Consumer Guide to Cat Litter

Clumping vs. nonclumping is one major difference in cat litter.
Clumping vs. nonclumping is one major difference in cat litter. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Selecting cat litter might seem to be a simple decision, but the various types and marketing terms can be a bit confusing. Whether you are getting your first kitty, have a multiple-cat household or need to change litter due to allergies, understand the terminology and the myriad choices so you can choose the best product for you and your feline.

Clay Litter

The first commercial litters sold in the 1940s were made of clay, and it is still the material of choice for most consumers. Clay has moisture-absorbing qualities, which in turn reduce odor. When bentonite is added to clay litter, the litter binds with urine to form clumps that can be scooped and disposed of. The major advantage of clumping litter is that the box only has to changed every three or four weeks with regular scooping, while nonclumping litter requires weekly changing, depending on the number of cats.


Biodegradable litters are made from wood (usually pine or cedar), paper, wheat or corn. These have less dust than clay litters and are a good choice for cats or people with allergies. Many are flushable, an additional convenience and a more eco-friendly choice than clay litters. Some wood litters are in the shape of pellets, which form clumps that can be removed.


Crystal litter is made from silica gel, the same material found in packaging desiccants, or from sand. Crystal litter is highly absorbent for its weight, which can be a plus for some consumers. It also produces very little dust and resists bacterial growth, which cuts down on odors. However, it does not readily form clumps.

Other Terminology

If litter is marketed for multiple cats, it produces more firm clumps that stay together through frequent digging. Scented litters have a particular scent added to them that helps mask or neutralize odors, usually quickly, while unscented litters have no perfumes or fragrance and are often the choice of consumers with respiratory issues. All natural indicates that no chemicals or perfumes have been added. Low-track formula cat litters have larger particles that are more likely to fall off your cat’s paws before he tracks it throughout the house. Antibacterial litter usually has additives that minimize odor-causing bacteria.

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