How Do I Keep My Cat Box From Smelling?

Having an unpleasant litter box odor is a common issue that many cat owners face. In fact, surveys have shown that 44% of cat owners report litter box odor as their biggest concern when it comes to their pet’s impact on home hygiene ( This pervasive problem can significantly affect the quality of life for both cats and their owners. Allowing litter box smells to persist can make a home seem unclean and unwelcoming. More importantly, it can cause cats to begin avoiding the litter box, resulting in inappropriate elimination and other undesirable behaviors. By learning the proper techniques for controlling odor, cat owners can maintain a fresh, pleasant environment and support their cat’s health and happiness.

Regular Scooping

Scooping your cat’s litter box regularly is one of the best ways to keep odors at bay. The general recommendation is to scoop solid waste from the litter box at least once per day. According to The Animal Rescue Site, some cats may stop using a litter box if it isn’t scooped often enough for their preferences.

If you don’t scoop the litter box frequently, urine and feces will accumulate and promote bacterial growth. This leads to much stronger odors. The longer waste sits in the litter box, the more concentrated and powerful the smell will become. For low maintenance odor control, make scooping a daily habit.

Litter Type

The type of cat litter you choose can have a big impact on controlling odors. Here are some of the most common options:

Clumping vs. Non-Clumping

Clumping litters form clumps when wet, binding the urine and stool into solid masses that are easy to scoop out. This helps remove odor-causing waste from the litter box. Popular brands include Tidy Cats and Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal.

Non-clumping litters do not form clumps, so urine and stool remain mixed in. You need to frequently replace the entire litter box contents to help control odors. However, some cats prefer the lightweight, fluffy texture of non-clumping litters.

Alternative Litters

Alternative cat litters like pine, wheat, and corn may help control odors. Pine pellets in particular are very absorbent and help minimize smells. However, these often cost more than traditional clay litters. Some cats may also resist the different texture under their paws.

In general, clumping clay litters tend to be the most affordable and effective option for odor control. But you may need to experiment to find the right litter for your cat’s preferences.

Litter Box Size

When choosing a litter box, size matters. The general recommendation is to get a box that is at least 1.5 times the length of your cat, from nose to tail when fully stretched out. For example, if your cat is 18 inches long, you’ll want a litter box that is at least 27 inches in length (Petfinder).

Having an appropriately sized litter box is important, especially if you have multiple cats sharing the same box. A box that is too small increases the chance of waste ending up outside the box. Cats like to be able to dig, turn around, and move freely in their litter box. If the box is too cramped, they may refuse to use it or only use part of the box (Petco).

As a general guideline, the minimum litter box size for one cat is 24″ x 18″. For two cats, a good size is 36″ x 24″. Litter boxes with higher walls around 5 inches are also recommended to keep litter contained. Make sure to buy the largest litter box your space allows for maximum cat comfort.

Litter Box Location

The location of your cat’s litter box can significantly impact how much odor you notice in your home. Here are some tips on the best places to put the litter box to help control smell:

Ideally, the litter box should be placed in a low-traffic area that is easily accessible for your cat. Some good locations are a laundry room, mudroom, bathroom, or closet. Avoid high traffic areas like the kitchen or living room where smells will be more noticeable.

Place the litter box in a well-ventilated area. Good airflow will help odors disperse rather than being trapped in a small enclosed space. Opening a window or placing a vent nearby can help improve ventilation.

Try to avoid putting the litter box right next to where your cat eats or sleeps. Cats prefer some separation between their food, sleeping, and elimination areas.

Placing the litter box on a different level of the home from where your family spends the most time can help isolate smells. For example, putting it in a basement if you spend most of your time on upper levels.

Location also matters if you have multiple cats. Putting multiple boxes in separate locations can prevent odor buildup in one area.

Cleaning the Box

Cleaning the litter box regularly is crucial for reducing odors. The general recommendation is to scoop the box at least once a day. Solid waste should be removed daily, while urine clumps can be left for 2-3 days before scooping (

For a deep clean, empty the litter box completely every 2-4 weeks. Scrub the box with soap and hot water to remove stuck-on debris. Allow to fully dry before refilling with fresh litter (

A 50/50 vinegar and water solution helps sanitize and deodorize the litter box. Rinse thoroughly after using. Alternatively, use a mild dish soap or antibacterial cleaner (

Litter Box Accessories

There are various accessories available to help keep your cat’s litter box clean and odor-free including mats, liners, and covers:

Mats placed under the litter box can catch stray litter that gets kicked out when your cat scratches. They are easy to clean by simply sweeping or vacuuming. However, some cats don’t like the texture of mats and may avoid using the litter box.

Liners act as a barrier between the litter box and waste to help control odors. They make cleanup quick and easy by simply removing the bag when soiled. But liners can be expensive over time and some cats claw through them.

Covers fully enclose the litter box to contain mess and smells. They provide privacy for shy cats. Covers need regular scrubbing and may trap odors inside if not cleaned frequently enough. Some cats dislike covered boxes.

Overall, accessories like mats, liners, and covers can help manage litter box smells. But not all cats take to them. It’s best to try different options and see what works best for your cat’s preferences.

Air Filters

Air filters can help reduce pet odors and allergens from the air inside your home. For cat litter boxes, HEPA air purifiers are the most effective type of air filter. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate air” and filters out particles as small as 0.3 microns, capturing dust, dander, pollen, and other allergens (Source). Place the air purifier near the litter box to maximize odor removal. Ideally, put it within 3-4 feet of the box. This allows it to quickly circulate and filter the air in that area before smells spread throughout the home.

Some things to look for in an air purifier for cat odors are a high CADR (clean air delivery rate), activated carbon pre-filter, and quiet operation so it can run continuously without disturbance. Make sure to change the HEPA filter and pre-filter regularly according to manufacturer guidelines. This will keep the purifier working optimally to combat smells.

In addition to placing an air purifier near the litter box, consider putting one in the room where your cat spends the most time and in main living areas. This provides whole-home odor protection. Just be sure to pick appropriately sized units for the footprint of each room.

Litter Box Sprays

Litter box sprays can help cut down on unpleasant odors between full litter changes. There are two main types of sprays that are safe and effective for use in the litter box:

Enzyme-based sprays – These contain enzymes that help break down odor molecules. Look for sprays containing protease or lipase enzymes. Spritz the bottom of the litter box before adding new litter to help neutralize lingering smells.

Essential oil sprays – Sprays containing essential oils like lemon, lavender, peppermint, and tea tree oil can help mask litter box odors with their pleasant scents. Avoid using too much as the strong aroma may deter your cat from using the litter box.

It’s best to use sprays as an additional odor control measure rather than a replacement for scooping and changing the litter regularly. Make sure any spray you use is specifically formulated to be safe for litter boxes and cats.

When to See the Vet

Cats are meticulous groomers, so a smelly litter box often indicates an underlying medical issue. According to veterinarians, some common medical causes of a smelly litter box include:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Dental disease

You should make an appointment with your veterinarian if your cat is displaying any of these symptoms:

  • Increased thirst or urination
  • Straining or crying in the litter box
  • Blood in the urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath
  • Excessive licking or irritation around the genitals

Getting your cat prompt medical care for any underlying issues can help resolve smelly litter box problems and prevent more severe complications. Your vet can run tests, provide treatment, and recommend dietary or environmental changes to keep your cat healthy and your home smelling fresh.

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