Clay has dominated the cat litter market for the better part of a century, but that monopoly is weakening as cat parents become more informed on the health risks and environmental price of clay cat litter (which we'll explore below). Natural cat litters have burst on to the scene in recent years, offering many of the perks of clay—clumping, odor control—without the serious drawbacks. In this article, we’ll give you our picks for the best natural cat litters on the market today and explain why so many cat parents are choosing these safer and more eco-friendly options.
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, and hundreds of customer reviews to figure out which natural litters provide the best all-around experience.
great clumping, low dust, good odor control, low tracking, health monitoring, flushable
scented, small bag, pricey, cats may eat it
bean dregs, starch, guar gum, occult blood test particles
$15.99 for 5.3 lbs = $3.02/lb
What Is Natural Cat Litter?
Natural cat litter generally refers to any non-mineral litter that is made from a renewable plant-based resource, such as corn, soy, or wood. This excludes clay and silica litters. Technically clay and silica are naturally occurring materials, but due to the environmental damage required to harvest them and, in the case of clay, the health concerns associated with their use, they are not categorized as “natural” litters.
The term “natural” does not have a strict definition in the cat litter industry and is often used simply to market a product. For this article, we created our own definition which we think matches the way most people use the term—as a synonym for “safe and eco-friendly”. To be considered “natural” on this list, a litter must be:
made almost entirely from a renewable resource
free of clay or silica
Bonus points for being made from recycled/repurposed materials (e.g. post-consumer waste, industrial waste).
Types of Natural Cat Litter
As the natural cat litter industry has expanded, an impressive variety of natural materials have been utilized as cat litter. Here are the main types:
Grain —Most often corn, sometimes wheat, sometimes a mix of both.
Soy — Often called “tofu litter”, this litter is made from the soybean fiber that is left after making soy milk.
Wood — Often pine. Can take the form of fine grains or pellets and be clumping or non-clumping. If purchasing pine litter, make sure it is kiln-dried. This evaporates the pine oils that are toxic to cats. If you're curious about wood litter, check out our list of the best wood pellet litters.
Paper — Usually made from post-consumer recycled paper. Can take the form of pellets or grains, and is typically non-clumping.
Grass — Made from the seeds of grass, often sorghum. It makes a fine grain litter that is very soft.
Coconut — Made from ground coconut husks. This type of litter is very soft, absorbent, and fibrous.
Walnut — Made from ground walnut shells, but may include traces of walnut meat. For this reason people with nut allergies should avoid walnut litter. It can take granular or pellet forms, and can be clumping or non-clumping.
Cassava — Made from cassava starch, the same ingredient used to make tapioca. It clumps very well and is quite absorbent. Cassava starch is sometimes mixed with other natural materials to improve clumping.
Why Choose Natural Cat Litter?
Beyond a vague feeling that anything “natural” is better for humans, cats, and the planet, there are some very convincing reasons why natural cat litter is better than clay.
The main health concern with clay litter is the presence of crystalline silica dust. According to the CDC, silica dust is a known carcinogen when inhaled and can cause respiratory issues in cats and humans. In industrial settings, workers that encounter silica dust usually wear respirators and take extensive precautions to avoid these problems.
Note: The crystalline silica dust found in clay litter is different from the amorphous silica crystals used in crystal cat litter. Silica crystal cat litter is not dangerous for cats or humans.
Clumping clay litter has its own specific health concerns beyond silica dust. Sodium bentonite is the clumping agent used is clumping clay litter and it can be very dangerous if ingested. When sodium bentonite absorbs moisture, it swells and forms hard clumps that do not break down in water. If a cat ingests sodium bentonite, either by directly eating it or by cleaning their paws over time, it can cause blockages in their GI tract. Veterinarian Megan Teiber notes that little academic research exists on this topic, but it’s a theoretical concern that should not be ignored.
Environmental Reasons — Sourcing
Clay is acquired through strip mining, a practice which can be extremely environmentally damaging. Strip mining removes the top layer of earth to access the mineral deposits underneath, thereby destroying any habitat and vegetation that previously existed. Once strip mining has begun, the underlying ground is vulnerable to erosion and water pollution from the leaching of exposed heavy metals, as well as extensive air and noise pollution.
Silica crystals are also mined, but are typically extracted through open pit mining. This method sometimes has a smaller surface area than strip mining, but it can cause many of the same environmental consequences (e.g. water pollution, erosion, habitat destruction).
On the other hand, natural litters are made using plant-based renewable resources, often through repurposing industrial waste (e.g. pine shavings, walnut shells) or preexisting crops (e.g. corn, wheat). The method of sourcing differs between brands, but you can rest assured that none are strip mined.
Environmental Reasons — Disposal
All of the natural litters on our list are biodegradable, and some are even flushable! Clay and silica litters do not degrade quickly and take up lots of space in landfills without breaking down.
Lighter Than Clay
Clay litter is notoriously heavy and difficult to carry. Virtually every type of natural cat litter is lighter in weight than clay and much less dense, so even light bags of litter can last a surprisingly long time.
In general, clay is one of the dustiest litter materials. Cat behaviourist Nicole Van Andel emphasized the importance of having minimal dust in a cat's litter box, as dusty litters can "irritate a cat’s respiratory system and sometimes cause feline asthma." Most natural cat litters are far less dusty than clay, and what dust they do produce is not carcinogenic. In particular, natural pellet litters are some of the least dusty litters on the market.
Brand Specific Reasons
Every natural cat litter is different, and each one has its own distinct advantages over clay litter. For example, tofu pellet litters are much lower tracking than clay and coconut litter is effortless to clean out of the litter box. As mentioned above, some natural cat litters are also flushable, which makes for a streamlined cleaning process.
Our video below shows some of the thought process that went into developing our own tofu litter. Repurposing waste is a common feature among natural cat litters.
As with any new eco-friendly product, the costs of manufacturing natural litters are generally higher than clay litters. There are exceptions, such as pine pellets, but even the more affordable natural litters are more expensive than clay.
In the process of developing our own litter, our product team has found that the best odor control is usually found in clumping clay litters. The extremely tight clumping of sodium bentonite locks in odors and some brands also include natural or synthetic deodorizers in their litters. Many natural litters also offer great odor control, but not quite as good as clumping clay litter and at a higher price.
Natural litter is made from…well, natural materials, so spoilage is possible. If stored in moist conditions, natural litter can be susceptible to mold. Some users have mentioned that natural litters made from food products (e.g. corn, tofu, wheat) can attract bugs in the litter box and in the bag, though this is a rare occurrence. Be sure to store natural litter in a dry, cool, well-ventilated area and keep the bag securely closed to avoid these problems.
Some natural cat litters are made from common allergens, such as wheat, grass, and walnut. This might narrow your household’s natural litter options.
Our Criteria for Finding the Best Natural Cat Litter
The following criteria were developed in consultation with veterinarian Megan Teiber and cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel.
Health and safety — All litters on this list are made with safe non-toxic materials. The fewer additives the better (e.g. scents, preservatives)
Eco-friendly — Every litter on this list is made from sustainably harvested and biodegradable materials.
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.
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.
Odor control — How well the litter neutralizes smells. 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.
Ease of handling — How easy the litter is to transport, pour, and handle.
Price: $29 for 9.5 lbs = $3.05/lb (shipping included) Rating: 4.7/5 with 229 reviews on tuft + paw Ingredients: soybean fiber, corn starch, corn flour, guar gum, charcoal
Disclaimer: Yes, we included our own cat litter here. This is only because we truly think it performs excellently compared to other natural litters. We subjected it to the same scrutiny as every other litter on this list and asked for honest opinions from experts.
Our choice for the best natural cat litter on the market is the tuft + paw Really Great Cat Litter. This tofu litter consistently receives rave reviews for its low tracking and low dust content—both of which are thanks to its soybean fiber and pellet shape. Toss in the fact that it’s flushable and unscented, and you’ve got one of the most convenient and clean litters around. The clumping and odor control are good but not top of the class. Bonus points for having a handle on the bag for easy pouring.
As with many natural cat litters, the main weakness of Really Great Cat Litter is its price: $29 for 9.5 lbs ($3.05/lb). However, shipping is included in the price and there is also an option to receive 3 bags every 3 months for a lower price of $79 ($2.77/lb). Another factor to consider is that Really Great Cat Litter is only available through subscription, which some users liked and others didn’t.
Price: $36.74 for 32 lbs = $1.15/lb Rating: 4.6/5 with 4,500 reviews on Amazon Ingredients: corn
Our runner-up for best natural litter is World’s Best Cat Litter. This corn-based litter has a granular texture that offers good clumping and coats solid waste well, both of which help with odor control. In terms of tracking and dust, it is better than most granular litters on the market, but not quite as good as the tofu litters on this list. Flushability and being unscented are also features that we enjoy about this litter. World’s Best is perfect if you’re transitioning your cat from clay to natural litter, especially considering it’s the cheapest option on this list ($1.15/lb)
Arguably the most common complaint about World’s Best is that it has a “barnyard” smell, though this seems to vary from person to person. The smell is not a problem for cats. The tracking and dust, though generally well-received, did have some mixed reviews. As with all granular litters, World’s Best Cat Litter can be prone to tracking, especially if your cat is long-haired or an enthusiastic digger. As the litter is used, some granules may break down and create more dust over time. Finally, World’s Best seems to be sold out on Amazon fairly often, so availability could be an occasional issue.
Price: $17.99 for 5 lbs = $3.60/lb Rating: 4.7/5 with 1670 reviews on CatSpot Ingredients: coconut shells
Our third choice is CatSpot Coconut Non-Clumping Cat Litter. This granular coconut litter came in first on our list of the best non-clumping litters, and it’s the only non-clumping litter that made this list. Users love the absorbency, odor control, and light weight of CatSpot. It is unscented and has an uber-soft texture, making it one of the most cat-friendly litters on the market. It dehydrates solid waste very well and doesn’t glue itself to the litter box like clay. A nice eco-friendly detail is that the bag is recyclable.
Many users recommended using just a one inch layer of this litter because of how absorbent it is (CatSpot claims it can absorb 560% of its weight in liquid). Over time, the litter absorbs urine and swells significantly. If you overfill your little box at the start, you’ll end up with coconut grounds spilling onto the floor a couple weeks later. CatSpot recommends changing the litter every 15 days, though some reviewers found it lasted longer or shorter depending on their cat’s litter box habits.
As we’ve seen, natural litters can be expensive and CatSpot is no different. At $3.60/lb, it’s the most expensive litter on this list and it comes in quite a small bag (5 lbs). The other common complaint is that it tracks easily because of how light the particles are. In fact, the litter is so light that some cats tipped their litter boxes over when leaning on the sides. These problems can be minimized by using a litter mat and a sturdy high-sided litter box. A few users also found the small and lightweight litter particles to be slightly dusty.
Price: $22.99 for 13 lbs = $1.77/lb Rating: 4.4/5 with 1,220 Amazon reviews Ingredients: corn, cassava
Formerly known as Garfield Cat Litter, Sustainably Yours is a fine clumping litter made from corn and cassava starch. Users consistently praise the firm clumping, low dust, and paw-friendly texture of this litter. The hard clumps do a solid job of sealing in ammonia odors and the fine grains easily coat and dehydrate solid waste. Health-minded cat parents will also appreciate that this litter is unscented and white colored, so any discoloration in your cat’s urine will be clearly visible.
Considering this is a “natural” cat litter list and you’re probably an eco-conscious cat parent, we should mention that Sustainably Yours donates a portion of their profits to the Rainforest Trust, a non-profit organization that buys up land to protect rainforest habitat. They don’t specify how much they donate.
Sustainably Yours’ biggest weakness is its tracking. One reviewer compared it to beach sand, both for its fine texture and the fact that it got everywhere in their house. This litter is supposed to be flushable as well, but some users felt the clumps were too hard to comfortably flush. Among natural cat litters, the price is middling ($1.77/lb) but certainly not cheap.
Price: $15.99 for 5.3 lbs = $3.02/lb Rating: 4.3/5 with 138 reviews on Amazon Ingredients: bean dregs, starch, guar gum, blood test particles
Pidan’s Tofu Cat Litter with Blood Test Particles is the second tofu litter on this list thanks to its unique benefits: it contains tiny blood test particles which turn blue if they detect hemoglobin. This makes it a great choice for monitoring your cat’s health and catching urinary problems early. Another main strength of this litter is its clumping. It contains two different pellet sizes: 70% 2mm diameter pellets, and 30% 1.5mm pellets. The 1.5mm pellets can fill in smaller gaps than the 2mm pellets, creating tighter clumps. Beyond that, it has the usual low tracking, low dust, and flushability of most tofu litters.
The main reason this litter doesn’t rank higher for us is its sweet scent, which some users compared to desserts or vanilla. This is definitely a scent designed for humans, not cats. Since cats have a much stronger sense of smell than us, this added scent could be overwhelming and cause litter box avoidance. The food-like scent could also contribute to cats mistaking it for food, which was mentioned by a handful of users. Pidan does not include a scent on the ingredients list, so we are unsure what the fragrant compound is. Two final drawbacks are the small bag size (5.3 lbs) and high price ($3.02/lb).
Pidan offers other versions of their tofu litter, three of which are a hybrid of tofu pellets and sodium bentonite particles. These litters have good reviews, but they do not meet our criteria for natural litter. Pidan also makes a regular tofu litter with no blood test.
monitors cat health
good odor control
cat may eat it
Conclusion: Your Cat Knows Best
All of the brands we’ve listed here are great options if you want to switch from clay or silica to natural cat litter. Overall, we think that tuft + pawReally Great Cat Litter is the best option because of its well-rounded strengths and convenience. World’s Best is a great second choice, especially if your cat prefers granular litters or is transitioning from clay. If you prefer a non-clumping litter or your feline only likes the softest textures, you can’t go wrong with CatSpot. Sustainably Yours is another solid choice among soft textured litters, but it offers great clumping too. Pidan Tofu Litter with Blood Test Particles is probably the best option for cats with a known history of urinary problems, though its sweet scent may not work for every cat. Whatever your choice, remember veterinarian Megan Teiber’s golden rule: “the best litter is the one your cat will use.”
If you're having trouble switching your cat to a natural litter, our video below has some helpful tips.