioned, it’s normal for dirty litter to smell bad, however, if you find that your pet’s litter smells like chemicals or there’s a strong ammonia smell you can’t ignore, your kitty could have a urinary tract infection. Again, it’s best to visit the vet so you can start the treatment on time.
- Diarrhea: if your cat frequently suffers from diarrhea and extra smelly stools, it may be a good idea to change their diet. Oftentimes, cats allergic to certain ingredients in their food will suffer from poor digestion, and as a result, will have diarrhea. If you suspect that your cat is allergic to something in their food, it’s best to take them to the vet; they will likely recommend an elimination diet to find the offending ingredient. While some cats can be allergic to grains, most kitties are actually allergic to dairy, fish and eggs. Some can be allergic to certain animal protein sources as well.