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Clumping Litter vs. Crystals: Which One Is Better for My Cat? Vet-Reviewed Facts

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

Vet approved

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Picking out the right kind of litter for your cat is an essential part of cat ownership. Not only do you want something easier to deal with, but your cat should be completely comfortable using it as well. There are many factors to consider, such as how much it costs, ease of cleaning, and even more importantly, how well it controls odors.

If you’ve been trying to decide between using clumping and crystals for your cat’s litter box, we’ll go over the good, the bad, and the ugly of these two distinctly different kinds of litter.

Overview of Clumping Litter:

The most common clumping litter is clay, which has been proven for over 75 years to be very effective at absorbing liquid and odor. It is non-toxic and makes cleaning up the litter box an easy chore.

There are a number of other clumping litters that are not made with clay and are organic and environmentally friendly. There’s walnut, corn, recycled paper, and pine to name a few. They all have the capability to clump, but they don’t clump or offer as effective odor control as traditional clay.

clumping litter
Image Credit: Boibin, Shutterstock

How Clumping Litter Works

Clay is naturally porous and can absorb quite a bit of liquid – think of when bricks and pottery are made and how it becomes quite thick and pasty.

For clumping litter, bentonite clay is combined with standard clay, which clumps together in a relatively solid mass when wet. Additionally, it’s inorganic, so there are no bacteria, and it is one of the best materials for controlling odor.

You also have the option of using scented and unscented litter, but we recommend sticking with unscented since a strong fragrance might put a lot of cats off from using it.

cat litter box with biodegradable pine wood chips
Image Credit: Axel Bueckert, Shutterstock

Why You Should Use Clumping Litter

Depending on how meticulous your cat is, clumping litter is a great option if your cat prefers to use a clean litter box every time. Clumping litter is easy to scoop and helps you to remove waste quickly and easily, even directly after your cat has used the litter box. And you don’t need to dump the entire box out every time.

Clumping litter is also much easier to monitor if there are ever concerns about your cat’s urinary system. You can tell by the clumps that your cat is urinating as usual, which is handy if you need to keep an eye on their urine production.

Pros
  • Most brands clump very well
  • Excellent odor control
  • Easier to monitor urine and feces production
  • Scooping doesn’t require throwing all litter away at once
Cons
  • Not biodegradable
  • Can be heavy
  • Some brands tend to track and are dusty

Overview of Crystal Litter:

Crystal litter has fast become one of the more popular types of kitty litter. Have you ever seen those tiny little paper packets found in pill bottles and sometimes packed in with new shoes? They are filled with silica gel crystals, which act to preserve products from excess moisture.

The crystals in the cat litter are similar and act in the same way. They absorb liquid, but they also control odor very well and are virtually dust-free.

crystal cat litter
Image Credit: Valentina Zavrazhina, Shutterstock

How Crystal Litter Works

Silica gel, or crystal cat litter, is mined from quartz sand, which is then produced into the litter by mixing the sand particles with oxygen and water. The crystals are covered in tiny pores that make them quite absorbent, soaking up any liquid that comes into contact with them.

This way, instead of clumping, each individual crystal soaks in the moisture which evaporates, but the odor is retained inside.

crystal cat litter in owners hands
Image Credit: kholywood, Shutterstock

Why You Should Use Crystal Litter

If you have allergies that tend to be triggered by clay litter dust, crystal cat litter is a good option since it’s dust-free. This is also the case if your cat also experiences allergies to dust and other environmental allergens or has asthma.

This also helps reduce the litter and dust from sticking to your cat’s fur and paws and tracking around your home.

You just need to scoop the feces and stir the crystals once a day. You only replace the entire litter box with new crystals about once or twice a month or when the crystals become discolored.

Pros
  • Only need to change the litter once or twice a month
  • Virtually dust-free
  • Absorbs moisture and odor
  • Low maintenance
Cons
  • Can be more expensive than some non-clumping
  • Some cats don’t like how it feels on their paws
  • Might be harmful if a cat ingests excessive amounts

Factors You Should Consider

cat-litter-tray-with-silica-gel-filler-and-scoop-on-wooden-floor
Image credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Before settling on a litter, you need to consider several factors that can help you decide what kind of litter will work best for your cat:

  • Dust: Crystal litter definitely performs better in the dust-free category, but there are a number of brands of clay litters that do quite well in this area as well. Read customer reviews if dust is a definite issue, though. Some companies claim their litter is virtually dust-free, which isn’t always accurate.
  • Odor control: Again, both crystal and clay litters are hit and miss, depending on the brand of litter. Crystal litter tends to do an excellent job at odor control, and some brands of clay offer the same. But many companies, like with the dust, claim excellent odor control, which isn’t always true.
  • Texture: This is an important point as many cats are pretty particular about their litter. For the most part, most cats prefer a litter that is sandy in texture, so aim for this if you can. Some crystal and clumping litters are too large and might have sharp bits that many cats won’t like walking on.
  • Ease of cleaning: Both options excel in this area. A good clumping and crystal litter only needs daily scooping and a complete change of litter about once or twice a month.
  • Mess factor: Crystal litter wins here. As we’ve already mentioned a number of times, there’s much less dust and bits flying out of the litter box than there is for many clumping litters. Some clay litters are better than others with respect to tracking, so if this is the case, avoid any clay litters advertised as lightweight. While it’s easier to lug around, it tends to track pretty badly.

Side By Side Comparison of Crystal and Clumping Litters

Crystal Cat Litter Clumping Cat Litter
Silica gel crystals Bentonite mixed with standard clay
Dust-free Some brands are dusty
Non-toxic Non-toxic
Odor control Some brands offer good odor control
Absorbs liquid but doesn’t clump Absorbs liquid and offers solid clumps
Texture might be off-putting to some cats Some clay litters offer a sand-like texture
Harder to monitor urine and fecal output Easy to monitor urine and fecal output
Easy to clean, scoop waste and stir Easy to clean, scoop clumps
Expensive but lasts a long time Some are expensive and others not
Good odor control Some brands offer good odor control

Conclusion

What you decide on ultimately depends on what your cat will take to best as well as your budget. Sometimes you need to try out a variety of litters before you find the one that both you and your cat can live with.

While most cats prefer litter that has a sandy texture, that doesn’t mean all cats prefer this. Some might even enjoy how the crystals feel under their feet.

Also, try to stay away from scented litter, as we mentioned. The scent can be overwhelming for your cat, and the ingredients are not always natural. Additionally, the fragrance just masks the odor rather than eliminating it, so you might end up with a home smelling like a garden of flowers with cat waste in the middle.

But through a little trial and error, we hope you’ll end up with a cat litter that you won’t mind changing, and your cat will dig to their heart’s content!

See also:


Featured Image Credit: Boibin, Shutterstock (Left), Axel Bueckert, Shutterstock (Right)

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