If your cat’s litter box absolutely reeks, you’re not alone. Surveys show that nearly seven in ten cat owners consider the litter box stench the worst part of owning a cat. So how do you get that ammonia (or turdy) smell out of the litter box and—more importantly—out of your home?

Here’s the TL;DR:

The best ways to make your cat litter smell better are baking soda and litter deodorizing products. You should also scoop more often, use odor-neutralizing litter, and replace all litter every two weeks. Cleaning with vinegar and deep cleaning every few months can also prevent strong odors.

Keep reading to see our favorite 13 strategies for how to make a litter box smell better.

Disclaimer: If you have concerns about the smells coming from your cat’s litter box or the safest ways to neutralize them, please consult your veterinarian.

1. Sprinkle in Some Baking Soda

Baking soda is one of the most popular DIY deodorizing tactics for the entire house. That includes the refrigerator, smelly closets, trash cans, and, yes, litter boxes.

Sodium bicarbonate (or baking soda) is amphoteric. This makes it effective against alkaline and acidic odors, though baking soda is naturally alkaline—or has a higher pH. 

Cat pee is slightly acidic and contains uric acid, the source of its characteristic ammonia smell. When baking soda interacts with these acids, it neutralizes them and makes the odor less noticeable. Baking soda is also adsorbent, attracting and trapping molecules to its outer surface (including odors). 

Sprinkling a thin, even layer of baking soda on top of your cat litter could absorb and eliminate these lingering smells. You can also rake it into the kitty litter.

how to deodorize cat litter with a little baking soda

Always start with less to see how well it controls odors and how your cat reacts. You may need to up the dosage if you’re dealing with more intense litter box odors or have multiple cats.

The cat community remains divided on whether to add baking soda directly to litter is a good idea. Those against it question whether it actually provides relief or causes more harm than good.

Those opposed say that some cats are sensitive to baking soda and may develop side effects like discomfort or skin irritation. Baking soda’s fine particles can also kick up more dust, which can pose issues for cats (and humans) with respiratory issues.

As it traps odors, it’ll also have less space to adsorb and neutralize new ones, so you’ll need to replace it more often for a consistently fresh scent. 

One possible middle ground is sprinkling a thin layer of baking soda under the litter. Doing this can create a barrier between the litter and the box itself while limiting your cat’s contact with it. It may not remove odors on the litter’s surface, but it could keep more pungent odors from soaking into the box. 

2. Deodorize Cat Litter With Deodorizers

Litter box deodorizers are powders or granules that neutralize or mask unpleasant litter odors. These products work in one of two ways: chemical reactions or added fragrances (or both).

These include baking soda, which can neutralize acidic and alkaline odors and adsorb odor molecules. Activated charcoal is adsorbent and reduces moisture-related (mustiness) and organic (fecal or bacterial) odors. Clumping litter may also contain clay minerals that absorb excess moisture and control odors. 

Litter box deodorizers with fragrances cover the odors with a more pleasing scent, either in powder or “fragrance crystal” form. Just keep in mind that your cat’s sense of smell is 14x better than yours, and some cats are extremely sensitive to strong fragrances. 

According to a 2006 study of one litter box odor eliminator—Zero Odor—these deodorizers can work. The study showed that the spray reduced the box’s odor and actually made the boxes more attractive to cats.

The downsides include the fact that strong fragrances could impact a cat’s health, causing side effects like sneezing or coughing. Instead of actually masking the odor, the fragrance could also mix with the feces and pet urine odors (yum). Like baking soda, litter box deodorizers can make the litter box dustier.

If you decide to try this method, start small and (ideally) unscented. You can then incorporate it into your regular maintenance routine. For example, add a fresh layer of deodorizer with each complete litter change. 

3. Scoop the Litter at Least Once a Day

Cats (and their humans) prefer a clean and well-maintained litter box. That’s exactly why more frequent scooping is a litter box odor control no-brainer. 

In fact, 83% of cat owners scoop the litter box at least once a day, according to a 2021 poll by World’s Best Cat Litter. Removing feces and urine clumps promptly should eliminate the odors at the source. 

But there are a few other reasons to scoop at least once daily. When urine soaks into the litter, it maintains some moisture and creates a breeding ground for bacterial growth and an ammonia odor.

Clumping cat litter may also reach a saturation point where it can no longer absorb more moisture. Since there’s nothing to absorb the urine or odors, it sits on the top of the litter to fester. 

Unsurprisingly, our feline friends are more likely to use a clean litter box. (Seriously, I have a cat that’ll drop a deuce on the floor next to the box if it isn’t up to his hygiene standards.) Strong odors in the box can kick a cat’s territorial nature into overdrive if it’s loaded with waste from another cat — a threat to their territory.

4. Set up a Litter Delivery Subscription 

One of the best ways to maintain a stink-free litter box is to have a consistent supply of new litter on hand for more consistent litter changes (or top-offs).

Fresh litter absorbs moisture more effectively and reduces the build-up of odor-causing bacteria. If you use clumping litter, having enough to maintain a 3–4-inch depth will also control the odors and allow for easier scooping.

Online retailers like Amazon and Chewy offer subscriptions to deliver a box of litter to your door on a set schedule. You may also score a slight discount on each delivery without lugging a 40-pound box of litter through the pet store. 

Here’s how I recommend doing it:

  1. Choose a litter that your cat likes and consistently uses. 
  2. Buy a single box (or bag) to see how many days or weeks it lasts. Don’t set up an auto-delivery yet!
  3. Set up an auto-order that’s just shy of how long the box lasted (i.e., if it lasted four weeks, set the delivery schedule to every three weeks).
  4. Customize the delivery frequency as needed.

Here’s a look at what this option looks like on Amazon (you’d click “Set Up Now” to start the auto-deliveries):

Amazon subscribe and save frequency

Avoid buying too much litter at once. Because litter absorbs odors with time, leaving an open box out in the open—especially in humidity—for too long can worsen the kitty litter smell. 

5. Choose an Odor-Neutralizing Litter

If you want maximum odor control without changing your routine, your best bet is switching to an odor-neutralizing litter. These contain specific ingredients or technologies designed to prevent or remove litter box smells. 

Arm & Hammer and Tidy Cats are among the biggest names in cat litter odor control. Many of their liters come with a 14-day odor control guarantee. Exactly how these products work depends on the brand, the product, and the ingredients.

These litters have ingredients that react with odors or antimicrobial ones that stop bacterial growth.

You might find ingredients like:

  • Activated charcoal: Highly adsorbent; traps and holds onto odorous molecules, including urine and feces
  • Baking soda: Versatile and amphoteric; regulates pH levels in the box, neutralizes alkaline and acidic odors, and adsorbs odor molecules
  • Zeolite: Naturally occurring and adsorbent mineral; captures and retains ammonia molecules—a primary component of cat urine odor
  • Micro-activated pearls: Release fragrances when they come in contact with moisture; a dual-action approach for neutralizing odors and adding a fresh scent
  • Clay additives: Enhance a litter’s clumping and absorbency; trap and isolate waste and the resulting release of odors

Using these litters can provide longer-lasting freshness and improved air quality.

6. Replace All Litter Every Two Weeks

Even with regular scooping, small waste particles and odors can remain in your cat’s litter—creating an odor that only worsens with time. More complete regular litter replacements will remove these bits and the smells they bring with ‘em.

As a general rule of thumb, dump out the entire litter box every two weeks (though you may be able to stretch it to 3–4) and start with a fresh, new batch. Now, there are a few reasons a complete swap-out once or twice a month is better than simply topping it off.

Here are just a few of them:

  • Cat waste contains bacteria that can multiply and intensify the box’s odor.
  • As clumping litter becomes saturated, it’s also less effective at clumping. This can lead to excess moisture and more persistent odors. 
  • Ammonia-soaked litter brings the distinct stench of urine.
  • Though odor-neutralizing litters contain deodorizing ingredients, this odor control decreases with time.
  • Cats are more likely to use fresh, clean litter.

By “resetting” the litter, you remove the current waste, bacteria, and smells and refresh its ingredients.

Oh, and to really up your hygiene game, thoroughly clean your cat’s litter box with a mild, cat-safe detergent and water during full litter changes. This one-two punch will remove the smells and bacteria in the litter and the box for a complete odor refresh.

7. Improve Ventilation Around the Box

If that litter box is tucked away in a bathroom, a hardly used closet, or a laundry room, you know all about the smell of stale kitty litter. 

The reason is simple: stagnant air traps odors—they become ultra-concentrated in a small area. Improving airflow around the litter box can help disperse bad odors and lessen their intensity immediately around the box. 

You also have to contend with the humidity factor. Without introducing new air or letting old air escape, the stale air and moisture have nowhere else to go. 

High humidity traps and intensifies bad odors and encourages bacteria growth. It could also cause clumping litter to break apart prematurely, releasing odors into the air.

The simplest solution to the stench is keeping litter boxes out of enclosed spaces and tight corners. Instead, choose a well-ventilated, open location with minimal foot traffic.

You can also open nearby windows and doors or set up small fans or air purifiers near the box. If your litter box is in the bathroom, turn on the exhaust fan now and then to let built-up odors escape—especially if you take long hot showers. 

8. Clean the Box With Vinegar + Water

The ‘ol vinegar and water trick is about removing odors, disinfecting, and cleaning up the box for Fluffy.

The “magic” of this method lies in the vinegar. It’s mildly acidic and works best against alkaline odors. However, its acetic acid also naturally bonds with odor molecules in the air, making them disappear as the pungent smell of vinegar fades. 

Vinegar has some disinfectant properties (keyword: some) and kills some germs. And, while wiping the litter box down with this won’t make it completely germ-free, it should neutralize the worst odors and reduce the bacteria.

You should do a basic litter box cleaning once every 1–2 weeks—or whenever you replace all the litter. The exact frequency depends on how many cats you have, the litter type, and your tolerance for stuck-on odors. 

Vinegar has disinfectant properties, but it’s nowhere near as effective as most commercial cleaners, which can kill 99.9% of germs. It also may not remove particularly intense odors. 

Step-by-Step Guide

Materials Needed: White distilled vinegar, water, a scrub brush or sponge, a trash bag, a bowl or a spray bottle

  1. Empty the litter box. Dispose of old litter in a sealed trash bag to keep odors from leaking into the garbage bin.
  2. Use warm water to rinse the box thoroughly and remove any loose debris.
  3. Mix equal parts white distilled vinegar and water (1:1) in a bowl or spray bottle.
  4. Pour or spray the solution into the box’s surfaces, corners, and crevices.
  5. Using your scrub brush or sponge, scrub the entire surface thoroughly, and pay extra attention to stubborn residues and stains.
  6. Let the vinegar/water mix sit for 10–15 minutes to break down and lift odors.
  7. Rinse the box with warm water to remove the vinegar.
  8. Allow the box to dry completely before adding fresh litter. 

9. Deep Clean the Box Every 2–3 Months

A bi- or tri-monthly deep cleaning is a must for optimal hygiene and odor prevention. Deep cleanings will control persistent bacteria, address trapped odors, and remove residual ammonia. Removing these lingering odors may also make the box more inviting to your kitties!

litter box clean: before and after

Step-by-Step Guide

Materials: A trash bag, warm water, mild dish soap, a scrub brush or sponge, white distilled vinegar or pet-safe disinfectant

  1. Empty all litter out of the litter box. Dispose of old litter in a sealed trash bag.
  2. Rinse the litter box with warm water to remove any loose debris.
  3. Mix a few drops of mild dish soap with warm water. Do not use any harsh chemicals, as these can leave behind residues that are harmful to cats.
  4. With a scrub brush or sponge, scrub the entire interior of the litter box. Focus on corners, crevices, and areas with stubborn residues or stains.
  5. Disinfect the litter box with a 1:1 mixture of white distilled vinegar and water or a pet-safe disinfectant product.
  6. Let it sit for 10–15 minutes for maximum microbial control. 
  7. Rinse the box again with warm water to remove all traces of cleaning products.
  8. Let the box dry entirely before adding in a fresh batch of litter. 

10. Replace Your Litter Boxes Yearly

Plastic litter boxes are physically durable enough to last for years. But for maximum odor control and good litter box hygiene, replacing them about once a year is best

The main reason is that plastic degrades with exposure to urine, cleaning agents, and the scraping involved with scooping. Each of these creates microscopic cracks and scratches in the plastic. And these holes are the perfect hideout for stubborn cat odors, bacteria, urine, and feces. 

These cracks, crevices, and scratches are also more difficult to clean and deodorize. If your litter box is covered in scratches or cracks and still smells after deep cleanings, it’s time to replace it entirely.

The litter box below has since been retired and has obviously seen better days:

deep scratches in litter box plastic
Pro Tip: When switching to a new box, choose a similar style, as many cats are sensitive to environmental changes. Make the transition slowly by placing the new litter box next to the old box (both filled with litter) for a few days.

11. Consider Buying a Covered Litter Box

Introducing a hood into the mix could be all it takes to keep that nasty cat odor from wafting into your living room. 

Covered litter boxes have a lid or hood over them, creating a more private confined space for cats to do their business. Because of the lack of airflow, the cover helps to contain the odors within the box and prevent them from dispersing elsewhere. Some covered boxes even have built-in air filters to dial down the stink. 

But as you might suspect, this method is a tad controversial. It could worsen the odor—especially if you’re slacking on the daily scooping—because the odor will intensify as the waste inside the box piles up.

Some also argue that their cats suddenly refuse to use litter boxes when covered versions are introduced. However, one 2013 study found that most cats actually didn’t have a preference between covered and non-covered boxes as long as the box was kept clean. In fact, 70% of the cats used both equally, 15% used the covered box more, and 15% used the standard box more.

Whether this is the right solution depends on your cat’s preferences and commitment to daily scooping. 

12. Set up an Air Purifier

If it’s a slight kitty litter smell haunting you, setting up an air purifier near the cat box (or at least in the same room) can help filter out those odors. Air purifiers are equipped with filters designed to capture particles from the air—including odor molecules. 

There are two main purifier filters: activated carbon and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA).

Activated carbon filters are highly effective at adsorbing and trapping gasses and odors. Their porous design provides even more room for odor molecules to attach themselves, allowing mostly clean air out.

HEPA filters are extremely effective at yanking tiny particles like dust, pollen, pet dander, and mold spores out of the air. In fact, they remove 99.7% of particles 0.3 microns in size. Particles of this size survive basic filtration, and HEPA filters can remove most of them, plus smaller and larger particles from the air. 

When choosing a purifier, select one with an activated carbon or HEPA filter. Ensure it’s quiet (to avoid disturbing your cats) and has a large enough coverage area for the room it’s in.

13. Use the Litter Genie After Scooping

The Litter Genie (this link brings you to Amazon) or some kind of litter pail can keep the area around the litter box free from odors. 

All you have to do is scoop the litter as normal and place it into the Genie. Then, pull the plastic piece at the front toward you to drop the litter into the bottom. 

In its normal position, this plastic piece cuts off the flow of air in and out of the container—trapping the litter odor in the bottom. The Genie also uses seven-layer bag technology to lock odors into the bag. And with its continuous liner system, you can cut and tie off the bag after each use, toss it in the garbage can, and start a-fresh.

how to use the litter genie

I’ve had two Litter Genies (one per litter box) for several years and absolutely love them. They’re easy to use and conceal odors much better than standard plastic grocery bags. Just be sure to replace the bag regularly to keep it from getting overly full!

Final Thoughts

You can do plenty to deodorize a stinky litter box and the area around it. The best solution to the problem is one you and your cats like. Start with more regular scooping and consistent kitty litter changes. If those don’t work, you can attempt any of the more in-depth tactics.