My house smells like a litter box. Please help.
April 3, 2017 11:56 AM   Subscribe

We have two cats (obligatory pic here) and they are trained to use the litter box and do so. The problem is that the smell from said box emanates all through the house. We clean it once a day and use Tidy Cats litter. How do I get the litter box smell to be gone?

The box is in the laundry room and so the smell permeates through to the dining room (where I work), the TV room, and to a lesser extent, the kitchen. Hubs hates chemical smells like conventional air freshners. I'm really looking more for a neutralizer as opposed to a cover up. Any suggestions?
posted by tafetta, darling! to Pets & Animals (45 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Feline Pine litter, done deal.
posted by Freedomboy at 11:57 AM on April 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

You want the Hamilton Beach TrueAir plug-in odor eliminator. It has a carbon filter to neutralize the air. Seriously a life saver.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:59 AM on April 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

You can get pine shavings from places that do mill work. That's what we use for cat litter and it smells fine.

Our cat is long-haired so it gets tracked outside the litter box and requires sweeping, but it solves the smell problem and as a bonus you no longer have to pay for litter.
posted by aniola at 12:03 PM on April 3, 2017

We find baking soda combined with Dr. Elsey's cat litter means minimal smell, especially if cleaned once a day.
posted by Karaage at 12:05 PM on April 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

We like sWheat Scoop litter.
posted by TORunner at 12:07 PM on April 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Cat box with a lid and charcoal filter, if your cats will use boxes with a lid. (Ours won't) You can also buy charcoal liners and Nature's Miracle liners, but I don't know how well either work. We liberally dose our cat boxes with baking soda which we've been told is fine.

This is a random DIY page on how to use charcoal to eliminate cat box smell. Here are charcoal sachets you can buy.
posted by crush at 12:08 PM on April 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

I only have one cat and i still scoop every time she goes, a couple times a day at least. Also a covered box and the blue crystal litter.
posted by pintapicasso at 12:08 PM on April 3, 2017

When you say clean, do you mean completely change the litter? The only thing that really worked for me was using smaller amounts of litter, just enough for them to dig around in, and doing this every day.
posted by thelonius at 12:13 PM on April 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

How big is your litter box? How deep does the litter get to be? I once kept 4 cats in about 1000 sq ft of space. I used Swheat Scoop and had big litter boxes that could take several inches deep of litter. The litter boxes always smelled worse when the litter was low, because their burying didn't work so well. We scooped every day.

Since you probably have a tricky time going bigger for your litter box given it's in a laundry room, do you think a top entry would work for your cats? CleverCat makes one.
posted by foxfirefey at 12:14 PM on April 3, 2017

Arm and Hammer Clump and Seal is the best I've found. However, it is scented. I find the Fresh Home scent to be the least obtrusive. Barring that, scoop more often, deposit the scoops in a sealed container if not taking them straight outside (I use an old oatmeal canister lined with a small trash bag), spray down the sides with Nature's Miracle, and change out all the litter and wash the inside of the box once a week. You might also consider replacing the boxes themselves.
posted by fozzie_bear at 12:15 PM on April 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

I only have one cat and i still scoop every time she goes, a couple times a day at least.

Yeah, let me add my vote to "clean more often" (and add a 2nd litterbox if possible). I use clumping clay litter (I understand this is not the most eco option, but because I am so meticulous about removing clumps before they are clawed apart, one bag lasts me foreeeeeever). There is no smell AT ALL (with two cats, tho they do also go outside).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:16 PM on April 3, 2017

We keep a HEPA filter air cleaner running 24/7 in the same room as the litter box. We changed to Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal litter and scoop daily. As far as I can tell, our house doesn't smell.
posted by toastedbeagle at 12:19 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Clumping litter is for sure the way to go. I have three cats and two boxes, which we scoop twice a day. My house does not smell like pee.
posted by something something at 12:23 PM on April 3, 2017

I bought the Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal Multi-Cat randomly one day because all other litters were out (it was icy that day) and I have found it to be WAAAY better at holding in smells than the tidy cats was.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:25 PM on April 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do you clean or scoop-out once a day? Surely you don't mean you empty all the litter, scrub with bleach, and refill with clean litter every day...

Make sure you CLEAN the box weekly or so. Use a litter that doesn't toss dust around, and there should always be one more litter box than the number of cats you have (so there should be three boxes in the house if you have two cats).

Plus, well, some cats just smell. When we had one cat, people could smell our stinky house from outside as they approached. That cat died. Now we have four cats, and people don't even know we have cats (i.e. they can't smell the cats) until one pops out from behind the curtain and lands on their lap. Good times.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:25 PM on April 3, 2017

does your litter box have a top? i got one like this and it helped a lot. we have two cats and we clean about once every two days. having a lid PLUS spreading a thin layer of baking soda in the litter every time we clean have helped. we use swheat scoop for litter.
posted by monologish at 12:27 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

In addition to suggestions above: when you change litter, rinse off the bottom and sides of the litterbox and also clean under the litterbox, including washing and rinsing any mat you have under there and wiping the floor. I've found that even well-intentioned cats sometimes position themselves so as to 'miss' the box and that can cause a stinky residue under the box itself.
posted by Miko at 12:30 PM on April 3, 2017

I saw someone upthread mention crystal cat litter. If your cats take well to it - I highly recommend it. It has rendered my house litter box odor free. It is pricey, but it lasts a while, and is worth every penny as far as I am concerned. I was using this brand, but this week I am trying out a cheaper store brand to see if it works as well... will report back if you're interested.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 12:33 PM on April 3, 2017

I use an Arm & Hammer unscented clumping litter with a couple of soup-can sized scoops of pine litter sprinkled on top. When I clean, I just scoop like normal, though I don't try to shake litter off the clumps. All I ever smell is the pine (I can't even smell the clean litter).
posted by Tentacle of Trust at 12:37 PM on April 3, 2017

I use Tidy Cats with Glade and I make sure to buy a brand new (top-entry) litter box every couple months. After a while the scratches in the plastic just hold onto stink and unless you scrub it down with bleach it doesn't go away.
posted by greta simone at 12:57 PM on April 3, 2017

I have to second sWheat scoop litter. I was up to four cats using Tidy Cat and one litter box ( I know). We scooped everyday, multiple times a day, and it smelled like pee and scented litter all over the house. We switched to sWheat Scoop to see if the fragrance was causing an allergic reaction in one of our kitties ( it was) and we were flabbergasted. There was no more smell. Of course we still scoop daily but it doesn't smell at all like pee and litter anymore.
posted by onebyone at 1:14 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Many years ago, I cut a hole in the lid of a litter box and put in a small fan to pull the the air through flexible dryer duct that led to the outside.
posted by ShooBoo at 1:22 PM on April 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Check your humidity! our basement gets super humid and when it does, the cat litter is all you can smell, even when it's clean.

We got a dehumidifier which we run for like 1 hour a day and it totally solved the problem.
posted by euphoria066 at 1:34 PM on April 3, 2017

I have this litter box and I use sWheat Scoop (the clumping kind) and a little aquarium carbon in the bottom because I'm super sensitive to ammonia. I don't layer the litter very deep, because I change it all 1x/week, and when I do, I dump the empty litter box outside and clean it with hot water and oxygen bleach. Even when I'm really, really busy and forget to clean the box for days at a time, I've never smelled cat-- and visitors to my house say they can't smell any kitty either.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:40 PM on April 3, 2017

Get CHEAP giant bags of PINE LITTER from the nearest Horse and Tack store. Change entirr litter box daily, or every two days. Scoop (and flush if you want) the actual poop in the meantime. Done.
posted by jbenben at 1:46 PM on April 3, 2017

When was the last time you changed the litter box itself?

In my experience many types of boxes can definitely accumulate ammonia stains and odor that will stick around even after the litter has been completely swapped out.

Secondly, are you 100% positive there are no urine accidents outside the laundry room? What do you smell if the laundry door is completely closed and you wait 20-30 minutes?
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:16 PM on April 3, 2017

Litter Robot
Worth. Every. Penny. The price made me balk too but read the reviews. You also use much less litter, a tub of litter lasts me months (one cat). No smell, none. They also have stellar customers service. If you don't like it for any reason you can get a refund as long as you get it back to them within 90 days
posted by BoscosMom at 2:31 PM on April 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Surprised not to see the litter robot until the end. This solves the problem completely. I would pay a dollar a day for a year to never scoop cat litter again, so the price was worth it to me. Great customer service (roommate broke the globe, they sent me a new one for free) and other than that it's gone strong for four years.
posted by sockermom at 2:58 PM on April 3, 2017

If the litter you're using is scented, try unscented litter. It sounds counterintuitive, but scented litters tend to carry the smell.
posted by meemzi at 4:27 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Use Fresh Step cat litter. Tidy Cat doesn't work worth a damn to deal with odor. I have 4 cats and I've tried every brand of clumping litter there is. Fresh Step wins the smell battle by a mile.

I have two jumbo boxes. My litter box routine is as follows:

1. Scoop at least once a day, ideally twice--before I leave for work and before I go to bed.

2. Every couple weeks, dump out the old litter, then take a Lysol wipe to clean off residue, then scrub the litter box in the bathtub with regular soap and water.

3. If you can use cat box liners, great. I can't because my cats all have claws and scratch the liners. So I line the bottom of the box with baking soda, then pour in fresh litter.

4. Every couple days or so, dump another scoop of baking soda in the box and mix with the litter for additional smell control.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:29 PM on April 3, 2017

FWIW, I like our Litter Robot, but I haven't found it to be magically odor-free: we have 3 cats and it does start to smell a bit pissy near it if we don't stay on top of emptying its drawer more frequently than its flashing-blue "I'm full, empty me" indicator would have us do it. Also helpful: top-clumping "for automatic boxes" litter, so that clumps float and are easily scoopable instead of sticking like concrete to the base of the globe; and sprinkling a cup of baking soda in the drawer liner after changing it.

Before the robot we used a top-entry Clever Cat box, scooping many times a day to keep it as clean as possible, and a Litter Genie to hold the scooped litter. It worked well for keeping smell to a minimum -- the Litter Genie makes scoop-and-dispose much less of an undertaking than having to take soiled litter outside to the trash each time -- but was a lot of scooping.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:31 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

If either or both of your cats are un-neutered males, their urine will smell very strong.
posted by Dolley at 4:34 PM on April 3, 2017

Some litter smells like litterbox, even before anybody goes to the bathroom in it. TidyCat is one of those, imo. I like Scoopaway unscented. Clumps really tight. I have three cats using two boxes in the same bathroom and they can go 1.75 days before it needs scooping. That stuff is great.

The people down the hall have two cats and a litter robot, and their unit smells like that classic "old lady with cat" smell no matter what they do. I think it's their litter. It might have something to do with the particular cats too though, I don't know.

Hope you get it figured out.
posted by bluesky78987 at 5:04 PM on April 3, 2017

If everything else fails, I found that feeding my cat a "better" grade of cat food made her poop much less stinky.
posted by peppermind at 5:05 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use unscented Fresh Step clumping litter, have two cats, and no litter box smell. I recently switched to the Luuup cat tray system, but honestly before that I didn't have any issue, either. I won't use anything but Fresh Step at this point.
posted by clone boulevard at 5:34 PM on April 3, 2017

I came in here to recommend the Arm & Hammer. I've used both the multi cat clump and seal linked above as well as the multi cat clump and seal with microguard fresh scent. I prefer the latter, but it has a slight fragrance, so if you want something more fragrance free, I would go with the first one.

This stuff is literally magic. I have my cat's litter box in my room, literally four feet from my bed, and don't have any issues with smells. (My cat has some digestive problems so sometimes there's an initial smell, but it goes away very quickly.) I also throw in some extra baking soda every other day or so.

I use this covered litter box, although I don't use the door flap. It's an awesome litter box, but I would start by just getting the Arm & Hammer. It's by far the best litter I've ever used. It's also very low dust, which is great for me because high dust litter stir up my allergies pretty badly.

I have one cat, and I clean the box once a day. If you have two cats, you might want to consider either getting two litter boxes or cleaning more than once a day.

Oh, and I'll also strongly second the Litter Genie. I was hesitant at first because it seemed kind of unnecessary, but it makes cleaning out the litter box so much easier. It also does a great job of keeping away any smells from the used litter once you put it in there.
posted by litera scripta manet at 5:59 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, just wanted to add that even though the Arm & Hammer is scented (Fresh Scent), the only time I ever actually smell the litter is when I'm pouring it into the box. Also, I find the scent to be pretty mild/unoffensive. (I hate strongly scented cat litter.)

I do dump out all the litter once a week (some times every two weeks if I'm busy/lazy). I wipe down the litter box, use some dish soap to clean it out, then put in a layer of baking soda on the bottom and then dump in the litter.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:07 PM on April 3, 2017

Only one suggestion for diet in all of these? I agree with peppermind that a call/visit to your vet may be in order. There are foods that reduce the ammonia odor through better nutrition. However, I won't make suggestions as any change should go through your vet and not some Random Internet Stranger.
posted by TauLepton at 8:23 PM on April 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

* Litter tray liners

* Enclosed litter tray

* Scooping daily

* Changing litter completely once a week

* Using a mix of clay and clumping clay, or crystals and clumping clay (depending on budget. There's no point splurging on crystals if you then can't afford to change the litter often enough)

Using liners has been a massive game changer in my house. Previously the litter tray would get stained with smell, which would release when it got wet again.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:04 AM on April 4, 2017

Oh, and you need two to three boxes if you have two cats.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:05 AM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is an unscented version of the Arm & Hammer litter, btw. I can't say it's better than any of the "special" litters, but it definitely beats Tidy Cats. (which is one of the worst in terms of clumping and odor control, IME)
posted by wierdo at 7:18 AM on April 4, 2017

Disposable litter trays. Scoop as needed, then when it starts to get whiffy, toss the whole thing and put out a new tray. We also have a LitterRobot, but one of the cats hates it and refuses to use it so far, so he gets the disposable trays.
posted by telophase at 3:32 PM on April 4, 2017

You need three litter boxes for two cats (always one per cat and an extra), they like choice and may not like using the same litterbox as the other cat. That alone can help cut down on smells and territorial elimination.

Our single cat has two boxes, one is a covered box with carbon filters and the other a DIY clear plastic tote with a hole in the top. She prefers the covered box, but is very willing to use the other one if she's near it. We use Integrity cobbled paper litter and it's great for containing smells in conjunction with the covered boxes, even if we can't scoop immediately (asleep, not at home, etc.).

The combo of multiple boxes and absorbent litter works for us. The one time her poop was super-rank (and thus filling the house with noxious catbutt fumes) was because we fed her salmon. We stopped buying her salmon-based food and that took care of the problem. My previous cat had the same issue with turkey. Diet can have a marked effect on the smell of their urine and feces, so you might want to experiment with what you feed them in addition to trying different litter/styles of boxes/multiple boxes. (This doesn't sound like it's an issue, but if either if your cats' urine ever has an extremely strong smell you should get them checked to rule out urinary tract issues.)
posted by i feel possessed at 6:10 PM on April 4, 2017

I'm a fan of Dr. Elsey's litter - no dust. Works great. Clumps tight. That, with a Genie, and we're pretty odor free.

Litter Robot is FANTASTIC....until your cat develops renal problems....

The urine clumps become huge - too large to fit through the holes in the dome.
posted by Thistledown at 3:37 PM on April 5, 2017

I'm not familiar with this particular brand of litter but I did a quick Google and if it's the clumping kind you are using, no matter what it's made of, I have found that literally every kind of clumping litter I have ever tried a) doesn't trap in the smell of cat wee and poo and b) releases an unpleasant smell of its own.

We use a locally-made litter that is manufactured from recycled newspapers/phone books into little pellets, and those trap the smell and have no smell of their own. It doesn't last quite as long as clay or crystals but it balances out as it's a lot lighter, cheaper, isn't transported as far, and can be composted. Have you tried a few different brands/makes/constitutions of litter?

Also, do you have ducted heating/cooling that could be sucking the smells out of the laundry and carrying them through the house? Is the laundry room particularly damp or prone to damp, beyond what one might expect from a laundry? Whenever necessity forces us to have litter boxes in the bathroom, we find that the steam and humidity contributes to them getting smellier faster.

And yeah, as above, the rule is 1 more litter box than you have cats. It's more fuss, certainly, but is better in the long-term.

You could also make some investigations into the, uh, actual output of your cats. There are many different high-quality foods that help to lessen the stink of their wee and poop.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:37 PM on April 5, 2017

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