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Clumping Vs. Non-Clumping Cat Litter

One of the biggest questions that cat owners have is the decision between clumping vs. non-clumping cat litter.  There are pros and cons to both, but which is the best choice for you and your cat?  You’d be amazed how many people purchase a cat litter without really thinking about what they expect out of a product, which can result in potential disappointment.  Because of this, we feel it is useful to break down what exactly the differences are between clumping and non-clumping cat litter, their strength, weaknesses, and what you should consider before trying one or the other.

Crystal Cat Litter



Which is right for you?

Clumping Cat Litter

Non-clumping cat litter

Non-clumping cat litter is the foundation that started cat litter and has been around before any other product.  There are many different types of material offered that do not have the clumping capabilities.  Some examples include clay, wood, grass, corn, and crystals.  Since many of the more exotic and unique litter materials don’t have built-in clumping abilities (or if they do it is on the weaker side) this means that there is a much more varied selection of choices if you are willing to give up clumping ability.

While having a good material selection is nice, what does this mean in terms of odor control, dust levels, litter smell, litter life, moisture absorption, and the plethora of other variables at play?  The simple answer is that it depends.  Typically your conventional clay litters are going to be some of the most absorbent options, so while you are giving up the clumping capability you are still working with a product that can absorb a lot of moisture before becoming overwhelmed.  Crystals are known for being fantastic at odor control while typically not clump-compatible, so in this case you are giving up hardening for better odor control.

Many of the “all natural” options forego clumping with the tradeoff being that you are getting to use a product that typically has a more enjoyable litter smell and it also better for the environment.  The natural selections can also be much more lightweight, have lower levels of dust, and be able to combat tracking better.

Another big selling point is that for those that are budget-minded, non-clumping clay litters are typically the cheapest products available.  Obviously if you decide to go with crystals or other specialty materials the costs go up substantially but there is still a lot of freedom in what you can spend.

Finally, the fact that you don’t have to deal with removing clumps means that a litter box of non-clumping cat litter is typically a lot lower maintenance than a clumping example.  The only time you really have to deal with the litter is when you are emptying it out, unless you decide to try to remove the waste or urine manually to help prolong the life of the litter.

Non-clumping doesn’t come without its weaknesses, however.  The most obvious feature you are giving up is the ability to clump.  This can be a huge selling point in that:

  1. The clumps typically do a better job of locking in cat waste odors, and for longer periods of time
  2. The cat waste is more easily identifiable for both you (in regards to removal purposes) and your cat (so that it doesn’t walk over the clumps and break them apart)
  3. It is much easier to remove the waste, which not only takes away the odor source but also can prolong the life of the given litter

In addition, the life of a litter box is typically shorter with non-clumping since you are expected to remove the entire batch when it runs its course.  The unfortunate side effect of this is that you basically let the litter box run until it becomes “too stinky”.  Many people don’t want to minimize cat odor smells so the fact that you are using cat odor smells to dictate when the box needs to be cleaned can be a turn-off.

Clumping cat litter

Check out Arm & Hammer Clump and Seal: One of our favorite clumping cat litters on the market right now!

Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal Litter with Micro Guard, 28 Lbs
  • Prevents Bacterial Odors
  • No Crumbly Clumps
  • Ultra Low Dust
  • Seals & Destroys Odors

Clumping cat litters are a lot newer than their non-clumping counterparts.  While there are still various material options to choose from, there is typically a lot lower selection.  Crystals and many of the natural and specialty options struggle with clumping so you might not be able to enjoy their benefits if you still want a litter that clumps.

By far the most popular clumping material is conventional clay.  While still generally the cheapest option, clumping litter will oftentimes cost more than non-clumping litter.  In fact, the clumping version of a given product will almost assuredly come with a premium when compared to the similar product in non-clumping form.

The heavy usage of clay means that you will also have to put more consideration into dust and tracking levels as well as the fact that the litter will probably be quite heavy.

That being said, the obvious benefit here is that you get to enjoy the clumping benefits.  This makes odor control much easier and overall litter box monitoring a lot less laborious other than the physical removal of the clumps.  Also clumping litter can still be very absorbent and many are just as capable of fighting off liquids as the non-clumping with the added ability to form the rock-hard clumps for both urine and feces.

Summary: Which is right for you?

Like many things it really comes down to personal preference, and we encourage trying both types of litter in multiple products until you find something you are confident both you and your cat with deserve.  As a recap, we will go over the pros and cons of each:

Non-Clumping Cat Litter


  • Typically cheaper
  • A more varied material selection
  • Can oftentimes have great moisture absorption
  • Lower maintenance


  • Inability to clump (obviously)
  • Litter box life can be a lot shorter
  • Harder to identify where cat waste is located
  • Refresh of litter box is governed by when smells becomes “too stinky”
Clumping Cat Litter


  • Has the ability to clump
  • Holds in cat odors better and longer
  • Cat waste is more easily identifiable
  • A box of product will last longer


  • More expensive
  • Less material choices
  • Requires manually removing clumps which can be time-consuming
  • Oftentimes more dusty and trackable

And for those wishing to watch a helpful video on the difference between clumping and non-clumping cat litter, we found the video below easy to follow and informative. tests and analyzes every major cat litter brand and various cat litter accessories to determine what the best product is that meets your needs.  When readers choose to buy our independently reviewed choices, we may earn affiliate commissions that help to support our writers and site maintenenance.