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What is Cat Litter Made Of? The Different Types & How to Choose

by Ben Doyle | Reading Time: 11 minutes

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If you own a cat, you need cat litter. That said, there are so many different types of cat litter, that choosing one isn’t always as simple as you might think.

Clumping, non-clumping, scented or unscented, eco-friendly or not. Then there are all the different materials to choose from; clay, wood, corn, paper etc.

That’s before you’ve even considered whether your feline friend will even use it or not!

So, in this article, we’ll cover;

Clumping vs. Non-Clumping Cat Litter

When shopping for cat litter, you can choose between clumping and non-clumping types.

Both have their pros and cons.

Non-Clumping Litter

scooping non clumping cat litter

Non-clumping cat is the original type. It’s cheap and comes in many different materials, including; clay, corn, wood, paper and tofu.

Non-clumping cat litter is also best for kittens during litter training. Kittens are curious and sometimes try to eat their litter. Non-clumping litter is less likely to cause a blockage in their bowel.

There’s also less dust in it compared to clumping litter. Which is good for your cat’s respiratory system.

The downside to non-clumping litter is that it doesn’t, well, clump. This makes scooping and cleaning your cat’s litter tray more difficult. It’s harder to separate the clean litter from the dirty litter, especially when they pee. As a result, you need to throw the whole lot away and re-fill the litter box with new litter more often. 

Clumping Litter

scooped clumping cat litter

Clumping cat litter has become very popular over recent years. 

It’s often finer than non-clumping litter so cats are typically more inclined to use it.

And because it clumps, separating the soiled from dirty litter is much easier. This not only makes scooping quick and easy; it also means you need to do a full litter change far less often.

It also comes in different materials, including; clay, corn, wood, etc. 

Clumping litter isn’t perfect though. For starters, it’s more expensive than non-clumping litter. Some cheaper versions can be dusty too which can have an impact on your cat’s lungs. Especially if they have allergies.

Not only that, but because it’s quite fine, it can stick to paws and get tracked around the house.

We don’t recommend it for kittens. First, because of the dust. Second, clumping litter can expand up to 15 times its original size. If a curious kitten tries to eat it, it could cause a blockage in its bowel or intestine. At best, this could need surgery to fix, the worst cases can be fatal.

Scented vs. Unscented Cat Litter

Your next decision is to decide whether to choose a scented or unscented litter.

Scented litters contain added deodorizers or fresheners to make improve the smell.

There are lots of scents to choose from. These include lavender, fresh linen and baby powder, for example. Scented litters contain perfumes that are designed to mask the smell of urine and faeces. Some don’t work very well though and instead of masking the smell, you end up with a mix of smells which is even worse.

Unscented litters have a faint smell of the materials they’re made from. They don’t have any artificial smells which most cats prefer.

Remember though, a scented litter might smell nice to you but your cat might hate it. This could affect their willingness to use their litter box.

If you insist on using a scented litter, keep an eye on your cat’s behaviour in their litter box. If they don’t like it, change it.

Flushable or Not?

Flushing Cat Litter

Many companies produce and sell ‘flushable’ cat litter.

Flushable cat litters are biodegradable so they tend to be made from corn, wood, wheat, tofu etc.

You can’t flush clay and silica cat litter as they will block your waste pipes.

That said, just because a manufacturer says you can flush their litter, it doesn’t mean you should.

Some cats cat a parasite called Toxoplasmosis gondii. This is the same parasite that makes cat litter dangerous for pregnant women

If your cat is an outdoor cat, chances are they will carry it and can spread it via their poo. So, if you flush their poo or litter down the toilet, you could contaminate your local water supply.

UK water treatment plants aren’t equipped to deal with Toxoplasmosis. So, if you flush cat litter you could cause harm to your friends, neighbours and even the local wildlife. It’s better to compost the litter or dispose of it via your green waste bin. Just take the poo out first.

What is Cat Litter Made Of

So, you’ve decided on a clumping or non-clumping and scented or unscented cat litter.

Now is the time to decide on the type of material. Not all types of cat litter do everything. For example, paper cat litter doesn’t clump, so if you’ve decided on a clumping litter, paper won’t be for you.

Here’s a close look at the different types of cat litter that are available.

1. Clay Cat Litter

clay cat litter

Clay is the most popular type of cat litter as there are so many options;

  • Clumping or non-clumping
  • Scented or unscented
  • Low dust options
  • Low tracking formulas

Clay cat litter offers good value for money, especially if you’re on a budget.

That said, clay litter, especially the clumping type can be quite dusty. If you or your cat has allergies, make sure you choose a low dust formula.

 Also, if the environment is important to you, you might want to stay clear of clay cat litter. The way it’s mined isn’t very eco-friendly and it’s not biodegradable. The only way to dispose of used clay litter is to throw it in the bin.

2. Silica Cat Litter

silica cat litter

Silica cat litter is another popular choice because it’s super absorbent.

It traps the smell of urine in the crystals but lets the liquid evaporate. As a result, you don’t need to scoop nearly as often as you do with other types of litter and it lasts for ages.

As it’s made up of individual crystals, silica litter is dust-free and doesn’t track. Plus, you can get it in scented and unscented versions. There are also some clumping versions, although not many.

There are a couple of drawbacks though. First, silica litter is more expensive than other types. Second, it’s not biodegradable so the only way to dispose of it is to bin it.

3. Wood Cat Litter

wood cat litter

Wood cat litter is lightweight and has a natural ability to absorb liquids and trap odours.

It comes in various options, including:

  • Wood pellets
  • Flakes
  • Clumping, and
  • Non-clumping

Some manufacturers also make flushable options.

Wood pellet cat litter is almost always non-clumping. It tends to break down into sawdust. The benefit of pellets is they don’t track.

If you want clumping wood litter, it’s often flaked. While the clumps are easier to scoop, the flakes can get stuck in furry cat feet and tracked around the house.  

Some cats prefer wood litter to clay litter because it’s softer on their feet.

And because wood is biodegradable, you can compost it or dispose of it in your green waste bin.

4. Corn Cat Litter

corn cat litter

While it’s often a bit more expensive than clay and wood, corn litter is popular amongst cat owners.

Like clay litter, you can get corn cat litter in;

  • Clumping or non-clumping
  • Scented or unscented, and
  • Low dust options

On top of that, corn is biodegradable. So, you get all the benefits of clay litter but you can dispose of it in an eco-friendlier way. Either by composting it or putting in your green waste.

Some brands are also flushable.

The main concern about corn cat litter is mould. When corn gets mouldy it produces aflatoxins, which can be deadly to pets. There have a few been cases of corn cat litter going mouldy if a cat’s litter box was placed in a damp environment.

Most companies guarantee their litter is safe and these problems are rare. Still, if you keep your cats’ litter box in the bathroom, it might be best to use a different type of litter. Better safe than sorry!

5. Wheat Cat Litter

wheat cat litter

Wheat cat litter is a lot like corn. It clumps, is low in dust, biodegradable and most are marketed as flushable. 

There aren’t many scented options though. That’s because wheat has a natural ability to trap odours so there’s no need for added scents.

Like corn, there have been cases of cat litter getting mouldy. So again, if you keep your cats’ litter box in the bathroom, choose a different type.

6. Paper Cat Litter

paper cat litter

Paper cat litter is a good choice for those on a budget as it’s pretty cheap.

It’s made from recycled paper so it’s biodegradable. As such, it’s one of the most eco-friendly types of cat litter.

It’s very soft on cats’ paws too. The soft pellets also make it one of the best litter for kittens or cats with sensitive feet.

There are a few downsides to paper litter though. 

First, it doesn’t clump so scooping isn’t as easy. Second, odour control isn’t as good as other litters and as a result, you’ll need to change it more often.

So, although it’s cheaper than other types of litter, you might find yourself buying it more often.

7. Tofu Cat Litter

tofu cat litter

Tofu cat litter is one of the newest types of cat litter on the market.

It’s a by-product of the food industry and made from soya bean so it’s biodegradable.  

Tofu litter clumps well and is fantastic at holding onto odours. It’s even safe for cats to eat so if you have a cat that eats their litter for whatever reason, tofu might be a good option.

Because tofu litter is quite new, not many brands offer it, although it’s easy enough to get hold of. It’s also more expensive than clay or wood litter.

8. Walnut Cat Litter

In our experience, Walnut cat litter is the least common or popular, at least in the UK. 

Walnut cat litter is made from 100% crushed walnut shells. As such, it’s not only biodegradable, it traps odours better than all other types of cat litter. 

If you have a multi-cat household, walnut might be the litter for you.

It comes in clumping and non-clumping varieties. That said, it doesn’t clump as well as clay or corn.

It can sometimes be dusty too which is a red/brown colour which many cat owners don’t like.

So Which Cat Litter is Best?

The best cat litter for you can your cat is subjective. Each type of litter has its own pros and cons so it’s not for us to say which is best for you.

What we would say though is to try and put your cats’ needs before your own. If you like scented litter but your cat hates it, use an unscented one. Your goal should be to make going to the toilet as easy and as stress-free as possible. If you force your cat to use the litter that you like, you might find they start pooping behind the couch instead.

We’ve put together this table to help you choose a type of litter to try.

Litter TypeClumpingNon-ClumpingScentedUnscentedBiodegradableFlushable
Clayblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickpink crosspink cross
Silicablue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickpink crosspink cross
Woodblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tick
Cornblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tick
Wheatblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tick
Paperblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tick
Tofublue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tickblue tick
Walnutblue tickblue tickpink crossblue tickblue tickblue tick
(Scroll on Mobile)

In Conclusion

Choosing the best types of cat litter can be a challenge.

Read reviews on websites like Amazon and you’ll see cat owners say they’ve tried all kinds of litter. So, it’s clear that some people struggle.

The problem is, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and no cat litter is perfect. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

Not only that, cats are individuals like we are and have their own preferences. Some aren’t fussy and will use their litter tray regardless of what’s in it. Others will abandon their litter tray at the hint of a change.

So, find a litter that works for your cat and stick with it. Hopefully, the table above will help.

Photo of author

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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