How To Effectively Eliminate Litter Box Odor In Your Home

Animated cat sitting next to cat litter, How To Effectively Eliminate Litter Box Odor In Your Home

“Good God, my cat just used his litter box while I was happily destroying things on my video game. All of a sudden, our room smelled like a manure field!”

Sounds familiar? It’s a quote from a forum thread by TCS member Dagger311.

We get many questions about litter box odor and how to minimize it. The good news? You can reduce and possibly eliminate the smell of the litter box! Ideally, your cat’s litter box should not smell at all. You should have no problem keeping the box in your living room or bedroom with no consequences.

Ways to reduce the smell from your cat’s litter box, include:

  1. Make sure the litter box is always clean.
  2. A change of diet (under veterinary supervision).
  3. Switching to a different type of litter.
  4. Using an additive that reduces the smell

Some of these steps include caveats, so keep reading to see how to implement them correctly. There are also things you shouldn’t do, and we’ll go into that in this post as well.

Why does the litter box smell?

When cats use the litter box for, they leave behind urine and feces. Both elements can create a nasty odor, especially if you allow them to sit in the box and ferment. Bacteria break down the contents of Kitty’s pee and poo, releasing all kinds of foul-smelling components in the process. While these are not dangerous in these quantities, they certainly can be unpleasant to be around.

When cat feces begin to smell bad

If you’ve changed nothing in your litter box setup but you notice a change in the smell of your cat’s feces, you may have a problem on your hands. Instead of trying to mask the smell, find out what the problem, and address it.

Did you change the cat’s diet recently? A change in diet can affect the smell of feces, as well as their color and texture. An exceptionally foul odor can also indicate a medical issue. Some forms of intestine infections can affect your cat’s bowel movements, and your first sign could be in the smell emanating from the litter box. The foul smell could also be a sign of impacted anal glands.

Talk to your veterinarian and see if you should set up an appointment. At the very least, they may ask you to bring in a stool sample to be tested.

If you notice an exceptionally strong cat urine odor

Cat urine shouldn’t smell bad. At least not right away. If you let it sit in the box, then sure, bacteria will begin to break down the urea and create that distinct ammonia smell.

If you can smell your cat’s urine while it’s still fresh, this could be a sign of dehydration or an underlying medical issue.

If you have a young male kitten who still hasn’t been neutered, keep in mind that intact male cats (tomcats) can produce exceptionally repugnant urine. They may also begin to use the smelly concoction to mark their territory. That’s why you should fix your kitten in time – preferably by the age of five months.

If you’re sure that Kitty is healthy, and are just looking into ways to reduce that litter box stench, here are a few insights collected over the years from our community members.

1. Make sure the litter box is clean

Your number one priority is keeping the box fresh and clean. Keeping a clean box is your first line of defense in the fight against litter box odor. In most situations, this means scooping twice a day.

Close-up of pet owner straining and cleaning sand in cat litter box

Establish A Litter box Maintenance Routine

You should make cleaning the litter box into a routine. Cleaning the box “whenever” just won’t work. If you’re around to clean the litter box three times a day on the weekend but then cannot clean it at all during the week, that’s not good enough for your cat’s needs. What you should aim for is a consistent routine that includes regular cleaning of the box at fixed intervals.

Consider the following questions –

1. How long does it take you to clean the litter boxes?
2. At what times can you regularly clean the boxes? Mornings? Evenings? Or maybe it’s the middle of the day?
3. Can other people help you out when you’re not available?

Based on the answers, set up your routine, focusing on what times each box gets cleaned up every day and who will do the cleaning (if there’s more than one of you).

Tips for effective litter box maintenance –

  • Use a good scoop. It will help you clean the box quickly and more efficiently.
  • Keep the tools of the trade nearby. Have your scoop and plastic bags ready.
  • Stock up on litter and make sure you always have enough for topping up the litter box.

Once you set up a routine that’s right for you and your cat, cleaning the litter boxes becomes much easier. You have to put less thought into it and can just work as part of your regular daily routine.

Consider investing in an automated litter box

The rule of thumb is to clean the box twice a day. Some cats are so fastidious, and they need their box cleaned after every use – in which case invest in an automatic self-cleaning box to help you maintain a state of perfect cleanliness.

Some automated litter boxes operate at regular intervals. In contrast, others use sensors to determine when Kitty has “doing her business” and operate the cleaning mechanism several minutes after your cat is done.

Read our guide to choosing the right automatic litter box for more information.

2. A Change of Diet

There’s no denying that what goes into the cat comes out, eventually. There are several types of commercial dry and canned food professing to minimize the amount of feces and their pungent odor.

If your cat’s “waste products” have become exceptionally smelly with no change in his or her diet, consult your vet. Changes in stools can result from various medical conditions, including a parasitic infection. Once you get the all-clear, ask your vet about switching to a new type of food or adding probiotics to your cat’s diet.

If you decide to switch to a new type of cat food, do so gradually. Ask members on our nutrition forum for recommendations and then transition Kitty by mixing the new food with the old. Start with a small amount of the new food and watch how the change affects bowel movements. If all’s well, gradually increase the amount of the new food until the transition is complete.

3. Switching to a Different Litter

Many types of cat litter claim to neutralize odor in various ways. Baking soda or other additives, or use of porous crystals, are common methods. Here are some suggestions for cat litter that may reduce the odor around the litter box.

Fresh Step Odor Shield (Amazon Link)

Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal (Amazon Link)

Cats are creatures of habit and changing anything about their litter box should be a gradual process. If you’re considering changing the brand of litter, please take a minute to read about When and How to Switch to a New Type of Litter.

4. Using an additive that reduces the smell

There is a variety of litter box deodorizers that help reduce litter box odors. Most use a baking soda or charcoal to absorb moisture and odors. You can try placing some baking soda in the bottom of the litter box for a quick homemade solution.

Or you could buy a commercial litter box deodorizer such as this one by NonScents (Amazon link).

In most cases, a fragrance-free version like this one is your best option. Scented products may be a turn-off for some cats.

Another option you can try is Nature’s Miracle Odor Destroyer Spray (Amazon link).

What not to do when the litter box smells

A stinky litter box is not good for you or for your cat. You should always try to reduce the foul odor, rather than mask it.

Even if you don’t smell it, your cat will. How would you like to use a dirty, smelly bathroom? Your cat won’t appreciate it either. Not even if you spray a floral scent around it.

Let’s take a look at what NOT to do when the litter box smells.

Don’t cover the litter box

A covered litter box is usually not a good idea. It may block the stench from going out, but that only means things are getting worse underneath the hood.

You can use a covered box to help avoid litter spread around the box, but only if you make sure the box is always clean and fresh for your cat to you.

Don’t move the litter box out of sight (or smell range)

Your cat needs ready access to a litter box. Preferably more than one. If the box smells and you move it down to the basement, Kitty may eventually tire of going down there and may find an alternative spot for doing her business.

What’s more, unless you have an established litter box routine (see above), you may forget to clean the box as often as needed, making it even worse for your cat to use. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s not a good solution for your cat.

Don’t switch to scented litter

Masking bad smells with perfume is not a good idea. Your cat is likely to smell the stench through the floral scents, and she may even be put off by the strange fragrance. Again, imagine having to use a dirty bathroom where someone also placed a scented candle. Doesn’t sound appealing, does it?

What if my cat doesn’t cover up after herself?

This can be a stinking problem, indeed. Some cats simply don’t cover their feces after using the box, and that can add to an odor problem. Over the years, a few of our members have mentioned that they managed to “teach” their cats, usually kittens or young cats, to cover up.

When I first got my kitten, he didn’t really cover it. So when he would get out of the litter box, I would put him back in, move his paws to cover the poop a bit, and then he would usually get the hint a finish covering it. Then, I would give him a treat and a cuddle. Now he does it every time. I’m not sure how this would work with an older cat though.

This does not always work, though. Some cats simply don’t bother. Trying to “teach” them new tricks could prove stressful, especially if they are older and established in their ways. If your cat doesn’t cover up, you can still try to reduce odors by looking into dietary changes and by keeping the box squeaky clean, preferably cleaning every time your cat uses it. The ideal solution for a cat that doesn’t cover up is an automated litter box that cleans the litter after every use.


Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

18 comments on “How To Effectively Eliminate Litter Box Odor In Your Home

Father of furbabies May 17, 2020
I have one of my two furbabies that did not cover her droppings fully so when I was cleaning up the litter and she was watching, I would use the scoop to dig and stir like I was covering it (after I cleaned it all out). She got curious a few times and would peer into the litter as I was doing that then once she climb in when I was just about done and used the litter box. She looked at me after covered her stool like I was showing her. She acted so proud of herself then before running off to play with her brother.
golondrina May 1, 2020
I have never had a litter box problem with either my late cat Cucumella who crossed the bridge at 16 years of age or with my present 6 years old cat Sombra, either with their litter box behaviour or with their poop or urine smell. I have always used Super Mix Clumping Cat Litter with long lasting odour control, imported from Canada. There is never any smell even when they have just used the box. If I am at home I scoop the litter box every time it is used but even when I have been away all day there has never been any smell from the litter box.
Furballsmom July 5, 2019
wookie79 said:
It looks like the link to the article about how often to change the litter is broken. I think the article is now located at: How Often Should You Clean The Litter Box?
Hi! To mention as an update, this link is working as intended :)
Maria Bayote September 6, 2018
I have 2 rescues. The female one knows how to cover hers. I wouldn't notice that she used the litter box until I hear her covering her poop. The other one, a male, is the problem. He does not know how to. Instead of the litter, he scratches the sides of the box, or the wall near where the litter box is placed. We tried teaching him how to, but to no avail. Also, he and my other cat eat the same wet and dry food, in varying brands and flavors, but I notice that his poop is a lot more smelly than the female cat. It is an unbearable smell that I have to run to the litter box just to cover it. Is this "smell" a gender thing or he has internal problems?
wookie79 July 24, 2017
It looks like the link to the article about how often to change the litter is broken. I think the article is now located at: How Often Should You Clean The Litter Box?
pet outhouse August 26, 2016
Bathroom mess and odor are a major problem when litter boxes are kept in the home. Get' em outta there!
segelkatt May 24, 2015
Unfortunately in most boarding facilities we don't know what's going on either. Enter "The Purring Parrot", a boarding facility for cats and birds only in San Diego. My friend who adopted one of my cats because he could not get along with the resident cats had to board him for a few days and took him there (She lives 100 miles away or she would have brought him to me). That facility has a "kitty cam" so you can watch your pet any time. It is set up where each cat has its own room with a two-way mirror to the bird room so they can watch the parrots, macaws etc and the birds can't see the cats and freak out. My friend gave me the code to watch the cat and it was really neat to see him look at the birds and wander around the room which is really big (ca. 4 ft  by 6 ft) with shelves and hidey holes and beds. More boarding facilities like this are needed for our furry babies. When my friend goes on vacation for Christmas she will bring him to me where he can have the spare bedroom for two weeks, he won't be lonesome as I do watercolors in that room and am in and out of it all day and there is a big window that he used to like to sit in. Being separated from the other cats will keep the hassle down although they will still sit outside the door asking to come in. Since this big boy used to be mine my friend knows I will take good care of him. 
jadeleaf May 24, 2015
This is just it, if you don't respect a cat's needs, how can you expect the cat to respect your home or the food and items around you?  Cats are like babies for goodness' sake, they need to be cared for in much the same way.  Feeding them bacteria laiden water that's been lying there for days, not feeding them right and leaving them to wade in a filthy toilet of COURSE is going to cause behavioural problems not to mention likely to make the cats ill.  Self filling bowls are great if you're going to be out all day but they're not a permanent solution to changing water a few times a day - new water is just filling up with old water and still full of nastiness.   I've said before, people think of cats too much as wild independent animals, which YES, they can be, never forget that, but people also forget that domesticated house cats are living beings susceptible to infections, tummy bugs, starvation, unhappiness and behavioural issues like children are. A cat isn't just a 'pet', it's an extension of the family and it's supposed to be treated like one of your family (in my opinion, I guess, people will probably disagree).     Responsible care of the cat means that the cat will stay healthy, behavioural problems and bad smells shouldn't be too horrific. 
vancats27 May 24, 2015
This hits close to home mine and my husbands friend were watching our cats for a few days and when we went to pick them up they talked about how their place smelled now from them and that they peed on some of their things. Now all three of my cats are very litter box trained they don't go anywhere else, so much so that my littlest one will not go if the box is too dirty for him. My husband and I always clean the boxes and have a litter box spray that may be new for arm & hammer since I haven't seen before and that stuff is pretty awesome. I asked my friends if they kept the box clean of course the answer was yes, but I kinda doubt it. When we would go visit them of course the litter box was spotless when we got there but then again we did call before to let them know we were headed over. I kind of think they did a cleaning after we called so it wouldn't be dirty when we got there, because our cats haven't gone anywhere but the box with us. Another thing that makes me think that was going on is when we picked them up their food bag had bees broken into, only time our cats have done that is they had no food in their bowl and were hungry, but of course the bowl was full when we would swing by after calling. The last dead give away of them slacking on care was yes their water dish was full but it was filthy and had floatys. Now I understand it's not their cats and what not but please don't offer to care for them if your don't want to or can't, I would have taken them elsewhere or have them boarded. At least now I know I suppose and maybe I'm just being picky about things cuz my cats are like my kids and I wouldn't want my kids in someone's care and are only fed or anything when the sitters know I'm coming haha that would be horrible. Sorry for my little rant there!
jadeleaf May 24, 2015
I get really annoyed when people who own cats complain about their cats smelling up the house with the litter boxes and how the cat will just start peeing elsewhere in the house.  My friend got a cat and complained about it pooing and peeing elsewhere in the house even though he had a litter tray for her.  He said it seemed "unfair that I have a cat litter box in my bedroom and there has NEVER been a smell of cat anywhere in my room or house" and yet his house smells like a fish factory now.   Eventually I got it out of him that he wasn't taking the poo out of the box when the cat dropped a load off - he just left it there until the day the box gets emptied.  His cat is like my black cat Sabbath who is finicky about a mess in his box (mine actually drags his poop scoop out and lays it out in front of the box to indicate it needs to be cleaned up - he'll even drag rubbish out of the bin and lay it out in front of the box to get my attention to do it - cleverclogs, lol).  Basically his cat was unhappy about the mess in her box and was going elsewhere because she was uncomfortable with the mess of her toilet (and so she should be).   I told my friend to remove the poo immediately at EVERY fouling (yes, it stinks, but it takes a minute, there's no excuse for leaving it there if you're able bodied enough to get it out of there) and to scrub the box out every time the litter is changed.  Since then, there's been no accidents and no smells anywhere in the house (plus, it actually gives the cat litter a little longer lasting time as it isn't full of poo).   I think some humans expect animals to be quite happy with dirty surroundings and smells, to be used to it, but cats are very clean and finicky about toilet situations.  You wouldn't want to go to a dirty poo covered toilet, why expect the cat to do so?  You wouldn't want to go to the bathroom in a toilet that stinks like an old fish factory, why think the cat deserves to?    A lot of people I've known have gotten rid of cats because they can't stand the smell in the house, but they're usually the ones at fault, cat smells and litter box smells are going to be there if you aren't vigilant in actually taking the time to get rid of a poo or two per day (seriously, ONE minute out of your day, learn to hold your breath) and then scrubbing it out on the changing day (mine takes about five to ten minutes to do thanks to the garden hose, washing up liquid and a scrubbing brush).    People look at cats and think "aw cute", and then the cat loses their novelty as soon as the smells start to become noticeable and the person starts to realise you have to do some work to keep things fresh.    Whenever someone I know is thinking about getting a cat now, the first thing I say is "are you willing to scoop poo out of a cats litter box once to twice a day and scrub it out properly on changing day,". (and Bonus, if they're thinking about getting a long-haired cat "are you willing to cut and clean poo out of...
segelkatt January 31, 2015
I use World's Best Cat Litter and find that really to be the best, hardly any dust, good for the environment, I use less than the other stuff, it's made from corn (the industrial stuff, not what people eat), really absorbent and just eating up the stink. With 4 cats in the house right now, 3 regular boxes and a Litter Robot (which I clean out once a week) I scoop morning and evening every day, add more twice a week and dump it every two weeks. I have not had any problem with the boxes stinking up the place, only smelling when my one stinky cat does his business before covering. Same as with people - sometimes you just have to air out the bathroom afterwards, so don't blame the cat for having the same problem.
catladylou January 31, 2015
All three off mine smell really bad after going the litter box. There wee dont just the other. I have tried everythiing. Now i just think its part of being a pet owner aslong i clean the poo and wee out everyday twice aday and change the litter everyother day.
segelkatt December 31, 2014
I have seen this behavior at shelters where the cats either lived in "gang cages" or also in single cages. Maybe it was the only place where the floor was not cold or hard or the bedding was not to their liking. In any case they did not lie on dirty litter and if that gave them comfort what's the problem?   
peaches123 December 30, 2014
out of curiosity, I switched to clumping litter when it came out and I've pretty much used Tidy Cat.  But my Darling Daisy Mae used to lie down on one of them,(I had 3 litter boxes for her, and Beasley whom are both departed RIP).  She's the only cat I've ever had do this and otherwise she groomed regularly and didn't stink.  Anyone else have a cat who did this and more importantly WHY?  Daisy joined the family as a 16 week old kitten where as Beasley was already 2 years old.  However Daisy didn't start this behavior until she was an adult.
caltritwiamb4 September 27, 2014
I find no oder when using pine pellets. Unless of course it was just used for a solid. But when I am dumping the saw dust from the bottom tray there is no oder.
catsknowme September 26, 2014
I'd like to add that 2 boxes per cat works better than one. Many cats use one box for urine and the other for poop, which minimizes the odor created by the ammonia from the urine contacting the excrement.  You won't be scooping any more than you already do and the kitties will be much happier.
segelkatt September 10, 2014
I have one cat who really stinks. She does cover though. But that short time between when it comes out of her and when she finally has it covered, she digs forever --- oh my! For some reason though the stink dissipates really fast so that's good. She is 15 and I've had her for 3 years during which time she has always brought the house down with her evil smells. 
helsic July 28, 2014
my two kittens don't cover their stools but well they're still less than 2 months, I hope they learn by theirselves eventually!

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