Design my hidden litter box
July 17, 2018 5:59 AM   Subscribe

I have a cat and a small condo. Right now one entire bathroom is basically unusable because it contains her litter box and therefore is gross. I'm hoping to make some adjustments so that I can start using that bathroom, and I need your help to perfect my plan!

Current setup:
-One slightly nervous 7-year-old cat (sorry, no picture available) who is great about using her litter box.
-Pedestal sink
-Covered litter box sitting on boot tray, tucked beside the pedestal sink

The issue is that it's kind of icky to see the litter box sitting out (even covered), and litter still gets tracked out and makes the bathroom really unpleasant to use.


I'd like to replace the pedestal sink with a custom-built vanity that comes all the way to the floor. This vanity would have an opening on the side (away from the door so it's hidden) and the litter box would go inside. The vanity would also still have doors in front to facilitate cleaning the litter box. There isn't room to have a boot tray outside the vanity cat-entrance (the vanity will basically be going wall-to-wall in our tiny bathroom), but I'm hoping having the cat-entrance slightly elevated will keep the litter contained within.

Obviously the vanity is mostly dedicated to the litter box, but I'm hoping there will be room for a shelf or two, or maybe drawers, which will also increase storage space.

In tandem with this new vanity, I would institute a more rigorous sweeping/vacuuming policy in the bathroom.

1. What are your thoughts about this plan? Am I missing something? Going too far? I don't think JUST increasing sweeping is going to be enough for me to make this bathroom more functional -- I need the litter box to be more hidden so that it's mentally and visually separated from the space.

2. For those of you who have done small bathroom renovations, how much would removing and replacing this sink likely cost? I'll obviously need to get a new sink itself, plus having the (hopefully simple) vanity built, and maybe some repair to the wall where the old sink is removed?

3. Is this a totally terrible idea from a home resale perspective? We are going to stay here for at least 3 more years, and possibly for like 10+ years, but do people HATE vanities or something? I'll try to make it nice and inoffensive, but it will make the room feel a tiny bit more crowded I suppose. But then again, it'll be increased storage space even if the next owners don't have a cat.
posted by Bebo to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Cat should exit through an upper opening via textured ramp to aid in getting lifted off of feet. If space is limited this can be helped by there being a platform above the box that she can jump to for access to the ramp.

Cat going straight from box out a flap or hole in side of vanity will still leave you with litter everywhere.

Choose a texture that she doesn’t mind. Be prepared to change the texture. Make it something easy to remove and clean.

Install activated charcoal in the vanity and change it on a strict schedule. Clean the box more often than you currently are.

As a polite reminder the appropriate number of litter boxes is n+1 where n = number of cats. For your cats sake, please consider again another place where a box could go. If you use this bathroom more, then the box could be, for just one instance, not accessible to the cat. Because cats like privacy I don’t need to spell out in too much detail what will happen if you don’t immediately discover the new place where the cat chooses to find relief. One possibility is you notice less urine in the box and get freaked out and incur an expensive vet bill.
posted by bilabial at 6:11 AM on July 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Our cat has been totally happy with just one litterbox for years (we used to have two as per the n+1 rule, but she never ever used it). The key, I've found, is to clean the litterbox EVERY SINGLE NIGHT WITHOUT FAIL. Scoop litter, then use a for us pretty much dedicated hand held vacuum to clean any litter she tracks out.

Speaking of, what kind of litter are you using? Some are better than others.

I would not want to use a vanity for storage, personally, if it had held a litterbox for ten plus years but that's just me. If I otherwise liked the house and bathroom I'd just plan on ripping it out and replacing it, so it wouldn't be a huge deal, but I wouldn't see it as a selling point.
posted by lydhre at 6:24 AM on July 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Activated charcoal is da bomb when it comes to cat litter. I get the kind that is meant for cigarette smoke or fish smells in the car aisle (??) and use one per litter box, plus the occasional extra seated nearby. Reduces the smell hugely.

We gave over an entire cupboard to cat litter, using two small cat-flaps on the door, and tiling up higher so it was easier to clean the floor. I would line your cupboard on the inside with easy-to-wipe (and replace if needed) vinyl so that you can maintain the inside of the cupboard.

You will still almost certainly have to rip this out and replace it when you sell your house, because it will smell faintly of cat up close, no matter what you do or how often you clean it. Unless you built it out of tile and concrete and re-grouted it or something heavy duty.

If your bathroom door can have a cat-flap on it so the cat can go in and out when the door is closed, that will help with accessibility.

Honestly, I would get a relatively cheap IKEA vanity and remove the inner shelves, add in 2 small cat-flaps (basically an in and out door - cats like having multiple exits), line it thoroughly with vinyl and then put some stick-on hooks inside for the cat litter scoop, spray-on pet safe cleaner, a small basket holding plastic bags for clearing the litter, extra litter if you have space, and then the pan itself inside. The clearance inside needs to be enough for the cat to either enter the front covered, or cat to half-stand without bumping her head.

For extra storage, use shelves elsewhere in the bathroom. No-one is really going to want bathroom stuff that's been stored with cat litter, even in another compartment/drawer. IKEA has vanities with side by side cupboards that depending on your space might give you an adjoining storage cupboard, but don't try to put extra stuff inside.

I would get a cheap IKEA vanity so you can replace it easily if it gets wrecked, but spend money customising it a little because the difference of having cat litter that doesn't smell and makes humans and cat happy, is so so lovely.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:25 AM on July 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Your vanity solution sounds workable to me. We have a small closet in our bathroom. I just installed a cat door in the closet door, and the litterbox sits on the floor inside the closet.
posted by slkinsey at 7:10 AM on July 17, 2018

I have renovated many bathrooms. I have owned many cats. I would not not no never do this.

For one thing, the smell will permanently permeate the vanity no matter how well you seal the material. Your hairbrush will smell like litterbox if stored in a drawer in the vanity, and that is a bonafide fact.

I use horse bedding (pellets) and dump it every day. There's only a few pellets that escape with a tray set-up. Still, this is not what you want!

You need a self-cleaning auto litterbox that hooks to your plumbing, that both washes the litter and disposes of the solid waste after every use.

Something like this.

I was a beta tester for a system years ago that did this and it was brilliant. I can't find the brand now, but it had silicon pellets and a blower that dried the litter. Solid waste was disposed automatically via the plumbing.

It should cost between $200 to $500, easier AND cheaper than a remodeling. Especially factoring the cost of a custom vanity that will not ultimately do what you want it to do.

Research high end automatic litterboxes. Memail if you have questions, but this is my firm advice. I get your problem, I do. A setup with the features I recommended is your best answer.
posted by jbenben at 7:36 AM on July 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

We also looked into a vanity solution; but it turns out the humans kept closing the door on the cat; so we ended up not being able to keep the litter box in the bathroom. (we priced it out at just under 1k; as an add-on to an existing project we had going on, so basically same as Chemicalsyntheticist+ NYC labor costs). Our contractor warned against doing a completely enclosed surface (you'd need to replace it when you sell, because it would eventually smell of cat regardless), so we were planning on a floating vanity, with the litterbox underneath.

Our cat isn't graceful enough (and way too big for most of them anyways) for a top entry litterbox, but we're eyeing this one for the next litterbox we get.

We've found that we need to scoop the box every day, and we keep a small brush/dustpan on hooks next to the litter scoop, so we brush the area around the litterbox daily as well. (We just dump floor litter back in the litterbox, don't bother taking it to a garbage can). I don't like the litter mats; we found they trap all the smells, and we don't clean them as often as we should (like 2x a month instead of actually doing it daily).
posted by larthegreat at 7:43 AM on July 17, 2018

I recently recommended pine pellet litter to a friend who was having similar issues to you re: smell and tracking of the litter. She has 3 cats and the smell of the litterbox was so bad she didn't know what to do with herself. I have 2 cats myself and have never had ANY issues with the litterbox so I recommended she try a different cat litter.

You can buy an expensive bag of Feline Pine at the pet store, or go to a hardware store and buy Fire Pellets (which are the exact same thing) for $7 for a 40lbs. bag.

My friend went out and bought a bag with the assumption that if it wasn't any good, she hadn't lost any money.

After the very first day of using it, she reported that the smell was completely gone and there was zero tracking. So it might be worthwhile for you to try and change up your litter first and see if that helps.
posted by JenThePro at 8:13 AM on July 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A couple of points (and thank you to everyone who has answered!):

1. Great point about not storing things in that same vanity. That's fine.

2. Part of the goal of enclosing the litter box is that this bathroom will eventually be used by my small child, as it's the closest one to his bedroom. If the box is in a vanity (with a door that can be child-locked and a side-entrance that is small and non-obvious) I hope that will discourage fooling around with the litter.*

*Yes, I understand there is always the potential for mischievous/curious children to get into absolutely anything, but I'm just trying to reduce the likelihood of middle-of-the-night shenanigans. I DEFINITELY do not want to introduce an enticing robot into this situation, sorry jbenben.

3. I'll just need to assume the vanity will be replaced whenever we sell. That is fine.

Also I get an AskMefi BINGO point for someone chiming in with the n+1 litter box rule, despite that definitely not being part of the issue here :) Our cat has lived with one box for all 7 years of her life and is a champion of not peeing in naughty places (she saves her behavioral quirks for other things).
posted by Bebo at 8:50 AM on July 17, 2018

It's not a robot. I had mine in 1996. It's a litter box that hooks into your toilet plumbing. It had a sensor you can set to work after each use, or once each evening. The cycle takes about 10 minutes and was very quiet. It did not use any sort of regular litter, instead it had reusable pellets. It was almost entirely maintenance free except for the one cat who ate and pooped out string or plastic bag fragments, requiring us to untangle the sieve once in a while. If your cat doesn't have penchant for eating foreign objects (most don't) it was a flawless machine.

I really wish I could remember the brand. It was sleek and easy. You have no idea how I miss that thing ;)

It had a lid.
posted by jbenben at 11:07 AM on July 17, 2018

If I wasn't clear, it used fresh water from the plumbing for the wash cycle. It washed the pellets and waste kinda like a wash machine cycle. It sucked the water and ground up waste out of the pellets, rinsing again with fresh water, leaving the plastic pellets dry and ready for the next use. Our 3 cats did not freak out about it all, even though I expected at least one to object. Nope. That thing was a dream.

It boggles me this isn't easy to find, I'm sure something similar is still made. So much easier than a remodel or those awful automated litter boxes with receptacles you have to dump out.
posted by jbenben at 11:13 AM on July 17, 2018

We had this litter box enclosure for a while (two cats, but it was their secondary box, so it didn't get as much traffic). It wasn't big enough to fit an enclosed box, just an open tray, and after about a year, the whole unit stank of ammonia. The odor emanating from the plywood was noticeably worse than from our plastic box in another room. So I would second a really good internal sealing mechanism for the vanity and religious daily scooping, if you're going to do this.
posted by merriment at 3:44 PM on July 17, 2018

jbenben, are you thinking of the CatGenie?

OP, we had (and got rid of) our CatGenies after a couple of years and switched back to using World’s Best Cat Litter in Modkat litter boxes. Provided your cats never have intestinal issues, the CatGenie works well, but if their output falls outside of CatGenie’s operating standards, prepare for the smell of freshly-baked poop.
posted by evoque at 12:06 PM on July 18, 2018

In a small condo where the only places for the box were a bathroom or the hall, we eventually settled on a Litter Robot that lives on our glassed-in back porch + cat door in the patio door. If you are willing to do remodeling, it might be worth brainstorming if there are really NO other places where a bit of remodeling could give you a solution.
posted by oblique red at 2:15 PM on July 19, 2018

I keep a handheld vacuum right by the litter box. Also a Litter Genie. Every time I take myself to the bathroom, I scoop the litter into the genie and spend 3 seconds vacuuming around the box.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2018

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