How Often Should You Clean a Cat Litter Box?

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by Steven Thomas

How often to clean the litter box

Want to know how often to clean a cat litter box?

Most people want to avoid a smelly litter box.

But do you have to clean your cat’s litter box every single day?

The quick answer is no. Not everyday. If you maintain your cat’s litter well, you can clean the litter box once per month.

But it also depends on the litter you use and how many cats you have.

In this post, I’ll be diving in deeper to answer the question, how often should you clean a cat litter box.

I’ll also cover:

  • The difference between scooping and cleaning
  • How often to scoop vs full clean
  • How many litter boxes you should have (you might be surprized!)
  • When to replace your litter box

Let’s get started.

What’s the Difference Between Scooping and Full Cleaning

To understand the difference, here’s the most efficient process of maintaining a litter box:

  1. Fill your litter box or tray (around 2-3 inches)
  2. Scoop out any poop or soiled (if using clumping) litter each time your cat uses the litter (usually once or twice per day)
  3. Top up the box with fresh litter every 5-7 days (a few scoops is fine)
  4. Stop refreshing new litter after 2-3 weeks (depending on the type of litter you use)
  5. Completely empty old litter after 3-4 weeks, do a full clean, and fill with new litter

So as you can see, scooping means removing soiled litter, changing means topping up, and cleaning means renewing the entire litter after sanitizing the litter box.

Although I refer changing to topping up, most people use the terms changing and cleaning interchangably.

I get it, this might seem like a lot, but there are a few benefits when you keep on top of this.

  • It saves you money in the long run because you waste less litter
  • Saves time having to physically clean the litter box if you don’t scoop
  • Less smell and more hygienic for your cat and home

How Often Should You Scoop a Litter Box

For most people with 1 cat, you’ll need to scoop at least once per day and possibly up to 3 times per day.

Scooping more often will drastically lower cat litter costs, because the solid clumps won’t contaminate the remaining litter.

This also means you won’t need to do a full clean of the box every few days or even once a week.

For most people with 1 cat, you’ll need to scoop 1-3 times per day.

It depends how often your cat goes. It also depends on the type of litter you use.

For example, wet non-clumping litter turns into sawdust, so you can’t scoop it out. You’ll only need to scoop out the poop.

Therefore, you might need to do a full clean sooner if you use non-clumping litter.

Some people prefer clumping litter because they can scoop out solid clumps of urine to keep the entire box fresh daily.

What happens if you don’t scoop at all?

Things will get very smelly very quickly. After 24-48 hours, your house will start to smell and the litter box will become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

It will also mean having to completely replacing the old litter with new litter after 7-10 days.

This can start to cost a lot of money.

How Often Should You Clean a Cat Litter Box?

A general rule of thumb is to do a complete clean of the litter box once per month.

Or sooner if it starts smelling.

This means emptying any remaining dirty litter, cleaning the litter box, then replacing with fresh litter.

Let’s get more specific, and look at the different types of litter and how often you should do a full clean:

  • Non Clumping litters – full clean every 2-3 weeks
  • Clumping – full clean every 3-4 weeks
  • Silica Gel – full clean every 4-5 weeks

The reason why each type of litter should be cleaned out on different occasions is because of how contaminated the entire litter gets everytime your cat uses the litter.

Most clumping cat litter does a better job of absorbing urine and forming clumps which prevents it from spreading throughout the whole litter box.

Then if you can scoop this out on a regular basis, and top up every 5-7 days, you can keep going like this for several weeks until it’ll be time to empty it all and clean out the box with soap and water.

There are some cat litter alternatives, such as pellets, but most cat owners will use one of the three above.

How often to change non-clumping litter – Every 2-3 weeks

Non clumping litters absorb cat urine and do not clump. As such, this litter does need to be changed more often.

It’s really down to trial and error and testing things out yourself. If you and your furry friend doesn’t mind non-clumping litter, then try to see how long you can go before it needs a full clean.

As there’s less absorption, it’s best to do a full clean every 2 weeks or so.

How often to change clumping litter – Every 3-4 weeks

Clumping cat litter is better at absorbing cat urine, therefore it’s much easier to scoop out and doesn’t contaminate the entire litter in the box when you keep on top of it.

After a few weeks of scooping and topping up, urine will start to spread round the rest of the litter.

This is when you’ll want to stop adding more fresh litter and then give it a full clean after another week.

Overall, if you keep on top of scooping, you can go up to 4 weeks without having to do a full clean.

How often to change silica gel litter – Every 4-5 weeks

Silica gel litters are becoming more popular, but some cat owners love it and some don’t.

Those who like it, appreciate that it’s more expensive than the main litters.

What they like about is that, you replace any litter that changes color from white to yellow.

The crystals change to this color when they can no longer absorb moisture. Cat owners then remove the yellow crystals with a scoop and replace those with fresh litter.

The average user of this type of litter, do a full change and clean about every 4-5 weeks.

How often should you change wood pellet cat litter? – Every 1-2 weeks

A number of cat owners prefer to use some type of wood pellet.

The good thing about that is you can see when it needs changing because it breaks down into a non-smelly damp sawdust.

Then it needs to be fully replaced. Most cat owners who use pellets change it completely once a week.

How to Clean a Cat Litter

Here’s a quick rundown of how to clean a cat litter box, but click the link to read the full guide:

  1. Empty out the litter box, and then wash the inside with hot water and a mild detergent.
  2. Do not use anything too strong like bleach or harmful chemicals as this may have harmful effects on your cat.
  3. Always allow the litter box to fully dry, before adding the new fresh litter to a depth of about 3 inches.

Pro Tip: A week building up to you cleaning the litter box, it’s best to stop adding more litter so that when the time comes, you’re not throwing away too much fresh litter.

How Many Litter Boxes Do You Need?

Many people wonder how many litter boxes per cat they need.

And most cat parents don’t have enough.

Well, vets and cat behavior specialists all state the golden rule for the number of litter boxes you should have per cat:

One litter box for one cat plus one more.

That’s right, even if you only have one cat, you should have an extra litter box.

And for two cats, there should be three boxes, and so on.

How Often Should You Change Litter Boxes?

That’s a good question.

The general consensus is around once a year. Check out my full post on how often should you get a new litter box to get all the details.

However, the main reason comes down to wear and tear. The base of the litter box gets scratched from the claws of your cat.

That breaks through the protective layer of plastic. Odors can then start to seep into those areas of damage, and over time they start to smell and hold bacteria.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need litter box liners?

I answer this question in the post should you use cat litter liners, but the short answer is, yes, if it works for you.

If you think they could help, try them out and see how it goes.

Should I consider changing litter brands?

Cat owners do change litter brands from time to time.

Mostly this is done because cats may stop using one particular type of litter. They may start to do their business outside the litter, and that is a clear sign that something is not quite right.

More often than not though, the reason cats do that is simply because the litter is not scooped out daily.

This single change makes a huge difference to how often you will have to completely change out a cat litter.


It’s best to follow these as a guidline and eventually judge for yourself how often you clean out the litter box.

Daily cleaning of poop or clumped litter is vitally important, and more than once a day is better.

If you can achieve that, then the frequency when you have to do a full clean and replace will be longer, usually every 2 weeks on average.

Of all the cat litters available, clumping litter and silica gel litters do not need to be changed as often.

Anything from 4-6 weeks seems to be the normal time span for most cat owners.

For natural cat litters, biodegradable and wood pellet based litters, the period seems to be about one week for a full change out of the litter.

For the popular non clumping litters, every 2 weeks is what is recommended.

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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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