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How Often to Wash a Litter Box – A Guide For Cat Owners!


You love your kitty, but you don’t love the messy litterbox. Boxes are not only a smelly nuisance but can harbor foul pathogens. Keeping it clean is imperative to not only your nostrils but you and your cat’s health. Scooping litter out daily is one thing, but sometimes it needs more than that.

So, how often to wash a litter box? A litterbox for one cat should be changed and washed out every two to three weeks. A big cleaning job should be done every one to two weeks if you have multiple cats.

No one relishes the aspect of tearing down and cleaning out the litter box. But cats are persnickety, and if you don’t keep their box clean, they’ll find somewhere else to do their business. It’s easier to strip down that box for a major cleaning than try to remove urine from your great-grandmother’s Persian rug. Read on and discover the importance of a washed litter box for both you and your cat.

Why Bother Washing It Out?

There are several reasons for washing a litter box. They include

  • Sanitary Reasons
  • Cat wellness
  • Human wellness

1. Sanitary Reasons

With today’s clumping cat litter, it’s much easier to keep a litter box tidy. A simple scoop-and-go is all you really need…right? Not so fast, scooping those clumps doesn’t remove it all. Yes, these lumps are pretty hard with dried urine and feces and easy to remove, but the truth is some of it stays in the box. Little pieces break off or sometimes just disintegrate. This leaves the gross dark-colored litter. You also can’t reach those corners with that little square plastic shovel. Yucky debris ends up sticking there.

There’s only one way to really rid yourself of all that debris. And that’s to strip it down and clean it out.

2. Cat Wellness

A clean box is much healthier for your cat. A dirty box has one or two effects on a cat:

  • They go somewhere else
  • They hold it in

You know what happens if they go somewhere else…you’re cleaning up a mess. But if they hold it in, you may be making a visit to the vet. Holding it in is hard on a cat, it can affect:

  • Kidneys
  • Bladder
  • Urinary Tract

This can result in lower urinary tract diseases. Besides basic bacteria, a litter box can harbor a multitude of parasites. Some of these parasites include:

  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Ring Worms

When the litter box is dirty, it’s easier for the parasites to enter the cat’s gastrointestinal tract. Some of the problems these worms cause can be deadly.

3. Human Wellness

Cats aren’t the only mammals that can pick something nasty up from a litter box or its debris. The remnants of feces can end up dragged through the house. If you don’t wash the box periodically, you not only risk your cat, but you expose yourself to harmful pathogens. Some of these include:

  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Fungal Infections
  • Bordetellosis (cat-scratch fever)

With just a little soap and water, you can eliminate these risks.

How to Wash a Litter Box Step By Step

It’s not difficult, nor does it take a lot of time to strip down and scrub out a litter box. You don’t need to use any fancy soap or special brushes. But you do need to rinse well. Below are the steps:

  1. Take your litter box outside (saves on clean-up)
  2. Replace the box with a small shoebox or other small disposable box and put some litter in it, you don’t want any accidents. If you feel your cat doesn’t need this, then skip this step.
  3. Line an old trash can, bucket, or wastebasket with a garbage bag.
  4. Completely empty the litter into the lined receptacle. Use a stick or old utensil to reach into those corners.
  5. Grab a bottle of dishwashing soap from the kitchen (Dawn is always a good choice with pets) Do not use bleach or ammonia. This might deter your cat from using the box and can be dangerous to you if combined. Citrus scented soaps will also deter a cat.
  6. Using a garden hose (if not available, your kitchen sink or bathtub will do) put some water in the box. Don’t fill the box with water; only pour in about three or four inches. You can add more if you need it.
  7. Add the soap and let it soak a couple of minutes.
  8. Take a brush or thick cloth and scrub. Make sure you reach into those corners where debris likes to gather.
  9. Pour the water out if you still have debris repeat steps 6 and 7
  10. Thoroughly rinse the box. You want to remove all the residue.
  11. Let completely dry
  12. Once dry, refill with around two to three inches of litter.
  13. Throw the temporary cardboard litter box in with the old litter
  14. Since the dirty litter and temporary box are already in a garbage bag, just tie the bag off and throw it away.
  15. Repeat every two to three weeks

You now have a squeaky clean and sanitized litter box with no muss and no mess.

What If Your Cat Uses the Litter Box Right Away

You’ve just spent time and energy cleaning that box, and the moment you put it back, your kitty jumps in. If you have multiple cats, they probably all try to hop in at the same time. Why is this?

Although there’s no definitive answer as to why there are some hypotheses. Keep in mind that cats haven’t been domesticated as long as some pets. They still retain some instincts, even your indoor cats.

One reason they immediately jump in the box is, they don’t want that clean scent they want theirs. It’s their box, so it should be their scent. Now, that doesn’t mean they want it dirty; they just want to know it’s theirs.

A second possible explanation goes back a few years. They want to claim new territory. In the wild (including that tomcat down the street), cats mark any new territory. And although it’s not technically a new box or location, it smells new to them.

And a third reason is…they’re cats. And cats always do what they want, when they want. It doesn’t matter what your wishes are.

Types of Litter to Help Keep It Clean

There are several types of litter that can be used to replenish and help keep that box a little cleaner a little longer.

Although you may think you’re cutting down on the smell (cleaning it consistently will do that), don’t be tempted to use scented litter. It turns a kitty off. There are several types of litter that will help keep your litter box’s odor down and a lot cleaner. They include:

  • Clay
  • Recycled Paper
  • Walnut Shells
  • Grass

1. Clay

Clumping clay is very absorbent and molds into clumps when your cat urinates. When the urine clumps, you simply scoop it out. Since it’s easy to scoop out, it cuts down on odor. But the drawbacks are it’s dusty and not biodegradable. It’s probably the most popular litter. An excellent choice is Purina Tidy Cat Free and Clean Unscented. It’s unscented because it has activated charcoal in the clay that absorbs odors.

2. Recycled Paper

Made with recycled paper pellets, this dust-free litter is highly absorbent. Because it’s made with paper, it’s biodegradable. The downside is it doesn’t form clumps. One example of paper litter is Fresh News. It’s not only non-allergenic but because it contains baking soda; cuts down on the odor.

3. Walnut Shells

Crushed walnut shells make-up this litter, and as a result, it’s dark. It will keep the odor down with its excellent absorbency and is also biodegradable. From a clean-up standpoint, walnut shells are great since they clump. Naturally Fresh claims that because their litter neutralizes odor so well, one bag is like three bags of clay. It’s also dust-free.

4. Grass

USA grown; grass litter is a relatively new product to the cat world. Made from grass fibers, it’s not only biodegradable but clumps very well. Best of all, it controls odors. One brand that’s new on the scene is The Good Earth. It’s all-natural and perfume free. Because it absorbs so quickly, you won’t have litter sticking to the bottom of the box.

Final Thoughts 

Don’t let your litter box become unbearable for both you and your kitty. Take fifteen minutes and give it a good scrubbing. It will not only reduce the risk of cat and human infections but will cut down on those little bits of feces and whatever else is going for a ride as it’s carried through the house. A well-washed litter box equals a clean house and a happy kitty.

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