According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey, there are approximately 43 million homes in the U.S. with cats. Count me in that group with seven cats living at our home. The best ways to remove pet odor from home pose a constant challenge for us.
So, what about cat litter? We use it in our litter boxes without much thought to provide a sanitary way for cats to relieve themselves indoors and control the odors caused by cat urine and feces. How does it work? Is it safe for humans and animals? What types of cat litter are available? Are there alternatives to cat litter? Continue reading if you’re curious about cat litter and its role in keeping our homes a healthy and odor free place to co-exist with our felines.
Where It all Began
Cat litter traditionally consisted of using absorbent materials like paper, sand, dirt, or other available absorbent materials. In 1947, an Englishman named Edward Lowe worked in his father’s company which created industrial absorbents. One such product was a clay like substance called Fuller’s Earth. Edward Lowe eventually began to market this product under the name of ‘Kitty Litter’ using Sodium Bentonite clay as its key ingredient.
Throughout the years, this product has been refined and other cat litter products with similar functionality have been created. This cat litter is very popular due to its clumping action which absorbs the moisture and odors from cat urine and feces. The clumps are easily removed and replaced with fresh litter.
How does Cat Litter Remove Odors?
Cat litter depends on its primary ability to absorb moisture from urine and feces. This alone will cut down on odors. Cat litter is developed to simplify litter box maintenance and odor control. Different materials are used to control odors and provide a clean litter box.
- Clay – Highly absorbent clays are used in some litter to absorb moisture and bind the odors. These litters are either Clumping or Non-Clumping. Each type has their distinct advantages. The clumping type litter uses Sodium Bentonite which absorbs moisture and odors and forms an easily removable clump. The non-clumping type uses Calcium Bentonite clay.
- Crystals – Silica gel particles are the active ingredient in this type of litter. The particles contain spongelike pores that absorb moisture and the odors from cat urine and feces. This cat litter controls odors longer than clay types but will eventually lose its effectiveness when the crystals become too saturated with moisture.
- Natural Materials – Unlike clay and crystal cat litter, litter made from these materials depends on their natural abilities to absorb moisture and odors from cat urine and feces. Their biggest advantage may be that they’re biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
Types of Cat Litter
There are many things to consider when choosing a cat litter. In this case, one size does not fit all!
Scented or unscented? While masking the odors with a strong pleasant scent, most cats don’t like the strong scent which linger on the cat’s fur after using the litter box.
Multiple cats? You should consider using a litter that is easy to maintain, long lasting, and affordable. This situation typically calls for the use of multiple litter boxes for the best odor control.
Some litter produces more dust than others. If you or your cat has asthma, it’s probably best to avoid using these types.
Here’s a brief rundown of types available. Experimentation may be necessary to find the best litter for you and your cat. Check with your veterinarian about the safest type for your cat if your cat suffers from food allergies or asthma.
- Clay – This litter is the most popular, especially the clumping type. This type tends to be dusty and more expensive than non-clumping types. Litter box maintenance is easier, but clay types are not biodegradable and your cat may not like using the litter box containing this type of litter.
- Crystals – This type can control odors better and longer than clay types, but they are non-clumping. Crystals are typically more expensive than clay types. These types can be dangerous to cats licking their paws and ingesting too many crystals. More current formulations have made safer products available.
- Eco Friendly – This litter is made from materials found in nature. Before clay litter was invented, this was the cat litter that was used. They usually don’t clump, they’re mostly low or dust free, and they’re biodegradable.
Eco-Friendly materials like Corn, Grass, Green tea, Walnut shells, Wheat, Sand, Recycled newspaper, Wood shavings, Sawdust, and Wood pellets are some materials used. Corn and walnut shells clump well but cleanliness due to tracking around the litter box is an issue with many of these. Wood pellets smell nice, but their size is bigger than the holes and slots in regular scoops making litter box maintenance a bigger chore.
I have used wood pellets in the past, but switched back to clay litter for that reason. A lot of people that use them report that they tend to be dusty. That was my experience too.
Alternatives to Cat Litter
For those that want to take a trip off the beaten path towards cleanliness and odor control for your cat, here are some unconventional methods. These methods could be a suitable option for cats who are unable to use a regular litter box, the ambitious do-it-yourselfer, and for the frugal homemaker.
- Paper Litter – Recycled paper is plentiful and cheap. Some pet companies sell recycled and formulated recycled paper as cat litter. Paper has a pleasant odor and is biodegradable and compostable.
- Wood Shavings – If you have a woodworking shop at home, saving the sawdust or wood shavings makes great natural litter. Hardwoods like Aspen and heat-treated wood shavings can make suitable litter, safe for cats.
- DYI – There are numerous recipes available for homemade cat litter that control odors. Concoctions containing materials like: Dish Soap, Water, Shredded Paper, Baking Soda, and other materials can be a very cost effective option.
- Diapers – Cat diapers are a good option for cats with incontinence or paralysis. You can find them online. These diapers are reusable.
- Human Toilet Training – This can be done if you can train your cat to use the toilet. There are special support systems available for the cat to facilitate using the toilet. I bet cleanup and odor control would be a breeze if you were successful in training your cat this way.
- Odor Eliminators – These are products that neutralize litter box odors. They work along with cat litter to help extend the life of cat litter. Just remember that while providing an odor free litter box for a little while longer, these products are not a substitute for good litter box hygiene.
So That’s What It’s About
I was truly amazed at the amount of information available about cat litter. It makes sense that with all the cat owners in the world with this common issue of removing pet odors from the litter box, that such a wealth of products and information exists.
I hope that I cleared up some misconceptions you may have had about cat litter before reading this article. Like I said at the beginning, we don’t think much about cat litter, we just use it. It’s for folks like me to research and to reveal the facts so you can enjoy a clean and odor free house for you and your cat.
Please feel free to post any comments. Like you, I’m here to share what I have discovered about the best ways to remove pet odors from my home. Let’s take this journey together!
I’m here to help.
sources: scientificamerican, cathealth, medium, drweil, wagwalking, catster, homestratosphere, petmd, wikihow, humanesociety, animalhumanesociety, thepetexpress, animalplanet, animals.mom.me