How a Cat Behaviorist Cleans the Litter Box: A Step by Step Guide
Updated: Jun 10
Cats need clean and well maintained litter boxes. Avoiding or resolving litter box issues starts with an attractive litter box setup. Cleanliness is a priority. Cleaning litter boxes regularly is a sign of love and respect for our cats.
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Dirty litter boxes are a source of stress. Just like you wouldn't want to use a dirty bathroom, neither do cats. If the litter boxes are not cleaned properly, that could lead to a host of issues including, but not limited to: litter box avoidance, frustration, holding it in (which can lead to medical issues), and in a multi-cat home, it's likely contributing to tension between cats. Decrease stress by offering your cat(s) clean boxes.
Daily scooping (even better if it's twice per day) and cleaning the litter boxes weekly is recommended, particularly if your cat has a history of house soiling.
Here, I demonstrate how to clean out the litter box on a weekly cleaning. I live in an apartment building, so taking the boxes outside and hosing them down is not an option. I think even if I did live in a house, I would still clean them out the way I'm currently doing it since I find it easy and efficient.
Keep in mind, the more frequently you dump and clean out the boxes, the easier it is. If you dump them out monthly or less often than that, then it's really a project with a lot of scrubbing, and a lot of grossness. Weekly cleaning is quick and easy. It's a way for us to show our love to our cats.
STEP 1: Dump Out the Litter
I empty the litter into a large study garbage bag.
STEP 2: Scrape Down Sides
Use your scooper to scrape down the sides and remove any stuck pieces. Yuck. This is my least favorite part. Dump into garbage bag.
STEP 3: Clean The Box
If you're on the floor, I recommend using a cushion for your knees.
First, using 1 to 2 baby wipes, I clean out the box starting with the sides of the box and working my way down to the bottom.
Second, an enzymatic cleaner is great not only for cleaning, but it also eliminates odors. I spray Fizzion around the sides and the bottom. Using paper towels, I wipe it out which easily removes any remaining debris in the box. You might skip the baby wipes, and go straight to the enzymatic cleaner, but I prefer using the baby wipes first.
The box is practically new again. I recommend washing your hands at this point.
You might wash your boxes differently, and that's ok. Avoid using strong smelling and harsh chemicals such as bleach which may be aversive to cats. Cats don't like the scent of citrus, so avoid a citrus scented soap. You might use a gentle dish soap like Dawn instead.
STEP 4: Replace Litter
I use two types of cat litter, both are clumping, unscented and have a sandy texture. The first layer of litter is a natural grass based litter, SmartCats, that I prefer since it's less dusty. The 2nd layer of litter is Tidy Cats Free and Clean which my cats picked a few years back when I conducted a litter survey. We tried 10 different types of litter, one each week, giving them the opportunity to pick their own litter. Tidy Cats Free and Clean was one of their clear favorites, and although it's a bit dusty, I do admit the Tidy Cats offers excellent odor control. Although I add it layer by layer, once the cats start using the boxes, the litter gets mixed together.
I fill the box about 2 inches. For most cats, the recommended depth is 1 to 2 inches depending on the cat’s preference. Some cats like more.
And, that’s it. It takes less than 5 minutes to do a great job cleaning your cat’s litter box. After it's all done, and I've put my tools away, I wash my hands again.
Thanks to my wonderful husband, Christopher Van de Kieft, for patiently photographing me cleaning a litter box.
About the author: Jennifer Van de Kieft is a Certified Advanced Feline Training & Behavior Professional located in Brooklyn, NY, but provides virtual consultations throughout the United States. She owns Cat Advocate, a feline behavior consulting company. She provides cat guardians with the strategies, tools and knowledge needed to address their cat's behavior issues.