Hygiene

Clumping Vs Non-Clumping Cat Litter

The litter you choose plays a role in your cat's comfort and the litter box's overall maintenance. We explore the debate between clumping and non-clumping litter to help you make an informed decision.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: May 21, 2024 | 7 min read

Clumps of cat poop being cooped out of litter.

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As a cat owner, choosing the correct litter box and litter substrate is right up there in importance with other basic needs of food, water, enrichment, grooming, love, and security. If you’re new to cat companionship, you’re likely blown away by the many varieties of cat litter. Heck, the number of choices can be overwhelming for even seasoned owners.

Litter manufacturers use a plethora of marketing buzzwords to set their products apart. Some litters tout their dust-free properties. Others highlight their strong odor-control abilities. There are even litters that market their health-monitoring abilities. What should you choose? What’s a feline owner to do?

Your first step should be deciding whether you want clumping or non-clumping cat litter. This is a fundamental part of choosing a litter, as it affects the other main features, including scoopability, odor control, and price. We cover the difference between clumping vs. non-clumping litter and provide the pros and cons of each.

What Is Clumping Cat Litter?

Before commercial cat litter, owners typically used ordinary sand, which offered scoopability but lacked odor control and left dirty paw prints all over the house. The first kitty litter, introduced in the late 1940s by Edward Lowe, was made of granulated clay. The product gained favor for its ability to absorb liquid and clump into a ball when wet for easy scooping.

Clumping litter has maintained popularity for its ability to reduce odors and simplify litter box maintenance. While clumping granules were initially only available as clay, many alternatives now exist, including corn, tofu, and walnut.

Pros Of Clumping Cat Litter

Easy Scooping & Less Cleaning

As the term suggests, the primary benefit of clumping litter is its ability to form wet litter into firm clumps. This makes it easy to scoop out, leaving the rest of the pellets dry and odor-free. In contrast, non-clumping particles need to be mixed around to aid saturation.

Being able to scoop out all your pet’s waste ensures a tidier bathroom for your furry friend and an easier time maintaining litter box cleanliness for you. Your kitty is likelier to use a neat bathroom, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

Locks In Odor

Cat pee is toxic stuff. It’s full of ammonia, a gas that causes headaches and can trigger respiratory problems. Clumping kitty litter, with its ability to lock in moisture, creates a seal around waste to help lock in ammonia odors and minimize its contact with the air. Some clumping litters also use additional ingredients to control odor, like baking soda, which actually neutralizes ammonia odors for a better-smelling box.

Lasts Longer

Clumping litter lasts longer in the sense that it requires less emptying and refilling of the entire box. Since the clumps of waste are easy to remove, they leave behind clean, unused litter. In contrast, non-clumping litter requires more frequent complete changes because it doesn’t allow for easy removal of used litter. This causes odor buildup and, in turn, more frequent cleanings.

Cons Of Clumping Cat Litter

Health Hazard

Traditional clumping clay can be harmful if ingested since it can expand in your kitty’s digestive tract and may lead to blockages. Clay litter also has inhalation concerns. When poured or otherwise disturbed, clay produces dust, which may lead to respiratory issues for both felines and humans. Finally, some low-quality clay litters contain crystalline silica dust, a known carcinogen.

Thankfully, natural clumping alternatives like corn and tofu are safer all around. These alternatives still clump but break down in water. So, if your kitty tends to taste-test, these litters won’t cause intestinal blockages. Since natural litters are made from non-toxic materials, there’s no risk of developmental, immune, or reproductive toxicity.

Environmental Concerns

The traditional process of manufacturing clay litter involves strip mining, where clay is pulled up from the earth by the truckload. This process can lead to many environmental problems, including water pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, and habitat destruction.

Eco-friendly clumping litters offer a sustainable solution. Many are even compostable and biodegradable.

Clumping Cat Litter Picks

Dr. Elsey's Ultra Review

Dr Elsey's ultra.
  • Ingredients: bentonite clay
  • Unscented
  • Quick clumping
  • Less tracking than other clay formulas
  • 99% dust-free
  • Price: $20.99 for 40 lbs = $0.53/lb

Dr. Elsey’s Ultra unscented litter features bentonite clay, which forms tight, compact clumps that hold together for easy cleaning. This formula produces much less dust than other clay-based formulas I’ve tried. It’s strong enough for multiple cats and is budget-friendly.

Tuft + Paw Really Great Cat Litter Review

Tuft + Paw Really Great Cat Litter
  • Ingredients: soybean fiber, corn starch, corn flour, guar gum, charcoal
  • Low tracking and dust-free
  • Activated charcoal for odor control
  • Lightweight
  • Subscription service (free shipping)
  • $29 for 9.5 lbs = $3.05/lb

Tuft + Paw’s Really Great Cat Litter is a tofu-based litter designed for superior absorbency. The granules clump together for easy cleaning, and the formula also contains activated charcoal for added moisture and odor control. You can read more about this product in our Tuft + Paw Really Great Cat Litter review.

Naturally Fresh Multi-Cat Review

Naturally Fresh Multi-Cat
  • Ingredients: walnut hulls
  • Non-toxic, eco-friendly, and biodegradable
  • Neutralizes ammonia odors
  • Formulated for multiple cats
  • Available in 14, 26, and 40 lb bags
  • $37.99 for 40 lbs = $0.95/lb

Naturally Fresh produces walnut-based kitty litter, one of the most sustainable options available. Walnut shell granules are low dust, absorbent, and have the organic ability to neutralize ammonia odor. This formula is an excellent option for multi-cat homes.

What Is Non-Clumping Cat Litter?

Non-clumping cat litter is made of absorbent materials that do not lump together when wet. Popular options include paper, wood, and silica gel (crystal litter).

To use non-clumping litter, you will scoop out solid waste pieces and stir the litter daily to ensure urine is absorbed. As expected, these non-clumping varieties require the box to be thoroughly cleaned out every couple of weeks or so.

Pros Of Non-Clumping Cat Litter

Less Scooping & Easy Cleaning

Since non-clumping litters absorb large quantities of liquid and require only the scooping of solid waste, you’ll do less scooping overall. Just make sure to stir the pan occasionally to reduce urine pooling and enhance absorption.

When it’s time to clean the box, many find that non-clumping litters make clean-up simple. These varieties won’t cement themselves to the pan, so clean-up is quick and easy.

Cost

Non-clumping litter, such as pine pellets, provides an affordable alternative to clumping clay litter. There are a few exceptions, such as crystal litter, which is typically more expensive.

Compatible With Sifting Litter Boxes

Non-clumping litter pellets are ideal for use with sifting litter boxes. With these systems, the sifting holes separate soiled litter from clean litter for easy clean-up.

Cons Of Clumping Cat Litter

Dirty Litter Stays In The Box

Since urine does not get clumped together, you may struggle with odor control. Some manufacturers counteract this by adding additional deodorizers to their formulas.

Not Compatible With Automatic Litter Boxes

Most automatic litter pans require the use of clumping litter.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, the CatGenie is a self-cleaning, self-washing automatic litter box that uses washable, non-clumping granules.

Non-Clumping Cat Litter Picks

Arm & Hammer Feline Pine Review

Arm & Hammer Feline Pine
  • Ingredients: pure pine
  • Low dust, minimal tracking
  • Lightweight
  • All natural and non-toxic
  • Biodegradable
  • $21.49 for 40 lbs = $0.54/lb

Feline Pine is made from compressed pine sawdust, giving it a natural pine smell. The soft shavings are highly absorbent and kitten-friendly. Feline Pine Platinum adds baking soda for odor absorption—save money by taking the DIY approach and adding it yourself. You can also try pine pellets with a sifting litter box for added odor control. View our picks for the best sifting litter box for pine pellets.

Skoon Review

Skoon litter
  • Ingredients: diatomite
  • Non-tracking, low dust
  • Highly absorbent
  • All-natural, non-toxic, and hypoallergenic
  • Eco-friendly and biodegradable
  • $28.99 for 8 lbs. = $3.63

Skoon litter is made from uncalcined amorphous Diatomaceous Earth (DE), which is essentially fossilized algae. The litter is naturally antimicrobial, creating a hygienic potty for your furry friend. The sponge-like porous structure of the granules makes it excellent at absorbing moisture, and the large particles help reduce tracking.

PrettyLitter Review

PrettyLitter
  • Ingredients: silica gel, proprietary color-changing compounds
  • Health monitoring cat litter
  • Available in scented or unscented
  • Lightweight
  • Appropriate for single or multi-cat households
  • $26.99 for 8 lbs = $3.38/lb

PrettyLitter features highly absorbent crystals that not only absorb moisture without clumping but also change color to indicate potential health issues. Use this litter to detect health problems like bladder inflammation, urinary tract infections, or urinary stones. It does not contain crystalline silica found in certain clay litters.

Choosing The Right Litter For Your Cat

Now that you know the difference between clumping and non-clumping litter, which is best for your home?

First, take into account your kitty’s preference. From a feline’s viewpoint, a litter should be comfortable to stand on, easy to cover, and shouldn’t have a strong odor that irritates their nose. If you’ve just adopted or purchased a kitten or adult cat, it’s best to start with whatever their previous owner or breeder used.

From there, you can also choose a litter based on your personal preferences. If you prioritize odor control and convenient scooping, choose a clumping granule. If you’re on a budget or your cat has a history of eating non-foods, go with a non-clumping granule.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions our readers frequently ask about cat litter. Don’t see yours? Ask us in the comments.

Is Clumping Or Non-Clumping Cat Litter Better?

Like most things, the best litter for your cat and home depends on your situation. And there are both effective and non-effective versions of each. We explore this topic more in our article covering the types of cat litter.

What Type Of Litter Do Most Cats Prefer?

Cats seem to prefer granules that mimic what they would naturally seek out in the wild. Fine, sandy textures seem to be a favorite among kitties. Soft granules with a good paw feel can be more comfortable, especially for cats who have been declawed.

Can You Put Baking Soda In Cat Litter?

For extra odor control, sprinkle a tablespoon or two of baking soda into your kitty’s litter box. Mixing baking soda into the litter can help eliminate unwanted urine odor. The best way to keep your pet’s toilet fresh is to scoop regularly and refresh the litter often.

Does Clumping Litter Last Longer?

This question isn’t as clear-cut as you’d think. Some people argue that clumping litter is more efficient because it requires less frequent complete pan changes compared to non-clumping litter. However, depending on the strength of your clumping litter, you may find that you’re continually adding more litter to the pan.

A bad clumping litter clumps too slowly, causing the liquid to move down to the bottom of the pan and creating large lumps that stick to the surface. Alternatively, the litter clumps may be too soft and break apart, so you must change the litter more frequently.

Cleaning The Litter Box

Are you wondering how often you must clean your pet’s litter pan? Our article on litter box maintenance provides all the details.

Why Trust Love Your Cat?

Tara’s goal at Love Your Cat is to provide our readers with the information they need to raise well-adjusted, happy cats. Tara has 20+ years of experience with felines and spends countless hours researching to provide in-depth detail on every topic. She currently lives with two nine-year-old domestic cats, Luna and Lucy, who have tested various litters, including clay, corn, pine, and tofu.

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