How To Safely Clean Litter Trays

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  • Litter tray maintenance is important to ensure it remains clean and appealing for the cat to use, but also because cat feces can carry several pathogens and parasites with the potential to infect humans.

    As a rule, each home should have one litter tray per cat, plus one extra. So a home with two cats would have three litter trays. Too few, and the trays can become dirty too fast which can lead to litter tray refusal.

    Why is it necessary to take safety precautions?

    Bacteria and parasites can be shed in the cat’s feces and urine which can infect people, these include toxoplasmosis, which is an intracellular parasite that infects a wide range of animals including humans, birds and livestock. Cats are the definitive host, which means the parasite can only sexually reproduce in the cat. Most infected people are asymptomatic, however, if a pregnant woman becomes infected for the first time during pregnancy, infection can cause congenital defects or miscarriage. Oocysts are shed in the cat’s feces, and it takes between 1-5 days for them to sporulate and become infective. This highlights the importance of daily litter tray maintenance.

    Hookworm and roundworm are two common parasitic worms that can infect humans, although the parasites cannot complete their life-cycle in people, instead, they migrate through the tissues and organs including the skin, eyes, and brain.

    Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacteria which causes flu-like symptoms in affected people. Transmission occurs via the urine-oral route or inhalation.

    How often should litter trays be cleaned?

    Scoop out solids twice a day and empty, disinfect and replace with fresh litter once a week.


    • Bleach
    • Dishwashing detergent
    • Old sponge or rag
    • Paper towels
    • Plastic bag
    • Rubber gloves
    • Scoop
    • Garbage bag
    • Paper towels
    • Water

    Daily maintenance

    Remove solids from trays twice a day and discard them in a plastic bag in the outside trash. Flushing cat feces down the toilet is not recommended due to the risk of contaminating the water supply with toxoplasmosis.

    Always wear rubber gloves when handling litter trays to reduce the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases or parasites. Once you are finished, wash your hands with soap and water with the gloves on.

    People who are immunocompromised and pregnant women should avoid cleaning litter trays.

    Weekly maintenance

    Empty litter trays once a week by placing used litter in a plastic bag in the outside garbage. Some biodegradable litter can be used on garden beds as mulch, but ornamental beds only, not on fruit and vegetable beds.

    Use a sponge, or rag with warm water and detergent to remove organic debris. Rinse well and dry with a paper towel. Pet owners may decide that this amount of cleaning is enough, others prefer to clean the tray and then disinfect it.

    Disinfection method

    Organic material deactivates bleach, which is why it is necessary to scrub the litter trays before disinfection.

    Disinfect the tray with a 1:32 bleach solution or a veterinary disinfectant. Allow to stand for ten minutes, empty and rinse well with water. Either dry with a paper towel or allow to stand in the sun.

    Sometimes cats miss the litter tray, therefore, I recommend cleaning the floor underneath and around litter trays. Sweep or vacuum floors and clean with a mop and floor cleaner.

    Tip: When emptying water from litter trays avoid using the kitchen sink and use the laundry one instead. If you don’t have access to a laundry sink, empty water outside. If the kitchen sink is the only option, disinfect it afterwards.


    • Disinfect litter trays in a well-ventilated area to prevent inhaling fumes.
    • Do not mix disinfectants.
    • Do not contain disinfectants that contain phenols (products that turn white in water).
    • Thoroughly rinse litter trays to remove any trace of disinfectant.


    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio