Cat litter that clumps locks in odor and makes the task of scooping the litter box just a little bit easier, but is it better than non-clumping litter? We spoke to vets and veterinary behaviorists about what cats really want in a litter and why clumping cat litter might be the best choice for both cats and cat parents.
Cats are naturally clean creatures who—lucky for us—prefer to do their business discretely in a litter box. They’re no different than humans, however, in that they like their restroom to be clean and tidy. The more frequently you scoop the litter box, the more likely your cat is to keep using it, so it helps to choose a litter that makes the task quick and easy.
The choice between clumping and non-clumping litter is one cat enthusiasts have been making for decades. For the most part, it comes down to personal preference – whatever is most affordable, accessible, and convenient to you.
But it’s worth thinking about what your cat wants in a litter. If you choose the wrong litter or don’t maintain the litter box properly, your cat may stop using it entirely and litter box avoidance is both a messy problem and one that can be difficult to resolve (we wrote an article about it if you need some help).
We consulted cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel and veterinarian Dr. Megan Teiber about the pros and cons of clumping cat litter and what to look for when shopping. Before we reveal the details of what they said, however, let’s take a quick peek at our top six picks for the best clumping cat litter.
Sneak Peek at Our Top Picks
If you’ve already decided to use clumping versus non-clumping cat litter, you’ve significantly narrowed down your options. From here, you’ll need to consider things like the materials from which the litter is made, whether it’s scented to disguise odor, if it’s biodegradable or not, and how much it costs.
Here’s a quick overview of our top six picks for the best clumping cat litter:
This all-natural cat litter is made from white sorghum grass in an unscented, hard-clumping, and low-dust formula. It comes in a resealable bag to keep the product fresh and ready for litter box top-offs.
It’s almost always cheaper to buy in bulk, but sometimes it just isn’t an option to lug around a 40-pound bag of litter. This lightweight formula from Tidy Cats gets the job done without weighing you down.
Super soft and plant-based, this biodegradable wood fiber cat litter is an ideal choice for sensitive kitten paws. It’s also dust-free and doesn’t contain artificial fragrance or other synthetic chemicals.
The Pros and Cons of Clumping Litter
Dr. Megan Teiber suggests, “the best product is one that the cat will use.” Cats can be sensitive to certain smells and textures which may prevent them from using the litter box consistently. A dirty litter box is another major turn-off.
Non-clumping litter tends to be the cheapest option, but it can only absorb so much liquid and the odor-controlling abilities are limited. Clumping cat litter, on the other hand, absorbs liquid waste and clings to feces which makes it easier to scoop. This is important because, Dr. Teiber notes, “The easier it is for humans to clean the box, the better chance that our cats will continue to use it happily.” We wholeheartedly agree, which is why we also wrote guides to the best non-tracking cat litters and the best dust-free cat litters.
The biggest downside of clumping cat litter is the cost. To use popular brand Tidy Cats as an example, a 35-pound pail of clumping clay litter costs about $18.50 while a 40-pound bag of the same litter in a non-clumping formula only costs about $12.75. For many cat owners, however, the added cost of clumping litter is worth it.
Cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel suggests that clumping cat litter controls odor more effectively given that “many brands have moisture-activated micro granules (such as bentonite) that can create a tight seal around the waste to control the odor it expels.”
Because the litter forms easy-to-scoop clumps, it may also last longer than non-clumping varieties. Non-clumping cat litter may be capable of absorbing large volumes of liquid at once, but as it becomes saturated urine may start to pool in the bottom of the box. This can contribute to odor and makes the box a little bit trickier to empty and clean when the time comes.
What to Look for in Cat Litter
Deciding between clumping and non-clumping cat litter is an essential first step but there are other factors to consider such as material, fragrance, and price. For a serious deep dive into all these factors, refer to our ultimate guide to different types of cat litter.
Dr. Teiber prefers unscented litter for cats. Scented cat litter contains additives that help absorb and neutralize litter box odor or simply cover it up. While these products may make litter box odor less noticeable for you, the smell can easily become overwhelming to your cat’s sensitive nose. Unscented litters are less likely to irritate your cat’s nose and lungs.
Most clumping cat litters are made from clay – bentonite clay, to be specific. It’s inexpensive and forms hard, easy-to-scoop clumps. Unfortunately, the process through which it is mined isn’t particularly good for the environment and some types contain silica dust which can be irritating to both feline and human respiratory systems. Keeping your cat’s litter box in a well-ventilated area and using open rather than covered boxes can help reduce the risk of silica dust inhalation.
Clumping litters made from natural materials may be an eco-friendlier option than clay. Corn was the first material used to make alternative litter and remains popular with successful brands like World’s Best. Other alternative materials include wheat, paper, wood, and grass.
Finally, consider the cost of the litter, but don’t just look at the price per pound. Litters that form hard, tight clumps enable you to scoop the box without wasting litter – this makes the product go further. Know that the type of packaging and the volume of litter may affect pricing as well. Buying in bulk generally yields the best value.
Deep Dive: The 6 Best Clumping Cat Litters
It’s hard to say that any cat litter is truly the best option given the variance in individual preferences, but we’ve rounded up some of the strongest options on the market. Below you’ll find our top six picks for the best clumping cat litter.
1. Fan Favorite: tuft + paw Really Great Cat Litter
Best for: Cat owners seeking an eco-friendly option combined with the convenience of monthly deliveries.
If you hate having to lug bags and pails of cat litter from the car into the house, you may enjoy the convenience of having litter delivered directly to your door. With a tuft + paw subscription, you’ll receive monthly shipments of dust-free, biodegradable, clumping cat litter.
Really Great Cat Litter from tuft + paw is sustainably sourced from soybean byproduct. The only other ingredients are added to boost the clumping and odor-control ability of the litter.
This product is sold in 9.5-pound (4.3kg) bags, designed to last about a month in a single-cat household. The pelleted design helps reduce tracking and the soybean fibers make the product flushable. Try it with a risk-free guarantee – if you’re not completely satisfied, you’ll get your money back. If you're still curious, here's everything you need to know about Really Great Cat Litter.
Best for: Multi-cat households and cat owners who have environmental concerns about clay litter.
Available in 8-, 15-, and 28-pound volumes, World’s Best cat litter is a corn-based formula. As a natural alternative to clay, this litter is an eco-friendly option. It’s even flushable for easy clean-up.
This unscented clumping cat litter is formulated to deliver strong odor control which is important in multi-cat households. The litter forms hard, tight clumps to help lock in odor and it contains a natural plant additive for enhanced odor control.
While World’s Best is a natural alternative to clumping clay litters and it performs its job well, some cats simply don’t like the smell or texture of corn litter. Some customers have also commented that the natural corn smell becomes more noticeable when the litter is saturated with urine.
All-natural alternative to clay litter
Forms hard, easy-to-scoop clumps
Strong odor control for multi-cat households
Some cats dislike the texture of corn litter
Corn smell may become more noticeable when saturated
Best for: Cat owners on a budget and those looking for a brand backed by thousands of positive customer reviews.
Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat litter is not only one of the most popular cat litters on the market, but it’s among the most affordable as well. Priced around $0.50 per pound, this litter comes in both scented and unscented varieties, in 20- or 40-pound bags.
This unscented clumping clay litter does what it’s designed to do with no muss or fuss. It forms hard clumps to lock in odor on contact and the ultra-absorbent formula helps keep urine from accumulating in the bottom of the litter box.
While Dr. Elsey’s describes this liter as a “unique formulation of heavy non-tracking granules with medium grain clay,” however, customers would beg to differ. This formula does appear to track to a significant degree, though its affordability, odor control, and clumping ability may outweigh this negative.
Best for: Cat owners who have environmental concerns about clay litter.
If you’re looking for an eco-friendly alternative to clay but your cat doesn’t like the texture of corn or other grains, this grass-based litter from Frisco might be a good option. It’s a fine-grained litter made from white sorghum grass in a lightweight, unscented formula.
Frisco grass litter forms quick clumps to make scooping the litter box easy and there are no synthetic fragrances to irritate your cat’s nose. The fine granules may be easier on sensitive paws, though they may track more than heavier clay litters.
While customers seem to like this grass litter overall, some have commented that tracked litter sticks to the floor when damp. Using a litter mat or even pee pads around the litter box seems to help reduce the mess that may be associated with this litter.
Best for: Older cat owners and those who don’t want to carry heavy bags or pails of litter around.
It’s almost always cheaper to buy cat litter in a 40-pound pail than a 12-pound jug, but not everyone has the strength or the energy to tote that much weight around. If you’re looking to work smarter and not harder, this lightweight formula from Tidy Cats might be the perfect pick.
Dr. Teiber notes that, “Lightweight litter is generally made of clay but mixed with lighter materials to make it weigh less per volume than normal clay litter.” This is true for Tidy Cats Free & Clean Unscented Lightweight Clumping Litter. It’s a clay-based litter with added minerals to reduce weight and activated charcoal for improved odor control.
This litter costs more than the typical clumping clay litter, but it’s easier to cart around and has the added benefit of being scent-free. If you scoop daily, the litter may deliver up to 14 days of continuous odor control.
About 50% lighter than traditional clay
Completely free from synthetic fragrances and dyes
Best for: New and adoptive pet parents looking for a soft, lightweight cat litter that won’t irritate sensitive kitten paws. Cat owners who have environmental concerns about clay litter.
Veterinarians have long claimed that clumping clay litter is unsafe for kittens due to the risks associated with accidental ingestion. However, Dr. Teiber comments that, “there has not been a lot of literature on the subject, so this all may be a very theoretical concern.”
Even if clumping clay litter is perfectly safe, kittens can be more sensitive to smells and textures than adult cats. This ökocat unscented wood litter performs the functions of a clumping cat litter without any artificial fragrance and with a softer texture than clay.
This particular litter is one of cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel’s favorites for kittens. Customer reviews mention the litter’s strong odor-absorbing qualities as well as its soft, lightweight texture.
Made from natural wood materials
Absorbs odor and clumps well for easy scooping
Free from artificial fragrance, synthetic chemicals, and dyes
Sustainably sourced, biodegradable, flushable
Lightweight granules may track
More expensive than clay litter
The trick to choosing a cat litter is finding a product your cat will tolerate. Within the bounds of your cat’s preferences, however, you have a little wiggle room to choose something that works just as well for you and your family. If you could use some further guidance, check out our article on how to choose the right cat litter.
Clumping cat litter offers hard-clumping convenience which makes it quicker and easier to scoop the litter box. It may be a little more expensive than non-clumping litter but, as Dr. Teiber notes, “Cats tend to be very fastidious and are sensitive to smells, and clumps ‘seal in’ the odours better than saturated non-clumping litter.”
Are you thinking of switching to a new litter? There are a few important things to know beforehand. Watch our video below for some tips to make the transition as smooth as possible for you and your cat.
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