How To Clean a Litter Box Like a Veterinarian!

By Davis Wilkins •  Updated: 05/06/22 •  12 min read
stinking litter box with cat standing on the side

Did you know, that litter boxes were the largest segment of the pet odor control and clean-up products market in the United States in 2018, valued at around 2.14 billion U.S. dollars? 1

Have you ever wondered what the best way to clean a litter box is? This can be a tricky problem to solve in today’s world filled with lotsa garbage information.

It’s hard to believe, but some people don’t know the right way to clean a litter box. You may not think it’s that big of a deal, but I think we can all agree it is rather unpleasant work.

If you’re a pet owner, you’re definitely familiar with the frustration of cat litter box cleaning.

Because he’ll probably literally track litter dust all over your house. You’ll spend countless hours cleaning the various hard-to-reach places—your car, dining room table, appliances, and so on.

In addition, you are overwhelmed with questions like, how often should you clean your cat’s litter box? Is it necessary to use a litter box deodorizer? And what if you use clumping litter, how often should you scoop kitty litter?

For most people, the worst part about owning a cat is cleaning out their cat’s litter box. Unlike dogs, cat owners and their pets must come to some sort of compromise when it comes to cleaning up after kitty.

The cleaning options are endless, but there is a right way and a wrong way to clean the litter box.

The best way to clean a litter box is an often-debated topic among cat owners. Some methods are more effective than others at keeping fur and litter odor out of sight and out of the nose.

A dirty box will not only be bad for your cat, but it is also unhealthy for you as well.

The last thing you want to do is to keep your cats from using their litter box because they think it stinks. After all, it’s dirty!

It’s very important to keep your kitty’s bathroom as sanitary as possible for the health of you and your cat. To do that, you must learn how to wash a litter box!

Hopefully, this cat cleaning guide helps you out on how to clean a litter box and how to scoop a litter box.

I know that as embarrassing as it is to admit, I needed it at one time or another.

How do you fully clean a litter box?

Let’s first look at how often to scoop a litter box then dive into washing a litter box.

How often to scoop litter box:

First, you need a slotted litter scoop to enable you to sift through the kitty litter for solid waste.

If you are using clumping litter, the litter scoop will help you to separate the soiled pee clumps from the dry, unused clean litter.

A slotted shovel is ideal to remove the solid litter waste if you are using non-clumping litter.

The best tool to remove mounds of wet litter is an unslotted scoop with a long handle.

Once your cat has used and left the litter box, the saturated litter will emit a bad odor if left sitting there.

Do not stir the wet litter to mix it up with the dry litter because you will end up soiling the entire cat box.

Pro Tip

Scoopable litter is more convenient to handle and emits less odor when soiled making it easier for you to scoop out and clean up the box.

Hang the kitty litter scoop or place it in a container adjacent to the litter box for your convenience.

To keep odors at bay and remove the waste, you should scoop and sift at least twice daily.

This will allow your cat to find clean litter during his next trip to the box without having to jump over clumps of old soiled litter substrate.

Never flush down the toilet clay litter

Pro Tip

The most convenient and eco-friendly way to dispose of the soiled litter clumps is by throwing the waste into a plastic trash bag and sealing it. Throw the bag into your waste storage container that has a lid.

Personally, I scoop twice daily: First thing in the morning and dump the litter waste into the bag which I put into the waste storage container and seal it.

In the evening, I scoop again and put the waste into the plastic trash bag which I now tie up and dispose of it in the outside trash can.

If you have some extra cash to spare, invest in a litter disposal system. It’s like a diaper disposal system but for cats. How cool!

Always wash your hands with soap and clean running water after scooping out the cat box.

Safety Tip

Benefits of routine scooping:

  1. You will learn your cat’s litter box habits:

How often he uses the box, the daily output of urine and poop, the consistency, color, and formation of his poop. You will be able to promptly note any change in this and contact a licensed veterinarian immediately.

It will help you observe the color of the urine and poop and their consistency, and even the frequency of using the box. If you spot blood in urine, that is a medical emergency, and treat it as such.

A clean litter box will offer a more conducive environment for a kitty than a dirty litter box.

If you are a pregnant woman with a cat, this is what you need to know about cleaning a litter box and how to protect yourself from toxoplasmosis.


How to clean a cat litter box

In addition to the routine daily scooping, you also need to routinely clean the kitty tray.

Watch this practical two-minute video on how to clean cat litter boxes:

How often should a litter box be cleaned?

If you are using a non-scoopable cat litter or the traditional clay litter, do a thorough washing at least once a week.

If you are using a scoopable kitty litter, you can clean the box once every two weeks.

This depends on how frequently your cat uses the litter box and the number of cats that you own. If the box becomes stinky despite twice daily scooping, adjust the box washing to once a week.


The best way to clean a litter box is by:

Avoid using ammonia-based cleaners and harsh chemicals.

Pro Tip

Your cat can then use the litter box smelling fresh.

The Walmart salesperson who sold you that litter brand may have told you that since the litter is being sifted out while scooping, you’ll never have to wash and scrub your box. I’m sorry, but they lied! Cat pee will still come into contact with the plastic and if not washed regularly, can stink.

Pro Tip

If you would like to know how to clean a litter box in an apartment, follow the above guide and air-dry the box on the balcony or even indoors.

Dangers of cleaning a kitty litter box

Handling cat poop and a dirty litter tray poses some health risks to you. I have a detailed post here on litter box infections to human beings.

Litter Box Cleaning Hacks:

To combat kitty litter smell and ensure that your house smells fresh and pleasant while keeping your cat happy and relaxed, here are some box smell hacks.

Disposal system
  1. Keep the box clean:

The primary method of ensuring that the box remains odor-free is by scooping the box twice daily.

If you are allergic to scented litter, you can consider using a face mask while cleaning.

2. Wash the box and replace the litter twice a month:

Twice daily scooping may leave out some dirty spots that cumulatively begin to stink.

At least once every two weeks, make sure you empty the entire litter from the box and wash the box thoroughly, after which you leave it to dry in the sun.

Here’s a hack you can use to ensure that the house stays smelling fresh and clean.

Adding an extra litter box to the existing number of cats will ensure that they have the freedom of choice. This will go a long way in ensuring that they do not crowd in a specific box causing waste accumulation and a bad smell.

Pro Hack

3. Invest in a new litter box once a year:

Cats scratch their boxes as they try to bury their poop.

With time, this creates grooves and lines of weakness where urine seeps making it difficult to clean out and get rid of the cat’s litter smell.

For this reason, treat your cat to a new kitty box once every year and donate the old one to a shelter group.

Keep doing this every year to make sure that the old box doesn’t retain bad smells even when washed.

4. Use an enzymatic cleaner to wash any litter box accidents:

Litter box accidents are bound to happen one way or the other and when they do, an enzymatic cleaner is your best friend. Keep this in mind.

This eliminates all the smells from the surface and ensures that your cat will not visit the same spot next time.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How often should you change out all the kitty litter?

You should change out all the kitty litter once a week while cleaning the box if using a non-scoopable litter, or twice a week if using a scoopable litter.

Do litter boxes need to be cleaned every day?

No, litter boxes do not need to be cleaned every day. Clean them twice weekly if you are using a scoopable litter and once weekly if you are using a non-clumping litter.

How to clean a litter box with baking soda:

Add one pound (0.45 kgs) of baking soda plus your mild dish unscented washing soap into cold water.

Use this mixture to scrub and wash your box.

The bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) will naturally absorb odors and also prevent the growth of bacteria.

What soap to use to clean the litter box:

Use mild dish unscented washing soap to clean the litter box. This will avoid leaving harsh scents that may repel your cat from using the box.

How to clean a litter box with vinegar:

After emptying the cat box, add white vinegar to warm water and scrub the box thoroughly in this mixture.

Vinegar acts as a disinfectant and will temporarily prevent the bacteria from emitting terrible smells.

Should you be cleaning the litter box in the bathtub?

Heck no! You should not be cleaning the litter box in the bathtub.

Stop being gross for crying out loud. Do you want to wash cat poop that can contain bacteria making you sick, in your bathtub?

I don’t care what so-called experts say, but this is a huge no.

No amount of scrubbing that bathtub will give you the assurance that you can soak in later that evening and take a long unbothered relaxing bath.

The litter box smells even when clean:

When to change the litter box:

How to clean a litter box filter:

Some covered boxes come with a built-in activated charcoal filter system.

This filters the air on the outside, keeping the house fresh, whereas odors are trapped under the hood.

I recommend that you change that carbon filter once every 3-4 months, and buy a new one. This however depends on the usage of the box.


A clean litter box ultimately comes down to a simple final step: regularly clean it! That’s pretty obvious, but it can be easy to forget or procrastinate.

Still, if you follow our key steps above, you’ll ensure that you have a happy kitty and a fresh-smelling box.

Treat it like any other duty in your household and make cleaning the cat box part of your daily routine, and it won’t be long before you wonder why you ever thought it was a tough job.

And as long as you keep things clean, your cat will enjoy using the litter box, making the experience that much better for both of you.

Davis Wilkins

Davis Wilkins is a dedicated cat lover, with three cats under his care. He grew up in a cat-loving family, nurturing these feline friends. As a result, he purposed to share his cat knowledge with the universe. Wilkins has been writing professionally for over four years, specializing in feline care with a keen interest in litter box care and handling. He hopes to help other feline lovers achieve their pet care goals.

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