Clumping vs Non-Clumping Cat Litters – What’s The Difference?
Like many products both types of litters have their advantages and their disadvantages.
I take a much closer look at the key differences and hopefully that will help you make up your mind which type of litter you prefer to use.
From the outset it is worth knowing that the terms “clumping” and “non-clumping” refer primarily to what are called clay based litters. Those types of cat litter are by far the most popular and account for around 95% of all the cat litter sold in the world today.
The terminology of clumping primarily refers to a type of clay litter that forms into clumps when it comes into contact with moisture, such as cat urine.
Most non-clumping litters are also a clay based litter, however they do not form any type of clumps when it comes into contact with moisture. This non-clumping type of litter does absorb moisture (cat urine), but it does not form clumps or lumps.
It is also worth mentioning that some silica gel litters and natural/biodegradable litters are also clumping litters. Some are not, so be aware of that if those are the types of litter that you use, or are considering using. I explain this later in the article.
Different Types of Cat Litter
Before I get into the full explanation it is good to have some background knowledge. There are a few different types of cat litter available on the market and these include:
- Clumping clay based litters
- Non-clumping clay litters
- Silica gel (crystal litters)
- Various types of natural or biodegradable litter.
As previously mentioned clay based litters are the most popular by a very long way. They account for around 90-95% of all cat litter types sold on the market today.
Some cat owners are moving to the crystal type, and those who also want to help look after the environment are opting to use what are termed natural or biodegradable litters.
Clay litters break down into two main types which are clumping and non-clumping. In this article I am going to take a look at the main differences between these two types of clay based cat litter. Later in the article I will also explain these for the silica crystal and natural litters.
What Does Clumping Mean With Reference to a Cat Litter?
In the home cat litter, placed inside a cat litter box or tray is used to provide your cat with a toilet. This of course stops a cat from urinating or pooping around the home. If the homeowner uses a clumping style of cat litter, it achieves three main things:
- Urine is absorbed by the clumping clay, and the clay forms into lumps which can then be scooped out and removed easily
- Clumping clay also helps dry out cat poop and that also makes that easier to remove
- As the clumps absorb urine, dry out poop, they become easier to remove and that does help control odors in the home
You can probably determine from these facts that clumping cat litter is by quite a distance the biggest selling type of cat litter on the market. That is because this type of litter is very good at soaking up any type of moisture, and some garage owners even use it for water and oil spills, for that very reason.
It also has the advantage of saving you money. As you only need to remove the clumps, the remainder of the litter can still be used, so there is little waste. When you remove any clumps, it will need topped up, but that is easier to do than replacing the entire litter in the box or pan.
The fact that the litter forms hardened lumps makes it easy to scoop, and as a result of that it does make cleaning out the litter box a great deal faster. Now at some stage a clumping litter will still need to be fully replaced. However that is typically around every 3-4 weeks depending on how many cats are using the litter.
What Does Non-Clumping Mean With Reference to Cat Litter?
As you can imagine this type of clay based cat litter does not form any type of clumps. Non-clumping cat litter is the original type of cat litter and has been around for many years.
With this type of clay based litter the urine simply soaks down into the clay.
- No clumps are formed and any cat poop will simply sit as it was left, on top of the litter. This non-clumping litter does practically nothing in terms of drying out cat poop.
- Non-clumping clay litter is generally speaking slightly cheaper than a clumping cat litter.
- Some cat owners buy it for this reason, and it is also fair to say that this type of litter is also more maintenance free, in that you don’t have to remove clumps. You do however still have to scoop the poop.
The important difference though is that this clay litter does not form clumps. That means that the only time you change this litter is when you it becomes saturated with urine and at that stage, the litter box needs to be emptied, cleaned, dried and then re-filled with new litter.
The cat experts recommend that the cat litter be fully changed once a week. By changing it fully once a week will go a long way to controlling the odors in your home.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Clumping Clay Cat Litter
Now that we know the key characteristics of these two types of litter, it is worth considering the advantages and disadvantages of both types. I shall start with the advantages of the most popular choice, which is of course the clumping litter.
Pros of Clumping Litter
- Makes it very fast to clean a litter
- Cheap when compared to all other forms of litter
- Good at drying out cat poop
- Good at drying out cat urine and absorbing smells
Cons of Clumping Litter
- The clumping can cause blockages if accidentally ingested
- Not suitable for kittens
- Not environmentally friendly in any way
It is worthwhile pointing out at this stage that “Bentonite” is used to make the clumping happen. For cat litter the type of bentonite used is sodium bentonite. Sodium bentonite expands when wet, absorbing as much as several times its dry mass in water. (Up to 15 times its volume)
However, bentonite clay comes from strip mines, leading to environmental concerns. Like Fuller’s earth, it’s can also be dusty and heavy to carry. There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence that if a cat accidentally ingests the clumping clay litter, then it can cause blockages in your cat.
Likewise clumping cat litters can never be flushed down a toilet as that litter would swell and block the pipes. However it is highly recommended that no type of litter should ever be flushed, as litters are not designed to break up in water, and over time all forms of litter would clog pipes.
Litter should be bagged and disposed off in the garbage. Some natural litters can be used as compost material which I will explain later.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Non-Clumping Clay Cat Litter
Pros of Non – clumping Litter
- Used in most cat shelters as it doesn’t risk the potential health problems of clumping litters
- Only needs to be fully replaced once a week
- Is a cheaper litter to buy
Cons of Non – clumping Litter
- Not environmentally friendly in any way
- Smells if not regularly replaced
- Needs to be bagged and put in the garbage which then goes to land fill sites.
Conclusion of Clumping vs Non-Clumping Clay Based Cat Litters
Hopefully you know more about the two types of clay based cat litters. Both of these work really well in most types of cat litter box including pans and enclosed, hooded or top entry litter boxes.
For the manual self-cleaning litter boxes, the clumping style litter is a better choice. That is because you have to shake the box from side to side. When you do that the lumps or clumps remain on the sifting tray, and can be quickly removed. The good litter then falls through to the main box which helps reduce the amount of litter used.
The only real debate going on is the potential health risks of using a clumping litter, against the non-clumping style which does not have any associated risks for your cat’s health and well being.