Control Cat Litter Box Odor

Cat with blue

Litter box odor can be the toughest part of living with a cat. Even if it doesn’t bother you, having friends over who “smell cat” is embarrassing. On the other hand, having friends over who remark about seeing, but not smelling, your cat feels great.

Here are some simple steps you can take to fight the stink and keep you and your cat happy:

1. Scoop the box daily or more. 
Old urine and feces might not be as pungent to you as the fresh stuff, but the longer it sits there, the more likely it is the smell will invade the rest of your house. Scoop your litter box early and often to cut down the odor.’

2. Replace the litter twice a week. 
Even if you scoop every time your cat uses the litter box, you’re bound to miss some. And even a tiny bit gets stinky over time. To combat this, regularly dump out the litter, wash the box with soap and warm water (not ammonia-based cleaners — ammonia can make the smell worse), dry it and put fresh litter in.

3. Replace the litter box once a year. 
Over time, your cat’s claws and your scooper can make small grooves in the bottom and sides of your litter box. These grooves are harder to sterilize and can hold onto odor. Avoid this by donating your used litter box to a shelter or rescue group yearly and treating your cat to a new box.

4. Try litter deodorizers. 
Using a little baking soda or deodorizer in your litter box can go a long way to a fresher house. However, many cats will stop using heavily-scented litter boxes, so make sure to use a deodorizer that both you and your cat will like (or one that’s unscented). Sprinkle a little bit of the deodorizer over the litter every time you scoop the litter box.

5. Find a brand of litter that smells best to you (and your cat). 
Try using a different litter in each litter box in your home and seeing (a) which litter your cat prefers and (b) which litter controls the odor the best. You might just find that you and your cat have a litter preference in common.

6. Keep the litter box in a well-ventilated area. 
One of the biggest mistakes cat parents can make is putting the litter box in a tiny, dark and hidden space. This just allows the odor to concentrate. Plus, if it’s unpleasant for your cat to use, he’ll be more likely to find somewhere else to go — perhaps in the center of your bed. Keep your litter box in a well-ventilated spot where the scent can easily disperse and there’s enough light and room for your cat to get in, move around and come out comfortably.

Why my house doesn’t smell like cats

Whenever friends learn that I live in a tiny studio apartment, they always ask how I can stand living with a cat, “Doesn’t he make it, well, stink?” I always explain that unless we’ve been gone an unusually long period of time, we don’t notice a litter box smell in our apartment. If we do, it’s a sign that we need to scoop, pronto!

Even if your cat is small, you need to take proper care of the litter box.
I might be lazy about putting away my own laundry or personal clutter, but I’m never lazy about Toby’s litter box!

I used to be. When I first became Toby’s cat mom, I knew very little about cats and how to care for their litter boxes. I hadn’t grown up with one, but my roommate had so I followed her example. My roommate kept her cat’s covered litter box in a closed closet with a cat door. I thought the smell was inevitable. However, I soon got sick of the stink and developed a new routine.

Now, Toby’s litter is scooped at least twice a day. Dr. Stephanie Janeczko recommends at least once or twice a day in her article Cleaning the Litter Box: How Often Is Best. Given Toby’s size and our apartment’s lack of ventilation, twice a day as a minimum works better for us. Here are a few other things we do to control the scent:

  • We air out Toby’s box. Because we couldn’t find a box with high enough sides to contain some of Toby’s less-endearing habits, our behaviorist suggested a covered box. I always take the lid completely off Toby’s box for a few minutes every day to ensure it airs out. I have a friend who opens her human bathroom window for a little bit every day, even the dead of winter, on the same principle.
  • We wash the scooper. I know, it sounds like common sense, but I had a friend who only washed his scooper once a week. I cringed at the thought of the buildup on that scoop! We rinse ours after every use to make sure nothing is left to fester.
  • We also wash the litter box. About once a week we dump the litter and completely wash the litter box before drying it and refilling with clean, fresh litter.
  • We sprinkle. A box of baking soda sits with our bag of litter so that every time we scoop, we sprinkle. It’s the same idea behind sprinkling baking soda on carpets or keeping a bowl in your fridge. My grandma really was right that it absorbs almost any odor.

I’ll admit, whenever friends are stopping by, we make an extra trip to check the litter box so it’s as fresh as possible. This wouldn’t help if we didn’t regularly clean Toby’s litter box the rest of the time. However, we credit it with why no one has ever asked about the scent of Toby after visiting — they know there’s no stink.