What is Cat Litter Made Out Of?

What is cat litter made out of and why is it important to know?

Cat litters have been around for decades now and cat parents like you and I might still be wondering about the kind of materials our furry babies are pooping on. After all, we want to know if the kind of litter we're using is actually safe for our kitties, or if other types we haven't known yet appears to be so much more efficient.

what-is-cat-litter-made-of

So, why don't we dig right into this topic with our kitties on our lap?

Cat litter is actually made of various types of ingredients, depending on the kind of litter you're referring to. Most cat litter, though, is made of bentonite clay. Others are made of silica, while some have biodegradable components and come from plant sources.

Let's discuss them one by one.

1. What is Clay cat litter made of?

The first clay litter was produced by the businessman Edward Lowe in 1947. He released the product after successfully testing it with a neighbor's cat. It was found to be effective at absorbing urine as well as reducing odor and tracking.

a. Non-clumping clay

non-clumping clay

Which mineral is used to make clay kitty litter? Well, as for non-clumping clay litter, it's often made from zeolite, diatomite, and sepiolite. The name itself describes its basic characteristic: its granules do not form clumps when exposed to liquid.

This natural clay cat litter has several benefits, but it also has some negative impacts that I'd like to point out.

Pros
  • Large grains of clay make it less tracking than sand
  • Absorbent
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Can't capture and absorb urine odors as effectively as clumping clay litter
  • Needs more frequent entire litter box change for more hygienic maintenance (unlike clumping clay litter)
  • Its manufacturing process involves strip mining, which is considered detrimental to the environment

b. Clumping clay (Calcium bentonite)

Clumping-clay-litter

Clumping clay litter is usually made from bentonite clay, quartz, and diatomaceous earth. Bentonite cat litter has the following advantages and disadvantages.

Pros
  • Forms into solid, easy-to-scoop clumps when wet
  • Can capture both urine and feces inside the clumps
  • Easy to clean
  • Traps odors efficiently
  • Relatively cheap and easy to find
Cons
  • May contain traces of naturally-occurring crystalline silica or silica dust
  • Clay or silica dust can harm your highly sensitive cats
  • Its manufacturing process involves strip mining, which is considered detrimental to the environment
  • Poses dangers when ingested as it can swell inside your kitty's tummy
  • May stick to paws and get tracked around your home
  • The strip-mining process involved in its manufacture poses harmful effects to the environment

2. What is Silica (Crystal) cat litter made of?

silica-cat-litter

Silica was first used as a clumping agent in some cat litter brands. It's also a moisture-absorbing agent, which is why you often find silica gel in small packets—keeping moisture out of shoeboxes, medicine, and even some food products. 

Crystal Litter & Silica Pearl

Pearl-cat-litter

Crystal litter is also known as silica gel litter. Its granules look like crystals, hence the name. They don't have a fairly uniform shape, unlike silica pearls which would look round.

Anyway, any type of crystal litter would be great to use, as long as it's not made of “crystalline” silica, which is not safe for cats. Here are the pros and cons that you need to know about crystal or silica gel or silica pearl litters.

Pros
  • Offers the highest absorbency among all other types of litter, up to 40x its weight
  • Can eliminate odors well
  • Only needs one litter box change every month (or depending on how often your cat uses it)
  • Doesn't require you to replenish the litter
  • Uses less landfill volume when discarded
Cons
  • Mining processes needed to obtain silica can impact the environment negatively
  • Its production process uses large volumes of water and high amounts of electricity
  • Its shipment from Europe and other countries to the USA increases the carbon footprint

Can I reuse Crystal Cat Litter?

I'd say it's possible to reuse crystal cat litter, but the process is rather tedious. To be clear, I'm referring to cleaning it up and reusing it in your kitty's litter box.

But if that's what you want to accomplish, you'll need to do what one Reddit user did.

  • After removing all the solid waste, pour the used silica litter into a bucket.
  • Add a cup of baking soda and a cup of apple cider vinegar.
  • Pour hot water until it levels with the litter.
  • After stirring the mixture and letting it sit for a few hours, drain the liquid and refill it with cold water.
  • Let the set-up sit overnight.
  • In the morning, rinse the litter with cold water 2 to 3 times, or until the urine odors have decreased significantly.
  • Pour the litter granules into a large baking sheet.
  • Set it in the sun for drying and sterilization.

In case you want to do this, be sure you're performing the steps outdoors. You don't want to inhale ammonia gas while trying to execute the acid bath.

Crystal litter Vs. Clumping litter?

Some pet owners confuse clumping litter with crystal litter. That's because there are traces of silica crystals in some clumping clay-based litter.

Generally, though, most crystal litters are prepared in such a way that they turn out to be non-clumping. That said, you may be wondering which type of litter is better to use.

Quick-clumping-cat-litter

While each litter type has its own share of pros and cons, I'd advise you to use clumping clay litter if you're caring for 2 or more big kitties that poop and pee a lot.

It would be easier to manage since you only have to scoop the clumps of pee and solids, and the litter pan would stay fresh. Plus, the next litter box user doesn't have to suffer stepping on any wet litter peed on by the previous kitty.

Uniform Crystal size

On the other hand, if you want to save on your litter budget, you might like opting for silica or crystal litter. As I've discussed above, you may be able to reuse it.

Or, if you don't want to go through the process of washing, you can choose a biodegradable crystal litter and dispose of it without getting the environment significantly harmed.


3. What is natural biodegradable cat litter made of?

Biodegradable cat litters are my personal favorite since they are most friendly to our planet and they're safe for our kittens, too. They come from various plant sources or recycled products, such as follows:

A biodegradable, environment-friendly cat litter has very attractive benefits I can count on, although it also has a few disadvantages.

Pros
  • Eco-friendly
  • Can be composted (especially after the feces are removed)
  • Flushable
  • Generates little to no dust and tracking
  • Natural deodorizing properties
Cons
  • Can be costly
  • If it's non-organic, it might not be totally safe
  • If it's not organically grown, the use of fertilizers and pesticides can cause air pollution
  • For paper-based litters, the processing might involve chemicals and high energy use

If you're looking for a clumping cat litter without sodium bentonite, you can find one in the form of a biodegradable litter. It would usually be made of wheat or corn cobs, such as the following products:

  • sWheat Scoop Multi-Cat All-Natural Clumping Cat Litter
  • Nature's Miracle Odor Control Corn Cob Clumping Cat Litter

But in case you run into a tight budgeting problem, you can simply make your own biodegradable cat litter using these or similar items:

  • Strips of used newspaper
  • Warm water
  • Dish washing detergent
  • Empty litter pan
  • Paper towels
  • Baking soda

To use the above ingredients to prepare your own DIY litter, here's a homemade cat litter tutorial for you to follow:

How To Make Your Own Kitty Litter (VIDEO TIPS)


What are the remaining ingredients in Cat Litter?

In addition to the main kitty litter ingredients I've mentioned above, cat litters have additional components that help with specific functions, such as odor control. Here are some of them:

Carbon and Baking Soda additives

baking-soda

Some cat litters use activated charcoal or carbon to help attack odors right on contact. An example of this is the Fresh Step Ever Clean Ever.

On the other hand, some litters include baking soda in the formulation itself to make sure those nasty fecal and ammonia odors can be masked.

One of the most notable cat litter brands that include this ingredient is Arm & Hammer. Its Platinum Double Duty Clumping Cat Litter features the Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, which neutralizes the smells significantly.

Artificial fragrance​​​​

Other litters make use of artificial fragrances to help mask fecal odors. For example, Fresh Step has partnered with Febreze to produce the Odor Shield Multi-Cat Litter. The resulting scented litter can keep your home smelling fresh all day.


FAQ's:

1. Can I use shredded paper as a cat litter?

Other litters make use of artificial fragrances to help mask fecal odors. For example, Fresh Step has partnered with Febreze to produce the Odor Shield Multi-Cat Litter. The resulting scented litter can keep your home smelling fresh all day.

Since the video above already shows you how to do that, I'll just include some tips here so that you can use shredded paper litter more effectively.

  • ​​​​​Before fully switching your cat to shredded paper litter, prepare a separate box to be filled with the paper litter. Allow your cats to explore this new litter first.
  • Remember that you may decide to keep the newspaper litter only as a substitute, and that's totally fine.
  • When you've already been using the paper litter, be sure to change the used paper each day. Each paper strip or particle can easily deteriorate, so you have to be quick at disposing of them so they don't spread lingering smells around the house.
  • You can bulk up the litter pan by placing cardboard at the bottom most part. This helps in preventing puddles of smelly urine at the bottom of the litter pan.

2. Can I use rice as a cat litter? 

Rice-cat-litter

In your life experience as a cat mom or dad, there might be some emergency situations where you'd run out of your trusty litter. In that case, you'd have to prepare some alternatives, one of which is rice. So yes, you can use rice as a cat litter, surprisingly.

One advantage of using rice as an emergency cat litter is that it's highly absorbent. 

Of course, there will be disadvantages. Rice can get soggy after being soaked in liquid for some time, so using it as litter can be quite messy.

Just don't overfill the litter box with rice, since its grains expand after being wet. Also, rice by itself doesn't mask ammonia odors. So, it might help for you to add some baking soda into it.

3. Can I use dirt as a cat litter?

dirt-as-a-cat-litter

Outdoor or stray cats would naturally use dirt or soil to cover up their poop or pee. So, yes, you can use dirt as cat litter, although it would obviously be messy if tracked around the house.

If you wish to save some money or let your cat experience how their ancestors handled their business before, you can place his litter box (with dirt fillings) outside, such as in your backyard.

4. What can I use instead of cat litter?

Aside from the alternatives I've discussed above — shredded paper, rice, and dirt — plenty of other materials can be used as a cat litter. These are as follows:

  • Wood shavings
  • Sawdust
  • Chicken feed
  • Sand
  • Paper towel
  • Wheat

Just note that if you frequently switch from one type of litter to another, your cat might find the experience exhausting, triggering them to “rebel” and have irregular bowel movements or peeing and pooping outside the litter box.

Note also that in preparing alternative cat litters, such as wood shavings or sawdust or paper, you'll be needing lots of them for the litter to work efficiently.


​Conclusion

Commercial cat litter is made of standard ingredients that vary according to the litter type. They can either be clay, silica, or biodegradable components, which are my personal favorite.

What about you? Which do you like most?

Let me know about your experience with various litters in the comments below!

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