Litterbox odor mitigation.
January 17, 2014 8:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to mitigate the smell of the litterbox without making my cat averse to using it. Are there any organic plant-derived scents that are generally pleasant to humans but unpleasant to cats that I should avoid?

- such as coffee, cinnamon, hops, lilac etc.
I understand of course that cats have a powerful sense of smell so I know that what for me might be a pleasant cinnamon fragrance may be eye-watering to a cat. I'm more interested in what might, at any concentration, be a pleasant odor to me but an unpleasant odor to a cat.

posted by vapidave to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Squirrely's cute.

I noticed a massive improvement in litterbox aroma once I went to the "natural" cedar/corn/pine litters. My cat seems comfortable with them. There are two brands that I alternate based on what's on sale: Arm & Hammer Essentials Natural and Tidy Cats Pure Nature. These aren't organic, but they seem to be a huge improvement over the clay-based litters.
posted by Miko at 8:09 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely stay away from orange oil (and by extension probably any citrus-y scent) as it's often used as cat repellant.
posted by bcwinters at 8:10 PM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Change your litter!

We use this wheat litter and a hut style litter box. I think the hut style litterbox is the key. You can't smell it even 2 feet away. In my experience I never really smelled the litterbox, um, "presents", I smelled the odiously perfumed litter from miles away. Awful. I'm a sensitive smeller as anyone who might know me can attest. I can smell a single unwrapped pepperoni from 30 ft.

I'm generally averse to all of my wife's "Natural-Organic-Woo Woo" crap, but this one actually holds up. It works well as a litter, it clumps perfectly, and combined with the hut style litterbox, you can't smell it at all. Do NOT use the corn litters, unless you want corn dust tracked all around your house.
posted by sanka at 8:22 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why not put some baking soda in your litter box, as well as some open boxes of baking soda nearby it (you'll have to stir and change the boxes of baking soda periodically)?

I let my cat sniff everything. Everything I eat, everything I handle, my essential oils, toiletries, etc, just because I love to interact with him that way. I can always tell by his face if he doesn't like a smell, but he doesn't seem to mind many of them even when they are under his nose. I think it's just natural for a cat to be smelling many things all the time. Whereas for us humans, most of the time we would say we smell "nothing". Perhaps to be on the safe side run whatever you choose under his nose before you put it in the litter?
posted by Blitz at 8:22 PM on January 17, 2014

My cat won't hang with the wheat or pine litters At All, so instead I have been using this odor-absorbing gel. My litterbox has a hood on it, so I just put the gel into a vented jar on top of the box. It has a very very minimal odor in and of itself, but it really does help soak up the litter smell. Cat does not pay it any mind. (If your cat likes to get at things and chew them, though, best to leave this well out of reach.)
posted by like_a_friend at 8:25 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by oceanjesse at 8:29 PM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Breeze system is fantastic - there is NO pee smell at all. Of course, you do have to scoop the poop, but I doubt that any 'air freshening' type of scent would solve that particular odor problem.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 8:31 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also recommend Feline Pine, although I will point out if you have access to a feed store, the pine pellet stable litter is exactly the same but half the price. I understand pine pellet woodstove fuel is the same deal. It smells like pine sawdust, which I find inoffensive.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:00 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not an additive, but: we use Dr. Elsey's Precious cat litter. If scooped regularly, there is no odor, and it lasts quite a while before it begins to sour.

I went through I-don't-know-how-many litters, including the pine, wheat, crystal, and "Best" litters, before finding one that was effective and didn't have its own gag-inducing (to me) smell.

I've heard leaving a container of vinegar out eliminates smells well. You wouldn't want to put it in a place where kitty could get into it.

I know that's all towards eliminating odor rather than adding pleasant odor, but thought it would be a good place to start the smell mitigation.
posted by moira at 9:04 PM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my cats will only use unscented clay clumping litter. Because her litter box is in my master bathroom, having it smell like anything at all will drive me nuts all night. I've found mixing in a half cup of aquarium grade activated charcoal does a great job of killing odors.

Note that cats with white feet will look a little sooty from the charcoal dust right for about a day after you add it, although that I can see that won't a problem for Squirrley.

I used to use EverClean litter which already has charcoal mixed in, but for some reason starting about a year ago, new boxes of it aren't working well enough to justify its relatively high cost.
posted by jamaro at 9:07 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also used Feline Pine for a long time, but had a huge, huge tracking problem. There was fine layers of disintegrated wood dust everywhere.

I just switched to the Tidy Cats Breeze Cat Litter Box System. It has hard stone-like litter pellets over a grate under which a tray that holds an absorbent pad.

It's infinitely better for me and my cats. The pad absorbs urine and it's smell. As for poops, while I don't use it, I've heard good things about this.

You can buy the refills for these at most pet stores and walmart. One bag of litter and pack of pads lasts me a month.
posted by royalsong at 9:28 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you gotta clean the litter box every day, and then change the litter and scrub down the box itself biweekly to monthly depending on how pernicious the spell of cat pee is.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:04 PM on January 17, 2014

Response by poster: Apparently I was unclear - always a danger with cat questions I suppose. I scoop daily and change the litter regularly. That's not a problem. The roomie is sensitive to ammonia so I was looking for something, preferrably organic, to ameliorate the odor. Squirrley has no problem with the litter box. She's fine.

To restate; I'm trying to mitigate the smell of the litterbox without making my cat averse to using it. Are there any organic plant-derived scents that are generally pleasant to humans but unpleasant to cats that I should avoid?
posted by vapidave at 11:19 PM on January 17, 2014

I would change the litter every *other* day, which is more than many people may be used to, sluicing the tray down with boiling water each time (detergent is, as you probably know, bad for cats).

Also, I would scoop almost-immediately, rather than just daily.

I would also put an open container of baking soda near the tray. That's the limit of what I would do regarding odor. I wouldn't add scents to mask other scents.

If you can get one of those cabinet-things to house the litterbox, even better.

I say this from long experience of extensive multicat wrangling. Including one cat who pooped five times a day and derived genuine enjoyment from flinging litter in all directions from her fun sandbox.
posted by tel3path at 12:19 AM on January 18, 2014

Mod note: Guys, let's please answer the posted question now: Are there any organic plant-derived scents that are generally pleasant to humans but unpleasant to cats that I should avoid?
posted by taz (staff) at 12:27 AM on January 18, 2014

Cats typically but not uniformly dislike the scent of citrus and coffee. Rosemary is a weird edge case: it's often added to products that repel cats as well as products that sooth cats. Ditto for lavender.

Also avoid the Lilium genus (lilies) and anything in the allium genus (garlic, onion, shallots, scallions, leeks). Not all of those are pleasant in scent to humans but many lilies and all alliums are toxic to cats when ingested as plant material or a seasoning. Unfortunately, many cats are attracted to the scent of lilies and garlic, which makes this all the more reason to keep them out of their reach.
posted by jamaro at 1:11 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Avoid tea tree oil.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:13 AM on January 18, 2014

My first thought was rose geranium, as it's often recommended as a natural flea repellant for cats.

This page explains why certain essential oils are bad for cats, and way down at the bottom, lists some that are okay for them, geranium (which is rose geranium), being one of them. Clary sage is another on that list, and maybe blending the two and putting into a mist diffuser would help. Clary sage is somewhat more earthy so it really depends on what your roomie and you can tolerate, but in general, essential oils are volatile and dissipate more rapidly than artificial scents (such as those plug-in room fresheners).

If you don't want to buy a diffuser, you can mix up some drops of essential oil with water in a spray bottle. You'll have to shake it every time, as the oil floats to the top, and use just a small amount of essential oil. Such as 20-30 drops to 8 oz. of water. Obviously don't spray it right on top of the box, but rather, where the air flow in the place might cause the odor to drift, a doorway or hallway, etc.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:55 AM on January 18, 2014

I am not a vet, nor have I tried this (baking soda and activated charcoal have worked for me), however -

The store here has a list of oils they take precaution with for cats. I'd, honestly, avoid any of those scents near kitty, as it'll be out all day including times you won't be there to monitor her. It also cautions against "perfume quality" oils, which, is what I'd imagine, is what you generally would use to mask the scent.

Personally, I'd stick with fir tree scent. Why's that? Christmas trees and cats generally peacefully coexist until kitty eats or climbs tree. The scent in the air for a month or so straight doesn't seem to do anything negative to the cat.
posted by skittlekicks at 6:56 AM on January 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've often seen challenging the premise of the question allowed here as an acceptable answer, and honestly, is there any herb on earth that will mitigate ammonia? If she's smelling ammonia you're doing it wrong.

Scooping every day is all good, but maybe switch out the litter (and rinse the box) more often? The nice thing about the pine litters is that you are effectively switching out the litter every 1-2 days because it breaks down so quickly anyway.

I know you want some other kind of answer, but I really feel that is introducing new problems (cats might piss everywhere in reaction to a new smell -- since there is no one scent that all cats will love, those fussy mothers).
posted by ravioli at 7:11 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had great success mitigating the ammonia smell by placing a puppy pee pad (I buy Nature's Miracle) under a litter pan liner. I use silica crystal litter, which holds in the ammonia smell itself pretty well--the issue was the pee that came into contact with the walls and side of the box.
posted by tyrantkitty at 7:29 AM on January 18, 2014

Lavender essential oil is used in the scented version of The World's Best Cat Litter. It made our house smell like pesto (!?!) when we tried it, but the cats didn't mind.
posted by brina at 8:45 AM on January 18, 2014

Lavender essential oil is toxic to cats.

If your roommate is sensitive to ammonia (I am), putting other aromas into the air won't help.

I answered above, and after your clarification, I feel even more strongly about my answer. With normal litter box maintenance like you describe, Dr. Elsey's Precious has zero ammonia odor, unlike all the other litters I've tried. The only time we have smell is right when our cat has pooped, and it disappears after he has buried it.
posted by moira at 9:30 AM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Some people say that air cleaners/purifiers - those products with fans and filters - eliminate litter box odor. Amazon list here.
posted by conrad53 at 12:00 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

My daughter had a quite good Bionare electrically filtered cat box for her Persian miscreant. She bought it for $100 from amazon where it's highly rated. After a mishap involving inept movers and a large drafting table she tried to buy another but had no luck as it seems to no longer be available in the U.S. other than the occasional one on ebay at a silly markup.

She ended up buying a Whisker Vent and venting it to the outdoors through a wall. She is really happy with it because she never has to buy or change filters.
posted by bz at 1:14 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. My question is one that could not have yielded a "best answer" but me and Squirrley and my roomie appreciate your advice very much.
posted by vapidave at 1:39 AM on January 20, 2014

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