Clay has been the dominant cat litter material since the 1940s, but that monopoly is slowly loosening thanks to a new generation of alternative cat litters—tofu and crystal chief among them. But what exactly are tofu litter and crystal litter? How do they match up and what are their pros and cons? We'll answer all those questions in this article and hopefully give you a clear idea of which litter is right for you.
Here at tuft + paw, we are cat experts. We're intimately familiar with which litter features are most important to cats and cat parents alike. To create this article, we consulted cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel, veterinarian Megan Teiber, and hundreds of online reviews.
Tofu litter is a natural cat litter made from soybean fibre that's left over from making soy milk and tofu (shockingly, tofu litter is not made from actual tofu). The majority of tofu litters come in the form of thin pellets, though some brands process it into a granular form. We prefer pellet tofu litter because of its lower tracking and lower dust. Almost all tofu litters offer excellent absorbency, clumping, and flushability, which makes them some of the most convenient litters on the market. Some brands include scents or colours in their formulas—think green tea and vanilla—but we recommend staying away from these. Both veterinarian Megan Teiber and cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel emphasize that cats have very sensitive noses and any unwanted additives could make them avoid the litter box.
What is Crystal Litter?
Crystal cat litter is a mineral-based litter type made up of silica gel granules—yes, the same silica gel that's in those desiccant packets. Don't worry, crystal litter is totally safe despite the scary "do not eat" warning. Much like those packets absorb airborne moisture, crystal litter absorbs liquid waste and traps odors inside its porous silica granules. Over time, water evaporates from the litter and the stinky urinary compounds remain stuck inside the crystals. Crystal litter is usually non-clumping (the clumping versions aren't great) and lasts an impressively long time in the litter box. Cat parents just have to scoop poops and stir the litter daily to increase absorption and manage odors. Like tofu litter, we recommend avoiding crystal litter with added scents and colours.
Advantages of Tofu Litter
Since its made of food scraps, tofu litter offers a sustainable alternative to clay or silica cat litters. Unlike these mineral resources, soybeans are renewable and tofu litter is biodegradable and compostable. Conversely, crystal litter is sourced from quartz mines that pollute water sources, impact air quality, destroy habitat, and contribute to erosion.
If you're looking for a low-tracking litter option, tofu litter is a good bet. The cylindrical pellets are larger than silica granules, making it unlikely that your cats' fur and paws will pick up any residue when they use their litter box. Not only does this help keep your cat's coat free from particles, it also makes cleanup faster and easier. Combine tofu litter with a litter mat and high-sided litter box and you've got yourself a powerful anti-tracking combo.
Tofu pellets are inherently less dusty than silica gel because they’re made from a plant-based fiber rather than a mineral. That being said, crystal litter is generally pretty good in the dust department too, and both tofu and crystal litters are far less dusty than clay. Dr. Teiber considers low dust litter to be the safest option for a cat’s respiratory tract.
Tofu pellets are quite soft, thin, and spongy, especially compared to the hard silica granules of crystal litter. Dr. Teiber claims that one of crystal litter's major drawbacks is its rough texture—if your cat is sensitive they could find the paw-feel of silica gel unpleasant. In some cases, this might cause them to choose another area of the house to do their business. Moral of the story: a soft litter texture is always preferable.
Tofu litter fully dissolves in water, allowing small clumps to be flushed down the toilet if your plumbing's in good shape. A flushable litter makes cleaning the box faster, less messy, and doesn't even require garbage bags. Tofu litter can also be composted if flushing isn't an option. On the other hand, crystal litter is not biodegradable and must be thrown in the garbage.
Advantages of Crystal Litter
Crystal litter is remarkably absorbent, which helps it control unpleasant litter box odors. The silica gel particles soak up liquid waste and lock away foul-smelling compounds in their microscopic pores. Tofu litter is absorbent too, but it doesn't neutralize odor quite as well as silica gel.
Won't Go Bad
Silica gel is an inorganic mineral that cannot be digested by fungi or bacteria, so it never goes bad. As a desiccant, it also helps create a dry, sanitary environment in the litter box. On the other hand, natural cat litters can be susceptible to spoilage if not stored properly, especially food-based litters like tofu, corn, and wheat.
In theory, dirty crystal litter can be reused. It requires extensive washing, soaking, and drying, but it means you can get months of use out of one bag of crystal litter. Of course, we understand if recycling cat litter isn't appealing to you. Our list of the best crystal cat litters has a section on how to reuse crystal litter.
Where are Tofu and Crystal Litter Equal?
Both crystal and tofu litters are on the upper end of the price scale, usually falling between $3 to $4 per pound. These pricier litters can still provide great value because of how absorbent and long lasting they are, but it depends on your cat's specific bathroom habits and whether the benefits are worth the price to you.
Both tofu and crystal litters are completely safe and non-toxic to humans and cats. If you're concerned about your cat eating litter, these litters offer two different solutions. On one hand, tofu litter is made from a food-grade material and dissolves in water, so ingestion is no cause for alarm. Keep in mind though that cats are more likely to mistake pellet litters for food according to cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel. Cats are less likely to ingest crystal litter in Dr. Teiber's experience, but if they eat large amounts it might be more problematic than tofu.
Both tofu and crystal litters are some of the lightest litter types on the market. Both come in small bags (<10 lbs) that can last up to a month, are easy to transport, and are easy to handle when filling the litter box.
As we mentioned above, one small bag of tofu or crystal litter can, in theory, last an entire month. Of course, this time frame will vary between cats and depends on many factors, but we feel confident saying that most crystal and tofu litters last longer than clay litter.
Clumping vs Non-Clumping
This is a personal preference for cat parents. Tofu litter offers clumping similar to most clay litters, while crystal litter is non-clumping and requires daily stirring.
As you can see, both tofu and crystal litters have many benefits to offer any cat household. In our opinion, we prefer tofu litter because of its eco-friendly sourcing, flushability, and low tracking. In fact, we believe so strongly in the benefits of tofu litter that we actually developed our own version and called it Really Great Cat Litter. Check it out if that's your thing, or you can take a look at some of our other educational resources below.