Can You Really Wash and Reuse Cat Litter? The Surprising Answer

Introduction

With 94.2 million cats in American households, cat owners spend a significant amount of money on cat litter. It’s estimated that the average cost for cat litter per year is $200-$300 per cat. Reusing cat litter can offer substantial cost savings for multi-cat households. Additionally, reusing cat litter reduces the environmental impact of cat waste. With so much cat litter ending up in landfills, finding ways to extend the usable life of cat litter helps minimize waste.

For these reasons, reusing cat litter is an appealing idea to many cat owners looking to save money and be more environmentally conscious. However, there are important health and hygiene factors to consider before reusing cat litter.

Pros of Washing Cat Litter

One of the biggest pros of washing and reusing cat litter is that it can save cat owners a significant amount of money. According to cats.com, the average cost of cat litter per month can range from $10-40 depending on the type and amount used. For households with multiple cats, litter costs can easily exceed $50-100 per month. By washing and reusing litter, the lifespan of each bag or box can be extended, reducing these ongoing costs.

Specifically, washing allows cat owners to get more use out of expensive crystal litters that can cost $40 or more per container. Even with cheaper clay litters that run $10-15 per box, washing can double or triple the normal 1-2 week lifespan. For owners that go through multiple boxes per month, this can add up to big savings over time.

In addition to reducing litter costs, washing and reusing cat litter produces less waste and is better for the environment. Extending the lifespan means throwing away fewer used litter containers per year. For cat owners looking to reduce their carbon footprint, reusing litter can be an effective strategy.

Cons of Washing Cat Litter

One of the biggest downsides to washing and reusing cat litter is that it is very time consuming and labor intensive. According to one Reddit user, washing litter can take over an hour for a standard size litter box [1]. The process involves fully emptying the litter box, scrubbing and washing it, washing each granule of litter thoroughly, drying the litter, and then refilling the litter box. This needs to be done frequently to keep the litter clean, which can become a large chore.

Washing also requires a good amount of physical effort. Cat owners report needing to bend over a tub or bucket and wash each litter granule individually by hand. The repetitive motion can be taxing. Hauling and dumping heavy litter also requires strength and energy.

Overall, regularly washing and reusing cat litter instead of changing it out entirely demands a significant time and labor investment from cat owners. For those with busy schedules or physical limitations, this can be daunting and impractical.

How to Wash Cat Litter

Washing cat litter is a simple process that involves draining, rinsing, drying, and adding baking soda. Here are the steps:

First, remove all of the used cat litter from the litter box and discard it. Be sure to remove any solid waste first. Then, rinse the empty litter box with hot water to help loosen any stuck-on residue, according to Petsmart’s guide on cleaning litter boxes [1]. For tough stains, fill the litter box with hot water and let it soak for 10-15 minutes before scrubbing.

Next, thoroughly scrub the litter box with dish soap and hot water using a scrub brush or sponge. This will sanitize the box and remove odors. Make sure to rinse off all the soap with clean water.

Once cleaned, allow the litter box to completely air dry before refilling with litter. Put the box in a sunny spot or aim a fan on it to speed up drying.

Finally, pour a thin layer of baking soda in the bottom of the dry litter box before adding the washed litter back in. The baking soda will help absorb odors and keep the box smelling fresh.

And that’s it! With these simple steps, you can reuse cat litter and save money while keeping your home smelling clean.

Sanitation Concerns

Washing used cat litter comes with some potential sanitation concerns. The warm, damp environment of used litter can allow bacteria, mold, and fungus to grow.1 These microorganisms thrive in soiled litter and can cause illness in humans and cats if inhaled or ingested. Common pathogens found in dirty litter include Salmonella, E. coli, and Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis.2 Disturbing reused litter can stir up dust and germs. Severe cases of toxoplasmosis contracted from cats can lead to damage to the brain, eyes, or other organs in humans.3 Proper precautions like wearing gloves and a mask are essential when handling used litter to minimize risks.

Litter Types That Can Be Washed

There are a few types of cat litter that can be safely washed and reused. These include:

Clay Litter

Clay litter is one of the most common types of cat litter. The clumping variety forms clumps when wet, which makes it easy to scoop out urine and feces. Non-clumping clay litter will need to be sifted frequently to remove waste. Clay litter can typically be washed and reused 1-2 times before needing to be replaced (1). When washing, make sure to break apart any remaining clumps and allow the litter to fully dry before returning to the litter box.

Pine Litter

Pine litter is a biodegradable, compostable option made from pine wood. It has good odor control but does not clump. Pine pellets can be washed to help extend their use. Make sure pellets are completely dry before returning to the litter box, as moisture can cause them to break down (2).

Wheat Litter

Wheat litter is typically made from hard wheat kernels. It is biodegradable and compostable. Wheat litter controls odors well and forms solid clumps for easy scooping. It can be washed and reused a few times before needing replacement. Allow wheat litter to fully dry after washing before putting it back in the litter box (3).

Litter Types to Avoid Washing

Certain types of cat litter should not be washed and reused. This includes clumping litter, which forms solid clumps when wet. The clumps are held together by bentonite clay, which contains crystalline silica dust. When litter is washed, this dust gets stirred up and released into the air, posing a health hazard if inhaled. Sources advise disposing of used clumping litter instead of washing (The Ultimate Guide To Different Types of Cat Litter).

Scented litters are also not recommended for washing. The fragrances and perfumes added to make litter smell good tend to get washed away, eliminating the scent. Washing also removes the antimicrobial agents added to inhibit bacterial growth. With the scents and antimicrobials removed, washed scented litter will lack odor control (The 8 Best Non-Tracking Cat Litters Of 2024).

In general, clumping and scented litters are designed for single use and best disposed of rather than washed for reuse.

Cats’ Reaction

Some cats may reject reused litter due to the changed scent. According to Quora, most cats enjoy having fresh, clean litter. The scent of reused litter may be off-putting for finicky felines. Additionally, Armand Hammer notes that no cat likes a dirty litter box, so the changed scent of washed litter may deter some cats from using it. It’s important to monitor your cat’s reaction and be prepared to switch back to new litter if they refuse the reused washed litter.

Cost Analysis

Washing and reusing cat litter can provide notable cost savings compared to purchasing new litter each time the box needs changing. According to Cost Comparison of Litter & Litterboxes, the average cost of clumping clay litter is $0.20-$0.70 per pound, while non-clumping clay litter averages $0.10-$0.30 per pound. For a single cat using one litter box, this can add up to $10-$50 per month. On the other hand, washing and reusing litter only requires water, mild soap, and occasional replacement of lost litter, which is much more affordable.

The cost savings are even more significant for multi-cat households. As noted in THE REAL COST OF CAT LITTER, a two-cat household can spend £20-£40 per month on litter, while a five-cat home may spend up to £100 monthly. Washing and reusing litter could cut these costs by 50% or more. The only additional expense is the initial investment in a sifting litter box, which typically costs £20-£50, and will pay for itself quickly in litter savings.

It’s important to balance potential savings against sanitation. However, for many cat owners, washing and reusing litter can lead to notable savings with minimal effort required.

Conclusions

In summary, there are pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to wash and reuse cat litter. The main benefits are cost savings and reducing waste. However, there are some downsides, such as sanitation concerns, irritation to cats, and clumping litters not recombining well. Most experts recommend against reusing clumping litter. Non-clumping litter may be washed and reused 1-2 times if done carefully, but litter should be frequently replaced to maintain proper sanitation.

Based on the analysis, here are some recommendations:

  • Avoid reusing clumping litter, as it loses its absorbency.
  • Non-clumping litter can be reused 1-2 times if thoroughly washed and dried.
  • Frequently replace litter, even washed litter, to control odors and germs.
  • Spot clean litter daily and fully change it out weekly.
  • Use unscented litter to avoid irritating cats’ nostrils.
  • Change litter brands if your cat refuses to use washed litter.

While washed litter may save money short-term, consider investing in higher quality litters or automated self-cleaning boxes for easier maintenance long-term. The cleanliness of your cat’s litter box is paramount for both feline health and owner convenience.

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