The Ins and Outs of Cat Litter Boxes. A Step-by-Step Breakdown


Cat litter boxes need to be cleaned and replaced regularly to provide a sanitary and pleasant environment for cats. Breaking down and deep cleaning litter boxes helps remove odors, bacteria, and stuck-on waste that can build up over time. This ensures your cat has a fresh, clean litter box to use each time that doesn’t smell or harbor germs. Regularly replacing litter boxes also helps prevent bacterial infections like toxoplasmosis. Plastic boxes degrade from urine and scuffs, so replacing them yearly provides a sturdier, more sanitary box.

This article will provide a step-by-step process for completely breaking down litter boxes to clean all components and assess if replacement is needed. Properly cleaning or replacing litter boxes helps keep your cat healthy and happy.

Assess if Replacement is Needed

It’s a good idea to replace your cat’s litter box about once a year to maintain hygiene and prevent odors ( Look for any signs that the litter box needs to be replaced:

  • Staining or score marks on the bottom that can’t be removed
  • A persistent odor even after cleaning
  • Cracks, chips, or other damage
  • If the box is heavily discolored

Plastic boxes tend to show wear after about a year of use. You may need to replace the box sooner if you have multiple cats sharing it ( Replacing regularly helps provide a pleasant environment for your cat.

Remove Litter

The first step is to scoop out all of the used litter and dispose of it properly. Be sure to remove all solid waste and clumps from the litter box. According to The Spruce Pets, “This method is a tried and true method and the best way to dispose of your used cat litter. Litter boxes should be scooped at least once a day.”1 Once the litter box is empty, you can move on to cleaning the box itself.

Some good practices for disposing of used litter:

– Use a scooper to remove all solid waste and clumps.
– Place the used litter in a plastic bag and tightly seal it.
– Dispose of the bag in your regular household trash.
– Never flush clumping litter down the toilet, as it can clog pipes.

Properly disposing of all used litter is an essential first step before washing and disinfecting the empty litter box.

Rinse Box

It’s important to rinse the litter box thoroughly both inside and outside to remove all traces of residue. Using soap and water, scrub the entire interior surface with a sponge or brush. Pay close attention to corners and crevices where litter can collect. The outside of the box should also be wiped down to eliminate any clinging particles. Allow the box to soak for a few minutes if needed to help loosen stuck-on debris. According to Petsmart, hot water is recommended as it will be more effective at cutting through residue than cold water. However, be cautious of extremely hot water that could warp plastic litter boxes[1].


If your cat litter box is modular or consists of separate pieces, take it apart completely before cleaning. This allows you to fully sanitize all components. Types of modular litter boxes include those with hoods, sifting trays, liners, ramps, doors, and other attachments. Carefully detach these accessories from the base. You may need to unclip, unhook, or unscrew pieces to fully separate them. Take your time disassembling to avoid cracking or breaking components. Separate any liners from the main litter box as well. This allows you to easily scrub all surfaces rather than just wiping down the exterior.

Clean Pieces

Once the litter box is disassembled, it’s time to clean each individual piece. Use a cat litter box cleaner specifically designed to cut through tough stains and odors. Spray or soak each part liberally, then scrub with a brush to remove any stuck-on litter, waste, and stains. Let the cleaner sit and soak in for 5-10 minutes before scrubbing for maximum effectiveness. Some of the top recommended cat litter box cleaners include Rocco & Roxie Supply Co. Zero Odor Spray and Arm & Hammer Baking Soda Spray. The scrubbing action combined with a powerful cleaner designed for litter boxes will lift out all the grime.

Be sure to scrub all surfaces thoroughly – don’t forget to get into corners, crevices, and any textured surfaces. Target any visible stains or mineral deposits as well. Rinse all parts completely to remove cleaner residue.

Dry Thoroughly

After washing the litter box and all its components, it is crucial to let everything air dry completely before putting the litter box back together. Any moisture left behind can encourage mold growth and bacteria. Allow all parts to sit out and dry for at least a few hours, or ideally overnight.

Lay out all the pieces in a location with good airflow and ventilation. Placing them outside in the sun is ideal if the weather permits. The sun’s UV rays help eliminate germs. You can also use a fan to speed up drying time.

Check carefully in crevices and corners to ensure no droplets or damp patches remain. The plastic litter box itself along with the hood, grate, and other pieces should be completely dry to the touch before reassembly. Be patient and do not rush this step, as even small amounts of residual moisture can lead to odor problems over time.

Once fully dry, the components are ready to be reattached and put back into use. Avoid storing any parts away until completely dry, as enclosing damp plastic promotes microorganism growth. Thorough drying helps maintain good litter box hygiene between deep cleanings.

Assess Damage

When disassembling the litter box, inspect each piece carefully for any damage that may prevent proper cleaning or use. The ASPCA recommends looking for stains, cracks, or pieces that are otherwise falling apart. Stains may indicate there is still residue or bacteria remaining that can contribute to odors. Cracks, especially in plastic litter boxes, can harbor bacteria and also make thorough cleaning difficult. If there are any pieces of the litter box that are stained, cracked, or otherwise damaged, it is best to replace them. This ensures your cat has a clean, sanitary place to eliminate.

Discard or Reassemble

Once you have thoroughly cleaned all the components of the litter box, inspect each part closely to determine if any pieces are cracked, warped, or otherwise damaged. If a piece is slightly damaged but still functional, you may be able to repair it with duct tape or glue, as this cat owner describes fixing their litter box with duct tape: Litter box problem fixed! | 2Peas Refugees – ProBoards. However, if the damage is more extensive, you’ll likely need to replace that component.

For modular litter boxes where the lid, sifter, and base all come apart, you can simply replace the damaged piece. With a cracked base, replacing just that component is certainly preferable to buying a whole new litter box. Just make sure the replacement part is the exact same model so all the pieces fit back together properly.

If the litter box is older or you can’t find replacement parts, it may be time to replace the entire box. Cracks and warped plastic can allow leaks and make cleanup more difficult. Throwing out a broken litter box also gives you the chance to try a new style or brand you may like better.


Breaking down and cleaning a cat litter box regularly is an important part of cat ownership. By first assessing if replacement is needed, removing all litter and thoroughly cleaning the box and components, you can provide your cat with a fresh and sanitary environment.

Be sure to rinse the box with soap and water, taking apart any removable pieces, and allowing everything to dry completely before reassembling. Check for any damage like cracks or stains, and discard components as needed. With regular maintenance like this, you can keep your cat’s litter box clean and help it last longer.

Tips for ongoing litter box care include scooping out clumps and soiled litter daily, adding new litter regularly to replace what’s removed, and changing out all the litter every 1-2 months. Place a mat under the box to catch scattered litter. Consider adding litter deodorizers or antimicrobial liners as well. And be sure to watch for signs your cat dislikes the litter box, like avoiding it or going outside the box.

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