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How Often Should I Replace My Cat’s Litter Box?

by Ben Doyle | Reading Time: 4 minutes

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As pet sitters, we’ve scooped and cleaned thousands of litter boxes. Some of which have been a bit worse for wear. Which begs the question, ‘How often should you replace the litter box?’

In this article we’ll cover;

  • Why litter boxes need replacing
  • Knowing when you need to replace your cats’ litter box
  • The cost comparisons of replacing your cats’ litter tray, and 
  • Things you can do to extend the life of a litter box

Key Takeaways

  • If you have one cat and you use a plastic litter box, replace it once a year
  • If you have more than one cat and they share litter boxes, replace them every 6-9 months 
  • There are things you can do to extend the life of plastic litter boxes
  • Stainless steel litter boxes could last a lifetime 

Why You Should Replace Your Cats Litter Box Often

There are a few reasons why you need to replace the litter box. These are:

Small Scratches Harbour Bacteria

Litter boxes get scratched with use. This can be from your cat digging in the litter, scooping out the mess or scrubbing them clean.

Over time, bacteria work their way into these scratches and it’s almost impossible to clean them. The more you scrub, the more scratches you create and the worse the problem becomes.

Your cat has to share their litter box with these bacteria and you’re at risk of inhaling it whenever you clean it.

Old Litter Boxes Smell

A problem that comes with bacteria hiding in small scratches is that it starts to smell.

As bacteria break down cat urine, it starts to smell of ammonia. The plastic then absorbs the stench which is almost impossible to remove.

This is a problem for both us and our cats.

The smell is strong and foul. And if you think it’s bad for us, a cat’s sense of smell is 9-16 times more sensitive.

As a result, your cat might decide against using their litter tray and toilet somewhere else.

Plastic Litter Boxes Break Down

Although plastic is strong and durable, it changes over time.

UV rays from the sun and your lights at home cause the plastic to become brittle.

You might also notice the bottom of the litter box becomes hard and turns a white or brown colour. This can be;

  • The clumping agent in your litter calcifying
  • Damage caused by ammonia, or
  • Sometimes it’s mould or mildew

Either way, it causes the plastic to break down and adds to the bacteria problem.

When to Replace the Litter Box

We recommend replacing your cat’s plastic litter box at least every 12 months.

That said there are a few things to look out for;

Scratches and Scuffs

Once the litter box becomes scratched or scuffed, it opens the door for bacteria. This can cause smells and the plastic to break down pretty quickly.

If you see scratches and scuffs, it might be time for a change.

Smells You Can’t Get Rid Of

Depending on the type of litter you use, and how many cats you own, you should;

  • Scoop at least once a day, and
  • Clean the litter box at least once a week

If the litter tray still smells after washing it and letting it air dry, you should consider replacing it. After all, it will only get worse and the chances of your cat doing their business elsewhere increase.

Stained Or Clouded Plastic

If your litter box starts to change colour it could be a sign of UV damage. 

Also, if the litter box starts to get white or brown stains in it, it’s a sign of ammonia damage. The more you scrub this, the more damage you do to the plastic and the worse the ammonia damage will become.

So, if you see this, it’s probably time to change.

Other Reasons to Replace to Litter Box

Other reasons to replace your cats’ litter box include;

  • If it’s cracked, split or broken
  • It has dirty marks you can’t scrub clean, or
  • If particles stick to certain parts of the box

How Much It Costs to Replace Litter Trays Over 10 Years

According to Cats Protection, the average lifespan of a cat is 12-14 years. So, we’ve based our costs the middle of those two numbers, unlucky 13.

Type of Litter BoxCostReplace EveryCost Over a Lifetime
Cheap plastic litter tray£101 year£130
Premium plastic litter tray£151 year£195
Stainless steel litter tray£305 years£90

As you can see, while stainless steel litter trays seem expensive, they last at least 5 times longer. As such, you’ll save money in the long run. The more cats (and therefore litter boxes) you have, the more you’ll save.

And it’s not just money you’ll save. It’s also the time spent cleaning and replacing them.

How to Extend the Life of Your Litter Boxes

There are things you can do to extend the life of the litter boxes you have.

Use Litter Box Liners

This is the most expensive way to make your litter boxes last longer but they do work. They prevent the plastic from getting scratched and the build-up of bacteria. And as a result, the stink that comes with it.

Litter box liners also make cleaning the litter box quick and easy. 

Clean the Litter Box More Often Using An Enzymatic Cleaner

Clean the litter box more often, at least once a week. More if your cats share litter boxes.

Clean with an enzymatic cleaner like Extreme Pet Stain and Odour Remover from Simple Solution.

Enzymatic cleaners contain pro-bacteria and enzymes which kill bacteria and neutralise odours. 

Use a Cat Litter Freshener

Using a cat litter freshener like Simple Solution’s Cat Litter Freshener.

It uses the same pro-bacteria as their enzymatic cleaner to kill bacteria between cleans.

All you need is a sprinkle when you add new litter.

Keep Litter Boxes Away From Direct Sunlight

The UV rays from direct sunlight can change the chemical makeup of some plastic litter boxes. As a result, the plastic can become brittle pitting at more risk of breaking.

So, keep litter boxes away from direct sunlight.

In Conclusion

How often you replace your cat’s litter box depends on a number of factors.

  • The material it’s made from
  • How many cats you own
  • How often you clean, and 
  • What you do to preserve the life of them

On average though, replace plastic litter boxes at least once a year. If you have more than one cat that share a litter box, swap them out every 6-9 months, or whenever you start to see signs of wear.

Stainless steel litter boxes are more expensive to buy, they last the lifetime of your cat.

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Ben Doyle

Ben Doyle co-owns Pet Checkers with his wife, Vicki. He spends his days looking after all kinds of animals, from dogs to eagles. When he's not taking care of animals, he's writing about them.

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