It’s a dirty job for sure; one that’s often passed around the family with a “not me” kind of response. But along with significantly cutting down on cat smells in your house, effectively cleaning a litter box will please your furry friend.
“Cats really love a clean litter box,” notes Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, staff doctor at New York City’s Animal Medical Center. And if you keep this special area pristine, it’ll cut down on the chance that your feline friend will take his business elsewhere.
Bring harmony—as well as fresher air—into your home with these smart tips for cleaning a litter box and changing cat litter:
As important as it is to keep your cat happy with a clean place to poop and pee, protecting your family from toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by parasites sometimes found in feline waste, is even more critical. Most people affected by this condition won’t appear to have symptoms, but if you’re pregnant or have a compromised immune system, toxoplasmosis can be serious. “Cat feces has to sit in the box for a few days before it becomes infectious to people, so cleaning it regularly is your best defense,” explains Dr. Hohenhaus.
Up the Frequency
Admit it, cleaning a litter box isn’t something you rush to do when you get home from work. And you probably don’t do it as often as you should. Dr. Hohenhaus scoops hers twice a day, but recommends that cat owners clean theirs once a day at a minimum. And if your cat shows signs of any gastrointestinal distress (diarrhea), you’ll need to tackle this task more frequently. “Always use a litter scoop—never your hands!—when you touch the box, and then wash well when you’re finished,” she urges. And when it’s time to change the litter out for a brand-new batch, note the type you’re using. “Traditional clay litter needs switching once a week because it can become soaked through, but the kind that clumps can go longer, as it just requires that you pour more in when it gets low,” she explains. For a clean scent when you’re done, sprinkle on some Tidy Cats Litter Box Deodorizer.
Prep the Area
Remove your cat’s litter box from the bathroom or laundry area when you’re ready to clean it. Good spots for this less-than-pleasant chore include the backyard grass, on the work bench in your garage, or outside on the patio. Before you begin, lay down newspaper or some plastic sheeting to catch stray litter, and then gather your supplies. You might include Arm & Hammer Multi-Cat Litter Deodorizer, which can be sprayed right on the litter to combat cat smell. Or you could consider the Fresh Step Deluxe Cleanup Kit—it has all you need (scooper, dust pan, broom) to make cleaning a litter box easy.
Good Ol’ Soap and Water
Dr. Hohenhaus is a fan of the basics when it comes to changing cat litter. “Hot, soapy water is all you need,” she says. A pair of gloves is also a good idea. And while litter box odor control is the goal here, don’t use soap that has an overly strong scent, she cautions. “If the cleanser you use has perfume, it could turn off your cat and force him to poop in a different spot,” she warns. You should also avoid common commercial cleaners. “These products contain vapors that can be toxic to your cat,” says Dr. Hohenhaus. Dump out the dirty litter and then give the box a good scrubbing with the hot water and soap solution. Allow it air dry or use a couple of clean paper towels to remove the water.
Refill the Box
Once the cat litter box is clean, be sure to replace the litter at the proper depth. “This is important for cats—they prefer deep litter so they can bury their waste,” says Dr. Hohenhaus. And while this may be hard to witness, be ready for your cat to jump right into the now-clean box the minute you’ve tidied it up (they love a clean place to go!). If you’re in the market for a new cat box, try the Petmate Large Hooded Litter Pan Set with Microban. It features a sturdy ribbed bottom and a lid that locks in place, and it’s made to withstand cat box smells.
Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City writer/editor and the mom of two teenage girls. She’s also the devoted owner of a rescue pup named Django, a temperamental Shepherd mix. Geddes has worked for Food & Wine, Parenting, Seventeen and Airbnb magazines and creates content for dozens of sites, including Care, Fisher-Price, the National Sleep Foundation and Realtor.