What Kind of Litter Is Best?
In the search for all things to care for our feline family members, few are as important as choosing the correct litter. It has to have a good balance of odor control, clumping ability, good price-to-quantity value, and above all, something the cat will agree to actually use.
Some folks are concerned with the environmental aspect of the clay litters, which do have an impact, both in the sourcing and treatment of the clay, and with the disposal. That said, no matter which litter is used, both it and the scooped contents are going to end up in a landfill.
Can You Flush Cat Litter?
Despite claims of being “flushable,” cat litter is not something you want to put into the sewer system. It never fully dissolves, and can end up clogging your plumbing. You most especially never want any litter down your pipes if you are on a septic system, as we are. Even if you only flush the solid waste, and not the urine clumps, there is still litter attached, and eventually it can cause a problem that is not cheap to fix.
Why You Should Not Flush Your Litter
Besides that, many cats have the toxoplasma gondii parasite, which is not filtered out by sewage treatment plants, and ends up in the groundwater and eventually in the ocean. In the United States, cats are the usual host source. However, before you panic and try to get rid of your kitty, please note that indoor-only cats are very unlikely to have this. The problem is far more prevalent in cats who live outdoors or are in-and-out cats.
Otherwise, the most likely sources are raw or undercooked meat and unwashed produce from commercial sources. Your own garden veggies should be just fine—but do wash them anyway—no one likes a mouthful of grit.
Many cats are very particular, and if the litter is not to their liking, they may take to soiling in other places in the house, none of which are appropriate.
Here, then, are the brands I’ve had occasion to use, and my rating scale for each. I cannot, however, grade them on cat-approval, as every cat is different, and what our cats are okay with, your cat may balk at using.
Kittens Need a Low-Dust Litter
If you have a young kitten, up to about age six months, they need not only a low-dust litter, for the health of their lungs in not inhaling dust, but also one of the eco-friendly brands.
The "World's Best" or the "S'Wheat" are good for this, because not only is the dust a factor, but kittens, like young children. often try to eat things that are not edible or not good for them.
Yes, some kittens will sample the litter. The corn or wheat types won't hurt them, but if they ingest clay, that could cause some real problems. Naturally, this compromises your range of choice until they grow out of that age.
How I Graded Each Litter
I've graded them each on seven criteria that are important in choosing a litter.
- Clumping—which can also be seen as absorption.
- Odor control—very important to most people, (if not to the cat).
- Dust—some varieties shed off a lot of dust. Knowing about this is important both to people with allergies, as well as those with small kittens--a lot of dust is not good for them.
- Ease of scooping—does the litter form firm clumps that are easy to scoop out; and also, if your cat is a 'deep digger,' does the liquid content cause a slurry that sticks like glue to the litter box?
- Trackability—does the litter stay in the box, or stick to kitty's paws, and end up tracked everywhere else?
- Weight—litters that are very heavy may be hard for some people to lift and carry, so may be a consideration.
- Cost—this is an important consideration for many people; for some, it is paramount, even over some downsides in quality.
1. Tidy Cats
This is a common and well-known brand. It comes in several varieties, all of which offer odor control and good clumping characteristics. Available in several sizes. This is a clay litter.
Clumping ability: Excellent.
Odor control: Very good.
Dust level: Average.
Ease of scooping: Poor; urine clumps stick firmly to litter box, if cat scratches a ‘hole’ first.
Trackability: Not bad; most is shed within a foot or two of the litter box.
Weight: Relatively heavy.
2. Boots and Barkley
Supposedly a high-end brand of clay litter, this one earned no medals in our household. It was, bar none, the dustiest litter I’ve ever used.
Clumping ability: Very good.
Odor control: Reasonable, (but not in multi-cat households like ours).
Dust level: Absolute failure; dust was everywhere in the bathroom!
Ease of scooping: Average.
Trackability: So-so. More of a problem with kitties who have very fuzzy feet.
Weight: Middle range, not too heavy, but not truly lightweight, either.
3. Yesterday’s News
Touted as an ‘eco-friendly’ litter, made from recycled newspaper pressed into pellets. We detested this one. Its pellets are far too large, and while it seems like a good idea, it was not well thought through, and is poorly designed. We did not find its good points to outweigh the significant downsides.
Clumping ability: Does not clump; does not absorb.
Odor control: Zero.
Dust level: Excellent; no dust.
Ease of scooping: Terrible; nearly impossible to scoop the waste from the pellets.
Trackability: Does not track out of the box (however, some cats will end up throwing it about while trying to bury).
Weight: Very light weight.
4. World’s Best Cat Litter
Made from dried and finely ground corn, it works reasonably well.
Clumping ability: Excellent.
Odor control: So-so; not great.
Dust level: Very good.
Ease of scooping: Excellent; clumps do not stick to litter pan.
Trackability: Tracks a little bit; usually stays within a few feet.
Weight: Very lightweight.
5. Winco Foods Brand Clumping Litter
This house brand of a regular clay litter is what we have used for some time. It is surprisingly good for the price. The main problem is the packaging, which is difficult to manage when full. We usually dump it out into a bucket saved from a Tidy Cats brand.
Clumping ability: Excellent.
Odor control: Very good, but put to the test with our numerous cats.
Dust level: Fair; medium dust.
Ease of scooping: Fair to poor; does stick firmly to the box if the cats have dug too deep.
Trackability: Pretty much a standard clay type; most tracked out stays within a foot or so of the box.
Weight: Heavy, and comes in a slippery plastic sack that is very awkward to maneuver.
S'wheat is another of the eco-friendly brands; it's made from wheat. It is found only at pet stores, and not grocery stores. That is a good indicator of its price point. The odor control is only so-so, and urine causes it to have kind of a sour milk smell. However, this and any low/no dust brand are ideal for kittens, and again, won't hurt them if they sample a taste of the stuff.
Clumping ability: Excellent
Odor control: Fair
Dust level: Very good; low to no dust
Ease of scooping: Excellent
Trackability: Not bad, (though kittens will make a huge mess anyway) but it mostly stays where it belongs, as its a bit heavier, and larger granules than some of the other non-clay litters.
7. Feline Pine Clumping Litter
This is another of the eco-friendly types, in that it is made from a renewable resource, and not clay. I'm not sure whether they obtain the pine waste from mills or manufacturing operations, or whether it is direct-sourced from trees. If the latter, that's a strike against it.
Its clumping ability is not the best. While it does from clumps, those clumps are very fragile, and it must take some special kind of litter scoop, as the normal every day type won't sift it well; you end up tossing a lot of good litter.
Otherwise, if trying to shake the scoop to sift out the clumps, it all disintegrates, and the former clumps return to the box as sifted litter. This tends to make the remaining litter be on the damp side, which is not desirable.
It's probably not as harmful to curious kittens as the clays, but probably not quite as innocuous as the corn and wheat types.
Clumping ability: So-so; fragile clumps
Odor control: Fairly good, surprisingly
Dust level: Very good; little dust
Ease of scooping: Mixed review here--easy to scoop from the box; terrible sifting ability. It's letter grade, below, takes a hit from this.
Trackability: Terrible! This stuff migrates everywhere!
Weight: Surprisingly heavy for a product that appears so 'featherlight.' Comes in a rather slippery plastic sack.
Cost: $$ Have not seen this outside of pet/specialty stores
8. Arm & Hammer Naturals
Another of the corn-based litter types, good for kittens. Boasts a "plant-based clumping agent," but I wasn't overly impressed: clumps are fairly fragile. They claim a fragrance is added, but it doesn't help much. It's fairly mild; not too noticeable, but cats may be able to smell it, and the prevailing wisdom is that cats prefer a no-fragrance litter.
Clumping ability: fair to poor; clumps are fairly fragile
Odor control: very poor.
Dust level: excellent; little to no dust.
Ease of scooping: fairly decent; the litter doesn't get glued to the litter pan.
Trackability: Very poor; it gets everywhere!
Weight: lightweight; easy-to-handle.
Cost: $$ a little higher than house brands; avaialble at supermarkets.
How They Compare
Below, for ease of comparison, I’ve created a table that summarizes the details given above, so they can be viewed together.
Grading Comparison Using Letter Grades
|Brand||Clumping||Odor Control||Dust Level||Ease of Scooping||Trackability||Weight||Cost|
Boots And Barkley
Feline Pine Clumping Litter
Arm & Hammer Naturals
Try a Mix of Litters to Get the Perfect Consistency
I have found that mix of the corn ('World's Best') and the odor-control clay (Winco brand) litters, in a ratio of about half corn and half clay works well.
The corn helps the clay be less sticky, and easier to scoop clumps, and the clay has the odor control missing from the corn.
Let Your Cats Decide
I hope my evaluations have helped you with your search for that perfect litter, or to avoid the not so great ones.
These are the litters I've had experience with, and I must say, it's a good thing that our clowder is accustomed to change, for it's the only constant around here. They are used to us always mixing things up.
Many cats are not so accommodating.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2017 Liz Elias
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on May 30, 2017:
I only reviewed brands I, myself have experience with. However, if you look through the comments, you'll see at least one or two people mentioned Fresh Step, and offered their perspective. I can't compare it to those I've tried, having not tried it! ;-) Thanks for your input; everyone's additions are useful.
Robin momofcat on May 29, 2017:
I am wondering if you have ever tried Fresh Step cat litter and how you would compare it to the others. I have been using it for years and like it much better than Tidy Cat for odor control. Although my beautiful Misty Doodles enjoys this litter she absolutely refuses to cover anything up. This is problematic but after a while the smell that permeates into the kitchen and eating area goes away. You might want to give this litter a try. I'm just sayin.... Meow
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on March 17, 2017:
We have 6 cats, and use the cheap house brand from Winco (grocery store): 40 pounds for $8.99. We usually buy two sacks, because in addition to our own cats, there are a couple of semi-ferals we look after. ;-) This brand is decent on odor control, and very, very low dust, surprisingly, considering the low cost. We also get free litter now and then from an assistance program to help folks keep their pets; that was the source of most of the other brands in my review! They operate on donations themselves, so you never get the same thing twice.
I know what you mean about cats going right on the edge of the box. One of ours does that, and buries so enthusiastically, that half a cup of litter ends up out on the floor at least once a day! Grrr!
Thanks very much for adding to the product reviews. I thought it would be disingenuous of me to review brands I had not personally tried, so I appreciate any extra feedback on other brands.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 15, 2017:
Liz, with the exception of Tidy Cats, I haven't heard of any of these brands. I have three indoor cats, so litter is important to me. I used Tidy Cats for years, but found the odor control isn't all that great.
I've been using Scoop Away for Multiple Cats for quite some time now and love it. It clumps and scoops nicely. Sometimes it sticks to the pan but I can't fault the product. One of my cats insists on tinkling on the very inside edge of the box for some odd reason. As far as odor control, it's the best I've found, hands down. This litter is so good that I don't have to dump the box and clean it out weekly. Rather, once every few months is all I need to do. I simply add litter when the boxes (I have two for three cats) get low. I'm sure it also helps that I scoop each box twice a day. It's also affordable. A 20-pound box at Dollar General is $8.50, as opposed to $9.99 at Winn-Dixie (grocery store). The litter is very low dust. I keep both boxes in the laundry room (I don't cotton to having litter boxes in my bathrooms), each on a rug or litter mat, so the litter doesn't get tracked through the house.
I love Scoop Away and have recommended it to friends and co-workers who have multiple cats.
This is a wonderful review, Liz. I'm sure pet owners of the feline persuasion will find it very helpful!
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 17, 2017:
No, I only evaluated brands with which I have experience; I thought that was only fair. Thanks much for adding your experience with other brands.
As to the large storage bin, we've used one of those, but with a door cut out and the lid left on.This, to contain the mess from one of the cats who, when he was peeing, often lifted his hind end, until he was spraying outside the box and onto the wall. Now, it's contained.
dkokie2 on February 17, 2017:
Noticed you did not evaluate Fresh Step or Clump an Seal. I used Tidy Cat for many years and Fresh Step when I can afford it. When Clump and Seal came on the market I was living in a place where I had to keep my cats restricted to my very large bedroom and an adjoining smaller room. The odor was horrendous even with 2 scoopings a day. The litter I was using just did not deal with odor so since I had a $5 off coupon for this new product (Clump and Seal) decided to try it best decision I ever made. Clump and Seal clumps fantastically and keeps the odor to almost nothing. There is no dust and most importantly my cats love it. The price is well worth it since I actually use less than previous brands. If I might add a hint to owners who have cats that sling litter everywhere when digging or have a habit of perching on the rim of a litter box to do their business my cousin's husband came up with a unique solution. He bought a high walled storage bin and filled it one quarter full with clumping litter. Problem solved plus cat doesn't track litter out of the box when exiting.
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 14, 2017:
We advocate for keeping kitties in over here, not because there are laws to that effect, but for kitty's own safety and well-being. The outdoor dangers range from diseases and injuries from battles with other cats (who can also be the source of those diseases), to predators such as owls and other large birds of prey, to roaming dogs, or their wilder counterparts such as foxes, and of course, the very real danger posed by cars.
In fact, our rescue group has adopters sign a form pledging to keep the kitty indoors only for life. I know this is a hot-button topic for a lot of people, with very vehement and vocal arguments on both sides. but the fact is, if they have always been in since kittenhood, they don't even really try to go out. Thanks for your input..Cheers!
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on February 14, 2017:
We, too, have 6 indoor cats. We go through a lot of litter. Luckily, when it comes to additional feline housemates in the form of kittens we foster until they are ready for adoption, the rescue agency provides food and litter for that. That was the last brand I reviewed in my list, the S'Wheat. I don't really like it, and the particles tend to be on the irregular and rough side. It is certainly among the largest sized bits, second only to that recycled newspaper brand. Woe to the bare foot that steps on an errant piece after bathing! (I can't imagine it feels good on tender kitten paws, either!)
FlourishAnyway from USA on February 14, 2017:
With 6 indoor cats, I found this was helpful. We've tried so many kinds and brands. We do go through a lot of litter. I should go back to Tidy Cats from the brand I'm currently using (Fresh Step). I liked your criteria and grading system.
Nell Rose from England on February 14, 2017:
Hi Lizzy, its funny because I had this conversation with a friend on here a few days ago. I said that there are hardly any people in england who need to buy this as they are all outdoor cats. we don't need to keep them in over here. only people like my friend who lives on the top floor apartment, but its great info and I wouldn't know where to start! lol! I never even thought about putting the stuff down the toilet and it being dangerous etc. really interesting, and I learned something I may need!
Mary Wickison from USA on February 11, 2017:
I had no idea there was so much to consider when purchasing cat litter.
Bob Bamberg on February 09, 2017:
Interesting hub, Lizzie. When I had my feed and grain store, I sold tons of World's Best (made from whole kernel corn, not the cob) and over the years had a couple of people tell me it saved their marriage, and they were only half kidding. We think cats are finicky about their food, but many are also finicky about their litter...much to the consternation of the owners.