- We spoke to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung and cat behavior consultant Daniel "DQ" Quagliozzi to find out what qualities to look for in a litter box.
- We then tested 17 of the most popular litter boxes, including budget, disposable, hooded, top-entry, and self-cleaning models.
- The affordable Nature's Miracle Hooded Flip-Top Litter Box, which can be used in three ways, is our top pick for the best litter box.
- This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Cats have very specific preferences when it comes to toileting and the size, shape, and location of their litter box matter a lot. While hiding them away or placing them at high-traffic bottlenecks may be appealing to us humans, our desires are unlikely to satisfy a cat's needs, according to Daniel "DQ" Quagliozzi, cat behavior consultant and owner of Go Cat Go! in San Francisco.
The number of litter boxes in a household can also be a major problem from a cat's perspective. Dr. Wailani Sung, veterinary behaviorist at the San Francisco SPCA Veterinary Hospital, typically recommends having the same number of litter boxes as they do cats, plus one extra. Those who are living in small spaces, though, may be able to get away with fewer, frequently cleaned larger boxes, she said.
I've taken Sung and Quagliozzi's advice into account over the last several months as my two cats tested 17 different litter boxes, all but two of which (Nature's Miracle High-Sided Litter Box and Petmate Booda Dome) were provided to Insider Reviews as editorial samples from their manufacturers. Our favorite overall is the versatile, affordable Nature's Miracle Hooded Flip-Top Litter Box, which can be used in three different ways according to a cat's preference.
Here are our top picks for the best litter boxes:
- Best litter box overall: Nature's Miracle Hooded Flip-Top Litter Box
- Best litter pan: Petmate Giant Litter Pan
- Best budget litter box: Sterilite 41-quart Storage Box (store pickup only)
- Best disposable litter box: Nature's Miracle Corner Disposable Cat Litter Box (temporarily out of stock)
- Best top-entry litter box: Modkat Top-Entry Litter Box
- Best self-cleaning litter box: Petsafe ScoopFree Self-Cleaning Litter Box
Prices and links are current as of 12/3/20. We tested two more products for this update — Sterilite 41-quart Storage Box and SmartCat Ultimate Litter Box — and added a category for the best budget litter box.
The best litter box overall
The versatile Nature's Miracle Hooded Flip-Top Litter Box is spacious, affordable, and easy to modify for sensitive cats.
Pros: Can be used uncovered, covered, or partially covered; simple design; spacious pan; no swinging door; snaps and handle on cover make it easy to remove and attach; charcoal filter odor absorber; affordable
Cons: Basic design might not be appealing to some people
Often what a cat desires in a litter box is not the same thing that appeals to our human interests. Over the last several months, I saw this firsthand as my two cats tested the litter boxes for this guide. From observing them and speaking to Quagliozzi and Sung, what I've learned above all is that cats need choices in order to feel secure.
I selected Nature's Miracle Hooded Flip-Top Litter Box precisely because it allows me to give my cats different options to best meet their toileting needs. The first option with this box is to use the base alone without adding the cover. With high, rounded sides, the 25.25-by-18.75-inch pan is spacious and sturdy.
The second option is to add the cover. It snaps into the base in four places and has a handle and a charcoal filter for absorbing odors. Unlike some covered litter boxes, there is no plastic door a cat will need to push through that may also swing disconcertingly once the cat is inside the box.
The third option is to flip the front of the cover up so it opens up about a third of the box. This makes for easy cleaning and, if left in this position, also creates a hybrid covered-uncovered box that may better meet the requirements of both cat (easy entry and no over-confinement) and guardian (odor control and less visible waste).
While the Nature's Miracle Hooded Flip Top isn't particularly stylish, the large, versatile box will satisfy the whole family — two-legged and four-legged, alike — for a very reasonable price.
The best litter pan
The spacious Petmate Giant Litter Pan is made with antimicrobial material to fight odors and has built-in pockets for supplies.
Pros: Plenty of room for a cat to stretch their legs and cover their waste; built-in pockets on side for storing supplies; relatively high sides help decrease litter scatter; affordable; antimicrobial
Cons: Only one color option
Simplicity and spaciousness are the first two factors Quagliozzi looks for in a litter box. The latter is something many don't get right. A litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of a cat, Sung explained. "Most of the traditional litter boxes offered are [too] small," she said.
Petmate's Giant Litter Pan is long and flat at 34.75 inches by 19.5 inches. There is plenty of room for a cat to comfortably stretch their legs and cover their waste. Even better, this pan has relatively high sides to decrease litter scatter and is made with Microban, an antimicrobial product that helps prevent the growth of stain- and odor-producing bacteria.
Petmate's Giant Litter Pan also has two pockets on the side for storing a litter scooper, bags for waste, and other supplies. And while the traditional rule of thumb for litter boxes is to have one for every cat plus an extra, Sung said if you're vigilant about cleaning an extra-large pan two to three times a day, a family with more than one cat may be able to keep their felines happily toileting with just one box.
This litter box is priced right, too, but is only available in one color: off-white.
The best budget litter box
Though not traditionally marketed as a litter box, the Sterilite 41-quart Storage Box offers expert-recommended size and simplicity at an affordable price.
Pros: Large size with plenty of room for natural toileting behaviors, made from durable plastic, snap-on lid for easy moving, low sides for easy entry by most cats, inexpensive
Cons: Shallow sides don't prevent litter from being kicked or tracked out of box
This product is currently available for store pickup only.
Because many traditional litter boxes are too small for cat comfort, both Quagliozzi and Sung often recommend that their clients use a wide, flat plastic storage container instead. With their large size and simple design, they make excellent, affordable stand-ins for the real thing.
Sterilite's 41-quart Storage Box is made from durable, clear plastic and measures approximately 35 inches by 17 inches, providing a cat with tons of room to perform natural toileting behaviors like digging and covering their waste. Because the box is waterproof, it won't leak any excess urine that goes uncaptured by litter.
While the included white plastic lid will need to be stored away most of the time, it can be pulled out and snapped in place to easily move the box to a different location without spillage. With sides that are approximately 6 inches high, this box is shallow enough for most cats to easily enter and exit.
Guardians with cats who aggressively scratch and kick their litter, however, may need to do more floor cleanup than they would with a litter pan with higher sides. Sterilite's 41-quart Storage Box performed just as well as our best litter pan pick (minus the built-in pockets for supplies) and just about half the price.
The best disposable litter box
Made from recycled paper and infused with baking soda, Nature's Miracle Corner Disposable Litter Box holds up against leaks and odors for 30 days.
This product is temporarily out of stock. While we don't recommend them for regular daily use, read more about Nature's Miracle Disposable Cat Box and Kitty's WonderBox Disposable Litter Box in the "What else we considered" slide for alternative options.
Pros: Made of recycled materials; leakproof and tear-proof; infused with baking soda to keep smells at bay; comes in two-pack; can be used with any style litter; lasts 30 days; ideal for temporary use or travel
Cons: More challenging to scrape stuck-on clumps than in a plastic box; generates a lot of waste when used long-term
Whether you're looking for a sturdy stand-alone litter box or a liner for a plastic box, Nature's Miracle disposable boxes are an excellent worry-free option. Even after a full month of use by my two cats, the bottom of the pan was fully intact. Nowhere had urine even started to penetrate the recycled paper material.
Nature's Miracle makes three versions of their disposable litter box. Based on the recommendations of Sung and Quagliozzi, the largest of the bunch, the 23-by-18-inch triangular corner box is the best option for comfortable toileting.
The corner litter box (sold in a two-pack) is made of dense, compacted recycled paper that the company advertises as leakproof and tear-proof. In our monthlong test, I found both claims to be true. The box is also made with baking soda, which helps keep bad odors in check. Nature's Miracle disposable boxes can be used with any style of litter (I chose a clumping clay version) and when it's at the end of its 30-day life cycle, the landfill-safe pan can be easily thrown out.
Because the disposable litter box is made of paper instead of plastic, its biggest flaw is that clumps that get stuck to the bottom or sides are a little harder to remove than they are in a smooth, plastic box. And although this is a great option for travel or temporary care, sending the pan to rot in a landfill every month seems unnecessary when there are so many reusable options available.
Nevertheless, both guardians who are ultra-fastidious with regard to their litter boxes and those who need a reliable temporary box will find a great solution in the Nature's Miracle Corner Disposable Litter Box.
The best top-entry litter box
The modern Modkat Top-Entry Litter Box reduces litter tracking and is easy to clean.
Pros: Attractive modern design; perforated swivel lid for capturing loose litter and easy cleaning; reusable rip-free plastic liner and a scoop
Cons: One of the smallest boxes tested; kittens and older or anxiety-prone cats may have trouble using this box; cat has to position themselves with their head out of the hole to keep from bending in an uncomfortable position; expensive
Top-entry litter boxes are not for every cat. They require athletic ability to enter, and once inside, the cat can only go in a place that allows them to pop their head out of the hole. These boxes are also typically smaller than most cats will find comfortable. The two top-entry boxes I tested were among the smallest of the 14 litter pans I considered.
Because of these factors, the two best reasons for purchasing a top-entry litter box are to reduce litter tracking and more stylishly conceal a cat's business. The award-winning Modkat Litter Box exemplifies both of these qualities.
Good-looking and well-designed, the 16-by-16-inch box with a 9-inch diameter entry has a perforated lid for funneling litter that sticks to your cat's feet back into the pan. To clean the box there's no need to remove the lid completely — it unlatches and swivels to a vertical position for easy access.
The Modkat also comes with a rip-resistant reusable plastic liner that lasts up to three months and a matching scoop that can be hung anywhere on the rim. It's offered in two colors: white with a grey lid and black with a white lid.
At almost a hundred dollars, however, the Modkat is two to three times the cost of all of the litter boxes I tested, with the exception of two of the self-cleaning varieties. And while my cats were willing to use it, it's clearly not their preference. I often found the Modkat completely empty at cleaning time even when a standard box in another room had several clumps and piles.
While it won't be ideal for many cats, those who are looking for a little style in their litter box will be charmed by the Modkat.
The best self-cleaning litter box
Simply designed for cat comfort, the Petsafe ScoopFree Self-Cleaning Litter Box removes solid waste so you don't have to.
Pros: Easy setup and use; self-cleaning rake triggers 20 minutes after cat has exited box; a small covered compartment holds solid waste; proprietary litter is odor-absorbent and dust-free; health counter tracks how often a cat uses the box; disposable trays can be easily thrown out after 2 to 4 weeks
Cons: Requires Petsafe's crystal pet litter which gets pricey; litter may be harmful to cat if ingested; waste compartment needs occasional emptying
Self-cleaning litter boxes are controversial among cat experts. Sung does not recommend them. She said that self-cleaning boxes can be loud and scary to cats, especially if the machine is accidentally triggered to clean when the cat is still inside.
Self-cleaning boxes also make it easier for guardians to miss the signs of intestinal or urinary problems. "If the owner does not clean the box, they may not know that their cat has had a bout of soft stool or several bouts of diarrhea until one or two days later when they empty out the storage area," Sung said. "They may also miss out on small amounts of urine being deposited, which may be an indication the cat has an underlying urinary tract infection."
Still, if a guardian is struggling to clean their cat's litter box(es) at least once daily, a self-cleaning style may help to provide fastidious felines with a more pleasant toileting experience. Of the three self-cleaning litter boxes I tested, my cats preferred the one that most resembled a generously sized standard litter box: the ScoopFree Self-Cleaning Litter Box by Petsafe.
Petsafe's self-cleaning litter box has an easy-to-set-up rim with a built-in rake that sits on top of a 23-by-15.5-inch disposable litter tray. Safety sensors on the rim recognize when a cat enters the box. Twenty minutes after they have exited, the rake is automatically triggered to push solid waste toward a covered compartment at the opposite end. A health counter on the rim keeps track of how often your pet does their business.
The ScoopFree box must be used with Petsafe's disposable or reusable litter tray and their proprietary blend of crystal cat litter. The litter is absorbent, drying, and 99% dust-free, but for it to work properly, it has to be replaced every two to four weeks (depending on the number of cats in the home) at a cost of $16.95 per disposable tray or about $17 per bag.
So while the device is relatively affordable, the litter costs add up to significantly more than you might spend on litter for a standard box. Plus, chemical-based litters can be harmful to a cat if they accidentally ingest them.
And just because the box is self-cleaning doesn't mean you're completely off the hook. The compartment that collects solid waste is small and will likely have to be emptied at least once, if not several times, before it's time to change the litter tray. All things considered, though, both my cats and I are happy with the Petsafe ScoopFree box. This automatic litter box works hard to keep the pan constantly clean and fresh, ensuring a pleasant toileting experience every time.
What else we considered
Self-cleaning litter boxes
- Litter-Robot 3 Connect: I loved this automatic litter box. The technology is very impressive — it even comes with an app to help track your cat's business — and it appears to work well. I say "appears" because after two months of waiting and following the company's instructions to entice my cats, they still haven't dared to enter the Litter-Robot. In my tests, however, the Litter-Robot had no trouble dealing with the various objects I tasked it with filtering out: pencils, erasers, and water to activate urine-like clumps. Unfortunately, for my felines, the tight globe shape of the box's interior, which prevents a cat from being able to toilet on even ground was a deal-breaker. It's an expensive lesson in how cat preferences and human preferences often don't align. Luckily, the machine comes with a 90-day money-back guarantee for cats, like mine, who refuse to give it a try.
- Omega Paw Roll'N Clean Cat Litter Box: While this self-cleaning box has received plenty of good reviews, for me it missed the mark. Rolling the box to filter my cats' waste often resulted in pouring litter on to the floor and I still had to go in and scrape clumps stuck to the bottom of the pan with a litter scooper regularly. At just 10 by 15 inches, the interior of the pan is also extremely small when the filter is in place.
- SmartCat Ultimate Litter Box: This bright blue litter box is relatively spacious — the same size as our best overall litter box pick — and has high angled sides that help to keep litter from being kicked out onto the floor.
Budget litter boxes
- Nature's Miracle High-Sided Litter Box: I like this simple, affordable, high-sided box, but it's only 60% of the size of our selection for best budget box, the Sterilite 41-quart Storage Box.
- Frisco Open Top Cat Litter Box with Rim: At just 19.75 by 15.13 inches, this litter box is much too small for a cat to toilet in comfortably.
Covered litter boxes
- Catit Jumbo Hooded Pan: This litter box was a close second to my overall best pick. Like the Nature's Miracle hooded box, this pan can be used uncovered, covered, or in a hybrid-style with the front section flipped up. It's relatively large, and I also like the Magic Blue air purifier cartridge that comes with it. The cover is fitted with a swinging door that can be removed if desired. It was only the cost — more than twice that of the Nature's Miracle pan — that kept the Catit Jumbo Hooded Pan out of the top spot.
- Frisco Hooded Cat Litter Box, Extra Large: This is a good all-around box that is spacious and easy to enter. The door flap is lightweight and removable, but the cover has to be completely lifted off of the base for cleaning.
- Booda Dome Cleanstep Litter Box: While I like the look of this litter box, it devotes too much space to design and not enough to the litter itself (the pan is only 12 by 21 inches). The inclusion of the stairs also makes this box unnecessarily complicated for more sensitive cats who prefer simple access to their toilet.
Disposable litter boxes
- Nature's Miracle Disposable Cat Box: The regular- and jumbo-size disposable litter pans by Nature's Miracle are made of the same great stuff as the corner version I selected as the best disposable box. Both, however, are significantly smaller: The jumbo has 25% less space and the regular almost 50% less.
- Kitty's WonderBox Disposable Litter Box: This disposable litter box is well made, but it's tiny, just 13.5 by 17 inches. The size makes the WonderBox a decent option for travel, but it's not appropriate for long-term daily use.
Top-entry litter boxes
- Petmate Top-Entry Litter Pan: The dimensions of this box and the opening are similar to those of the Modkat, and I like that it is affordable and made from 95% recycled materials. Style is lacking with the Petmate, however, and it doesn't come with a liner. Its lid is also a little less functional than the Modkat, which swivels up for easy cleaning and clicks back into place when closed. Despite being designed with hinges on the side to allow for lifting the lid without removing it completely, I found that every time I actually attempted to clean the Petmate pan, the lid slipped out of the hinges and pulled completely off of the top.
What we're looking forward to
We're currently testing additional litter boxes for an update to this guide, including the following:
- Petmate Basic Jumbo Litter Pan
- Van Ness High Sides Giant Cat Litter Pan
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