Get your free digital cat health and safety book for a limited time.

Easy Tips to Reduce Litter Box Smells and Messes

Author: Mia Horberg

Published: April 23, 2024

Our mission is to help save dogs' and cats’ lives through our educational content. To support our efforts, this page may contain affiliate links. We earn a commission for qualifying purchases – at no cost to you.

sweet orange Garfield-like cat enjoying a face rubSharing your life with a cat comes with many benefits, but dealing with litter box odors and messes is not one of them.

We’ve got several easy tips for reducing the feline funk so everyone can breathe more easily — and only a couple of them include rolling up your sleeves and cleaning!

Sometimes, just changing the setup and location can work wonders.

Making sure you have the right litter box and litter for your cat's unique preferences is also important.

Key Takeaways (TL/DR)

1. Choose the Right Litter Box Size: Ensure your cat's litter box is large enough to accommodate them comfortably, which can significantly reduce messes and behavioral issues. Make sure it's at least as long as your cat including most of its tail and as wide as your cat from head to base of the tail. Read more about choosing the right litter box size

2. Optimal Litter Box Placement: The location of the litter box can make a big difference. Place it in a quiet, low-traffic area with good air circulation to minimize odors and make your cat feel secure. Find out more about litter box placement

3. Maintain a Regular Cleaning Schedule: Scoop the litter box daily and perform a thorough clean at least once a month. It's not just a matter of removing odors, it's also to help keep your cat and everyone in your household healthy. Learn about effective cleaning routines

4. Use of Enzymatic Cleaners: For any accidents outside the litter box, clean up quickly with enzymatic cleaners to prevent repeated incidents. These cleaners remove odors completely, deterring your cat from returning to the spot. Also, if you notice frequent accidents outside of the litter box, making a vet appointment is advisable. Read about cleaning messes properly

5. Avoid Strong Scents and Harmful Cleaners: Avoid using products with strong fragrances or harsh chemicals like bleach, as these can deter your cat from using the box and potentially harm their health. Why you should avoid harsh chemicals and scents


heart shaped pee


How Litter Box Size and Set Up Affect Smell

Size Does Matter

One major issue a lot of cat owners don’t realize is that many, if not most, litter box options on the market are too small for the average cat.

Not only does this make it uncomfortable for cats to use, but it also makes it difficult for them to use it appropriately — leading to us thinking our cat has a behavior problem, which is unfair to them.

It would be something akin to a human adult being forced to use a toddler’s potty-training toilet. It may be doable, but not for every human and not every time. Things would get messy at best.

Here are some general guidelines for finding a litter box that is the appropriate size for your cat:

It should be spacious enough for them to turn around and move easily enough to be able to cover up their waste without needing to Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment-ing around anything left behind from previous visits.

This is what I got when I asked ChatGPT for an image of a cat
avoiding its poop in a litter box, similar to the Entrapment scene.

The litter box should ideally be at least as long as your cat, measured from their nose back to most of its tail when extended. It should be just as wide as your cat is long, from their head to the base of their tail (cat tush).

There are, of course, many other considerations to take into account when choosing the right litter box for your unique cat, but if it's not big enough, it's not good enough, no matter what.

Prime Litter Box Real Estate

Just like with real estate, location is incredibly important when it comes to where your cat's litter box resides. This is especially true if you have a multi-pet home.

The ideal location for a cat's litter box will be in an area with good air circulation. This way, both you and your cat aren't overwhelmed by any odors.

If possible, avoid areas near drafty vents, heavy foot traffic, and noisy environments to ensure your cat feels safe and at ease while using the litter box.

While cats do seem to enjoy keeping us company while we're using the bathroom, they aren't always happy when we make a guest appearance.



Read for more tips on how to effectively set up your cat's litter box.


Scooping and Cleaning Schedule

From a behavior perspective, cleaning regularly will reduce the likelihood of your kitty peeing or pooping in places you don't want them to.

Scoop Daily

It should be pretty obvious that scooping to dispose of urine clumps and poop daily (or multiple times throughout the day) will help with litter box smells — but it also matters where you get rid of that mess. Putting it into a plastic bag that goes into your regular garbage will likely amplify the smell.

When I lived in Brooklyn, we were able to put dog poop bags and plastic bags of cat waste directly into the larger garbage receptacles outside of our homes. Here in Seattle, the bags have to go into larger trash bags or else there is a fine. So pay attention to the trash laws in your area.

I've been using a Litter Genie for the last 7 years with my cat, Mazel, but just ordered (literally in the middle of typing this) a Diaper Genie to replace it since it will hold more and has a hands-free opening option.

Mia's new Diaper Genie and her cat Mazel playing with the box
My Diaper Genie arrived. It is bigger than I expected and I love it already. Mazel quickly made the box into his new man cave.

The Diaper Genie seems almost twice the size of my Litter Genie. The antimicrobial film insert that holds the waste is scented, which may help to decrease odors. It was a little strong for me upon opening, but once it was in the container, I couldn't smell it.

Pro Tip: You don't necessarily have to buy a new Diaper Genie, considering there are a number of sites where you can find used baby products, sometimes for free.

It also comes with a carbon filter that attaches to the inside of the lid for absorbing odors.

Which reminds me, you can also use baking soda to help fight the funk (and not just for cat-related smells).

You can use a spill-proof baking soda box option (especially good for households with cats who like to bat things off of tables and shelves), or you can pour a small amount into little cups or bowls in an area where you need the odor eliminated.

It will take about 24 hours, but you should notice a difference after that.


Health Benefits of Scooping Daily

Keeping your cat’s litter boxes clean isn’t just important for the smell factor — it’s also important for their health along with everyone else in your home.

Scooping daily allows you to examine their feces for anything "off" and will also alert you to any urinary inconsistencies. Urinary obstructions, especially in male cats, can happen very quickly and can have devastating results.

As for the humans — think about the surfaces in your home that your cat puts their sweet little toe beans on. Now think about them walking all over a dirty litter box that hasn't been cleaned in a couple of days.


No thank you.

Another benefit to daily scooping is that it doesn't allow time for the toxoplasma parasite to become infectious (which normally is 1–5 days after it is shed in poop).

I am lucky enough to work from home, so it's very easy for me to clean the litter box every time my cat poops. He even has a "song" that he sings to let me know he's finished, which he briefly demonstrates in the video below.

And please don't forget to wash your hands thoroughly after any time you scoop.

Once that's out of the way, I like to finish it all off with a spray down with what is referred to in our household as "Mia's Magic Water" and can usually be found either in my hand or on a table next to me. If I could put it in a holster, I would.

I love using the iClean Mini because it turns tap water into a disinfectant that is 50% stronger than bleach, but there are zero chemicals, so you can spray it on your face or in your mouth (and I have) and not worry about it.

This also means that it's no problem if your pet steps in it, lays on it, or licks any surface it has been sprayed on.

mazel and mabel with the tersano pet safe cleaner deodorizer newsIt is also a deodorizer, but you can't really smell it. The best I can do to describe it is the smell after a spring thunderstorm. This makes it an especially good cleaner to use in homes where there are humans or pets with respiratory problems or smell sensitivities.

The type of litter my cat uses doesn't clump, so it's not an issue to spray all over his box at close range. For anyone using clumping litter, the manufacturer suggests holding the spray further away from the box so it doesn't cause clumping.

Also, probably especially for anyone with clumping litter, I just found a product I'm testing out that uses the same ozone technology as the iClean mini but there is no water component.

The PetDiary Deodorizer Odor Eliminator was made for litter boxes and other small spaces, and you can set it and forget it.

ozone litter box deodorizer

It is motion-activated, so it knows when your cat goes into the litter box, waits until it leaves, and then sprays ozone to disinfect and deodorize.

I got one for each of our litter boxes. It was really easy to install, and the back rotates out of the holder that is attached to the wall so removing it to recharge isn't an issue. So far, so good!


Do a Full Litter Box Scrub Down Monthly

Once a month, empty and dispose of your cat's litter completely. Grab your cleaning gloves and use some regular (preferably unscented) soap and hot water to scrub your cat's litter boxes thoroughly.

Make sure to use the non-abrasive side of the sponge to clean otherwise you run the risk of creating scratches or micro-abrasions, which will then harbor bacteria and lead to the smells you were trying to avoid in the first place.

Scratches on the surface of litter boxes harbor bacteria and lead to smells.

It's important for everyone, but especially for anyone immunocompromised or pregnant, to wear gloves and a face mask. There is always a risk from any type of bacteria and dirty boxes are notoriously good at harboring it.

Humans can contract things like cat scratch disease and salmonella from having direct contact with dirty litter boxes. So please always use caution and scrub your hands thoroughly when finished.


True story: My mom couldn't understand why her cat suddenly kept peeing anywhere but her litter box. She took her to the vet to rule out anything health-wise, changed the litter box locations, she tried litter attractants, nothing was working.

Well, it turns out she had cleaned her cat's litter box with bleach and Princess was not happy about it.

Princess the exotic shorthair cat with her tongue out

And who can blame her? A cat's sense of smell is 14 times stronger than a human's, so you can imagine what a punch to her tiny nostrils that must have been.

As soon as my mom washed her boxes with plain soap and water, Princess went back to business as usual in her litter boxes. It was as simple as that.

This is another reason I have liked using the iClean mini on a daily basis. Being 50% stronger than bleach, killing salmonella and harmful bacteria but with no odors and totally safe for skin and fur? Give me all of that.

Here's a video showing the first time I used a blacklight to find pee stain remnants on my cat's litter box and then using the iClean mini on it:

Replace Litter Boxes

When your cat relieves themselves, they scratch as they cover their feces, and sometimes, this includes the surface of the box itself. Over time, these scratches can start to harbor bacteria, leading to unpleasant odors.

Because of this, it's best practice to replace your cat's litter boxes annually (and in some cases more often).

If I'm being honest, I have not replaced mine every year because my cat's boxes haven't seemed to need it, and it seems a bit wasteful. So do what feels (and smells) right to you and make some time to evaluate their condition regularly.

Look for scratches, and if the litter box doesn't have many, you can probably hold off on replacing it.

Remember that how well and how often you clean it also plays a role. If it's all caked and gunked up and you haven't disinfected it regularly, you will likely need to replace it more often.

Mazel the exotic shorthair cat in his litter box


Clean Messes Quickly and Thoroughly With the Right Tool

If it's yellow, don't let it mellow.

Cat pee is one of the hardest smells to get rid of — and part of that is because if a cat has peed somewhere before, they are likely to return to that spot. Which is great for litter boxes and bad for anywhere else they decide to urinate.

To deter your cat from peeing or pooping anywhere other than their litter box, make sure to use a reliable enzymatic cleaner for any accidents.

Our certified feline behavior expert, LeeAnna Buis, recommends Mister Max Anti Icky Poo, which works for dog and cat messes and is also fun to say. Unique Pet Odor and Stain Remover is also another good choice.

Proper cleaning with these types of products removes odors completely which prevents them from becoming persistent and discouraging your cat from repeatedly avoiding their litter box.


Avoid Using Perfumes or Sprays Around the Litter Box

While they might briefly cover odors, they can upset your cat's sensitive sense of smell and respiratory system, potentially leading to more serious issues.

Similar to using bleach, introducing strong scents near their litter area can deter cats from using their boxes, creating further problems. Don't forget to rely on baking soda to help clear the air.

In Conclusion: What is wrong with what's happening in this stock photo?

Litter box in the middle of the floor too small next to ball of yarn

First of all, the litter box is way too small for that cat. Secondly, the ball of string offers nothing but the potential to lead to a linear foreign body obstruction. And lastly, while there should be space around your cat's litter box, we do not recommend putting it in what seems like the middle of your living room.

I hope this helps! If you've got any of your own tips that have worked well for litter box stenches and cleanup, please let us know in the comments.

About the author

Profile picture for Mia Horberg

Mia Horberg

Mia Horberg is a Digital Strategist at Preventive Vet, and when she's not working she is watching Jeopardy! with her wife, planting flowers and veggies, and hanging out with her senior rescue pug Mabel Petrillo, and exotic shorthair kitty, Mazel von Schmear Visage. A lover of all animals, Mia is also lucky enough to volunteer at a rescue where she gets to hang out with goats and sheep every week.