Controlling litter box odor is every cat parents' greatest challenge and ultimate goal. We can speak from experience that life with a cat gets so much better when you can stop the frightening fragrances that waft from your feline friend's litter box. But never fear, intrepid cat parent! We're here to help. In this article we'll give you our picks for the best cat litters for odor control on the market today and explain how you can get a handle on your cat's natural...aromas.
Here at tuft + paw, we are cat experts. Over the last couple years, we've spent countless hours determining which litter features are most important to cats and cat parents alike. To compile this list, we consulted cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel, veterinarian Megan Teiber, our own product development team, and hundreds of customer reviews to figure out which litters offer the best odor control on the market.
low dust for clay, soft texture, great odor control, hard clumping, long lasting, affordable
tracks a lot, lightly scented, slow clumping, heavy, not eco-friendly, clay health concerns
clumpingclay, baking soda, other deodorizers
$17.99 for 18 lbs = $1.00/lb
What Causes Litter Box Odor?
Cat urine is incredibly concentrated, which makes it far more pungent than human or dog urine. Their fecal odor is no joke either, as any cat parent can attest. Some litter box odor is inevitable, but if it’s dominating your house and scaring guests away, it’s time to investigate the cause. The most common culprits of excessive litter box odor are:
Not cleaning the litter box enough
Not using enough litter
Using the wrong litter
Now let’s get into the details and solve this smelly problem.
How to Control Litter Box Odor
This is the most important rule! The best odor control is always to remove the cause of the odor. Be as thorough as possible when scooping, getting all the clumps and bits stuck to the box. Leaving dirty litter in the box allows bacteria to grow which break down urea and unleash a whole new wave of ammonia smell. To keep things tolerable, cat parents should scoop the litter box at least once per day. Every month or so, the litter box should be completely emptied and scrubbed clean to get rid of leftover clumps and odors.
We recommend avoiding products that make it easier to ignore the litter box, like covered litters boxes or scented litters. Assuming your cat is healthy and your litter is decent, odor is your sign to clean. A clean litter box will control odor better and create a happier living environment for all mammals involved. A high quality open litter box and a sturdy scoop can make cleaning the litter box less of a chore.
Litter needs to fully absorb urine to control odor effectively. If the box doesn’t have enough litter, urine is more likely pool at the bottom of the box and cause a stink. The rule of thumb is 3-4 inches of litter—this helps your cat bury their waste and gives the litter enough time to absorb urine before it trickles to the bottom.
Sprinkling some baking soda or activated charcoal in the litter box can help absorb odors and excess moisture. Many litters already include these ingredients in their formulas (like our Really Great Cat Litter), but a little extra doesn’t hurt. There are deodorizer products made specifically for cat litter, but we recommend staying away from any that are scented.
Note: There are conflicting theories about whether baking soda neutralizes cat urine odor or just makes it worse. We think it does neutralize odor, and our reasons are included at the end of this article.
Litter Box Location & Number
Keep the litter box in a quiet, low-traffic, well-ventilated area. This has two benefits: 1) your cat gets a calm environment for eliminating waste, and 2) it keeps litter box aromas away from the main living space. Also make sure you have multiple litter boxes. According to cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel “the number of litter boxes in a home should equal the number of cats plus one.” Divide and conquer that litter box odor.
Get the Right Litter
Some litters control odor better than others. Clumping clay generally does the best job, but there are other litter options out there that can hold their own and don’t have the health and environmental drawbacks of clay. Spoiler: this list has several clay options, but some of the best natural litters also offer good odor control.
What to Look for in Odor Controlling Litter
Clumping and Absorbency
Clumping litter is easy to clean and allows the removal of dirty litter, which is what causes most odor in the first place. A good clumping litter can dehydrate solid waste, absorb urine, and seal odors inside its clumps. Clumping reduces the surface area of urine contacting the air, so fewer stinky compounds can evaporate and become airborne. An absorbent litter will also help dehydrate solid waste and minimize fecal odor.
The best odor controlling litters often include a natural deodorizing agent in their formula. Look for litters that have baking soda, activated charcoal, or even probiotics and enzymes to combat litter box funk.
Note: There are conflicting theories about whether baking soda neutralizes cat urine odor or just makes it worse. We think it does neutralize odor, and our reasons are included at the end of this article.
Even though scented litters can be pleasant for humans, strong fragrance can overwhelm cats’ sensitive snouts and make them more likely to avoid the litter box altogether, leading to the much stinkier problem of waste outside the litter box. Plus, scents don’t really solve the problem—they cover up odor rather than eliminate it. Cat parents might only smell the added scent, but cats can smell the awful mixture of fragrance and a dirty litter box.
A litter with a soft texture will encourage your cat to use the litter box and bury their waste, which automatically helps with odors. Nothing’s stinkier than your cat not using the box.
Easy to Clean
Cat parents should purchase a litter that makes cleaning easy for them. Whether that’s flushable litter, clumping, non-clumping, or something else entirely, the perfect litter should make cleaning feel like less of a chore. This is a personal choice that leads to a universal goal: cleaning the litter box every day.
Ideally, litter and its accompanying musk should stay in the litter box. A low tracking litter can help with that, though this is definitely a minor aspect of odor control.
Our Criteria For Choosing the Best Odor Controlling Litter
The following criteria were developed in consultation with veterinarian Megan Teiber and cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel.
Odor control — The most important category. Controlling urine smell is the key here, because no litter can truly neutralize the smell of solid waste. Keep in mind that odor control partially depends on individual cats and the strength of their urine odor.
Scent — Unscented is always preferable. Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell to interact with their surroundings, so strongly scented litter can be overwhelming.
Ease of cleaning — How well the litter clumps/absorbs, coats solid waste, whether it’s flushable, and how much it sticks to the litter box.
Tracking — How much litter ends up outside the litter box, and how far from the litter box it can get.
Dust — How dusty the litter is. This factor is very important for cats and people with respiratory issues and allergies.
Ease of handling — How easy the litter is to transport, pour, and handle.
Health and safety — We prefer litters made from safe non-toxic materials. The fewer additives the better. This includes scents, preservatives, and colors.
Eco-friendly — Bonus points for being made from sustainable and/or biodegradable materials
Price: $32.39 for 37 lbs = $0.87/lb on Chewy Rating: 4.6/5 with 12,372 Amazon reviews Ingredients: clay, activated charcoal
If you’re looking for a cat litter with superior odor control, Fresh Step Simply Unscented excels in that department at a great price ($0.87/lb). This clay litter forms fairly tight clumps, which makes it easy to clean and helps it last a long time. Its odor control capabilities are top-notch—many cat owners swear that this litter does an even better job of controlling odors than Dr Elsey’s (which also made this list)! The dust content is quite low for clay, but there can be inconsistencies between bags. Still, some reviewers mentioned they prefer this litter for their asthmatic cats. Finally, we like how cat-friendly it is, both in terms of texture and the lack of added scents.
Unfortunately, availability can be an issue with Fresh Step Simply Unscented—it isn’t available in some brick and mortar stores, while the pricing and inventory on Amazon has fluctuated lately. It has some tracking issues, but it’s not terrible for clay litter. Some users also mentioned that the clumps can stick to the litter box—another reason why regular cleaning is so important. Finally, it has the usual negatives of clay litter: harvested by strip mining, not biodegradable, and contains crystalline silica dust.
Price: $18.99 for 18 lbs = $1.05/lb on Chewy Rating: 4.2/5 with 5644 Amazon reviews Ingredients: pine shavings, baking soda
Feline Pine Platinum is a wood pellet litter made from reclaimed pine shavings, making it the only eco-friendly natural cat litter on our list. Baking soda is added to the pellets which, coupled with pine's odor neutralizing properties, rapidly eliminates unwanted aromas. Along with odor control, this litter’s biggest strengths are the low tracking and low dust of the large pellets (it made our list of the best non-tracking litters!). When used with a sifting litter box, these pellets can be a powerful weapon against litter box mess and odor. Last but not least, Feline Pine Platinum is biodegradable, lightweight, and is reasonably priced at $1.05/lb.
Of course, there are a few drawbacks to Feline Pine Platinum. Sadly, it’s not the most cat-friendly litter because of its rough texture and strong pine scent—these two qualities can quickly cause litter box avoidance in a sensitive cat. It also isn’t the easiest to clean with a conventional litter box. The non-clumping pellets dissolve when wet and break down over time, creating dust that can get tracked around your home.
Price: $15.99 for 18 lbs = $ 0.89/lb Rating: 4.4/5 with 68,691 Amazon reviews Ingredients: clumping clay
Dr Elsey’s Ultra Unscented Cat Litter has legions of fans for very good reason. It creates firm clumps that effectively seal in litter box odors, even without added deodorizers. The medium-sized granules are quite low dust and reduce tracking, sparing cat parents the frequent cleanups of typical clay litter. We also appreciate that this Dr Elsey’s litter is free from added fragrances that may disrupt your cat’s litter box routine. The cherry on top is the price of $0.89/lb. If tracking reduction and odor control are your priorities, this litter is an excellent choice.
Unfortunately, a major weakness of Dr Elsey’s cat litter is its weight—a common tradeoff for a low tracking, low dust clay litter. It is one of the heavier cat litters on the market, so it may not be ideal for cat owners with multiple cats or those with a litter box on a second floor. Once in a while a bag may be dustier than expected. Also, if you don't use enough of it in your cat's litter box, it may stick to the sides and bottom of the pan. Finally, it has the usual negatives of clay litter: harvested by strip mining, not biodegradable, and contains crystalline silica dust.
Price: $25.48 for 17 lbs = $1.49/lb on Amazon Rating: 4.6/5 with 37,778 Amazon reviews Ingredients: clumping clay, activated charcoal, ammonia blocker
If you're looking for cat litter that's lightweight, has great odor-control and is easy to scoop, Tidy Cats Free & Clean Lightweight Unscented may be the perfect option for your household. According to Tidy Cats, this formula is 50% lighter than traditional clay litter, making it easier to handle and store. Activated charcoal and an ammonia blocker help prevent odors from building up in the litter box and the tight clumping makes it easy to scoop without creating a mess. In addition, this cat litter has been reported by customers as mostly low-dust - though there have been reports of inconsistencies between boxes. We also love that it’s unscented.
While this Tidy Cats formula does have some great features, there are also some drawbacks. The major issue is that because it's so lightweight, cat parents may find the litter being kicked or tracked out of the litter box. Another downside is that it’s slightly more expensive than most clay cat litters at $1.49/lb. Finally, it has the usual negatives of clay litter: harvested by strip mining, not biodegradable, and contains crystalline silica dust.
Price: $29 for 9.5 lbs = $3.05/lb (shipping included) Rating: 4.6/5 with 1,200 reviews on tuft + paw Ingredients: soybean fiber, corn starch, corn flour, guar gum, charcoal
Disclaimer: Yes, we included our own tofu litter here. This is only because we truly think it performs excellently compared to other litters. We subjected it to the same scrutiny as every other litter on this list and asked for honest opinions from experts and users.
Tofu litter isn’t usually known for odor control, but tuft + paw’s Really Great Cat Litter bucks that trend. With consistent testing and tweaking, we’ve created a natural litter that boasts odor control on par with many clay and silica litters. This tofu pellet litter is beloved for its exceptionally low tracking and low dust content (it ranked #1 on our list of the best tofu litters). Uniquely on this list, it's both clumping and flushable, which makes it super easy to clean. Cats will appreciate that it's unscented and has a fairly paw-friendly texture for a pellet litter. The activated charcoal provides added odor control. For easier pouring and storage, the bag is resealable and has an integrated handle.
The one notable drawback of Really Great Cat Litter is its price: $29 for 9.5 lbs ($3.05/lb), shipping included. There is also an option to receive 3 bags every 3 months for a lower price of $79 ($2.77/lb), but we understand this is not within every cat parent's budget.
Price: $17.99 for 18 lbs = $1.00/lb on Chewy Rating: 4.6/5 with 7696 Amazon reviews Ingredients: clumpingclay, baking soda, other deodorizers
Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal Cloud Control is an excellent choice if you’re looking for odor control. Its rock hard clumping locks up urine and the added baking soda rapidly neutralizes odors. It has a soft sandy texture that’s easy on the paws and it also has quite a low dust content considering how small its particles are. As with most mainstream clay litters, it clocks in at an affordable price of $1.00/lb.
The main downside of this cat litter is that it tracks quite a bit. The small granules can stick to fur and are easily kicked out of the box. Additionally, some cats may not care for the light “Clean Scent" that comes with this cat litter. It’s not as overbearing as a heavily perfumed litter, but added scent of any kind can be a feline turn-off. Some cat parents have complained that the clumping takes a bit too long and that the resulting clumps are heavy and hard to scoop out of the litter box. Finally, it has the usual negatives of clay litter: harvested by strip mining, not biodegradable, and contains crystalline silica dust.
low dust for clay
great odor control
tracks quite a lot
clay health concerns
Does Baking Soda Neutralize Cat Urine Odor?
Yes, it does! We asked our Innovation Technologist (read science person) Jocelyn Lambie to explain why baking soda does neutralize litter box odors, and here’s what she said (in layman’s terms)…
What makes cat urine stinky is the breakdown of urea into ammonia gas, which happens in basic pH conditions (pH=7 is neutral, pH>7 is basic, pH<7 is acidic). The theoretical concern with baking soda is that it’s a basic compound (pH 8.4), so adding it to the litter box would increase the pH and lead to more ammonia gas production. However, this is not what actually happens.
Baking soda has a low alkilinity, which essentially means it has a flexible pH depending on what solution it’s added to. It can neutralize both acids and bases and keep the pH close to neutral, which is why it’s added to so many baking recipes. In cat urine, it neutralizes uric acid and slows down the urea —> ammonia reaction, resulting in less ammonia production. Baking soda also reacts with ammonia to produce ammonium salt, which is odorless. The cherry on top is that baking soda is absorbent, so it absorbs and binds with other odor-causing compounds too.
Some Final Tips for Controlling Odor
While litter choice is a key component of controlling odor, there are a few more factors to consider:
Choose the right litter box — A high quality open litter box and a sturdy scoop can make cleaning the litter box less of a chore. We don’t recommend covered litter boxes because they can be unpleasant for cats to use (they’re cramped and trap odors inside) and they make it easier to ignore cleaning the litter box.
Get an air filter — air filters placed near the litter box can help catch smelly particles before they waft around the house. Charcoal air filters are especially effective for this.
Neuter your male cat — Unneutered male cats excrete high levels of testosterone and other hormones in their urine to mark their territory and signal to other cats in the area. Basically, their urine is super stinky. Neutering your male cat can reduce urine odor (not to mention make life much easier for the both of you).
Change your cat’s diet — If fecal odor is the problem, changing your cat to a whole food meat diet can help a lot. Cats can have trouble digesting the plant fibres found in commercial pet food, which often leads to extra stinky poops.
See the vet — If all else fails, a visit to the vet may be in order. If you notice your cats waste odor gets drastically worse in a very short time frame, it could indicate a health problem.
Cat Litter Odor Control FAQs
How can I prevent and control litter box odors effectively?
To prevent and control litter box odors, choose a clumping cat litter with odor-absorbing properties. Scoop the litter box daily to remove waste promptly and consider using litter box deodorizers or air purifiers in the vicinity.
What types of cat litter are best known for superior odor control?
Clumping litters, particularly those made from bentonite clay, are renowned for their excellent odor control capabilities. Activated charcoal-based litters and natural options like pine or cedar can also effectively neutralize odors.
How often should I change the entire cat litter to maintain optimal odor control?
It's advisable to change the entire cat litter and clean the litter box regularly. The frequency depends on factors such as the type of litter used, the number of cats, and your cat's habits. Generally, a complete litter change every month is recommended.
Are scented cat litters a better choice for controlling odors?
Not really. Scented cat litters can mask odors, but they may not be suitable for all cats, especially those with sensitive noses. We recommend avoiding scented litter as it can cause your cat to avoid litter box. Instead, look for unscented clumping litters with added deodorizers, and scoop everyday.
Can I use household items like baking soda for natural odor control in the cat litter box?
Yes, incorporating natural odor absorbers like baking soda can be an effective and budget-friendly way to control odors. Simply sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda at the bottom of the litter box or mix it into the cat litter for additional odor-fighting power.
Conclusion: Your Cat Knows Best
Odor control is a crucial part of creating a harmonious life with cats, so hopefully these tips and litter recommendations will help you in that ever-important department. Every litter on this list offers great odor control and a slightly different set of pros and cons. Fresh Step Simply Unscented and Tidy Cats Lightweight Free & Clean have excellent odor control and performance, but with some tracking and dust issues. Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal Cloud Control does too, but it also has an added scent that some cats may reject. Dr Elsey’s does well in the tracking and dust categories, but the tradeoff is its heaviness. If natural litters are your preference, tuft + paw's Really Great Cat Litter and Feline Pine stand out with top-notch odor control and very low tracking among eco-friendly options. Ultimately, as veterinarian Megan Teiber says, “the best litter is the one your cat will use”, so let your feline friend guide the way.