Let’s be honest, nothing you do will make your litter box smell good. But that doesn’t mean it can’t smell less bad. When properly managed, pine pellets are among the best types of cat litter at controlling odor.
Table of Contents
1. Sift Pine Pellets Daily
When wet, pine pellets break down into sawdust that traps moisture and helps prevent odor.
Wood, pine in particular, is antimicrobial. This means that it will naturally suppress the odor-causing bacteria found in your cat’s urine.
But that doesn’t mean you can clean your litter boxes less often.
When the sawdust becomes soaked or rewet, it becomes significantly less effective at managing odor. With no added fragrances, the smell will quickly become worse than with a traditional clay litter.
To take full advantage of pine’s natural ability to control odor, sift your litter boxes at least once daily. In homes with multiple cats or cats with urinary problems, twice daily may be needed.
2. Scoop Solids As Soon As Possible
While wood pellets are great at managing the odors of urine and ammonia, the same can’t be said for the odors of feces.
Smell travels by a process called diffusion, in which airborne odor particles randomly spread from areas of high concentration to areas of lower concentration.
In this case, from your cat’s poop throughout the rest of your home.
When waste is buried in clay litter, for example, fewer odor particles are allowed to escape, as the small pieces of clay provide fewer, narrower passageways.
Unfortunately, with pellet litter, the larger size of the litter allows more open airways through which odor particles can become airborne.
And to make matters worse, cats are much less likely to bury their poop at all in pellet litter.
Senior cats, large cats, and declawed cats may avoid burying their waste altogether in pellets, because the coarse texture is painful or uncomfortable to their more sensitive paws.
Some other cats won’t bury their waste in pellets because the texture is so drastically different from the dirt or sand they’d use in the wild.
Whatever the case, it’s best to scoop solid waste as soon as possible when using a wood pellet cat litter. We do so whenever we hear one of our cats digging around in the litter box, and make a check right when we get home.
We keep an airtight litter disposal system right beside the litter box, so all we need to do is scoop, drop into the disposal system, then wash our hands.
The entire process only takes about a minute, but keeps our house smelling much better.
3. Fully Replace Wood Pellet Litter Every Four to Six Weeks
Pine pellet litter should be changed every four to six weeks, or more often as needed.
Even though wood pellets dissolve when wet, the remaining pellets still need to be fully replaced regularly.
Some amount of bacteria from urine and feces remain on undissolved pellets, even after scooping and sifting. Given time, the accumulation of bacteria will become unsanitary and begin to stink.
Certain situations may require that you change the litter more frequently. Cats with urinary issues, bouts of diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal problems are just a few.
If you notice a bad smell from your litter box even after cleaning, it’s probably time to replace your pellets.
4. Clean the Litter Box Itself Regularly
The litter isn’t the only thing that needs regular upkeep. The litter box itself should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a month.
Empty and clean your litter boxes with warm water and a mild detergent every few weeks.
Avoid using any harsh chemical cleaners. Which may remain in trace amounts, making your cat hesitant to use the litter box, or in worst cases make them sick.
Make sure to thoroughly rinse out whatever detergent you use, and fully dry the litter box before re-adding pellets.
5. Consider Location
The location of your litter boxes also plays a key role in managing odor.
Choose a well-ventilated area. While we’d probably like to hide our litter boxes out of sight, in a closet or storage room, the lack of circulation will only enhance the odor. Not to mention, some cats may be reluctant to use a litter box in tight quarters, as they instinctively feel more vulnerable while eliminating.
Avoid placing litter boxes directly on carpet whenever possible. If you must place them on carpet, use a watertight barrier underneath and a mat to catch tracked litter. Carpet is notorious for allowing odor-causing bacteria to flourish.
Avoid placing your litter boxes in the kitchen, dining room, or too near your cat’s food or water. Not only will the smell be particularly unpleasant here, it’s unsanitary as well.
6. Have More Litter Boxes
Having more litter boxes spread throughout your home will also help to manage odor, by preventing the overuse of each individual litter box and by reducing the likelihood of accidents.
Have at least one litter box per cat, plus one extra. Distribute them throughout your home, with at least one litter box on every floor that your cat has access to.
7. Baking Soda
Baking soda may help neutralize litter box odor, but you need to be careful.
Excessive amounts can dry your cat’s paws and skin, cause respiratory problems, and be irritating to the eyes. When ingested in moderate to large amounts it can be toxic to cats. Remember, not everything safe for human consumption is safe for our pets.
A small amount of baking soda sprinkled underneath litter is generally fine. Just use no more than a tablespoon or two for the entire litter box, to minimize accidental ingestion during grooming.
Avoid using baking soda altogether with small cats (less than 11 lbs.), kittens, cats with respiratory issues, and cats with pica (a disorder in which people or animals compulsively eat items with no nutritional value).
Feline Pine Platinum is made with baking soda compacted into its pellets. This minimizes dust and ensures that the baking soda is kept to a safe amount.
Alternatively, keeping an open box of baking soda near the litter box will help absorb odor (similar to leaving an open box in the refrigerator). Just ensure that the box isn’t accessible to your pets.
8. Change Your Litter Box
And finally, plastic litter boxes should be replaced about twice per year.
Plastic tends to absorb and hold odor. No matter how well you clean your plastic litter boxes, eventually they’ll start to stink.
Because a cat’s sense of smell is much stronger than that of a human, they’ll notice well before we do. To be safe, replacing them every six months is a good idea.
Alternatively, consider switching to a stainless steel litter box. While more expensive upfront, you’ll end up saving in the long run. When thoroughly cleaned, stainless steel won’t retain odor like plastic and will last indefinitely.
As added benefits, they’re also more durable, more hygienic, and less likely to tip over than plastic litter boxes.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic trick or secret hack to make your wood pellet litter box smell better. But proper maintenance and the right setup will go a long way to help.
- Milling, A., Kehr, R., Wulf, A., & Smalla, K. (2005). Survival of bacteria on wood and plastic particles: Dependence on wood species and environmental conditions. Holzforschung. 59. 72-81. Retrieved July 22, 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228343502_Survival_of_bacteria_on_wood_and_plastic_particles_Dependence_on_wood_species_and_environmental_conditions
- American College of Veterinary Pharmacists (n.d.). Pet Poison Control List – Baking Soda. https://vetmeds.org/pet-poison-control-list/baking-soda/
About Matthew Alexander
Matthew lives in Maryland with his two cats, Puff and Pancho. He’s been caring for and fostering cats with various special needs for more than fifteen years. He hopes to pass some of the insight and knowledge that he’s gained on to the readers of Pawmore.