There are a million reasons why we love our cats, but cleaning their litter boxes has never been high up on the list. But cat people know, cleaning a litter box is one of the prices you have to pay for the love of a cat.
Here at tuft + paw, we are cat experts. We're intimately familiar with features that are most important to cats and we also spoke to actual cat and cat furniture experts to do some of the research for you on figuring out the benefits and drawbacks of different types of cat litter.
It all boils down to choosing the right cat litter for both you and your cat. Read on to learn all about the different cat litter options, and we’ll help you choose a litter that makes your entire household happy.
(stay tuned to the end for our pick for the best cat litter)
Your Cat Litter Options
1. Clay Cat Litter
Clay is one of the oldest and most commonly used types of commercial cat litter. There are both clumping and non-clumping clay litters.
Clay has become popular largely because it is a naturally-occurring cat litter that is sold virtually anywhere where you buy pet supplies. You’ll find many different brands of this litter with each brand using a slightly different formulation that often results in added ingredients to help neutralize odor (i.e. baking soda, synthetic fragrance).
For non-clumping clay cat litter, you’ll find that it absorbs its weight in liquid; however, because it doesn’t clump together, you’ll find you often have to change the litter.
PROS of non-clumping: cheap, readily available
CONS of non-clumping: tracks dust, messy, doesn’t neutralize odor well, not environmentally friendly
For clumping clay cat litter, the litter will clump into small balls that make it easier to clean out the litter box without having to empty the entire contents.
PROS of clumping: easy to clean, odor neutralizing, don’t have to buy frequently
CONS of clumping: causes dust, not environmentally friendly, can cause respiratory issues in both humans and cats
The biggest difference between the two comes down to price (clumping is more expensive, generally) and how often you have to clean (non-clumping requires more clean-out).
Bottom line: clumping may be more expensive, but you will have to use it less frequently, making the price difference not as significant.
2. Paper Pellet Cat Litter
Paper pellet litter is made from exactly what you would expect—paper. Specifically, it is usually made from recycled newspapers, and, on occasion, may include other additions like leaves and sawdust depending on what brand you choose to buy.
Upon first glance, this might seem like the perfect cat litter considering recycled paper is so readily available, but paper pellets have their flaws. Here are the biggest pros and cons if this is a cat litter you plan on purchasing.
PROS of paper pellets: Environmentally friendly, no added scents, no chemical additives (healthy for you and your cat), non-tracking, great for kittens or cats with injuries/post-surgery
CONS of paper pellets: Doesn’t control odor, cats don’t always like paper pellets, requires frequent changing in order to keep things clean
3. Walnut Cat Litter
Walnut cat litter is made from the crushed shells of walnuts. It is most often purchased as an alternative to clay cat litter because of the similar texture; however, walnut cat litter weighs much less, which is often appealing to those who clean out their cat litter boxes frequently. The lightweight nature of walnut cat litter also makes it easier for your cat to dig and cover up liquid and solid deposits.
PROS of walnut cat litter: Lightweight, clumps for easy cleaning (clumps not as solid as clay litter; can fall apart and be messy), creates very little dust, good odor control (requires stirring to maintain odor-free scent), environmentally friendly
CONS of walnut cat litter: Tracking, dark in color making it harder to scoop out solids, cats may consume the walnut (can cause blockages, dehydration, etc.), can become moldy, can attract rodent/insects
4. Pine Pellet Cat Litter
Also often referred to as wood pellets, this type of litter is most well known for its natural pine scent. It also often receives praise for its environmentally friendly nature, but not too surprisingly, pine pellets aren’t without their flaws.
PROS of pine pellet cat litter: Hides the smell of cat urine, less dusty, environmentally friendly, natural. Can be very cheap if you buy it from Home Depot (not marketed as cat litter, but same thing and cheaper).
CONS of pine pellet cat litter: does not hide the smell of cat excrement, not all cats will use it, difficult to clean, non-clumping, some find the natural pine scent to be too strong
5. Silica Cat Litter
Silica cat litter has started to become more popular in the last couple of years. Also known as crystal cat litter, this type of litter is mined from quartz sand. These sand particles are then mixed with oxygen and water, giving us these highly absorbent crystals. In fact, the crystals can hold up to 40 times their weight in fluid (for reference: clay litter, which is often the most popular cat litter, holds its weight up to 12 times).
PROS of silica cat litter: Dust-free, lightweight, great odor control, hygienic litter box (less chance of mold and bacteria growth), requires less frequent litter box cleaning.
CONS of silica cat litter: Dangerous if your cat consumes the crystals, requires daily stirring in order to maintain cleanliness, cats might not like the texture on their paws. Tracks quite badly because of the lightweight and fine crystals.
6. Corn Cat Litter
Known for its biodegradable and compostable nature, corn cat litter is a popular environmentally-friendly cat litter option. Having said that, as much as corn might be a great option for the environment, it’s not always the best option for your cat.
PROS of corn cat litter: Flushable, natural scent, dust-free, absorbs odor
CONS of corn litter: Can develop fungus that is fatal to cats, contains harmful herbicides that can cause chronic bowel disease
7. Tofu cat litter
And last but certainly not least, there is tofu cat litter. Probably one of the newest types of cat litter available on the market, tofu cat litter is quickly gaining popularity, and once you learn about some of its features, it won’t be hard to determine why.
PROS of tofu cat litter: Environmentally friendly (flushable), long-lasting (less maintenance), dust-free, non-tracking from the larger pellets, clumps for easy clean-up, unscented, harmless if swallowed
CONS of tofu cat litter: Higher price, can go moldy if kept in a high-moisture environment if the bag is not sealed.
Cat Litter Options: Conclusion
There is no such thing as the perfect cat litter, but there is the perfect cat litter for you (and your cat). In order to help you further narrow down on your best option, we’ll guide you through some of the biggest considerations to factor in when making your decision.
If you’re ready to learn what we think is the best cat litter option is, scroll to the bottom of the page to find out.
Factors To Consider When Choosing Cat Litter
1. Safety + Health
Safety should be the number one concern when deciding on cat litter. If the cat litter is not safe for your cat—regardless of its other benefits—it should automatically be discounted.
Some of the common safety concerns you’ll find with cat litter include respiratory issues for both humans and cats (avoid litters with silica), chemical fragrances (often toxic), strong perfumes (cause sinus issues), sodium bentonite (used in clay litter can swell up 12 times its original volume, which can cause serious gastrointestinal distress if consumed).
Keep in mind, with sodium bentonite, your cat doesn’t even have to intentionally consume the litter. They can get this harmful product into their body simply by licking their paws after litter box use, which is a natural and common occurrence for cats.
In addition, it is a similar story with silica litter. As mentioned, silica absorbs its weight 40 times its original volume, meaning this litter can be even more life-threatening if your cat happened to consume it.
While some will argue these litters are totally safe, it is our recommendation that you avoid this type of litter and use one of the safer options, especially with kittens who are much more prone to consuming these dangerous litters.
2. Cleanliness (dust + tracking)
In the past, owning a cat often meant accepting that you would find small traces of cat litter throughout your house (i.e. tracking). Cat litter also usually resulted in unwanted dust found throughout the home, which, for most, can be quite a downside to cat ownership.
If you want to keep your home clean and dust-free, look for non-tracking litter. In particular, you’ll find that clumping litters are the best option when prioritizing the cleanliness of your home.
Litters that are often praised for tracking and lack of dust production include walnut, pine, and tofu.
According to our cat behaviorist, Nicole Van Andel, “cats have an instinctual desire from their wild ancient ancestors to eliminate in a fresh, odorless, and untouched area.” This means that finding a cat litter that can stay relatively clean is not only a benefit to you, but it’s also something that your cat will appreciate.
To keep litter boxes clean, picking a cat litter that is easy for you to clean is probably your best. In most cases, clumping litter is the easiest to clean.
You’ll also want to consider how much time and maintenance you’re willing to dedicate to litter box cleaning. For example, silica can be hygenic option for your cat, but if you’re not committed to stirring the litter daily, as well as cleaning out excrement daily, this is not a great option.
4. Clumping vs. non-clumping
Clumping cat litters have a lot of benefits. Most notably, cat owners generally prefer clumping litter because it makes litter box cleaning easy and mess-free. Cats also often appreciate this since it means their litter box is cleaner.
But clumping litters aren’t without their flaws. For example, as discussed above, the most popular clumping litter, clay litter, can be very dangerous if cats happen to consume their litter.
If you want the benefits of clumping litter, but you want to avoid the dangers of your cat consuming their litter, we recommend walnut litter or tofu litter. Walnut litter won’t clump as easily as clay litter, but you will get some of the clumping action without the dangerous trade-off. Tofu litter is also known for its clumping abilities, but it is not harmful if consumed.
5. Natural vs. synthetic
This is often a personal preference, but remember, when you’re deciding on your cat’s litter, you’re not only making a decision for yourself, you’re making a decision for your cat.
When you choose to go with synthetic cat litter, you might experience some benefits like easier maintenance, cheaper price, and fragrances that will help cover up odors, but you’re also putting your cat at risk when exposed to toxins or fragrances that can irritate them.
To cover up odors, try a natural alternative like pine litter. For relatively easy maintenance, opt for walnut litter. And, if you really want to go with a natural route to avoid synthetic additives, try paper or tofu cat litter.
Cats have double the olfactory cells that you do at about 200 million, making their sense of smell extremely sensitive. Whether we’re talking about a stinky litter box or a litter box that is full of synthetic fragrances, your cat is not going to be pleased with any odors coming from their litter box.
Instead, opting for natural scents is best. In fact, better yet, a completely odorless litter box will make both you and your cat happy.
Avoiding synthetic fragrances is easy, simply don’t buy them. In particular, according to our cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel, you’ll want to avoid citrus, citrus, clove, eucalyptus, and tea tree.
On the other end of the spectrum, avoiding a stinky litter box might be more difficult, depending on what type of cat litter you buy. Our best piece of advice is to buy a litter that is compatible with your ability to maintain your cat’s litter box. For example, if you can’t commit to daily cleaning, don’t purchase a high-maintenance litter. If you don’t want to commit to daily cleaning but you also don’t want to subject yourself and your cat to a smelly litter box, consider tofu cat litter.
7. Allergies (both for yourself and your cat)
Similar to the odor section above, the more natural you go, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to avoid any issues with allergies. Having said that, there are two exceptions: walnut cat litter and corn cat litter. While walnut cat litter is a natural option, it is also a common allergen, especially in humans. Cats can also have a food sensitivity to corn, making it not a great option for their litter box.
Picking a litter that is known for low dust production can also be helpful when considering things like allergens. Your best option for a low dust-producing litter is tofu.
One of the biggest reasons why eco-friendly cat litters have become more common is because of the issues surrounding traditional cat litters. Most notably, clumping cat litters made from sodium bentonite often end up in landfills, and because these litters can swell to 12 times their size when exposed to water, these litters take up a considerate amount of space in landfills, which we all know is dangerous for the environment.
If you want to make the most eco-friendly choice possible, picking a cat litter that can safely be flushed down the toilet like tofu or corn are great options.
When you’ve considered all the factors and you’re stuck between multiple options, the cost might be worth considering.
In addition, when looking at cost, don’t forget to consider how frequently you’ll need to change the litter box. While higher-quality litters might be more expensive initially, in the long run, if they require less cleaning, you actually might end up spending less money.
Bottom line: Don’t be fooled into buying cheap litter. Not only is it likely not the best option for your cat, but it also likely will end up costing you in the long run.
Special Cat Litter Considerations If…
You have multiple cats
We’ll get right to the point here: If you have multiple cats, each cat should, at the very least, have access to their own litter box.
In fact, we actually recommend having multiple litter boxes even if you only have one cat. According to our cat behavior, this is the rule of thumb for the number of litter boxes you should have: The number of cats per household plus one (1 cat = 2 litter boxes, 2 cats = 3 litter boxes, etc).
Cats are not pack animals, meaning they like to have their space. Forcing cats to share a littler box can be stressful, and can result in your cat not using his litter box.
In addition, keeping litter boxes clean becomes even more important when you have multiple cats. If you’re not staying on top of the multiple boxes and one of your cats feels like there’s not a spot for him to relieve himself, you’ll find your cat might stop using the boxes. You might even experience aggression between your cats if they feel that they don’t have the proper facilities.
A low-maintenance cat litter that doesn’t require you to constantly be cleaning out multiple litter boxes is probably the best option for you. For instance, tofu cat litter is a great option.
You use a self-cleaning litter box
Self-cleaning litter boxes have sensors that detect when your cat has used her box and then it does the cleaning for you. Each self-cleaning litter box works slightly differently, but in general, once the sensors have detected that your cat has left the box, a rake will sift through the litter. When the rake detects clumps, it deposits the clumps into a contained receptacle outside the litter box for easy disposal. Clumping litter is required in order for the rake to detect the waste.
You have a kitten
Kittens are very curious. They are new to the world and are all about exploring their environment. In some instances, this might mean having a taste of their litter.
Because of this, you’ll absolutely want to avoid clumping litters since these clumps might look like tasty treats to kittens. In particular, under no circumstances should you use clay clumping litter or silica clumping litter since these litters will swell and cause extreme distress in your kitten, and possibly even death.
If you have a kitten under 8 weeks old, regardless of what kind of cat litter you use, you should keep an eye on them to ensure they’re not ingesting their litter.
You have an elderly cat
Cats like to keep themselves clean. This often means licking and cleaning their paws after litter box use, especially with “sticky” cat litter that adheres to the bottom of the paws and causes tracking.
When you have an elderly cat who might struggle to lick their paws, you want to go with a non-tracking litter like tofu to help discourage licking.
We also recommend staying away from litters that use smaller granules like clay, corn, and silica since these can get wedged in the toes of elderly cats who struggle to clean themselves, causing irritation and discomfort.
The Best Cat Litter Overall
There are a lot of considerations to make when purchasing cat litter, but in our books, there is only one litter that holds up against all 9 important factors that we listed out for you above.
Our choice for best cat litter overall is tofu cat litter.
We choose tofu cat litter as the best cat litter because it can satisfy a variety of different needs. Whether you’re concerned about the environment, want to keep a tidy home, or, most importantly, want to give your cat the healthiest and safest option, tofu cat litter delivers on all fronts.
Tofu cat litter is 100% natural, flushable, clumping, absorbent, non-tracking, lightweight, and dust-free. The only hesitancy some people have with tofu cat litter is the price, but when you purchase a higher quality litter like tofu, you won’t have to clean the box as frequently, meaning you’ll use less product and one bag will last you much longer than conventional cat litter.
Really Great Cat Litter
After discovering how much better tofu cat litter was, we had to formulate our own. We truly believe that our Tuft + Paw tofu litter is not only the best tofu litter available, it’s the BEST cat litter overall.
Check out this guide on how to switch your cat to a new litter.