Sunday, May 1, 2011

Here's the poop on cat litter

It's funny the things that just annoy you for no real reason.  For our daughter, it's the plastic on the little individual slices of processed cheese.  She was on an active search for sliced cheese without the plastic (that didn't taste like plastic).  Although I'm rather against new plastic coming into my house, I never gave that plastic a second thought until she complained about it.

For me, it's cat litter and I'm rather obsessive/compulsive about it.  Our current feline population (our son calls them 'the rodents')  is not low.  I have five long haired cats in the house and two litter boxes.  But I don't want my house to smell like I have five cats inside. Out in the shop, we now have the little black kitty that moved in with us, so another litter box in there.  Frank, one of the barn cats, kept putting the smack down on him so much that I finally had to rescue him.  Of course, the barn cats use my garden, flower beds and a big sand pile out front for a litter box.

So now there are three litter boxes that have to be dealt with regularly.  I am tired of lugging heavy bags into the house, and then heavy litter boxes outside to clean. What I want is something that's lightweight, cheap, has odor control and eco friendly. Also, paying for something that I throw away regularly just goes against the grain. These are my observations from years of experience, in the order that I tried them:

Clay litter:  Cheap, heavy to lug home, did almost nothing for odor control, pain in the butt to dump pan and clean.  Nasty stuff.
Silicone based litters:  Not so cheap, heavy to lug home, some worked fairly well for odor control, especially if I scooped a lot.  Still a pain in the butt to dump pan and clean.  Not quite as nasty as clay, but not a great solution.  Definitely not eco friendly.
Feline Pine:  Again, not so cheap, about $27 in our area plus a 35 mile trip one way to get it, but it lasts longer between box changes.  Heavy to haul home, great for odor control as long as you scoop the poops.  The urine breaks the pellets down into sawdust.  When you have a litter box full of sawdust, it can be used as mulch around flowerbeds, composted, sprinkled around the yard, etc, so this appeals to the eco friendly part of me. Easy to dump and clean the pan.
Homemade Yesterday's News:  Cheap, cheap to make, using recycled newspaper and about $0.10 worth of baking soda.  Super light weight to carry in a bag, but takes some planning ahead as it takes a full day or longer to dry (recipe below).  Surprisingly, this had really good odor control.  Can be composted for flower beds, too.  And this really appealed to the eco friendly part of me.  Easy to dump and clean pan.  The only down sides were that I had to have an area to dry the stuff and had to have a batch drying all the time with the herd that lives with us.
Straw bits/dried leaf crumbles/dirt mix:  Free, as I just raked it from my garden.  I stored some in a big trash can in the shop for winter use and hauled a 5 gallon bucketful in the house as needed.  Easy to rake up, lightweight.  Some odor control, hard to scoop poops, tracked all over the place.  Easy to dump, clean pan and of course, can be composted for flower beds.
Sand:  Free as I already have a big pile of sand.  Really heavy, absolutely NO odor control.  Hard to dump pan as it was so heavy.  Nasty stuff, worse than the clay.
Shredded newspaper:  Free since I can get it from friends.  Not too time consuming to run it through the shredder.  It didn't absorb odors too well, matted down with urine unless I changed it almost daily.  I just have too many cats to do this.  Some tracking. Easy to dump, clean pan and compostable.
Pine shavings:  These are the bigger shavings, bought at Orchelin's or other farm/ranch stores.  It comes in a plastic wrapped bale, commonly sold for bedding with chicks, etc.  Shavings we purchased from other places were much smaller, some almost like sawdust.  Anyway, about $6 for a large bale, so cheap.  Pretty good odor control, easy to dump pan and clean.  Of course, can be composted or used as mulch around flower beds.  Tracked all over the place!  Clung to the fur of our long haired cats and we found shavings all over the house.
Chicken scratch grains:  I never tried this one.  I just didn't want to lug another 50 pound bag home, but here's the link for that recipe -

That's pretty much it.  Right now I'm using Feline Pine for the indoor cats and the pine shavings for the shop cat.  He's shorthaired, and I don't care how much it tracks out there.  The plan of the moment is to rig up some kind of work area in another room of the shop with some easy drying racks made with old window screens.  Then I can do the newspaper litter in a couple of 5 gallon buckets, use a drywall paddle or paint mixer to mix the slop, etc.  Hopefully I can get a bunch of it drying at one time and store it for use later. Here's the basic recipe for homemade litter:

Homemade Yesterday's News clone kitty litter

1. Shred newspaper in a paper shredder or tear it into strips (that's faster and easier for me).
2. Soak the paper in warm water mixed with a squirt of dish soap for a few hours. The paper won’t come  clean, but the water will turn grey.  Make sure you use an old bucket as you never will be able to get the ink residue off of it.  Ditto with the colander used for draining later.
3. Pour off the water and repeat the soaking process in clean warm water.  Soaking overnight is okay, too. The shredded paper will be easy to goosh up with your hands and look like cooked oatmeal.  You might want to wear gloves to avoid getting ink on your hands.  It's soy based, so it probably won't kill you, but it takes a while to get off.
4. Drain well (an old colander helps here). Sprinkle baking soda liberally on the wet paper. Knead it in to the mixture
5. Squeeze the remaining moisture out until it’s as dry as you can get it.
6. Crumble the paper over a screen and let it dry for a few days.

I got beat up by a couple of gals when I posted this recipe on a forum, so let me address those issues right now.
No, it's not time consuming as long as you don't sit there and watch it soak, drain or dry.  It takes a few minutes to tear up the paper strips (I did mine in 2" strips).  It takes a few minutes to add the baking soda and mix it with your hands.  It takes maybe 5 minutes to crumble it over a screen to dry, depending how how much you mess with it.
No, I'm not saying that you have to do it, or that you should do it.  I'm just saying if you want to do it, here's how.

This page has a hilarious yet informative Scoop on Poop -

And while we talking pet poop, here's a link on how to make your own covered litter box, easy and cheap -

And if you really can't stand the smell of the litter box, here's a ventilation system for it -


  1. re:I have five cats inside.
    Amateurs. ha! great work on alternative cat litters. have you seen Gene Logsdon's book "Holy Sh*t"? he says we are flushing away valuable elements by not composting cat/dog waste!

  2. No, I haven't even heard of it! I always thought that you shouldn't compost any poo, animal or human, unless it was vegetarian poo. But we do put chicken poo in the veggie garden and think nothing of it, huh. And they aren't vegetarian.
    You're a bad I have a reason to sit here and read today, gotta research that!