Cats are awesome. Their poop-filled litter boxes? Not so much.
Sure, you can probably send your cat outside to do his business, and it’s even possible to teach some cats how to use the toilet. Let’s be real, though: Most of us aren’t going to do either of these things. That means a litter box is your best option for collecting the poop bombs your cat creates - a self-cleaning litter box, to be specific.
Not familiar with this handy invention or trying to decide if your cat really needs one? You’re in the right place. Keep scrolling for answers to all of your questions and concerns about automatic cat litter boxes.
Are automatic litter boxes expensive?
Sometimes, but can you really put a price on a device that eliminates your need to scoop smelly turds into a bag multiple times a day? Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $300+ for your self-cleaning litter box (and remember, you get what you pay for).
We recommend the Purina Tidy Cats Breeze Litter System if you’re on a tight budget. It’s priced at around $30, and while it’s not actually an automatic litter box, it’s easier to clean than most traditional boxes we’ve seen. A special pad captures urine, so you don’t have to rake through mounds of clumped-together litter.
Can your cat use an automatic litter box while you’re on vacation?
Possibly, but you’re also going to need an automatic feeder so your cat has plenty of food and water. We’ve talked to cat owners who claim they’ve left their cats home alone for a few days, but some experts don’t think this is a great idea. PetMD recommends having someone visit your home at least once a day, even if you use an automatic feeder and self-cleaning litter box, because illnesses and injuries can unexpectedly occur. Make sure your pet sitter has your phone number in case something goes wrong.
Do self-cleaning litter boxes really work?
After spending hours upon hours researching pretty much every self-cleaning litter box on the market, we’re going to have to say yes. There are exceptions, of course - some automatic litter boxes stink (literally!). The majority of them live up to the hype, though.
Are self-cleaning cat litter boxes noisy?
Sometimes, but some models are less noisy than others. It’s normal for an automated litter box to make some noise. Think of it like this: You make noise when you clean the litter box, so you can’t expect a self-cleaning litter box to operate in silence.
However, a litter box that’s super noisy might need to be repaired or replaced.
Are automatic litter boxes sanitary?
Well, it’s no secret that puddles of urine and clumps of feces aren’t sanitary - no matter where you find them. However, a self-cleaning litter box removes waste quickly, so bacteria may be less likely to develop and thrive in the litter.
You can help make your cat’s litter box more sanitary by cleaning it regularly. We talk about that in the section titled “Cleaning Tips”.
Are automatic litter boxes better than regular litter boxes?
Many people feel automatic litter boxes are superior to regular litter boxes, but that’s not always the case. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re considering a self-cleaning litter box:
- Can you afford to spend as much as $200 or $300 on one if you don’t find a cheaper model you like?
- Do you hate cleaning your cat’s litter box?
- Do you travel frequently or work long hours?
- Does your cat handle new things well?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you’re an excellent candidate for a self-cleaning litter box. Just remember that you need multiple boxes if you have a large home or more than one cat.
Do self-cleaning litter boxes require batteries?
Some self-cleaning litter boxes run on batteries. There are also automatic litter boxes that use power cords connected to an electrical outlet, and we’ve even seen some luxury litter boxes that connect directly to your home’s pipe system. They’re basically the cat version of toilets.
Where should I put my cat’s litter box?
Nowhere near his food! Make sure you place the litter box in an area he frequents but not somewhere he’ll be bothered by other cats or family members. Most cats don’t like an audience while they do their business (can you blame them?).
Choosing an Automatic Litter Box
What features should I look for in an automatic litter box?
Look for features that make your life (and your cat’s) easier. Here are some popular features that pet owners like:
- Urine tracker (lets you know how often your cat goes in the box)
- Sensor-activated rake that cleans up waste as soon as your cat leaves the box
- Odor control (built-in air freshener, odor-absorbing pads, etc.)
- Plastic hood for privacy (and a shield from urine splatters)
- Quiet rake movement (you can’t completely eliminate noise, but you can muffle it)
You may also want to look for a litter box that’s lightweight and easy to assemble. We’ve seen some that are tricky to install.
What’s the best automatic cat litter box?
We recommend the ScoopFree Ultra Self-Cleaning Litter Box. We ranked it as the Best Automatic Kitty Litter Box Overall on our list of the best self-cleaning litter boxes. It costs around $160, a price that falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to other litter boxes.
If you don’t mind investing in a higher-priced box, we suggest the CatGenie Self Washing Self Flushing Cat Box. At $240, it certainly isn’t cheap - but we awarded it the Most Complete Automatic Litter Box. It connects to your water system rather than relying on a plug or battery, and the machine flushes itself after every use. It doesn’t require any cleaning on your end - well, unless you count the litter your cat tracks through your home.
Check out the Omega Paw Roll'N'Clean Self Cleaning Litter Box if you’ve got more than one cat. You have to flip the box yourself when it’s time to clean the litter, but the box effectively combats odors. Also, it’s large enough to hold 2 cats at the same time, so you don’t have to deal with any feline fights for a turn in the box.
How many litter boxes do I need?
Some experts recommend having at least 1 litter box per cat, plus 1 extra litter box. Your cats might still end up sharing some of the boxes, but let them make the choice.
If you don’t have enough litter boxes, your cats will surprise you with thoughtful gifts around your home. It’s super hard to remove the stench of cat pee from carpets and couches, so try to prevent this issue by having plenty of litter boxes around your home.
If I buy multiple litter boxes, should they all be the same model?
They don’t have to be unless you know for a fact that your cat adores a specific box. If you’ve got multiple cats, you may find that they each have their own preferences.
If your cat recently joined your family, you may benefit from having different litter boxes. It gives your cat several options, so he’s (hopefully) less likely to go to the bathroom outside of his litter box.
Where can I buy an automatic litter box?
Amazon.com carries several of the best automatic litter boxes we reviewed in our list of faves. You can also find automatic litter boxes at some pet stores and veterinary offices.
What kind of cat litter should I use in a self-cleaning litter box?
Check the instructions for your litter box. If you’ve misplaced them, you can request new ones by contacting the company that made the box.
Some automatic litter boxes work with any kind of litter, but the CatGenie Self Washing Self Flushing Cat Box requires a special litter. The good news is that the litter is permanent (the machine washes it after your cat does his thing), so you only replace it a couple times a year.
The ScoopFree Ultra Self-Cleaning Litter Box uses crystal litter, so don’t add regular litter to this box. It’s important to only use litter designed for your cat’s box because the wrong litter can damage a self-cleaning system.
How often should I replace the litter in my cat’s box?
Depends which litter box your cat uses. In the question above, we mentioned that pet owners only replace the litter for the CatGenie Self Washing Self Flushing Cat Box a couple times a year, that’s because the automatic litter box is connected to your home’s water system. So it cleans the litter each time your cat does his business.
However, you won’t get that lucky with most self-cleaning litter boxes. Expect to change the litter at least once every couple of months, possibly as often as every week or two. However, replacing the litter in a self-cleaning system generally isn’t much of a hassle because the litter isn’t horribly smelly or clumpy.
What is cat litter made from?
Bentonite clay is found in more than 3 out of every 4 commercial cat litter options. It’s a mineral that attracts liquid molecules, so it effectively absorbs odors and wetness. Some brands also add silica (yep, the same stuff in the packets you find in food and shoes) because it shares similar properties with bentonite. You can usually find silica in crystal litter.
Other ingredients found in litter include:
- Fragrance (that “fresh pine” smell isn’t natural)
- Baking soda or carbon for odor control
- Dye (we’ve seen colored litter even though it’s not common)
Some people use newspaper or sand in their pet’s litter boxes, but we don’t recommend either of those. Many cats don't enjoy peeing on newspaper, and sand doesn’t trap odors very well.
What are some ecofriendly cat litter options?
We commend your desire to go green, but we have to warn you that cats don’t always appreciate your planet-friendly practices. If that doesn’t deter you from using ecofriendly litter, here are some options:
- Corn husks and kernels
- Dried orange peels
- Wood chips
Keep in mind that many of these options suck at masking odors. You might want to keep your cat’s litter box away from areas you frequent or invest in plenty of nontoxic room sprays.
Can I switch cat litter brands?
Sure, if you enjoy cleaning up random poop all over your house. Cats generally don’t enjoy trying new food or new litter, so make sure you gradually transition to a different brand. You can mix a bit of the old litter with the new litter and continue adding more of the new stuff each day. This gives your cat time to adjust. Just be careful - your cat might end up hating both brands.
Swapping out one litter box at a time is another option if you’ve got multiple boxes. Add the new litter to one box, but don’t touch the other box(es). See how your cat reacts before you decide to switch all of the litter.
Do I need to clean an automatic litter box?
Yes, but nowhere near as often as you need to clean a traditional litter box. Review the instructions for the litter box to figure out whether you need to disassemble the box to clean it. Some litter boxes connect to your water system and rinse the interior, but you still need to clean the exterior. Dust can build up over time, and your cat might knock litter around the box.
Some pet owners say they have to clean the rake of their self-cleaning litter boxes because it ends up coated in poop. This generally happens with low-priced models that don’t have a built-in box cleaning system.
What type of cleaner do you use on a litter box?
Sometimes dish soap and water will do the trick. If your cat’s box smells really funky after you remove the litter, you may need to soak it in a solution of vinegar diluted with water.
You can spray the outside of the box (including the lid) with a nontoxic all-purpose spray unless the instructions for the litter box advise against it. Always review the instructions before you clean the box; some cleaning products can damage the box or fade its materials.
How do you clean an automatic litter box?
Some automatic litter boxes clean themselves with water from your home’s filtration system. If yours doesn’t, check the instructions for the box to find out how to clean it.
You may need to do some (or all) of the following:
- Empty a litter tray into the trash
- Wipe the rake with a damp washcloth
- Clean the interior of the box with soap and water
- Spray the outside of the box with a nontoxic all-purpose spray
Consider wearing gloves when you clean your cat’s litter box to protect yourself from exposure to feces-loving bacteria.
Should I dry my cat’s litter box after I wash it?
It’s not a bad idea. Most cat litter absorbs liquid, so it might be harder for it to absorb cat urine if it’s already wet from water.
You can dry the litter box with a washcloth, towel, or paper towel. Make sure you wash whatever you use to dry the box (unless it’s a disposable towel).
Potential Issues and Concerns
How do I keep my cat from tracking litter everywhere?
Changing the litter might help, especially if you buy a litter that clumps better. You can also place a mat under and/or near the litter box to capture stray litter.
However, switching your cat’s litter might result in a new problem: Poop outside of the litter box. Read the question titled “Can I switch cat litter brands?” for tips on transitioning to a new litter.
How do I get rid of a cat litter box smell?
Start by checking your litter box, especially if you’ve got a self-cleaning machine. It shouldn’t smell awful because it’s cleaned regularly, but sometimes poop gets wrapped around the rake or your cat sprays the walls of the box.
If the litter box seems okay, you can try replacing the litter. Do this as a last resort; cats don’t always react well to new litter.
You can try adding baking soda to the litter box or installing an air freshener near the box. Baking soda absorbs odors, and air freshener masks them. Diffusing essential oils or burning candles in the room with the box may also help. Avoid spraying essential oils directly into the box, as this can irritate your pet’s skin or cause breathing issues.
Are automatic litter boxes safe for pregnant women?
If you’re curious about the safety of litter boxes, we’re guessing you’ve heard about toxoplasmosis, the disease that comes from touching cat poop or feline butts. We’re hoping you don’t intentionally do either of those things.
With that being said, no litter box is 100% safe for pregnant women. Many women find it difficult to move easily during the end stages of pregnancy, so it’s easy to slip or bump into things (like the poopy part of a litter box). However, automatic litter boxes are less likely to have clumps of poop than traditional boxes because the machine rakes away waste on a regular basis.
Whenever possible, delegate litter-related tasks to a family member or friend. If that’s not an option, wear gloves and a mask whenever you clean up after your cat.
Can an automatic litter box hurt my cat?
Probably not. Many boxes have a sensor that tracks when a cat enters and exits, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the rake smacking into your cat while he does his thing.
If an issue does occur, we recommend contacting the litter box manufacturer right away. Many boxes are backed by warranties, so you can get a new one if yours isn’t working right.
Help - my cat is scared of her automatic litter box!
Give her time to adjust. Your cat isn’t used to a noisy litter box that grabs poop, so it might scare her for a while.
Consider unplugging the box or powering it off while your cat adjusts. That can help you determine whether it’s the noise or the box itself that’s scaring her.
Unfortunately some cats never fully adjust to self-cleaning litter boxes, but many of them do okay. Keep at least one extra litter box (a regular one) in your home while you try to help your feline friend get used to the automatic box.
Why does my cat keep pooping all over my house?
Has your cat ever used the litter box at your home? A new cat might not know to use a litter box (even if she used one at her last owner’s home), so you have to train her. You can do this by placing her in the litter box after eating or drinking. If she soils furniture or rugs, spray them with an enzyme-removing product so she doesn’t keep using your entire home as her personal litter box.
If your cat used to drop deuces in the litter box with no issues, the issue could be physical or emotional. Here are some possible reasons why your cat may not be using the litter box anymore:
- You need to clean or replace the litter - cats are notoriously picky about their litter
- Your cat has constipation, diarrhea, kidney stones, or bladder issues
- You recently moved the box or tried a new litter brand
- You recently rearranged the furniture in your home
- You have a new member of your household or have started inviting over a significant other over on a regular basis
- You have multiple cats, and your cat wants to mark his territory
Schedule an appointment with a veterinarian if the problem continues. Your cat may have a medical condition that requires immediate attention.