Cat Litter Smells like Ammonia: How To Resolve This Quick And Easy

By Davis Wilkins •  Updated: 05/06/22 •  6 min read
Person scooping cat litter box with a litter scoop

“Why does my cat’s pee smell so bad? The cat litter box smells like ammonia.” My buddy complained.

Cats make an amazing addition to our homes and don’t they just make life much more interesting! The downside to having an indoor cat is dealing with a litter box. From litter box training to when you think you’ve just nailed it, you discover that the cat litter tray stinks… ammonia.

According to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, minimizing the kitty box smell may be an important treatment component in solving inappropriate elimination by your feline friend.1

Let’s dive deeper into what causes this ammonia smell and quick fixes that you can implement without leaving your house.

Types of Litter Box Smells

Litter box smells like ammonia:

Many household cleaners that you easily access from the local store only work by temporarily masking the strong cat urine odor of the litter box. With time the smell gets more stubborn and your home stops being homely, due to the pungent smell of ammonia.

Cat urine is composed of organic amines, sulfur, ammonia, and mercaptans, carbon- and nitrogen-rich compounds. These compounds are natural attractants for bacteria that break down the urine and contribute to the bad smell. As a result, your cat litter smells like ammonia.

Male cat urine odor, like ammonia, is stronger due to more overpowering pheromones.

Some of these bad odors can worsen after using particular household cleaners. Those that contain ammonia or vinegar tend to worsen the urine smell of ammonia and should never be used.

Ammonia is a by-product of urine and an ammonia-based cleaner will simply reinforce the cat’s urine smell rather than remove it.

If your cat sits for long in the cat box or plays in it, your cat will smell like ammonia.

 Cat Litter box smells like bleach:

Why does my cat litter box smell like bleach, you ask? The answer, some household cleaners.

Can you clean cat pee with bleach? Some of these bad odors can worsen after using particular household cleaners.

Those that contain ammonia or vinegar tend to worsen the cat’s ammonia smell of urine and should never be used.

Vinegar is a disinfectant and it temporarily inhibits the environmental bacteria from generating a bad smell.

 Litter box smells like urine:

If the cat litter box or the litter mat smells like pee, don’t clean the urine-stained mat with a steam cleaner. Steam cleaners work well by eliminating dirt and dust. However, the heat in the steam cleaner bakes the organic stains into the carpet fibers and ends up leaving a permanent awful odor.

When it comes to removing urine from a surface, timing is key. The faster you do it the fewer the odors that will remain.

 Cat Litter boxes smell like hair dye:

Find out if any hair dye was spilled inside the litter boxes. You might be surprised. If you suspect that it could be an issue with the cat urine, at night, shine a black light around your home for urine spots, which appear as a bright fluorescent tone.

 Litter box smells like fish:

Have you ever noticed that newborn kitten pee smells like fish? As a result, the litter box smells like fish. The number one culprit for this is ammonia. It has a characteristic fishy odor.


The Procedure For Cleaning Up Urine Stains:

1.        Soak it up using blotting paper:

Remove as much urine as possible by blotting it up using paper towels, old cotton rags, or even newspapers. Press these materials until you get rid of the yellow moisture. Do not be tempted to rub since it simply pushes the urine deeper into the carpet.

2.        Neutralize the bad odor:

If the cat pee smells like ammonia, apply a pet-stain enzymatic cleaner to the site. Allow the enzymatic cleaner to set before blotting it out. Enzymatic cleaners require at least 24 hours to successfully clean an area.

3.        Introduce baking soda:

If you have urine-soaked bedding, add some baking soda to the cold water plus the detergent. It will absorb the smelly odors and eliminate odors and also discourage bacterial growth. Don’t use hot water because heat sets the smell in the fabric.

How to Keep the Cat Litter Box Smelling Fresh:

1.      Use charcoal filters in the litter box:

If your cat litter smells like ammonia, use charcoal filters. Charcoal filters for cat litter box use help to remove stubborn odors of cat ammonia smell and are biodegradable. It is a natural option, non-toxic and affordable.

They are a quick fix on how to get the cat litter smell out of the house and have a smell-free litter box.

2.      Baking soda in the cat litter box:

Baking soda is a better alternative since it’s nontoxic and once mixed with the cat litter, it absorbs the urine smell in the litter box.          

It however doesn’t irritate your cat’s nostrils, unlike sprays and perfumes.

Baking soda will absorb and neutralize the strong cat urine odor of the litter box.

Sprinkle some of the baking soda at the bottom of the cat litter box just before you add fresh litter at the start of each week.

3.      Try a litter deodorizer:

I’ve included this as a last resort deliberately. Deodorizers in cat litter boxes should be used with caution because cats tend to avoid heavily scented litter boxes.

If the cat urine smells like ammonia, a little deodorizer can be sprinkled sparingly onto the litter every time you scoop the litter box.

If you add a deodorizer and your cat finds the litter box unwelcoming, cease using it and clean out the litter box and replace the litter with fresh cat’s litter.


Having a smell-free litter box is the desire of every cat owner and no one wants a smelly house. It’s therefore important to ensure that your cat receives optimal health care by:

The cat pee having an ammonia smell shouldn’t be a problem moving forward.

If you have been suffering and wondering how to get rid of the ammonia smell from the litter box, apply these tips and have the cat litter box odor under control.

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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