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Unscented vs scented cat litters

Unscented vs Scented Cat Litters – Which is Best?

Learn which type is best for your cat's health and your home's environment, as we delve into odor control, allergenic concerns, and overall cat comfort.

There are many ways to categorize kitty litter, but perhaps the most common distinction that gets made is unscented vs scented cat litter. And, like most aspects of pet ownership, the topic can be a divisive one, with strong and sometimes passionately defended arguments made for both sides! With each option boasting its own perks and pitfalls, choosing the right litter can feel like navigating a labyrinth of aromatic uncertainty.

As a veterinarian and a cat owner, I have some opinions of my own, and I’d like to think that I do a pretty good job of ensuring these opinions are based in fact and supported by evidence. So, for those looking for advice regarding whether to select a scented or unscented cat litter, welcome. You’ve come to exactly the right place.

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Unscented vs Scented Cat Litters: What’s Better?

When it comes to maintaining a clean and fresh-smelling home, choosing the right cat litter can make all the difference.

Unscented litters appeal to those seeking a more natural approach, minimizing potential irritants for both cats and humans, while scented litters offer a variety of fragrances designed to mask unpleasant odors.

Ultimately, deciding what’s better out of scented and unscented cat litter will come down to personal owner preference. Let’s delve into the pros and cons of both options, helping cat parents make an informed decision that ensures the comfort and well-being of their furry companions and keeps their living spaces odor-free.


Scented Cat Litter

cat smelling cat litter

What are the Pros of Scented Cat Litter?

The reality is that scented cat litter often does a better job at concealing that kitty toilet smell when compared to unscented cat litter, although you have to be OK with your cat’s litter box smelling a bit like an air freshener.

Pros of Scented Cat Litter:

  • Masks unpleasant odors, keeping your home smelling fresh

  • Can be more pleasant for pet owners when cleaning the litter box

  • May encourage some cats to use the litter box more consistently

  • Some scented litters have additional odor-fighting properties

  • Variety of scents available to suit personal preferences

For those who detest the smell of used litter but are happy to receive the odd whiff of fragrance, scented litter is often the superior choice.

Scented cat litters are designed to control ‘litter box odors’ through various ‘litter odor control additives‘, enhancing the overall environment around the litter box. The freshness offered by scented cat litter will often also last a little longer than unscented litter. This is evidenced by the fact that unscented litters frequently offer a 7-10 day odor control guarantee, compared to the 10-14 day odor control guarantee that some scented cat litters boast.

However, it’s important to note that a 14 day odor control guarantee isn’t a good reason to wait 14 days in between cleaning out your cat’s litter box! Solid deposits should be removed as soon as possible, and clumps of urine-soaked litter should be removed daily. Your cat’s litter box should be completely emptied, cleaned and filled with fresh litter at least once a week to keep it as attractive as it can be for your cat.

What are the Cons of Scented Cat Litter?

Individuals (be they human or feline) with respiratory issues such as asthma should steer clear of scented cat litters and opt instead for an unscented product. This is because the added fragrances in scented litter, along with some ‘litter odor control additives’, have the potential to spark a flare up of airway irritation in susceptible people and cats: coughing fits, wheezing or even shortness of breath may result.

Cons of Scented Cat Litter:

  • Some cats may be sensitive to scents and avoid using the litter box

  • Scented litter may cause respiratory issues or allergic reactions in some cats

  • Scents may be artificial and unappealing to some pet owners

  • Scents can mask the presence of urine, making it harder to detect health issues like urinary tract infections

  • Scented litter may not be as effective at neutralizing odors as unscented litter with odor-absorbing properties

  • Scented litter may be more expensive than unscented alternatives

It’s also possible to be allergic to the fragrance molecules in scented cat litter. Those who suffer from sensitivity to fragrance may experience unpleasant symptoms such as watery eyes, nasal congestion or sneezing following inhalation of these molecules in the air, or may develop a rash upon skin contact with the scented litter.

A final point, for the felines: cats prefer unscented cat litter. Read on below to find out why.


Unscented Cat Litter

cat sitting in litter tray

What are the Pros of Unscented Cat Litter?

The fact of the matter is that your cat absolutely prefers unscented rather than scented cat litter. That’s not my opinion: it really is a fact, and it stems from your kitty’s evolutionary biology.

Pros of Unscented Cat Litter:

  • Less likely to cause sensitivities or allergic reactions in cats

  • Generally more affordable than scented alternatives

  • Many unscented litters have odor-absorbing properties, such as activated charcoal or baking soda

  • Lack of scent allows pet owners to detect health issues more easily, such as changes in urine odor

  • Many cats prefer unscented litter, as it mimics their natural environment

  • Eco-friendly options available, such as biodegradable or plant-based litters

  • Ideal for multi-cat households, as it does not interfere with cats’ ability to identify their own scent

You may not have been expecting a life sciences tutorial hidden within a cat litter article, but I’m afraid you’re about to get one! A very long time ago, cats evolved a highly developed sense of smell. This extraordinarily accurate nose was historically essential for feline survival, helping cats to detect prey (and therefore find their next meal); communicate with other cats (including finding a mate and thus passing on those all-important genetics); and identify which chunk of territory belongs to whom (and even establish whether or not their neighbor is likely to be big and powerful enough to beat them in a fight).

Then along came mankind and before long our cats were enjoying lives of luxury and merrily pooping in small boxes. Quite the upgrade! But where does scented litter come in?

Well, turns out those perfumed litters can actually overpower a cat’s sensitive nose, potentially causing discomfort and masking really important scents (well: important from your cat’s point of view)…such as whether or not an intruder has broken in and used their toilet in their absence.

On the flip side, unscented litter allows cats to readily establish if their toilet has been disturbed, as well as enjoy their own reassuringly personal scents. That’s not me being gross: I’m just passing on the message that your cat wants their litter box to smell of them. Additionally, baking soda is a natural odor-neutralizing agent found in some unscented cat litters, offering an effective solution for controlling litter box smells without the use of harsh chemicals.

Research and observations show that a cat prefers unscented litter, emphasizing their natural inclinations towards less overpowering environments. For those looking for an eco-friendly option, natural cat litter serves as an excellent alternative to traditional unscented cat litter, boasting benefits for both cats and the environment with its low-dust and all-natural properties.

What are the Cons of Unscented Cat Litter?

Unscented cat litter tends to offer a slightly shorter period of freshness when compared to scented litter. The odor control ability of unscented litter is also often slightly less powerful. So, those who prioritize avoiding whiffs of cat pee at all costs will likely find scented litter to be the preferable choice.

Cons of Unscented Cat Litter:

  • Does not mask odors as effectively as scented litter

  • Odors may be more noticeable to pet owners, especially if the litter box is not cleaned regularly

  • Some pet owners may prefer the pleasant scents added to litter

  • May require more frequent cleaning to control odors effectively

  • Some unscented litters may have a natural odor that is off-putting to certain pets or owners


Unscented vs Scented Cat Litters: Which Should You Choose?

cat standing between litter boxes

The choice between scented or unscented cat litter is a personal one. Factors to take into account include:

  • What level of odor control do you need?

Clay cat litter and clay litter are popular choices for their strong odor control capabilities, with clumping litter being particularly beneficial for its ability to trap and encapsulate urine for effective odor control and its strong clumping action that simplifies cleaning. If your cat’s litter tray is in a well ventilated spot and/or a rarely frequented area of the home, you might be happy to select an unscented litter and allow the litter tray to have a more, let’s say “natural”, scent. Your cat will certainly appreciate this, if it’s possible.

On the flip side, if your cat’s litter tray is somewhere that you cannot avoid spending time and you can’t stand the smell of pee, then you may be better off selecting a scented litter for superior odor control and masking ability.

Choosing a litter that will encourage consistent litter box use is crucial to avoid litter box problems. It’s important to select a type of litter that your cat prefers to ensure they reliably use their litter boxes, thus preventing any unwanted accidents around the house.

  • Do any individuals in the household have respiratory issues?

“Individuals” here refers to both human and feline family members! If anybody in your home suffers with asthma or airway sensitivity, then unscented cat litter is going to be the safest and most comfortable way forward. Additionally, ensuring that litter boxes are placed in well-ventilated areas can further reduce the risk of respiratory difficulties.

  • Will your cat use scented litter?

It’s not common, but some cats simply won’t use scented kitty litter, full stop! In this case, you don’t really have much choice: pick an unscented cat litter.

  • Do you (or any members of your household) have allergies to fragrance?

If contact with fragranced substances causes you to sneeze, develop itchy eyes, a rash or a stuffy nose, then you’re better off sticking to unscented cat litter.

Ultimately, the best choice is the one that works best for all members of your household. Regardless of the type of litter that you choose, regular cleaning is crucial to maintain a hygienic (and fresh smelling) home environment.

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And so concludes the grand debate of unscented vs scented cat litters. For those in Camp Scented, go ahead and feel justifiably vindicated in the superior odor masking ability and extended freshness that your selection provides. Just be wary of potential irritants lurking in the air, for both you and your four legged friend.

Likewise, those on Team Unscented are equally correct. Bask in the glory of having selected a litter that suits your cat’s evolutionary preferences, and the authenticity of a litter box untouched by synthetic fragrances. Just beware the slightly shorter shelf life of freshness (and be prepared for the occasional hint of pee smell).

Whilst neither option is perfect, I hope I’ve done a good job of explaining why equally neither option is wrong. Ultimately, there are only right answers to this question. Happy litter hunting.

See our other articles for more tips on odor control, common odor control ingredients in cat litter, and find out why your cat smells like poop.

Frequently Asked Questions about Scented Cat Litter

Is scented cat litter better than unscented?

Whether scented or unscented cat litter is “better” depends entirely on the criteria by which you are judging the litter. Scented cat litters typically offer slightly better odor control, but can also be irritating to the airways or skin of some individuals. As for the feline perspective, cats universally prefer unscented cat litter. The debate between using scented or unscented litter is significant, with considerations ranging from potential allergies and preferences of cats to the ecological and health implications for cat owners. Ultimately, the choice between scented or unscented litter depends on individual needs and preferences.

Will kittens use scented litter?

Yes, in the majority of cases kittens will accept scented cat litter, especially once they’ve had a little time to get used to it. However, unscented litter is always preferred, so if you’re having difficulty then it’s strongly advisable to switch to an unscented kitty litter.

Which litter has the best odor control?

As a general rule, scented litters provide better odor control compared to unscented litters, although there are certainly also a number of high-performing unscented cat litters available which offer excellent odor control abilities. See our article on the best cat litters for odor control for all the juicy details, as well as our hand picked, vet recommended top five.

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