The Basics of Cat Litter Box Maintenance

The importance of keeping a clean litter box can’t be understated.

By: wolfsavard
What’s your cleaning schedule? A good guideline is to scoop daily and clean weekly. By: wolfsavard

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but soiled cat litter has a potent smell!

When I was growing up, it was my brother’s chore to take care of the litter box — so naturally, it always reeked.

I have become keenly aware of litter box odors and have learned a thing or two over the years about taking care of these things before they get out of hand.

In this article, I’ll provide some quick tips that might be especially helpful for someone who is getting a new cat.

Have a Scooping Schedule

First things first: You should be scooping daily, and cleaning and disposing all old litter weekly.

That seems like a basic task — and it is, really — but even Petful editor Dave Baker admits he had trouble sticking to this schedule at first.

The importance of keeping a clean litter box can’t be understated. Not only is it important for your pet’s health, but also people can contract toxoplasmosis from cat feces.

Humans contract toxoplasmosis from contaminated meats, utensils that have come into contact with contaminated meats, and from cat feces. In many cases cats display few to no symptoms, so you would not be able to tell he was infected until you started feeling like you had contracted the flu. Plus…it smells bad. Really bad.

Fumes are intensified in a covered litter box. By: Andrew Currie
Fumes are intensified in a covered litter box. By: Andrew Currie

Buy the Right Supplies for the Job

First, you need some equipment:

  • A pair of gloves
  • A dedicated sponge
  • Warm water
  • A mild dish detergent

Don’t skip the gloves part. When people get toxoplasmosis, it’s not usually from eating the feces; it’s from bare-hand contact with the feces and then not using proper hand-washing procedures. Plus, let’s be real here — it’s poo we’re dealing with. Right, gloves on.

Use a mild dish soap because harsher chemicals are bad for your cat. All those warnings on the labels of bleach and ammonia sprays apply to cats as well.

Bleach and ammonia are hard to air out and can get into porous materials. Many litter boxes have a cover, which would only make fumes worse for your cat.

A dedicated sponge simply means one sponge that is dedicated to cleaning out your litter box. Sponges are cheap, so I usually just throw mine out once I’ve used it on the litter box.

Washing, Drying and Disposal

It’s best to bring your litter box right outside for washing. You don’t want to be washing it in the tub or the kitchen sink and risk bacteria getting into food prep areas.

  1. Use warm water, your dedicated sponge and the dish soap to scrub the inside of the box well.
  2. Rinse the box thoroughly and either towel dry or allow it to dry in the sun.

Towels should be laundered between each use. This actually goes for the sponge as well if you plan to re-use it — no matter how much you wring it out, it’s not really clean.

What to do with the old litter? Because of the odor, it is not a good idea to toss it into the household trash. I recommend getting a barrel for it and putting it outside right away.

Always use fresh, clean litter once you’ve cleaned the box. You can either use a liner or put the new litter straight into the box. Then sit back and enjoy the lack of stink!

Well…until your cat discovers his litter box is fresh and clean. Then he will feel obliged to hop in and make it uniquely his own again.

Melissa Smith

View posts by Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith, discussions manager for Petful, has been researching and writing about pet behaviors for several years. A longtime pet lover, she lives in Massachusetts with her teenage son, their cat Harrison and the spirit of their German shepherd named Gypsy. Melissa is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multimedia design and hopes to adopt as many needy animals as she can.

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