February 5, 2023

We’ve gotten plenty of requests for this, so here it is – the complete guide to cat litter, and all tips related to it.

cat litter guide

Sure, it’s not a glamorous topic, but it needs to be discussed, or else…things can get nasty! (Luckily we added that cute picture of a kitten in a litter box to distract you momentarily before we dive into the real info…)

clay cat litter

Clay Cat Litter

Without a doubt, clay is my least favorite type of litter. To its credit, it’s highly absorbent and clumps pretty well – as long as you give it enough time. But it’s also heavy, difficult to use and requires a lot of maintenance.

Clay is the original true cat litter. Before its discovery, people used sand – which isn’t absorbant at all and tracks everywhere. Anyone over twenty-five probably remembers when clay was the only choice on the cat litter aisle – except maybe that pine pellet stuff that most cats wouldn’t go near.

Clay is no longer the cheapest option for most people but it can still be used effectively. Here’s how:

1) Scoop meticulously. Anytime Kitty goes near the box, you follow along about ten minutes later with a scoop. Keep the litter as clean as possible by getting the clumps out in one piece as soon as possible.

2) Dispose of the clumps. DO NOT FLUSH! The plumber will be the only one happy if you do. Instead, keep a sealable baggie nearby. Toss when full.

3) Keep the litter 1 – 2 inches deep. Otherwise Kitty won’t be content scratching in it and may just decide that the new rug is a better option. Also, shallow litter will make large flat clumps that will be much more difficult to get out in one piece.

4) Empty and wash the box once a week. More often if it gets icky. It’s a good idea to have two boxes – one in service and the other to switch out with when you wash the box you’ve been using.

clumping cat litter

Clumping Cat Litter

For the majority of people clumping litter is going to work the best. It doesn’t require the constant maintenance of clay so it can fit into an active lifestyle. But it does require maintenance.

Daily scooping is a must – more frequent if you have more than one cat, or your cat is ill. It does track, so the little mat isn’t really optional. But it’s enhanced with odor reducers and most brands clump quickly and well.

Clumping litter works best with a special litter box. There are two options: the Littermaid ™ and a straining box (if you can find one). Littermaid is an excellent system for one or two cats at most. It does work as advertised but it isn’t maintenance free and you must avoid letting it become clogged.

When I used them, I emptied and put them away any time I would be gone for more than a day. Believe me you don’t want to have to dig soggy litter out of one of those. That said, as long as you keep an eye out for clogs and empty the box as needed, they do work very well and are worth the money.

Straining boxes are my preference when using clumping litter. The box is actually two boxes and a strainer that fits inside. To empty you pull out the strainer which brings along all the clumps.

You dump clumps into a trash bag – NEVER EVER into the toilet even if it is flushable! – and place the strainer into the empty box.

Dump the remaining litter into the box with the strainer, clean the now empty box (if necessary) and nest the empty beneath the full box – ta da, you’re done!

Obviously, that’s a bit of work but it is much better for multiple cats as large clumps aren’t a problem. If it does get clogged, it’s a simple matter to dump the entire thing.

Clumping litter can be used without a special box. It clumps more quickly than clay so it’s easier to follow behind – no waiting – but you are going to have to stay on top of it and scoop meticulously.

It has the advantage that you can use flushable litter – just be careful to follow the instructions on the box.

The other two systems are more forgiving if you can’t follow kitty with a scoop but as long as you maintain it carefully, it will work better than clay and to the satisfaction of most.


Sand Cat Litter

Sand being proof positive that tried and true is not always best. It tracks, it isn’t absorbent, it has no deodorizers – everything you don’t want in a litter. Maintenance is intensive and messy. Scooping is essential. So is dumping. Basically, sand’s one and only advantage is that it’s free.

But if you’re desperate or determined, here’s how it’s done:

Line the bottom of the box with newspaper. This will absorb liquid and make the daily dumping easier.

Fill the box about an inch deep. This will keep more sand in the box – maybe. Because it’s lightweight normal scratching will send it all over the place so seriously consider using a covered box. Seriously consider using anything else if your cat is an aggressive digger – this will not go well when cats dig aggressively.

Add baking soda. This will provide some deodorizing and a bit of clumping. A half box will do. You will still have to dump daily – nothing will prevent that.

Scoop poop as soon as possible. Ignore urine – it can’t be scooped. As soon as the urine overpowers the baking soda, dump the entire box. Rinse outdoors (sand does bad things to plumbing over time) and reset the box. It isn’t necessary to dry it completely – the sand won’t absorb the water – but use some extra newspaper if it’s still wet.

Place mats (cheap welcome mats are ideal) all around the box. Invest in a small shop vac. Vacuum up the stray sand frequently.

And that’s how it’s done. Better yet, use anything else!

Now, as an indoor litter, sand is pretty rotten – but it does have one use. In an outdoor enclosure a sandbox is ideal. Now, it is not the same as a litter box.

It has no bottom and must have drainage but sand works better than litter as the mess is negligible. What works great indoors becomes a nightmare in an outdoor enclosure but sand will do the job very well.

Outdoor enclosures will be covered in detail in another section at a later date.

cat litter box

The Litter Box Itself

Yeah, by itself it still won’t smell sweet – there’s a lot to be said for baking soda!

But what about the lowly box itself? What kind should you use? Well, here’s the scoop! 😉

The next few suggestions originated on a one page website I found long ago (I’ll include it in Links if and when I find it again!).

Instead of the traditional litter box, this man suggested using dishpans. I tried it and haven’t used regular pans since. The high sides mean kitty rarely manages to knock stuff out of it. The cat doesn’t care.

I will say that when introducing them you need to wedge them up against something as the cat learns to get in and out without tipping it over. I use those plastic milk crates – the pans fit in perfectly and the cat can’t tip it over. Once they get the hang of it you won’t need a support.

His other suggestion was to keep the litter box in the bathtub. With two bathrooms this works well since I use my spare as a mop room (Kitty does not appreciate having a wet mop dripping on her while she is trying to do her business!) but it will work with just one. Any spills, tracking or near misses are contained and very easy to clean up.

The disadvantage is that you’ll need a second, smaller box outside the tub when training a small kitten. Okay, and you also have to dump the box before getting a shower – but you needed to do that anyway!

Once a week (more if someone has been sick) you will need to wash out the box. I keep several spares on hand so Kitty has a nice, clean place to go while I’m scrubbing out the other one with bleach. It really doesn’t matter if you are using pans or traditional boxes – they do get soiled and they do need to be washed weekly.

Elderly cats and very young kittens may not be able to use dishpans. There are occasions when a traditional box is useful (retraining stubborn cats, after illness, etc) so keep a couple cheap ones on hand. But for day to day use, you can’t beat dishpans for making your life – and Kitty’s – easier.


Kitty Litter on the Cheap (Zero Waste Litter)

Cheap meaning free. We use tons of paper both in our homes and offices every day. Cats don’t care what they dig in so long as they can cover up the mess (we’ll deal with cats that get picky about their type of litter later).

The envelops, packaging, junk mail and newspapers that we toss daily can be easily ‘recycled’ into Kitty’s poop cover – all for free!

Paper has two big advantages: it is very lightweight and it’s free. Light weight makes changing the box much, much easier, especially for anyone with mobility issues. Litter and food are the biggest daily expenses and using paper cuts one down to zero!

So, there have to be drawbacks, right? Yep. Paper is absorbent but doesn’t control odour by itself. It also saturates quickly. The good news is that frequent changing (which is easy and cheap!) and the addition of baking soda solve these problems easily.

Since I work, I use multiple boxes with baking soda. The baking soda does add a nominal cost – but not nearly as much as the $8+ for clumping or $3.50 for clay (your mileage may vary especially if you don’t live in the South!). When I’m home I forgo the baking soda and just change the box more frequently.

To manage this, I get paper from multiple sources: work (we shred everything!), newspaper (yes, some of us still read them!), packaging (cardboard will work both as litter and liner), envelops (I wouldn’t mind using the bill itself sometimes but that’s another story!) and junk mail.

I store it in plastic totes (use the lid!!!!!! Kitty doesn’t know that’s not a new, big litter box!!!!) near the litter boxes along with garbage bags, baking soda and cheap, vinyl gloves so everything is right where I need it. Changing the box takes only a moment and is super easy.

Occasionally, you will have to rinse out the box before its weekly cleaning but a quick rinse in the tub is all it will need (unless Kitty is having a Pepto moment). You don’t even need to dry it before tossing in more litter and letting Kitty have at it!

If you are away for long periods, this isn’t going to work for you. But if you are home most evenings, it will work. It’s especially good for the elderly or disabled as the weight makes a big difference in how easy it is to change the litter.

No scooping – you toss everything every time – which means no stooping. No heavy litter to carry into the house or even heavier litter to get out of the box.

One caution: if the paper is cross-cut shredded, do not keep the litter box in the tub. The paper will get in the drain and could eventually cause a clog. Longer shreds and course tearing are much less likely to get into the drain, although you do need to watch out for it.

And that’s all for now, as we’ve solved most of life’s mysteries right here in this article.  If you have a comment, or think we missed something, let us know below, and thanks for reading!

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