How To Clean a Cat Litter Box Without Holding Your Nose

regular changing of cat litter

In this article I will show you how to clean a cat litter box without having to hold your nose. Make out a list of hated jobs or tasks that need to be done around the home.

That list will probably include taking out the garbage, ironing, mowing the garden and without doubt cleaning out the cat litter box. It is just one of those horrible jobs that no-one likes or wants to do.

The reality is that for the health of your cat or cats, for your own health and that of anyone living in the home, it is a very important and essential task. This article is all about making this job as painless and easy as possible.

There are two types of cleaning:

  1. Daily cleaning
  2. Complete changing out of the cat litter

I shall explain both of these just below.

Now I just want to point out that if you own a self cleaning litter box, then only the second part of this article will be applicable. That is because, if you own the right type of automated self-cleaning litter box, daily cleaning is taken care of by itself.

If you own a self-flushing litter box, then there is almost no cleaning required at all.

Dealing with the Litter Box Cleaning Basics

However the reality is that most cat owners will own one of these types of litter boxes:

  • Pan/tray litter
  • Covered/enclosed/hooded style
  • Dome shaped litter box
  • Corner litter box

Daily Litter Cleaning

The types shown just above will need to be regularly cleaned. Let’s deal with the basics first. Cleaning a litter once every couple of days, once a week, every 2 weeks,  or once a month is a waste of your time, and maybe the reason you hate doing it in the first place.

That is because the litter will get very smelly even after a couple of days.

If you remove poop and clumps, and stir the litter twice a day, you will have no odors and cleaning the litter box is fast, easy and effective.

regular changing of cat litterTo daily clean like this takes about 30 seconds to a minute, twice a day. Cat experts highly recommend cleaning the litter twice a day rather than once a day. That is all to do with timing.

If you leave cat urine or cat feces for any longer than 8 hours, it truly smells very bad. Any longer than that and it can very quickly become unbearable. It is also a hygiene risk for anyone in the home, including other pets and children if cat poop is left sitting in a litter.

Simple daily cleaning can also resolve any major cleaning issues. Any cat owner who gets into the bad habit of only cleaning every couple of days will find that the task can be particularly bad for odors.

The build up of ammonia from the cat urine, along with any older feces can quickly create a stink. That alone can put some cat owners off wanting to do that task at all. However, they will notice a huge difference in the strength of that smell if they do it more often.

The odor is nowhere near as bad, and actually makes cleaning  a great deal easier. Poop and clumps should be removed and placed into some form of waste bag, normally a plastic bag, and should be sealed.

Many cat owners use a pedal bin as the lid can also help a lot with the control of smells. You can, when you get time read my article, on how to safely dispose of cat litter.

So that is the first and probably the most important thing you can do, to help keep odors under control.

How Often Should You Completely Change Out the Litter?

There are a few variables to that question, and it really does depend on the type of litter box and also on the type of litter.

It also very much depends if you remove poop and clumps on a daily basis. If you do the twice a day habit, your litter will last longer and stay fresher for longer.

I have written a full and very detailed article on how often litter should be changed, and you can click here to read that. However if your pushed for time, then I have summarised this briefly below.

  • Non Clumping litters – change every 2 weeks
  • Clumping – every 2-3 weeks
  • Biodegradable – every 4 weeks
  • Silica Gel – every 4-6 weeks

The above information is a very good general guideline, but even within these, it assumes that the litter has poop and clumps removed at least once a day. The type of litter is a big deciding factor in how often you have to change it out completely.

The silica gel crystal types are great for odor control and they do last for a longer time than most other litters. That said, they are more expensive initially to buy. However if you work the costs out over a year, they work out at roughly the same price as most other types of litter.

How To Clean the Litter Box

When you are doing a full change of the litter, it is the perfect time to also clean the litter box. This will depend on the type of litter box that you have. I have listed the most common just below:

  • Litter Pan/Tray Style
  • Covered/Hooded/Enclosed Style
  • Self-Cleaning
  • Automatic Self Cleaning
  • Litter Furniture
  • Self flushing

Before I look at the individual cleaning of boxes, I have included some general rules for cleaning litter boxes.

General Rules for Cleaning Litter Boxes


No lady who is pregnant or considering a pregnancy should ever handle cat litter. This can be highly dangerous as a woman’s immune system when pregnant is greatly reduced. Cat poop can be particularly dangerous.

According to the Centers Disease of Control and Prevention, pregnant women should avoid adopting a new cat, a kitten or a stray cat, and should avoid changing cat litter. Here is a quote from their website:

Cats play an important role in the spread of toxoplasmosis. They become infected by eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals. The parasite is then passed in the cat’s feces.

Some cat poop may contain Toxoplasmosis and that can be fatal to the fetus.

pregnancy and cat litterIf no one else can perform the task, pregnant women should wear disposable gloves and wash their hands with soap and warm water afterwards. It is also highly recommended that they also wear a mask.

If there is a pregnancy in the home then cat litter should be changed daily, especially if your cat roams outside.

That is because the parasite from toxoplasmosis does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat’s feces.

Fleas & Cat Litter

It is also worth noting that fleas can live and breed in cat litter. I have done a full article about this which you can read by clicking here. My point here is that if for any reason your cat has contacted fleas, it is highly likely they are also in the litter.

That is another reason why I recommend the information below, and this will help protect you, your family and your cat.

Wearing Gloves

It is highly recommended that anyone washing or cleaning out  a cat litter box should always wear gloves. That is a sensible thing to do as you don’t want your hands coming into contact with cat waste.

Many experts also highly recommend the wearing of a mask as well. That is important when you are tipping cat litter into a box, or when you are disposing of it into a plastic bag. Breathing in dust is never a good idea, and many litters do contain a range of chemicals.

You can read this article on the health risk to humans of cat litter, if you would like more detail.

Safe Disposal of Litter

cat litter disposal systemMost litter can not be recycled or composted. It sadly has to go into the main waste and will end up in a land fill somewhere. The best way is to place used litter into a plastic bag, and then tie it to try and keep the odors down.

I have done a full article here on the safe disposal of litter, which is worth a read when you have some time.

It is important to say though, that most cat litter can not be flushed nor can it be composted.

Cleaning a Litter Pan or Tray

This is probably the easiest to clean. Once you have emptied the litter and safely disposed of that, it is simply a matter of washing out the actual tray. I always find that it is better to do this outside the house if possible.

I normally rinse the box with a hose to remove any stubborn litter, and ideally close to a drain so as the old litter can get washed away. Then I wash the tray with hot water and a mild detergent. There is a strong inclination here to use a disinfectant, but don’t do that, as the scent may put some cats off using the litter box.

Always allow the box to fully dry before replacing the litter, otherwise it will stick to the sides.

Cleaning a Covered Enclosed or Hooded Litter Box

It is the same process as above, though you will also have to clean the hood. Usually these come apart so each part can be washed separately. The only other thing I would add here is to make sure that you do the rims and edges.

Quite often litter can get stuck in there, and you want to make sure that has been removed and properly cleaned.

Cleaning Manual Self Cleaning Litter Box

Again the same general rules of cleaning apply. As you will know the majority of manual self cleaning boxes are cleaned daily by rolling them from side to side. Some others are cleaned by rolling them front to back, and others are cleaned by moving a lever up and down.

Those actions then sift the litter through a tray of some kind, and into a disposal tray or compartment. There are more parts with these types of boxes, and so more parts to clean, when you are doing a full replacement of the litter.

Cleaning Automatic Self Cleaning Litter Boxes

Now the name would suggest that you never have to clean these at all. They certainly can help a lot with daily cleaning. Most of these use a tray with litter, which is then replaced. So again mainly hands off when it comes to the main replacement of litter.

However the box itself will need to be cleaned, and the same rules apply. Wash with hot water and a mild detergent for the best results.

Cleaning Cat Litter Furniture

There are quite a few choices when it comes to cat litter furniture, so hard for me to cover off how to clean each individual piece of furniture. However almost all of them are simply  apiece of furniture with a litter box inside.

Depending on the litter box being used, then the same basic rules will apply. In terms of cleaning the furniture element you should follow the instructions in the manufacturer’s leaflet.

Many of these are made from real wood, dome from particle wood and others from various forms of plastic.

As such different cleaning methods from the manufacturers will be included.

Safe Disposal of Litter

So now that I have explained how to clean a cat litter, it is worthwhile just finishing this off with the safe disposal of litter. Generally speaking litter should never be flushed down a toilet. There are a lot of very good reasons for that.

Again generally speaking litter should never be disposed off into the garden. The litter type itself is not actually the problem. However, when litter has been in contact with cat feces or cat urine, then this is not suitable for the garden.

All cat litter should be disposed off in the normal waste disposal to be taken to a land fill. That is a sad reality of almost every type of cat litter. It is far from the ideal situation, but the fact that it has been contaminated with cat waste, means that this is really the only solution.

You can read my full article here on how to safely dispose of cat litter, as that does go into a much more detailed explanation.


Steve is a content creator with an unhealthy cat obsession. He enjoys reading non-fiction books, entreprenuership and cuddles with his cat Fij.

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