Types of cat litter: Which one is right for your feline?

Cat in litter box using one of several types of cat litter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You’d think that choosing from amongst the various types of cat litter on the market would be fairly straightforward, right? After all, how many kinds of cat litter can there possibly be? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot! 

While there are many brands claiming to have the best cat litter, selecting the right one for you feline friend and your household is a little more complicated than simply purchasing the first bag you come across.

Not only do you have to decide between clumping and non-clumping litters and whether you want to opt for a scented or unscented variety, but you also need to consider the material you want your cat’s litter to be made from.

Some materials, like silica, are perfect if you have one of the best self-cleaning cat litter boxes, while others, such as wood, are ideal if you’re looking for an eco-friendly option. But while all of this may sound overwhelming, we’re here to help make choosing between the various types of cat litter an absolute breeze. 

So, whether you’ve been wondering how to keep cat litter off the floor and are looking for a low-tracking option to help you do just that, or you have allergies and are after a low-dust formula, you’ll find everything you need to know right here.

Clumping vs. non-clumping

One of the biggest decisions facing you as a pet parent when selecting litter is whether to go with a clumping or non-clumping formula. While clumping litter tends to be the more popular choice, both have their advantages.

Non-clumping cat litter is the cat litter that started it all and there's a good reason for that. This kind of litter is good at removing odors because it can absorb large amounts of urine, which can help keep your home smelling sweeter for longer. It also requires less daily maintenance, comes in more material choices, and is cheaper.

But, there are downsides to non-clumping litter, mainly the fact that it doesn’t, well, clump! This can make cleaning your cat’s litter box a lot harder and locating their waste amongst all the litter can also be tricky, meaning you often have to throw the whole lot away, which is a real waste.

Then there’s clumping litter, which has become a real pet parent favorite and is it any wonder when it makes keeping your cat’s litter tray clean such a piece of cake? Because the litter forms nice solid clumps wherever there’s urine, it can be easy to identify your cat’s waste and scoop it out, allowing the litter box to stay clean and fresh. 

Clumping litter doesn’t come up entirely smelling of roses however. It’s more expensive than its non-clumping counterpart and dust and tracking tends to be a lot higher, so it may not be the best choice if you suffer from allergies or like to keep a very clean home. 

Scented vs. unscented

Once you’ve decided on whether you want to go with a clumping or non-clumping litter, the next debate awaiting your attention is the one concerning scented vs. unscented litter.

While you may be tempted to go by what you prefer, scent, or the lack thereof, may also play a part in your cat’s willingness to use their litter box, so that’s worth considering. 

As you’ve probably guessed, unscented cat litter is made without any additional scent agents. While you’ll still get the smell of whatever it’s made out of (clay, wood etc.), you won’t get any artificial fragrances. 

Scented cat litter contains perfumes to help mask the smell of urine and feces. You’ll find a wide selection available, including scents like lavender, pine fresh, and spring breeze. 

If you do decide to opt for a scented cat litter, monitor your cat to make sure they’re okay with the fragrance you’ve chosen. It’s worth noting that cats don’t tend to like citrus or floral scents, so steer clear of those. 

Types of cat litter

A kitten sitting in a litter tray

(Image credit: Getty)

Now that you know a little bit more about clumping vs. non-clumping and scented vs. unscented litters, let's take a closer look at the types of litter materials you can expect to find lining the shelves.

1. Clay

When it comes to the most popular type of cat litter, clay continues to scoop the gold medal with pet parents loving the sheer variety of options available, including low and no-dust formulas and scented and unscented options.

Clay clumps easily and quickly, offers good odor control and doesn’t need to be changed too frequently. It’s also available as a non-clumping litter, offering great value for money if you’re on a budget.

There are two big downsides to clay. The first is that it’s not biodegradable, so if being environmentally friendly is something you value greatly, this is not the litter for you. Clay can also generate a lot of dust, so it’s worth steering clear of this option if you or anyone in your household suffers from allergies.

2. Silica

Gel crystals made from silica are another popular choice for the sheer fact that they’re so highly absorbable, trapping urine in the crystals so you don’t have to scoop out the litter.

There are other big benefits to silica too, namely that it’s dust-free and pretty much trackless. You can get it in scented and unscented varieties and it lasts a lot longer than clay litter.

So, what’s the catch we hear you ask? Well, as you’ve probably guessed, all these perks don’t come cheap. Silica tends to be more expensive than all other types of litter and some cats can’t stand the feel of the crystals under their paws, which may lead them to refuse to use their litter box.

3. Wood

Wood litter (usually made from pine) is a more environmentally friendly choice than the likes of clay, which is why more pet parents are starting to prefer it. It’s dust-free and biodegradable and the natural pine scent acts as a great deodorizer. Wood litter is also lightweight and soft, the latter of which is often a hit with cats.

The drawbacks to using wood as a litter option is that you won’t find any clumping options here, so cleaning up the litter box can be a lot harder. The pine scent can also be quite strong, which some cats may not like.

4. Paper

If you’re looking for creative cat litter alternatives you can find around the home, it’s hard to beat paper, which is both affordable and plentiful. And of course, if you’re not feeling in the DIY spirit, you can also buy commercial paper cat litters.

Like wood, paper is environmentally friendly, dust-free and more affordable than most other litters on the market. It’s also incredibly gentle on paws, so it’s a great choice if your cat has an injury. But just be mindful that it has less odor control and it’s not flushable, you also may need to change it more frequently.

5. Walnut

Highly absorbent, litter made from walnut shells is a great natural option that’s biodegradable, low-dust, low-tracking and does an excellent job of odor control. You’ll find it in clumping and non-clumping varieties and it has a nice natural scent. 

If you decide to go with this option you may want to test out a few different brands. Some give off a small amount of red or brown dust, which you may not like if your cat is prone to making a mess when they’re doing their business. Walnut also doesn’t clump as effectively as other materials, such as clay.

6. Corn

Available in natural and scented varieties, corn is a good option if you’re looking for both a clumping and biodegradable litter all rolled into one. Earth-conscious and dust-free, corn will help you protect both the planet and your health. 

But as with all litters, corn also comes with a few drawbacks worth mentioning. Mold growth is the primary concern with this type of litter as corn can produce aflatoxins, which can be deadly to pets. Most companies guarantee their litters are safe and few pet parents have ever had a problem, but it’s something to consider.

7. Wheat

Naturally clumping and odor-absorbing, wheat is another environmentally friendly dust-free option and because this granular litter turns to sawdust when it has been urinated on, it’s easy to scoop out and flush. 

You can get wheat litter in scented and unscented options, but you’ll need to store it carefully to make sure no little bugs or other pests find their way inside.

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.