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Common Odor Control Ingredients in Cat Litters: What Really Works?

Different cat litters
Vet Approved

This information is up to date and writtenin accordance with the latest veterinary research.

Cat litter is a vital part of any cat owner’s supply list, yet many overlook the specifics of what makes one litter outperform another—especially when it comes to controlling odor. As a veterinarian, I’ve seen my fair share of cat litters and received plenty of feedback from cat parents about what works best for their feline friends. Owners are always on the search for the best cat litters for odor control, because let’s be honest, no one wants their house smelling like a litter box.

What makes certain cat litters excel at keeping odors at bay? It often comes down to a few key ingredients. These are the unsung heroes that tackle ammonia and waste smells, and keep your home smelling fresh. I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not just about masking the smell; it’s about neutralizing it at the source.

Let’s dive right in—without stepping on any scattered litter, of course. These ingredients are not just randomly chosen; they’re backed by science. From activated charcoal to baking soda, each plays a pivotal role in the fight against odor. And the best part? These components are usually safe for our furry friends, which is always my number one priority. So, which of these ingredients are in your cat’s litter, and are they doing their job? Let’s find out.

Activated Charcoal

activated charcoal

Have you ever wondered how your cat’s litter box stays relatively fresh when, let’s be honest, there’s often nothing “fresh” about what goes in there? I’ll let you in on a little secret: activated charcoal.

What is activated charcoal, you ask? Simply put, it’s a form of carbon that’s been treated to create a plethora of tiny pores. This significantly increases its surface area and makes it a champion at trapping odors.

Why is it so effective in the litter box? Activated charcoal absorbs a wide range of smells, from ammonia (that pungent scent characteristic of cat urine) to fecal odors. It’s a natural substance so won’t cause any harm to your cat and has the added benefit of being durable so it stays effective for quite a while before needing replacing.

Activated charcoal is often infused into the granules of the litter itself or included in a separate layer within the box. It discreetly stays out of sight while doing its heavy lifting.

Bentonite Clay

bentonite clay

Bentonite clay is a highly absorbent type of clay that forms from volcanic ash. It’s the main ingredient in clumping litters, making cleanup a breeze. But why do I, and many others, recommend clay litters with bentonite?

  • High Absorbency: The clay quickly soaks up liquids and can absorb several times its weight.
  • Clumping Ability: When it comes into contact with urine, the clay forms tight, easy-to-remove clumps. This clumping action is what has made bentonite clay-based litters a go-to for cat owners.
  • Odor Control: Thanks to its absorbent nature, bentonite clay also helps trap and hold odors.

How much more absorbent and odor-controlling can bentonite be? Well, the difference between non-clumping and clumping litter is night and day. I’ve seen clumping litters go several days without changing, thanks to the mighty power of bentonite clay.

Bentonite clay is also generally recognized as safe for our furry companions. However, some cats can be allergic, so it’s always important to monitor yours for any unusual reactions.

Silica Gel Crystals

silica gel crystals

Silica gel crystals are a super-absorbent form of silicon dioxide that can absorb moisture at an impressive rate. These tiny crystals can hold about 40% of their weight in moisture. Due to their porous nature, they also trap odor, keeping the litter box smelling fresher for longer.

Silica gel crystals have a few other perks too. They’re dust free, so are ideal for cats (and humans) that are prone to sneezing. They’re also lomng lasting; a single bag can last one cat up to a month.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all in cat care, and there are cons too. Some cats might find the texture off-putting, and it can be more expensive upfront. But in terms of effectiveness and time saved on clean-up, these crystals are often worth their weight in gold—or at least in litter!

Remember, always introduce new litter slowly and see how your pal reacts.

Baking Soda

baking soda

Baking Soda is not just for baking cookies! Let’s dive into why this unassuming pantry staple is a superhero when it comes to neutralizing odors in cat litter.

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a natural odor absorber. Its superpower lies in its ability to neutralize acids and bases, thus tackling that notorious ammonia smell head-on. Here’s a simple breakdown of how it works:

  • Neutralization: Baking soda reacts with odor-causing acids in urine, neutralizing the pH and eliminating the smell.
  • Deodorizing: It doesn’t just mask odors, it actually deodorizes by changing the chemical structure of odor-causing agents.

Adding baking soda to your cat’s litter has multiple benefits – it’s non-toxic, budget-friendly and simple to implement; just sprinkle it liberally on the bottom of the litter box before adding the litter.

Natural Deodorisers

pine cat litter

Natrual substances, such as pine, have been used for centuries to neutralise odors. It is derived from the bark of pine trees and has a distinctive woody scent. When used in cat litter, pine helps to absorb moisture and control unpleasant smells.

One of the main causes of odors in cat litter is the presence of ammonia. Ammonia is produced when bacteria break down the urea in cat urine. This not only creates a strong smell but can also be harmful to both cats and humans if inhaled in large quantities. Pine contains compounds called terpenes, which have been found to inhibit the growth of these bacteria. By reducing the amount of bacteria present, pine helps to keep odors at bay.

In addition to its antibacterial properties, pine also works as a natural deodorizer. Its strong aroma helps to mask unpleasant smells, creating a more pleasant environment for both cats and their owners. Unlike artificial fragrances, which often contain harsh chemicals, pine is completely natural and non-toxic.

Another advantage of using pine in cat litter is its ability to absorb moisture. Pine pellets are highly absorbent and can hold up to three times their weight in liquid. This means that when your cat urinates, the pine pellets quickly soak up the liquid, preventing it from pooling at the bottom of the litter box and causing foul odors.


fragrance cat litter

When you walk down the pet aisle, have you ever noticed how most cat litters promise a fresh scent? That’s no accident. Many cat litters have added fragrances, be they natural or synthetic, to try and mask the odors left behind by your furry friend.

Cat litters typically use two types of fragrances:

  1. Synthetic Fragrances: These are lab-created smells designed to mimic natural scents.
  2. Natural Fragrances: Extracted from plants, these options are often touted as being safer for sensitive noses.

I always remind people to consider their furry pal’s preference – some cats might find certain scents off-putting or even irritating. In fact, your cat must be able to smell some of the odors left behind by their urine so that they feel comfortable using the litter box as a toilet. That’s why I generally advice avoiding cat litters with a very strong fragrance, especially those of the synthetic kind.

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