Full litter box changes for multi-cat households
June 24, 2022 7:28 AM   Subscribe

I have three cats and five litter boxes. I scoop all boxes daily and have a good routine in place for that piece. What I don't have a good process for is changing out the entire litter box every few weeks so it's not a giant filthy stressful mess. This feels like it should be so incredibly straightforward but it's just not in our house and I feel like I'm missing some key part of the process. How do you do it? My specifics inside.

Three boxes are in the basement, two are upstairs. We use the pine pellet litter and are not looking to switch.

Right now I flail around with big garbage bags, clumsily holding the box in one hand and the bag in the other, dirty litter inevitably missing the bag and falling on the ground, and much swearing. And once it's done, the bags are heavy AF, difficult and awkward to carry all the way outside the alley trash can, bang unpleasantly against my legs, and I worry the whole way there that they're going to get caught on something and rip open and dirty litter will explode everywhere.

Clearly I need a sturdy trashcan, that much is obvious. And probably much smaller bags? And empty just one box into a bag? That's the best I've come up with so far.

So, what's the better way? How do you change yours? All ideas and strategies and tools gratefully accepted. I'm irritated that this is stymieing me still even though I'm many years into cat ownership.
posted by anderjen to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I use the tall trash can bags, I put the bag around the end of the litterbox - I have bags with a mouth just a little bit larger than the small end of the litterbox. I tilt the whole thing so that the litter falls into the bag, and then attack anything still stuck to the box with the scoop. One trash bag per box, then tie a knot in the bag and it goes out immediately.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:37 AM on June 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

  1. Place the entire litter box in the trash bag.
  2. Close up the bag.
  3. Turn the litter box over. Open up the bag.
  4. Take the litter box out.
  5. Reclose the bag.
  6. Take the bag outside and throw it away.
This requires a large trash bag.

Ideally the whole process is done in the basement next to a utility sink, so you can wash out the empty litter box with a mild odor-free liquid soap.

If the bag is very heavy and awkward to carry, you can carry the bagged litter box outside between before emptying it, i.e. perform step 6 between steps 2 and 3.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:50 AM on June 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

Line the litter box with a trash bag (they make litter box size bags/liners for exactly this purpose, or you could use a medium sized bag), then fill the lined box with litter. Then you just take the liner out of the box, tie it up, and throw away.
posted by sleepingwithcats at 8:09 AM on June 24, 2022 [15 favorites]

I have been using a litter genie for about a year and it's a huge improvement. What I do to avoid having to do the big awkward dump out:

- when I do my daily scooping, I'm not done until ALL of the soiled litter is out.

- Instead of getting on my knees to scoop, I use a thing, I don't know what it's called, but dog owners buy it to scoop poop on their walks, and I just scoop everything into the genie. Because I'm not kneeling with my face in a toilet I'm more likely to get the job completely finished & not leave anything behind.

- the litter genie makes it simpler & more sanitary because you wind up with small, sealed bags that go right into the dumpster or your regular trash.

- I know you're not going to switch litters, but I will always give a shoutout to the Tidycat Breeze system, which uses a smaller volume of larger pellets, so it's never a huge box of crap that has to get emptied.
posted by bleep at 8:19 AM on June 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to the other wonderful suggestions, perhaps you could do one or two boxes at a time on a rotational basis. Makes the whole thing more manageable. Of course it may cause the cats may decide to favour boxes if they are not all equally appealing.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:29 AM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have three cats and four litter boxes. One in the living room, one in the bathroom, one in the kitchen, and one in the basement. I use non-clumping litter and high-sided litter boxes. I scoop every day. I use a small plastic wastebasket, lined with plastic grocery bags which I bring around with me to each box to collect the daily scoops. I tie off the daily bag and it goes right into the trash.

Pretty much every week I change out one (sometimes two) litter boxes completely. I use the same wastebasket setup but lined with two grocery bags so it ends up double bagged. I tip the dirty sand into it and tie off the bags. If I am changing more than one litter box each box gets bagged separately because otherwise the sand won’t fit and it does get heavy. But I do try to only fill the boxes with a moderate amount of sand so it’s not like a super full huge bag if that makes sense.

I wash the empty box in the bathtub with a bit of Lysol and water and a rag. I rinse thoroughly, dry it off and then fill with fresh sand.

I wish I could say that every box gets changed with equal frequency but that just can’t really happen because they don’t get used with equal frequency. I usually choose the smelliest one to change. But sometimes I’ll rotate them so that the freshly changed box goes into the living room or the bathroom where it’s a high priority for humans to have fresher smelling space and put a lightly used box in the basement spot where it matters less if it’s slightly smelly and needs to wait another week. Like musical chairs. All the boxes are identical so it doesn’t really matter to the cats if I switch them.
posted by fancyoats at 8:58 AM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to the other wonderful suggestions, perhaps you could do one or two boxes at a time on a rotational basis.

This was going to be my suggestion as well - just do one a week and they're all changed once every 5 weeks.
posted by bowmaniac at 9:01 AM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Came for put the whole box into the bag bit. For the worrying about the trip, bring along a reusable grocery bag sort of thing and put the plastic bag in that, then you can hang it on your shoulder and not be worried that it's going to rip along the trip to the bin. I have a few big canvas reusable bags that can hold a full case of beer or even a few times a car battery. Find something with long enough shoulder straps that you can just carry them like a heavy purse or something..
posted by zengargoyle at 9:03 AM on June 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Another vote for "put the whole box into the bag, tip it out that way". That's how I do it. One litterbox per bag, and if you're worried they'll rip (because your bags are thin), double-bag.
posted by sailoreagle at 11:26 AM on June 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Line the litter box with a trash bag (they make litter box size bags/liners for exactly this purpose, or you could use a medium sized bag), then fill the lined box with litter. Then you just take the liner out of the box, tie it up, and throw away.

In my experience in 30 years of cat-parenting, this doesn't work if the cats in question have claws. Lots of lovely little rips and tears in the liner.
posted by cooker girl at 11:28 AM on June 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

I would suggest using heavy duty or forceflex garbage bags. I really only use them for this purpose.

(I use a box with a reusable liner hat is pretty resilient to the cat claws [Modkat]. It makes the full litter box change MUCH easier for various reasons, but I tend to assume that multiple litter boxes are probably not $100 dollar ones.)
posted by sm1tten at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2022

I had two cats for the last 15 years and for the last couple of years I haven't had to do the whole litterbox total litter replacement thing because the litter (World's Best multicat) does a really good job of clumping on anything.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:16 PM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've never had much of an issue with this except for the weight, but that's manageable just by using more, smaller bags.

I empty the box(es) into kitchen trash bag, the smallest size I can buy that still fits around the box well enough to do what bile and syntax describes. That kitchen trash bag goes into a city trash bag until it's trash day. I used to scoop first so that if I had an accident it would be less gross to clean up, but I never did and so now I don't bother.

If it's the big monster litterbox that I have for my big monster cat, I divide it across two kitchen trash bags, so I can put it into two separate city trash bags. Where I live, people still have to lift those into the truck. I cut down on waste by using the rest of the space in the city trash bags for lightweight trash.

With multiple boxes, I wouldn't do them all the same week because of the weight concern. That might not apply to you, if you have roller carts or the like.

(World's Best got gross pretty quickly for my cats, but it is a lot more lightweight. I think my cats kick it around more so the dirty bits get pretty well mixed in. I pretty much am stuck with clay litter, and it's QUITE heavy if I get the one that works best for my cats.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:33 PM on June 24, 2022

We use Yesterday's News litter, made from recycled newsprint... and I guess we're just both pretty good at scooping out specifically what needs to be scooped out? Because we almost never need to replace all the litter.

The only time we've had to do a full replacement in recent memory was after we went away for a week and had a cat-sitter who didn't know how to scoop the litter so neatly. She thoroughly mixed bits of urine-soaked litter in with the rest of it, so it was all nasty when we got back.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:34 PM on June 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'd add that while I know about the rule of having 1 more litterbox than the number of cats you have, 5 boxes for 3 cats seems like a lot to me. But your mileage may vary.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:36 PM on June 24, 2022

Best answer: Using one bag per box is key. It may feel wasteful, but some things are worth a tiny bit of extra waste. I use the smallest bag the entire box will fit in, and that's usually a tall kitchen can bag. Also second the above suggestion for a rotation so you're not faced on any one night with three bags full to carry out.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:46 PM on June 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Smaller trash bags (25 liter ones, medium grocery bag size), pull bag over half the litter box, tip over letting the litter fall into the bag. I do take off the rim/top for the standard boxes, while the LitterLocker one has a handy spout. And all of this gets done over a toilet so the flushable litter goes there if there are any spills (one box lives in the powder room anyway). Then clean the box, rim, top etc, with the occasional bleach soak. And then vacuum the whole flat anyway because my furballs track litter all over.

One trick is finding the right scoop for your litter, so it catches all the mess. For a non clumping litter it should be one with very small holes, much bigger for clumping.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:47 PM on June 24, 2022

Best answer: And once it's done, the bags are heavy AF, difficult and awkward to carry all the way outside the alley trash can, bang unpleasantly against my legs, and I worry the whole way there that they're going to get caught on something and rip open and dirty litter will explode everywhere.

For this part of the process I put the full bag(s) into a hard sided trash can and carry the can rather than the bag.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We use pine pellet litter, and I use a dedicated dust pan from a dustpan and brush to scoop the majority of the cat litter into the binbag. Way less mess and hassle that trying to lift and tip the damn thing in (I have big cats and big boxes).

I also use really sturdy binbags apparently made from recycled farm waste.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:38 PM on June 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

So it's possible you've already ruled this out, but getting a Litter Robot has been life changing in terms of litterbox management. Not every cat will accept them, that's how I got mine; secondhand, slightly cheaper from someone whose older cat would not. I have this model.

But both of mine did! I went from three boxes to just this one. It is so efficient, two cats can use it.

It rotates the clumps and poop down to a holding drawer after each use. You use liners on the drawer. I clean out the drawer whenever, but usually every few days. No stink. I use SO MUCH LESS litter. I do not lift giant litter boxes.

Every so often, you can take it apart to clean. The parts that touch the poop/litter are not hte parts with electronics, so you can actually take the dirty parts outside and hose them out safely, then reassemble.

Like I said; life changing for me. If you haven't tried one and there is any way you could get one secondhand (and then sell on if it doesn't work) I HIGHLY recommend it.
posted by emjaybee at 10:03 PM on June 24, 2022

Best answer: It doesn't solve the weight issue, but recently I was changing litter boxes and saw a flat sturdy cardboard box and set the bag on there to carry it outside. It was so much nicer to not have the bag hitting my legs or being worried the bag handle was going to break off. I recommend it! Anything sturdy and lightweight would work.
posted by Eyelash at 4:02 AM on June 26, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you all for the suggestions and ideas. I realized as I was reading that a big part of the problem has been created by my guilt over putting a large bag into the trash that was mostly empty except for a couple inches of litter at the bottom. Hence me trying to empty multiple into a single bag and then struggling to get it outside. Lifting and tipping also just never goes smoothly for whatever reason, even with putting a bag around the box, and somehow always creates a bigger mess and gets parts of the box gross that weren't before.

Rotating boxes per week should help a lot, as will using the scoop to get everything out instead of lifting and tipping, using smaller bags, and enlisting a box or trash can to get them out to the alley.

I appreciate everyone who took the time to answer!
posted by anderjen at 9:24 AM on June 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

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