Clumping Litter vs Non-Clumping: What’s The Difference?

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by Steven Thomas

In this article, I’m comparing the differences between clumping vs non-clumping litter.

Like many products, both have their advantages and disadvantages.

This article will look at the key differences and hopefully help you decide which one is best for you.

Let’s get started.

Top Pick for Clumping Litter
Dr. Elsey’s Premium Clumping Cat Litter - Ultra - 99.9% Dust-Free, Low Tracking, Hard Clumping, Superior Odor Control, Unscented & Natural Ingredients
Top Pick for Non-Clumping Litter
Purina Tidy Cats Non Clumping Cat Litter, Instant Action Low Tracking Cat Litter - (4) 10 lb. Bags
Hard Clumping
Material: Clay
Material: Clay
Size: 40 Lb bag
Size: 40 Lb bag
Top Pick for Clumping Litter
Dr. Elsey’s Premium Clumping Cat Litter - Ultra - 99.9% Dust-Free, Low Tracking, Hard Clumping, Superior Odor Control, Unscented & Natural Ingredients
Hard Clumping
Material: Clay
Size: 40 Lb bag
Top Pick for Non-Clumping Litter
Purina Tidy Cats Non Clumping Cat Litter, Instant Action Low Tracking Cat Litter - (4) 10 lb. Bags
Material: Clay
Size: 40 Lb bag

Clumping vs Non-Clumping Litter: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between clumping and non-clumping litter is the way they react to cat urine.

Clumping cat litter hardens and forms scoopable clumps when it comes into contact with moisture. This allows you to scoop out and dispose of urine, leaving behind clean litter.

Non-clumping cat litter, on the other hand, does not form clumps when it gets wet. Instead, it absorbs the moisture throughout the litter box. This means scooping is only necessary for poop each time the go.

With clumping litter, maintenance is easier and more efficient, but non-clumping litter is often less dusty and safer for kittens.

Other differences are how often to clean the litter box. With clumping litter, you can keep scooping for up to 6 weeks, without needing to do a complete litter box clean.

But, non-clumping litter, the box needs to be completely changed and cleaned weekly.

Lastly, the other difference is how much cat litter costs depending on the type, as non-clumping is usually cheaper.

Here’s a quick glance at the main differences between clumping and non-clumping cat litter.

FeatureClumping Cat LitterNon-Clumping Cat Litter
AbsorptionHighly absorbent and forms clumps when wet.Absorbs liquid but does not form clumps.
Odor ControlExcellent odor control due to the clumping action.Decent odor control, but not as good as clumping.
Ease of CleaningEasy to scoop out the clumps, leaving clean litter.Entire litter box often needs to be emptied and cleaned.
Dust LevelsCan be dusty depending on the brand.Typically less dusty than clumping litter.
SafetySome concerns about ingestion or inhalation, especially with kittens.Generally considered safer as there’s less risk of ingestion or inhalation.
DurationTends to last longer as only soiled clumps are removed.Needs to be replaced more frequently due to inability to remove only soiled parts.
CostMay be more expensive initially, but can last longer.Usually cheaper but may require more frequent replacement.
MaterialMost often made from bentonite clay.Can be made from a variety of materials including clay, recycled paper, wood, etc.
TrackingMay track more due to smaller particles.Usually tracks less due to larger particles.

Clumping Litter: What Is It, How Does it Work, and What Are the Benefits?

What is clumping litter?

ARM & HAMMER Hardball Lightweight Platinum Multi-Cat Easy, No-Mess Scooping, Clumping Cat Litter, 8.5LB Bag, Garden Bloom Scent

Clumping cat litter is litter that forms it into clumps. This achieves three things:

  • Urine is absorbed and forms clumps which can be scooped out and removed easily
  • Clumping also helps dry out cat poop that makes it easier to remove
  • As clumps absorb urine and dry out cat poop, it helps control odors in the home

These reasons alone make clumping cat litter a popular choice when it comes to the different types of litter available.

Because it’s so good at soaking up any type of moisture, some garage owners even use clumping litter for water and oil spills.

Clumping litter can save you money because you only need to remove the clumps and the remainder of the litter can still be used, creating less waste.

When you remove clumps, the litter box can be topped up after a few days. This is much easier to do than replacing the entire litter in the box or pan.

As long as you remove clumps everyday, the litter will stay fresh for longer and you won’t have to clean the litter box as much. This can be around 3-4 weeks depending on how many cats are using it.

Because clumping litter forms hardened clumps, it’s easy to scoop out and will save you time when doing a full clean.

How does clumping litter work?

Clumping cat litter is typically made from a type of clay called sodium bentonite. Sodium bentonite has the unique property of being able to absorb many times its weight in liquid, which makes it perfect for clumping litter.

Similarly, when your cat does a poop, the moisture from it causes the surrounding litter to clump around it.

There are other types of clumping litters that use different ingredients to form the clumping action.

Whichever type you use, it enables you to scoop out the clumps 1-2 times per day, leaving the rest of the litter box clean and free from odors.

However, after a while, you’ll need to do a full clean of the litter box. This is because the litter will become contaminated over time, so it needs to be replaced and the box cleaned thouroughly.

Types of clumping litter and ingredients

There are several types of clumping cat litters available, made from different materials.

Here are some of the common types and their main ingredients:

  1. Clay Clumping Litter: The most common type of clumping litter is made from a natural clay called sodium bentonite, which is highly absorbent and forms hard clumps when it comes into contact with moisture.
  2. Silica Gel Clumping Litter: Silica gel-based clumping litters use tiny silica gel beads that absorb urine and help control odor. They clump less solidly than bentonite clay litters but are lighter and produce less dust.
  3. Biodegradable Clumping Litter: There are several types of eco-friendly, biodegradable clumping litters available that are made from materials like:
    • Corn: Made from whole kernel corn, this type of litter clumps when exposed to moisture and is also flushable and biodegradable.
    • Wheat: Wheat litter uses the natural enzymes in wheat to help control odors and the starch in the grain to form clumps.
    • Walnut Shells: Made from crushed walnut shells, these litters are dark in color, which can help mask waste, and they are biodegradable.
    • Wood (like pine, cedar, etc.): Some wood-based litters will clump, thanks to the natural absorbency of the wood fibers.
  4. Grass Seed Clumping Litter: This type of litter is made from grass seeds, which are naturally absorbent and lightweight.

Pros and cons of clumping litter

  • Ease of Cleaning: The main advantage of clumping cat litter is that it makes cleaning the litter box easier. The clumps that form when your cat urinates or defecates can be easily scooped out, leaving the remaining litter clean and fresh.
  • Odor Control: Clumping litters are often better at controlling odors than non-clumping varieties because they encapsulate and seal off the waste, which helps to prevent the spread of unpleasant smells.
  • Efficiency: Clumping litter can be more cost-efficient in the long run. Since you’re only scooping out the clumps and not the entire box, a bag of clumping litter generally lasts longer than non-clumping litter.
  • Comfort for Cats: Many cats prefer clumping litter because it’s usually softer on their paws.
  • Potential Health Risks: The main concern with clumping litter is that it can pose a health risk if ingested or inhaled by cats, especially kittens. Some cats, particularly young ones, may be tempted to eat the litter, which can cause digestive problems due to the clumping action.
  • Dust: Clumping litters, particularly those made from clay, can create dust that may be problematic for cats or humans with respiratory issues.
  • Environmental Impact: Many clumping litters, especially those made from sodium bentonite clay, are not biodegradable and are strip-mined, which can be harmful to the environment.
  • Tracking: Clumping litters can sometimes be more prone to tracking (sticking to the cat’s paws and being spread outside the litter box) due to the smaller particle size.
  • Cost: Upfront, clumping cat litter can be more expensive than non-clumping litter, though it might be more cost-effective over time as you don’t have to replace the whole litter box contents as frequently.

Non-Clumping Litter: What Is It, How Does it Work, and What Are the Benefits?

What is non-clumping litter?

Purina Tidy Cats Non Clumping Cat Litter, Instant Action Low Tracking Cat Litter - 30 lb. Bag

Non-clumping cat litter does not form any type of clumps. It is the original type of cat litter and has been around for many years.

Because no clumps are formed, cat poop will simply sit as it was left, on top of the litter or covered up by your cat.

It won’t dry out cat poop or compact urine into clumps. For this reason, it doesn’t control odors as well as clumping litter.

The main difference is that it doesn’t form clumps, which means that the only time you change this litter is when you it becomes saturated with urine.

At this point the cat litter pan will need to be emptied, cleaned, dried and then re-filled with new litter.

Cat experts recommend that non-clumping cat litter should be changed once per week.

By changing it once a week, it will help to control odors in the home.

How does non-clumping litter work?

Non-clumping cat litter is typically made from a material called Fuller’s Earth, a type of clay that is highly absorbent. Despite not having the clumping property of sodium bentonite, it can still effectively absorb liquid, making it a suitable choice for non-clumping litter.

When your cat poops, the litter absorbs some of the moisture, but it does not clump around the waste as clumping litters do.

There are other types of non-clumping litters made from different materials that also excel in moisture absorption.

Regardless of the type you use, you’ll need to stir the litter regularly to distribute the moisture and prevent saturation. The entire box of litter will need to be replaced more frequently than with clumping litters, as the soiled litter cannot be easily removed, leaving the rest of the box clean.

Over time, despite these regular stirrings, the litter will become fully saturated and smelly, needing a full clean of the litter box. This involves completely replacing the litter and cleaning the box thoroughly to maintain a hygienic environment for your cat.

Types of non-clumping litter and ingredients

Non-clumping cat litter comes in various types, each with distinct ingredients or materials. Here are some common types:

  1. Clay Litter: This is the most common type of non-clumping litter. The primary ingredient is usually Fuller’s earth, a type of clay known for its oil-absorbing properties. Other types of clay, like sepiolite or attapulgite, might also be used.
  2. Silica Gel Litter: Also known as crystal litter, this type of litter is made from silica dioxide sand, oxygen, and water. The resulting beads or crystals are highly absorbent and effective at controlling odor.
  3. Recycled Paper Litter: This type of litter is made from recycled paper that’s been processed into pellets or granules. The paper is typically treated to enhance its odor-controlling properties.
  4. Wood Litter: Wood litter can be made from a variety of woods, including pine, cedar, and other softwoods. These litters can be in pellet, granule, or sawdust form, and the natural properties of the wood help control odor.
  5. Corn Litter: This type of litter is made from ground corn cobs. It’s biodegradable and absorbent, and the natural scent of corn can help control odors.
  6. Wheat Litter: Made from ground wheat, this type of litter can absorb liquid and control odors. It’s also biodegradable.
  7. Walnut Shell Litter: This type of litter is made from crushed walnut shells. It’s highly absorbent, effective at controlling odor, and biodegradable.
  8. Grass Seed Litter: Made from grass seeds, this type of litter is highly absorbent, controls odors effectively, and is also biodegradable.

Pros and cons of non-clumping litter

  • Less Dust: Non-clumping litters often produce less dust than clumping varieties, which can be beneficial for cats and humans with respiratory issues.
  • Lower Initial Cost: Non-clumping litter is usually cheaper to purchase initially than clumping litter.
  • Safer for Kittens: Non-clumping litter is generally safer for kittens, who may be tempted to eat the litter. Non-clumping litter won’t expand and clump inside a kitten’s digestive system the way clumping litter can.
  • Less Tracking: Non-clumping litters often have larger particles, which means they’re less likely to stick to your cat’s paws and be tracked around the house.
  • More Frequent Replacement: Because non-clumping litter doesn’t allow you to remove only the soiled portions, you’ll generally need to replace the entire box of litter more frequently.
  • Odor Control: Non-clumping litters don’t control odors as effectively as clumping varieties. Because the litter doesn’t clump around waste, smells can linger and spread.
  • Harder to Clean: Non-clumping litters don’t make waste as easy to remove as clumping litters do. You’ll need to stir the litter to distribute moisture and prevent pooling, and you may find that waste sticks to the bottom of the litter box.
  • Less Comfortable: Some cats may not like the larger particles found in many non-clumping litters.

Conclusion: Clumping vs Non-Clumping Litter

There you have it. Those were the main differences between clumping litter and non-clumping litter.

Both types have their pros and cons, but clumping litter tends to be a favored option, as it is easier to maintain.

If you’re looking for a good clumping litter, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra is an excellent choice. Or if you prefer to use a non-clumping litter, then give Purina Tidy Cats a try.

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Steven Thomas
Steven has been studying cat behavior ever since adopting two stray kittens in 1996. After rescuing many homeless cats over the years, he developed the skill of finding new homes for cat lovers seeking to adopt. About Steven

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