How to Deep Clean a Litter Box (the right way)

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A deep clean for a litter box is about killing harmful bacteria and parasites and getting rid of odors. But you don’t need harsh cleaning solutions or several steps to complete the task. Follow these simple and cost-effective steps.



Step 1 – Gear Up

Cleaning the litter box may seem like a simple enough task that doesn’t require safety gear. But wearing gloves will prevent the spread of bacteria, while a mask will ensure you don’t inhale harmful dust or ammonia fumes from your cat’s urine.


Protective eye gear may seem overboard but it will prevent any bacteria or litter material from getting in your eyes. This is important during the washing step when contaminated water can easily splash back on you.



Step 2 – Remove Litter Remnants

After dumping the used litter into a garbage bag, use the litter scoop or a dry scrub brush, like this one (which even has a scraper tip to get hard messes off), to remove any litter that’s stuck to the sides or bottom of the litter box.


It’s important to get as much litter as you can out of the litter box before using water to clean it. If you use a traditional clumping clay litter, it can clog your pipes if too much of it goes down the drain.


For really stuck on litter, try pouring boiling water over it, letting it sit for a few seconds, and then scrapping again.


Once you have all the remnants off, quickly rinse the litter box with clean water to remove any litter dust.



Step 3 – Remove Odors

Soap and vinegar won’t disinfect the litter box, but they will help lift grime, odors, and bacteria from surfaces so they can be rinsed away (source).


Take the litter box to the bathtub, which is the best place to clean it indoors, and gather your cleaning solution and a scrub brush.


To clean the litter box, you can use either dish soap, or vinegar, or both.

  • Dish soap – follow the company’s directions for the proper dish soap to water ratio. Create that solution in the empty litter box and use a scrub brush to spread the mixture up the sides and clean all surfaces (including the outside of the box).
  • Vinegar – pour one cup of vinegar into the empty litter box and then add one to two cups of water. Use a scrub brush to clean all surfaces of the litter box.
  • Dish soap & vinegar – my favorite method is to use a soap dispensing dish wand, like this one, or this palm one, and mix a 50/50 ratio of dish soap and vinegar in it. Pour enough water into the empty litter box to cover the bottom, dip the dish wand into the water and start scrubbing to dispense the mixture. Obviously, you only want to use the dish wand for litter box cleaning; don’t store it in the kitchen where someone may mistakenly use it for washing dishes.


Once you’ve thoroughly scrubbed all surfaces of the litter box with your cleaning solution, rinse the mixture out and pour it down the drain.


Don’t forget to clean the litter scoop as well.



Step 4 – Disinfect

Boiling water is a cheap and easy cleaning “tool” to kill bacteria and pathogens (source), so it’s a great option for deep cleaning. It will also help remove any stubborn stuck on litter. Bring a kettle of water to a boil and carefully carry it to the bathtub.


A simple electric kettle is an ideal tool when cleaning the litter box. You can plug it in in the bathroom so you don’t have to carry it as far, and it makes it easier to fill and boil multiple pots of water; ideal if you have a large litter box or several to clean.


Carefully pour the boiling water down the sides of the litter box and let that water fill the box until it’s about 2 – 4 inches deep (or as deep as you typically fill the litter).


It’s also a good idea to place the litter scoop and scrub brush in the litter box filled with boiled water to disinfect them too.


Let the hot water sit in the litter box for 5 minutes then pour it down the drain.


Once you’re done cleaning the litter box, it’s important to then disinfect your bathtub. You can use whichever cleaner you prefer and typically clean the bathroom with.



Step 5 – Dry & Refill

Your litter box is now disinfected, and any soap or vinegar residue should be rinsed off (you don’t want your cat to be able to smell the vinegar or scented soaps).


Use a dry cloth to thoroughly dry the inside and outside of the litter box. You don’t want any moisture left in the box, especially if you use clumping litter.


Once dry, you can refill the litter box with 2 – 4 inches of fresh litter.



Cleaners to Avoid

It’s important to think about your cat when choosing a cleaning agent. Bleach, ammonia, and other strongly scented cleaners should be avoided. Your cat has a keen sense of smell and may be sensitive to any scents left on the litter box from harsh cleaners. And if they don’t like the smell of it, they may not use it.




How Often Should You Deep Clean A Litter Box?

A litter box should be deep cleaned to disinfect it at least once per month. You may want to deep clean it twice a month if you have multiple cats using the same litter box or a cat that tends to hit the box rather than the litter when eliminating.


If the litter box still smells after a deep cleaning, it may be time for a new one. Plastic litter boxes can get tiny scratches in them from your cat digging around or from aggressive cleaning. Those grooves can be breeding grounds for bacteria, as well as spots that odors can get trapped in.


A longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly option is a stainless steel litter box. Cats won’t be able to scratch it and it won’t absorb odors or bacteria.




How Do I Keep My Litter Box Sanitary?


  • Scoop Frequently – a cat’s stool can contain a parasite called toxoplasmosis gondii, which becomes infectious after 24 hours of leaving their body (source). That’s why it’s important to scoop regularly. Not to mention, the more waste there is in the litter box, the more likely your cat is to step in it and spread bacteria. Scoop the litter box, at minimum, once a day. More often is better if you have multiple cats or a cat that uses the litter box a lot (e.g. a diabetic cat will urinate more than regular).


  • Change Frequently – follow the manufacturer’s suggestions for the type of litter you use when it comes to dumping the entire contents of a litter box and replacing it. Although you may be scooping the litter once or twice a day, you’ll never remove every particle of waste and bacteria. Replacing with fresh litter is the only way to ensure the litter is free of bacteria and parasites.


  • Rinse with each litter change – some litters (such as non-clumping litters) need to be changed on a weekly basis. If you’re changing the litter between deep cleanings, give the litter box a good rinse with hot soapy water. Again, this dish wand filled with a soap mixture makes it really quick and easy to scrub the litter box.


  • Deep clean regularly – dish soap and/or vinegar won’t kill bacteria or parasites left in your cat’s litter box. So a deep clean once or twice a month (following the steps above) will keep it more sanitary.


  • Clean tools – it’s important to clean litter box tools/accessories regularly as well (e.g. litter scoop, litter mat, litter disposal bin). Each time you rinse the litter box with hot soapy water or disinfect it, be sure to do the same with any other items that come in contact with the litter/waste. If you use a Litter Genie, you may want to use antibacterial wipes once a week to clean anywhere you touch and then bring it to the bathtub when you’re deep cleaning the litter box. Remove all the contents of the Litter Genie, place it in the bathtub and use a soapy mixture and scrub wand to wash all surfaces. When deep cleaning other litter accessories, be sure to check the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning. Most items should be okay to have boiled water poured over them but it’s best to check first so you don’t end up melting any softer plastics.




How Do You Make A Litter Box Easier To Clean?

Many people turn to litter box liners to make cleaning the litter box easier. But they typically don’t work as well as they’re meant to, add more costs, and they’re not environmentally friendly. A cat can easily tear the plastic, which is annoying for them to get their claws stuck in and can lead to messes leaking through the bag.


>> Read more about why I don’t recommend litter liners here


Instead of turning to litter liners for a disposable way to keep the litter box clean, consider the following tips:


  • Simple litter box – Covered litter boxes may be more visually pleasing, but they’re harder to clean. Not to mention, your cat likely prefers the open-air experience a basic litter box gives them while doing their business. Choose a simple pan-style litter box that has rounded corners and minimal grooves. They have fewer nooks and crannies for litter to get stuck in. You may also consider a non-stick litter box, such as this large one with high walls and rounded corners.


  • Try a New Litter – Clumping clay litter is often the most popular, accessible, and budget-friendly litter. It does form hard clumps that are easy to scoop, but it also has its downsides. Not only is it harmful to the environment and to your and your cat’s health, but it also gets stuck to the litter box and creates a sold mess that’s hard to remove. Consider trying a clumping litter that comes from a more natural, renewable, biodegradable source. You can check out some of the options here, but litter made from corn, cassava, wheat, grass seed, etc. will form clumps you can scoop but won’t stick as strongly to the litter box.


  • Litter level – If you’re constantly finding litter stuck to the bottom of the pan, try adding another inch or two of litter. It may prevent your cat from reaching the bottom of the pan when they dig a hole. Two to four inches of litter is ideal. If you start adding more litter and notice your cat standing half in and half out the litter box while eliminating, or that they’re eliminating closer to the sides, or your cat is peeing outside the litter box, they may not like the extra inch or two of litter. In which case, go back to your regular depth.


  • Baking Soda – After cleaning and drying the litter box, try sprinkling the bottom of the pan with baking soda. Not only does it help with odors, it also absorbs moisture and may help create a non-stick layer between the litter and the box. It’s important not to sprinkle baking soda on top of the litter because if it gets on their paws and then into their eyes or digestive system, it can cause irritation.


  • Scooping technique – When scooping the litter, be sure to scrape along the sides and bottom of the litter box to loosen any clumps that have formed along there. The sooner you catch them, the easier they’ll be to remove. You’ll have fewer hardened on clumps to clean when it’s time to wash the litter box.


  • Clean Frequently – If you use a clumping litter, you’ve likely experienced it sticking to the bottom of the litter box. The longer that litter has to dry and harden, the more difficult it is to get off. You’ll also have more of it to clean when you leave washing the litter box longer than a few weeks.




I hope this article has helped you when it comes to deep cleaning the litter box and keeping it clean 🙂



When & Why To Deep Clean a Litter Box