Do you have any experience with using a big bin as a cat box?
June 15, 2020 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I like the idea of a big Rubbermaid type bin as a cat box - keeps things contained, less fiddly, but I have questions about best practices and whether it's really a good idea. And what kind of litter to use? Is there a more sustainable litter?

I have a big bin ready to go. We also have a standard cat litter box which we use with a bag liner and we are trying a variety of different cat litters. I'm worried that the big bin will use so much more litter than we use right now. The cat box gets a full clean out about every week and it seems very wasteful but by then the bag liner is getting shredded and there are hardened corners of cat pee at the bottom that will shred the liner if we keep digging at them so out the whole thing goes.

I'm worried, though, that with the big bin we'll just be at the same sort of issue - hardened cat pee where to dig things out will leave us wanting to clear the whole thing out and we'll be even more wasteful.

I'm also trying to figure out how to clean the big bin and worried that it will get extra funky if we use it without a liner. Right now, kitty keeps his business pretty well in the box. I know cats can change but he does it pretty good though he can be a vigorous digger. We had a regular covered cat box for a previous cat and I swear there would be pee on the ceiling. It was gross. Another cat would dangle his butt over the edge and poop alongside. Thanks, buddy. But if this guy starts peeing up the sides of the box, it will get funky, I think. And for summer months, taking it out to the yard for a hose-down (weekly? bi-weekly? monthly?) seems tenable but during winter will be kind of miserable. Can it be cleaned in a bathtub?

And what kind of litter are you all using? We've tried a few and my husband and I can't agree. I hate the dust of clay litter (husband likes the tidy clumps) and I also hate anything which explodes in floral scent anytime it gets wet. I get the idea but I hate the smell. Is there anything that walks the line between ease of use, doesn't smell bad, will work best in a big bin box and might even feel like a sustainable product?

Cat tax pic.
posted by amanda to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been using pine horse bedding pellets (like these) and it's been a game-changer. The pellets are incredibly cheap, last forever, and don't smell. They expand into sawdust when wet and easily fall out of the bin when it's dumped (assuming regular cleaning). I use a regular litter scoop to remove clumps daily and dump the whole bin once all of the pellets have turned into sawdust. I've never had problems with the sawdust clumping/drying onto the sides or corners of the bin.
posted by mezzanayne at 9:39 AM on June 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

How big is big for you? I use a Sterilite brand bin (24x18x13) that i got from wal-mart a few years ago for my furry monster. Pics of bin.

You’re right that it does take a bit more litter - one 14lb box of Arm&Hammer clumping clay litter is just about enough to get the right depth, and i top it up every few days. I empty and clean the whole thing out (litter goes into a trash bag, bin gets rinsed in the bathtub) once a month. So i go through about two boxes of litter a month i think, maybe a bit more?

However, i am also interested in less dust, and recently picked up a bag of Nature’s Miracle Clumping Corn Cob litter. It claims to perform the same as clay litter and so far it is less dusty. Slightly more expensive than Arm&Hammer, but not significantly. I read a lot of reviews and it definitely has a pine-ey kind of scent, but I really have to stick my face into the bag to smell it.

I don’t THINK the box is worse off without a liner, but I’ve never used one, so I can’t really speak to that.
posted by janepanic at 9:41 AM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

My experience with large plastic non-litter boxes: the plastic will absorb urine odor, sometimes faster than a specific-purpose litter box that is treated to not hold ammonia as quickly. Your cat will spray the sides if they are high enough.

A box with high sides will also force kitty to launch airborne to exit, which kicks litter around a lot.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:55 AM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

My cats loved their big bin box. I used pine pellet litter. Of course, this was when I lived in the woods, so dumping it in a deep pit in the woods was no problem. I left a cinderblock beside the box as a step for the blind cat, and she never missed once. Yeah, dumping and washing outside was a pain in the winter, but so was everything else.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:56 AM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

We use a giant rubbermaid bin, and a smaller bin (that's still larger than most normal cat boxes), in large part because we like to keep a thick (3-5 inches) amount of sand at any time. We use the litter from costco, and the catbox is cleaned 2x a day. We only do a full change about every 6 months.

Having a really thick layer of sand is what prevents the piss clumps from sticking to the bottom, and breaking up as you try to remove them.

We needed the bins because of the high sides - one of our boys (who's now sadly gone) was tall, and didn't care where the pee went, so long as he was in the litter box. Heck, we found out that sides only 8" over the level of the sand were too low! and had to remake one bin.

We also used to do a few boxes with starter chicken feed (the budget equivalent to World's best cat litter). So long as the cleaning is done at least daily, the clumps don't get too big nor unwieldly.
posted by nobeagle at 10:09 AM on June 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh, I'll note that we cut an entrance in one side of the box, so no acrobatics are required to get in. The entrance is 6" up from the floor, while stairs are typically 7.5". So it's something that non-elderly cats won't have a problem with stepping over. One of our cats was significantly less mobile (but still could walk stairs), and also had no problems with the 6" lip to get into the litter boxes.

This does mean that when the litter box is freshly full that there's only 1" between the sand and the exit. We've found that we prefer clean sand kicked out of the litter box over pee sprayed out of the litter box into the wall where it leaks down to the floor/trim.
posted by nobeagle at 10:13 AM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

We used a Rubbermaid bin for years, with a hole cut in the lid to make it top-entry. My elder cat was able to use it through the age of 17 and probably still could now, but I wanted a fresh box when we moved and decided to go with something easier-access as she's not getting any younger. The big bin did keep the cats from kicking litter out of the box, but it seems like she still tracks it everywhere because it sticks to her feet. I find little bits of litter everywhere she hangs out. So annoying. But when we had the regular height boxes it was way worse near the box.

I hate dusty litter and scented litter, so we've always used Arm&Hammer unscented clumping. I don't feel like we used significantly more litter than we did with a regular-size box.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:25 AM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

We switched to pine pellet litter like the kind mezzanayne linked, and it is honestly the best. The cats don't seem able to kick it around as much, and if they do it's just a pellet and very easy to sweep or pick up. We use a sifting litter box so you just lift up the top layer and shake it to get the sawdust out, and then there's two pans below, so you take out the one that is filled, and dump it. The litter is EXTREMELY cheap which is nice. I think we bought a 40lb bag for $6 about 4 months ago and with three cats there's still 1/3rd left.

My cats did a very annoying thing where they always peed in the corner of boxes, making hard clumps of clay litter that was cemented to the side of the box and you'd have to kind of pry off, and it would invariably break the clumps up and the whole box would get dirty and I'd have to dump all the litter so often, it felt wasteful, and with three cats, expensive. Pine litter feels like such a huge upgrade in every way I'm mad I didn't try it earlier! Way less urine smell (and no weird "scented" scents), so much cheaper, so much easier to clean the boxes, and best of all, no dust. I also feel better about the sustainablity of the wooden litter.

I used a rubbermaid bin as a catbox in the past, but the plastic got scratched up quickly and I found that even after I just gave it a full hose down and clean, I could smell the cat urine in it, so I thought it would be even more intense to the cats. Maybe if you could find a bin made of smoother, harder plastic it would do better, but the sort of traditional "rubbermaid" texture that helps prevent breakage of bins seems porous and easily scratched.
posted by euphoria066 at 10:38 AM on June 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

I strongly recommend a brand called World’s Best Cat Litter. It is amazing - clumps instantly, neutralises smell and it’s made from corn. It turns cat pee into solid lumps you can just scoop out, and coats poops while also drying them out. It is expensive, but you go through a lot less because it clumps so effectively. Seriously it is amazing. We also use a thing called a Litter Locker to bag up the lumps and poops. Also strongly recommended.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:40 AM on June 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

I did this when I had a cat with CH who needed to lay on his side when he did his business and thus required a very large box that was easy to get into and out of. I cut out most of one side about 3" from the bottom for a large opening and sanded the edges to make sure they were safe. The box held up for years, probably because I was obsessive about cleaning it (scooped and stirred the litter twice a day, using the aforementioned World's Best Cat Litter, which lives up to its name, threw everything out and scrubbed the entire box at least once a month). The ridges on the bottom did present a bit of a problem for cleaning and required a little bit of extra scraping to make sure nothing collected.

The sides and bottom did eventually get pretty scraped up and I wound up switching to a Nature's Miracle brand box, which was HUGE and was a nice smooth plastic that made cleaning so much easier. Unfortunately, it looks like that particular model is no longer made, but there are smaller versions on Petco and
posted by Fuego at 12:17 PM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Personally, I became a huge fan of using pine pellets with a double-layer box with a top section that had a grating. Shake it twice a day and all the saw dust and smelly stuff dropped to the bottom section. (Except for the poop, which still requires scooping.) Empty the bottom part every few days. I don't think I'd go back to a box with a single solid floor again.
posted by eotvos at 12:37 PM on June 15, 2020

Fuego, the blind cat I mentioned above also had CH, although a much milder case than your kitty. She was able to both walk and use the box upright; she was just a bit wobbly.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:51 PM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

We're on our 3rd iteration of gigantic homemade litter box, using the biggest sturdiest container from Target-- it's 19x19x35. The entrance is on the end, 8" from the ground, my 15 year Good Boi has no problem getting in or out. I lined the cut edges of the entrance with foam pipe insulation. We keep 6" of litter in the box and use Dr Elseys multi-cat; we used to use the Worlds Best but it broke down really fast with our 3 busy kittehs, and was also really dusty. The Dr Elseys is, so far, the best at clumping, non-scented, and very low dust. It's about $ 20 /US for a 40# bag, and we use 2 bags when we fill the box anew. I would try the pine pellets, but we need the clumping to happen since we're not emptying the entire box weekly.
The box gets scooped every other day and the inside walls wiped down; we top it off with fresh litter about once a month. Every 6 months we let the litter get a bit low (cleaning daily) then choose a sunny day to dump completely, wash with Simple Green, and sun bake in the yard for a couple hours (our cats are very good about being patient while this happens). We keep a mud mat at the entrance of the box to catch the paw litter, and it gets shook out daily-- really helps keep most litter near the box and not in my bedroom.
One of my cats always pees right near the entrance, in the same place, and so pee berg develops; it's just a thing to clean. When the litter is fresh it's super easy, when it's old it's just a bit more effort, but not awful. I'm planning on making a 2nd box soon, after organizing the home office; I'll make the entrance in the middle of the box. Other than that, it's worked very well for our small apartment, in days gone by when we had friends over most of them never realized we had a litter box in the living room.
posted by winesong at 2:14 PM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

We had the sawdust litter. Like, a decade ago. I'm pretty sure there's still some embedded in our microfiber cleaning cloths.

We also tried sawdust pellets pellets. The cats took to them quite poorly: imagine a human seeking toilet paper and being presented with a CVS receipt.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:23 PM on June 15, 2020

My cat is a Big Girl but not chonky, and came to us with established jumping/leaping issues. Every single box we tried was too small for her extreme longness and lack of limberness - she couldn't turn around in lidded ones, couldn't really fit her while body in even the large open ones. So we got a low sided storage tub, an under the bed style thing. She can step over the sides easily, it is long enough that she doesn't have to contort or twist to move around, and contains the spray much better because she isn't so squished. My ex has been experimenting with litter and likes the pine stuff and it seems to suit her as well since she isn't one to kick all that much but is incredibly awkward* and will knock stuff over the sides on her way in and out, and hates stuff stuck to her paws so the pine reduces the level of weird behaviour trying to get it off (alas trails of litter up and down the carpeted stairs). It is awkward as hell since it's so huge, but easy to empty and gets a rinse in the garden once a month or so.

*We posit a tail injury prior to her rescue, or birthing injury. She has never jumped on a counter and very rarely jumps higher than the couch seat, and is very very hesitant about it, or sitting on laps. She also will fall off things.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:46 PM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I solved the bin odor by having 2 bins. One bin is in use and the other is outside letting the sun and rain deodorize for amonth; then switch them out.
posted by mightshould at 3:56 PM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

When we got our rescue kitty, she came with a litter box like this. It seems to work well and the litter mostly stays in the box.
posted by elmay at 4:52 PM on June 15, 2020

We catsit so we've seen a lot of different litter situations. We've taken care of one pair of cats with the Rubbermaid bins as litterboxes. We found a couple of problems. The first was that the pee would go down into the channels around the edge of the Rubbermaid box. More litter did not seem to help. The second was that the sides had been cut sort of low, and the cat with mobility issues really didn't seem to care where the pee landed so long as she had a paw in the box. (Clearly a cat rather than litterbox issue.

We've really found that the corn/pine/wheat litter has been by far the best litter if the cats adapt to it. The corn stuff in particular is really easy to deal with and keeps down the smell to a shocking degree. Absolutely not fans of the silica gel litter.
posted by rednikki at 8:54 PM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I used the large Rubbermaid type top entry litter box. I found that the cats would leap out of the box when done, spraying litter all over the floor. Not really worth the price, to me. I now use the Modikat Flip and really like it. The entry has a high enough threshold so that litter is not easily kicked out, and it comes with a shred-resistant liner made of tarpaulin material.

As for litter, I tried everything, from ground walnut shells to silica crystals to corn to newspaper pellets, and finally went back to a good brand of clay litter. There is no perfect kitty litter, alas.
posted by all the light we cannot see at 2:20 AM on June 16, 2020

Also, I found that Nature's Miracle, or other equivalent enzyme-based spray, got rid of urine odor immediately when cleaning the box. Just empty the litter, spray the box and wait about 5 minutes before wiping clean.
posted by all the light we cannot see at 2:22 AM on June 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

We use a giant rubbermaid bin for our two cats. One is dumb so we cut an opening in the side so he can go in and out easily. It's a dream...litter doesn't get kicked out and they seem to like it better. We use clumping litter and buy a new bin every year or so because plastic can take on odors. Also, we try to scoop every day.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:12 AM on June 16, 2020

We have two cats. We use a large bin with a hole cut in the top to make it top entry which is awesome because there is less litter mess this way. I lined it with black trash bags, the giant yard bags. Best thing so far I have found. I don't use any specific litter.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 9:11 AM on June 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

We have an upright-pee-er who routinely missed the sides of litter boxes. We also have a kitty who started rejecting the litter box and would use basically anything else. We also replaced the boxes with ones with very tall sides (essentially equivalent to large Rubbermaid bins as you mention) and it has worked great. As for litter, Dr. Elsey's was a game-changer - very low odor, the cats love it, scoopable, no dust. It was recommended to us by a cat behaviorist we consulted about the peeing issues. We mix Cat Attract and Ultra types and everything's been great for 6 months.
posted by majorsteel at 9:57 AM on June 16, 2020

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