The Best Litter Box Cleaning Routine


Well, I’ll admit it, I love my cats.

I never liked cats before I had my own; in fact I remember being horrified when I used to babysit kids with cats.  After calming the kids down from their night-time fears, my own would set in.  Any sound, glow or creek in the house would scare me. I was literally on edge until the parents came in the door.  The culprits of these noises?  No paranormal activity here, just a couple of cats staring at me in the dark and creeping around.

From that point, cats and I didn’t get along.

So, What Happened?

My husband and I discussed getting a pet. 

I wanted a dog; the deal killer was that I’d have to walk it in the winter because he didn’t want a dog.  My husband said that we should get a cat.  I didn’t like that idea very much until we went to a pet store and saw a beautiful little kitten there.  She was white with chocolate brown ears, boots and tail.  A little Siamese-Himalayan mix kitten with bright blue eyes, it really doesn’t get much cuter than that folks.  We took her out to play (in that little cavernous room in the pet store that closes the deal literally every single time) and that was that – we got a cat.  Her name, Malee, is the Thai version of ‘Molly’, which we wanted to do to honour her heritage.

A little over a year later, we thought that Malee would enjoy a friend at home while we were out working all day.  We searched around for a cat we thought would match her personality well.  One day, a few months into our search, we met a little black kitten at a PetSmart  adopt-a-thon who was petrified of us and completely in love with us at the same time.  She looked the total opposite of Malee; all black with white ‘tiger’ stripes in her undercoat (I believe her colouring is referred to as ‘black smoke’) and bright yellow eyes.  That cat we called Paislee (due to her amazing striped pattern, and to have a similar name-ending to Malee) and now those two have the run of the house.

Smelly things

We look over a lot with those cats. 

The hair can be something else, hence our Dyson purchase but 2 days after getting little Malee.  The cat puke-in-random-locations-at-inopportune-times thing has taken some getting used to and now I don’t wince, I just grab my cleaning product and cloth and get to work.  Discovering my cat allergies has been a good time as well (I keep the Reactine folks in business and am currently contemplating allergy shots).  But I have to say, acclimatizing to living with a litter box has by far been the biggest challenge for me.

We keep ours by our kitchen’s patio door to allow for good ventilation in warmer months and also to be accessible to the backyard hose for cleaning.  Finally, we won’t forget about it (like we potentially would if it were in our basement).  If a day goes by where it is not scooped, I freak out.  Cats aside, I have a sensitive nose and I feel like my house reeks (OMG, I can’t have anyone over. This is horrible – what, do I live in a toilet?).

Strategic planning

We have one box for the cats to share.  We are planning on getting a second one so that each cat has her own private space.  I like the theory behind this but I am not too fond of the added work it’s going to require.  According to some research I’ve done, it seems this is the best way to keep each cat happy and eliminating in the right place (read: we’ve encountered a couple of accidents – not fun) is to have a separate litter box for each cat.

Further to that, managing the odours comes down to how often you are scooping the litter (i.e. removing the waste), changing the litter and of course cleaning the litter box and surrounding area.

What’s worked best for us?  I think we have a pretty solid (no pun intended) routine.

Here’s our litterbox strategy

The Mat

We keep a grooved winter boot mat under the litter box.  It’s great at catching any extra granules or pieces of litter that get stuck in their paws upon exit of the commode and also helps with keeping cleanup easier.  It’s plastic and easy to wash.  I tried the other litter mats that are made out of rubber (look like rubber spaghetti clumped together) which absorb anything (read: accidents) meaning mine got tossed.   If the cats get any litter around the area we just sweep it up.  They are pretty good at containing it to that area though.

The Litter box

We used to have one with a top closure and a charcoal filter.  The cats hated that closure; it trapped in all their elimination odours (think about how you feel in a ‘full’ port-o-potty).  The charcoal filter sitting atop of the box didn’t do much by way or eliminating odours despite the very convincing marketing.  We ditched the lid and the cats much prefer the open space.  It airs out better.  We now use a biodegradable and disposable litter box, and the cats absolutely adore the texture of it (they scratch it for fun).  I like this plan better, and would not have gone for it if the litterboxes were not biodegradable.

The Litter Liners

Again, we used to use these however they became cumbersome and superfluous. I don’t think the liner is a necessary step so long as you are cleaning and disinfecting your litter box on a regular basis.  They seem like a product that was developed to sell in pet stores (Johnson, we need to raise our sales numbers this quarter…think of a way to sell the customers something they already have…). If you want to line the box, use newspaper or tinfoil (they won’t feel it under all the litter) and change it each week.  Apparently, cats don’t really like liners.  The bottom line: clean your litter box out and you won’t have to worry about a liner.  If you find your litter box is absorbing odours into the plastic, you can replace it every year.  We don’t, but I’m just saying, if you find that is an issue, there’s your alternative solution.

The Deodorizing Products

We keep a PureAir charcoal filter beside our litter box.  It is cleaner and looks nicer than a box of baking soda and needs changing once every 6 months. We’ve found it somewhat helpful in managing the ever smelly issue of cat elimination. I am not a fan of air fresheners (they give me a screaming headache), so I avoid them at all costs.  Plus I don’t want to mask an odour, I’d rather deal with it. Finally, cats are pretty finicky (you don’t say), and if they don’t like that smell they’ll find somewhere else to do their business.  If you are going to use something, stick to a natural solution like a half-lemon left in a dish near the litter box, an open bowl of vinegar, a box of baking soda or a charcoal air filter.

The Litter

We were just downright cheap when it comes to litter. I mean, how can you justify spending premium dollar on a toilet-y sandbox for cats?  Previously, we’ve been seen creeping out of discount grocers with their bottom-of-the-barrel kitty litter brand.  Cheap, readily available clumping litter.  It makes a total mess; it is dusty and grainy.  It does not help with odours.  I also hate scooping because dust rises and settle everywhere (and then I wonder how many toxins I’m breathing in – hypochondria).

A Litter Story

Prior to using clumping litter, we used compressed newspaper pellets  and found it worked (although it didn’t clump as well) but it was expensive.  It was not too easy to scoop either, since you couldn’t actually sift through and let the unused litter fall back into the pan.  It helped with odours somewhat, but  we were not totally satisfied.  Malee was brought up on that litter so we kept using it until Paislee came along.  Then we moved to something designed for a ‘multi cat’ home, bringing us to the clumping litter scenario.  The cats were seemingly indifferent to the litter types, which somewhat surprised me since I’ve heard cats can be pretty particular when it comes to litter and are not good with change.  I was not a fan.  The house smelled, the stuff was messy, dusty and got everywhere when we were changing or scooping it.  Cheap or not, it sucked.

The thing with litter is, there are so many different kinds of kitty litter and they all come with their own host of warnings, costs and environmental issues.  So after months of contemplation, we decided to give some other litter types a whirl.  We purchased a small package of Feline Pine (compressed pine pellets) and Swheat Scoop (wheat litter).  The Feline Pine is neat; it’s like little compressed pine pellets and actually has a very pleasant smell (forest-y!) I actually like the smell of the litter and the cats didn’t seem to mind it.  It’s also priced a little cheaper than Swheat Scoop.  The pellets are similar in size to that of compressed newspaper and have an interesting reaction.  The pellets break down as they urine and it turns into sawdust.  Feces sort of sit on top of the litter or catch a few pellets in it while the cats are cleaning up.   I found that it got quite dusty with the urine breaking down the pellets, but if you keep the amount of litter to a couple of inches it is manageable.  You also have to be more precise when scooping (same thing with the newspaper pellets), because you can’t exactly sift out larger, clean pellets through your shovel and end up scooping clean litter away as well.  However, if you were ever a kid that played in a sandbox, this shouldn’t be an issue for you.  It also holds odours in pretty well – I have to say, I did not noticed a wretched smell coming from the box after we switched to that brand.

When Feline Pine ran out, we started using Swheat Scoop.  If you’ve ever tried Red River cereal, it looks very similar to Swheat Scoop.  We sprinkled it in a cleaned out litter box and gave it a try.  It has no scent and is not dusty.  Again, the cats were impervious to the change.  What I liked is that it behaved the same way clumping litter does, making both number ones and number twos easy to clean up after and still allows the rest of the clean litter to sift through the scoop back into the pan for future use.  It leaves no dust at all and does not break down once wet, and finally, it traps in odours well. I like it, however it’s not quite the greatest odour eliminator.

Someone told me about crystal litter, and I was very unsure about these multi-coloured granules.  However, we gave it a whirl and the cats seemed fine with the change.  The cool thing is, they change colour when they are no longer functional (sort of like your toothbrush), and they are unbelivevably amazing when it comes to trapping odours.  I have not come across a better kind of litter.  I also like how it does not clump and create dust, it is easy to scoop, and only needs to be ‘stirred’ to freshen it up.  We change ours every 2-3 weeks and scoop / stir it frequently.

Crystals are the winner.  The cats like it, it’s easy to use,  sifts well, is not dusty, traps odours and is easy to clean up. I’d try a bag out and see what you think for yourself.

The Litter Schedule

I just want to preface this by saying that this is an ideal schedule; we do not keep it all the time. 

We do as best we can.  When we do keep to the schedule, the results are the best.

The litter gets scooped twice daily; in the morning when I feed them and at night when he feeds them.  We scoop the litter into little lunch paper bags and dispose of them with the garbage (don’t worry, we don’t light them on fire and place them on our neighbours’ doorsteps).  He cleans the box out weekly and changes the litter.  Do we stick to our plan always? No, but it really helps in managing that smell when we do.  I don’t care what litter has been used, I find nothing else works as well as continual maintenance.

The Box Cleaning Routine

To clean a plastic litter box:

  • Empty the litter into a garbage bag and pre-soak the litter box with  disinfectant and baking soda for 10 minutes.
  • Hose out in the backyard (yes, even in the winter) and dry with paper towel.
  • The mat and surrounding area gets a quick clean up as well (a sweep to the tiles and the mat just gets sprayed down with disinfectant and dried).
  • Litter is refilled.

We put in about 1.5-2 inches worth of litter in the box, apparently cats don’t like swimming in their litter box (gosh, I can’t imagine why).  There’s no harm in sprinkling in extra baking soda into the box, which will help eliminate odours as well.  They just need enough coverage to kick around and clean up after themselves.

Like a typical cat, Malee eagerly awaits the clean litter box so that she can hop in and move litter around to better suit her feng shui, literally one millisecond after the last litter granule falls in the box.   It’s like clockwork.

What is your routine? 

What brands of litter do you use? 

Have you found any methods that are very effective for managing litter boxes?

Related Video

How to clean litter box

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.


  1. I was looking for a way to scoop the litter and put it back I to the litter containers so that they could be reused to hold the spent litter. I know I’m not the only one who has thought of this, I am trying to create less trash, so one of you brilliant minds please help me and tell me how you made this work for you so I can stop tryi g to reinvent the wheel! My box I usually keep in the bathtub it makes it.easier for me to sweep up any tracked out litter, but I just feel I can do better at the daily scoop. I have used a litter locker which I do like, but still there are all of those empty plastic jugs or boxes that the litter came in. Someone, I am just certain, has this already figured out. Thanks a bunch! Patti

  2. I switched to “the worlds best cat litter and what a difference! its a bit more expensive but lasts and lasts so its cheaper in the long run.. it now comes in different scents and of course the no scent . Its made of corn. better for humans and the cats and lessons the chance of urinary issues .. if its good for humans lungs then much healthier litter! its flush-able but i wouldn’t flush it. i have the regular and now the lavender and both are practically dust free and the odor is almost none existent unless one of them poops and doesn’t cover it! Trust me, its great litter! Doesn’t irritate the lungs like all the other litters do with dust and smells.. I have FOUR rescue cats. Two older and two young. I use very tall litter boxes and it works pretty well.

  3. I had 1 litterbox when my two cats were kittens, when they grew up I got an extra. They decided to use one for nr1 and the other for nr2.
    And also never going back to anything else but crystals, what an invention!

  4. Our two female cats have been indoor/outdoor for the past 2 years. I’ve avoided the litter box because our home is only 885 sq ft and I worry it could be smelled all through the house. But snow just arrived and we’ll be leaving home for 3 days at Christmas. Just can’t let them stay out that long. So….I just purchased a pack of jumbo Nature’s Miracle disposable litter boxes, a large mat to catch litter and Dr. Elsey’s Precious litter. Thanks for your advice. Plan to scoop out twice a day and replace entire box and litter once a month. Hope it works.

  5. Hi. I love your article and all your advice. Your writing style is superb and I actually laughed out loud several times. I would purchase and read a whole book by you. Thank you and happy scooping!

  6. I have a super sensitive cat who doesn’t go with closed litter boxes, plastic or artificial litter or even standard litter boxes … so I use a baby bath for her box with lots of kitchen towels underneath it (she holds one of her legs off the ground which leads to occasional incidents) and natural litter (that I clean every other day) and never close the area (she’s also a bit claustrophobic) but to keep her privacy I just fit the bath in a tiny depression in the wall. My only question is about how I can keep her box chemically cleaner since recently there has been some insects getting near her box and I wouldn’t want any of them to lay eggs there and at the same time don’t want to use any harmful chemicals, so is there any natural home remedies for that?

  7. Up until a week ago I had only one cat who is 2 years old. Her litter box is outside so it is getting enough sunlight and the smell is manageable. However, we got two new kittens last week and the litter box is inside and let’s just say that the litter box gets smelly really quickly. Your tips has helped a lot! Thank you!!

  8. Hi all! Thanks so much for sharing! I also would like to know what is used to disinfect the litter box. Anyone? Anyone? Ferris?

    I am apparently a little different from the norm here but let me explain. I have three cats. I have two litter boxes. They are Sterilite containers that I got at a Big Box store but you can get them anywhere. They’re a little wider at the top where the lid goes. So, the lid works as a tray on the bottom of the box to catch litter. 🙂

    They’re so cheap that I can replace them easily whenever I want, but do so yearly. (Around 5 bucks USD) They’re very deep so the cats must jump into them AND out of them, leaving most of the litter off their paws and in the box because they’re paws spread to leap. Also, I keep at LEAST six inches of litter in there, because urine never ever gets to the bottom of the box that way, so you clean the box much less often AND it’s easier to get under the litter and scoop upward. I have marked a line in the corners with a sharpie so I know when the litter is lower then it should be. I use a heavy duty metal extra large scoop, so there’s not much work at all.

    I place the litter in a tshirt bag bought by the boxful at Sams. They’re easy to tie shut and from there I put them in a diaper genie, also bought at sams. When full, easy to empty. No smells from there at all, and I keep it right next to the litter boxes. The litter boxes sit side by side in a hallway with good ventilation.

    I wash all with Dawn dishwashing liquid and scrub all thoroughly with a rough brush, then use OdoBan on the inside of the box, and wipe dry with a paper towel. I would love to have input on what everyone uses to dissolve any film left on the side of the box, mostly from dried urine I suppose. Thanks in advance and good luck all! I was thinking about the closed boxes and I wanted to add that although mine don’t really dig much (they just do their business and cover) if yours do dig then I would worry about dust for sure because their faces are right there, close to that awful dust. I ALWAYS wear a mask (just the cheap kind you get at the drug store and hook over your ears for the flu) and it has made a WORLD of difference. I highly recommend this! You can use it for a month or two then get out another one. Pinch at the nose to fit.

    Disinfectant ideas please? Thank you!!

  9. I have two kittens and two breeze litter systems. I started out with one regular box, but one of my kittens refused to go in it. The day I brought a second box home, no more accidents! But I live in a small one bedroom apartment. The small was horrible and I didn’t know what to do! That’s when I switched to the breeze system. It’s a bit more pricy, but I watch for sales and stock up on the pellets and pee pads when I can get a good deal. My kittens LOVE it and I rarely smell anything at all!!!

  10. I have two hideaway boxes in black from and use the Feline Pine that is like tiny wood chips (not the pellets). My cat’s love their furniture and the litter. People never know that there are litter boxes in the living room. Unless I let them go for a bit. But that person couldn’t figure out where the smell was coming from until I confessed. Then they wanted to check out the boxes because they thought that they were just pieces of normal furniture. I keep them scooped now. Lol

    • Thank you (SalvagedKharma) for the wonderful recommendation! And yes, as my instructions say: it only takes a minute in the morning and another in the evening to keep the litter box clean and odor free. Walk up, open the Top Lid, scoop and walk away. The patented raised litter pan makes cleaning while standing upright easy on the human. The Out of Sight Litter Box stops litter tracking (no more cleaning), hides the litter box mess, keeps dogs (and small children) out of the litter pan and makes cleaning easy and quick. The cabinets are available in: White, Maple, Oak, Mahogany (mixes with any cherry), Walnut and Black. Also included are two (2) High-Sider litter boxes, no more “misses” over the edge, two TraxTurf pads that trap and hold litter, an Odor Absorber and a litter scoop! All my best, blessing to you all! Cat-man-doo-doo, inventor of the Out of Sight Littler Box.

      P.S. Congratulations Melissa for creating an incredible useful website and YouTube Channel, love both, use both! Paul 🙂

  11. Another reason not to use an enclosed litter box (besides it trapping the dust inside for them to breathe, which can cause health problems) is that you need to keep a watch on their poop habits. I’m not saying every single time, but now and then, just check it out before they cover to see if it looks normal or if it’s the wrong color, may have blood in it, or they are constipated. You can’t do this with a covered litter box.

  12. I quit using regular litter boxes and now use MacCourt drywall mud pans from Lowes (or most home improvement store). they are MUCH cheaper than buying a litter box and they are longer and a little wider. They come in 2 sizes. the larger one has a bit higher sides than the smaller one. The edges and rounded instead of square like in a litter box which made it much easier to scoop. The small one is 20 in W x 26 in L x 4-1/2 in H and is about $6. the larger one is 37.6 in L x 22.8 in W and is 7.7 in H and is about $13. When I wash them out, I like to leave them outside to air dry, so I have 2 extra that are always clean and ready to use.

  13. I use a fairly new brand of litter called Eko something. Its like small soft wood. I was trying to find something that was not a health hazard for my cat. I wanted to avoid toxins & litter that could enter the digestive tract & cause problems(which is why I quit using clay clumping litter). I keep a litter trap container next to the box. This works great & I change it out weekly. I too do an open air box. I go for a big shallow one. My cats have always liked this. I scoop every night. I also had my father make a very cool liter box hider. Just using mdf & hinges. He painted a silhouette of a cat on it. It hides the box & looks stylish in my bathroom. Its an easy screen that I can move around for cleaning.

  14. I recently read about using chicken crumbles (chicken feed) as litter. Since we have chickens, and chicken crumble, I thought it was worth a try. I’m sold on it! My husband can’t stand the awful (to him) smell of the perfumed litters, which gets worse when its ‘used’. So, the chicken crumbles: no smell, either from the crumbles or from the kitty droppings, the poo dries out quickly, and is easy to scoop, the pee goes down to the bottom of the box and there is no smell until I get ready to clean it out and disturb the top layer. It lasts much longer than regular litter, and costs less than half of what we were paying. It does come in 50 lb bags so the storage is a little different. I have started using the old litter buckets and store the crumbles in them. Convenient, no accidental spills. So this is my favorite and some of you might like to try it also.

  15. I used a roll-away litter box. It’s kind of a dome with a shifter and then a drawer you pull out with the waste inside. Essentially you roll the litter box towards you until it’s completely upside down the waste falls into the top then when you roll it back it drops into the slide out drawer.

    I put that right into a litter locker 2 so cleaning the litter takes 30 seconds. Once as we leave for work in the morning and once as we put the cats to bed (we kennel our cats at night- more restful nights all around more active cats while we’re home). We do put in baking soda though it’s not necessary. We have 2 roll away boxes and two litter locker 2’s for the couple weeks we had to set up our cat in the second bedroom of our apartment. I

    have no outdoor hose so everything is unfortunately soaked and bleached in the tub once every couple months (8 weeks usually). But we have small cats (3.4 & 4.3 kg). I got my Roll Away at Canadian Tire but I know they have them at Costco as well.


    • Mary, do you have any friends or family members that live close by? My best advice to you would be to ask for some help from your loved ones. If you have grandchildren or younger neighbors, ask if maybe they will help you with your kitties for maybe a small allowance. I want to say this next bit to you in the kindest and most respectful, but also direct way; if you no longer able to properly care for your cats, and you do not get someone to help you care for your cats, you may want to consider finding them homes where the owners are able to give them the care the deserve. Now, I’m definitely not saying you are unable to care for your cats! But if you ever find that you cannot, please do the right thing!
      Having said that, have you tried the “lightweight” litter? I buy the Fredh Step LightWeight for my cat, and though it is by no means “light”, it is still half the weight of regular litter. You could also try the disposable littler boxes described in the article with maybe the lighter, more “paper” based litter?
      Anyhow, I wish you all the best, and I hope you can find someone to help you out!

  17. It’s very interesting reading as you have many products that we don’t have in Australia. Also, the costs of the different types of litter over here is not the same. The most expensive are the crystals, although there are a few types and price varies according to brand – they all work the same, next are the newspaper pellets and then a number of clay-based products. I actually use the Woolworths brand of the clay-based as I have found it to be the most cost-efficient and best to use: the Coles brand produces a lot of dust. I have 3 cats and I scoop every night and completely clean/replace the the litter each morning. I rotate 2 trays, hose out and scrub the dirty one and let it dry naturally before swapping it for the other. I put approximately 3-4cm of litter in the tray. I don’t use any type of disinfectant as my furbabies don’t like the smell. The only time their litter smells is when one of them is actually going, and sometimes the next few minutes. I think I’ll try the baking soda ideas: some sprinkled in the tray and an open box beside the tray, to see how it works. Thanks for all your ideas!

  18. We have two cats. One bold and pushy, the other our scaredy cat, quite timid. We use a covered box with clumping litter. I keep the scoop at the box and scoop daily into a cheap ziplock and then the garbage. Our box lasts quite a while, when the litter gets low I simply empty, clean and refill. We love our data and the box is no problem at all !!
    Thank you for sharing….

    • the problem i’ve read about enclosed litter boxes is that it traps all the dust inside with the cat and can give them breathing problems.


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