The 6 best cat litter boxes in 2021

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cream colored cat inside a white hooded litter box, our pick for best cat litter box in 2021
This spacious hooded litter box from Nature’s Miracle has a removable cover for easy cleaning.

Cats have very specific preferences when it comes to litter boxes. So do their guardians. The key is finding one that satisfies both simultaneously.

Over the last two years, we’ve tested 26 different litter boxes to do just that. We also spoke to veterinarians and cat behaviorists for advice on what to look for in a litter box.

Our search for the best litter boxes has taken us from the simplest to the most technologically advanced models. We have selected the best basic, easy-to-use litter boxes with enough space to satisfy large breeds like Maine coon cats or multiple cat households.

We’ve also chosen a design-forward top-entry litter box for cats that prefer to urinate against the side of a pan or aggressively kick their litter, a sturdy and reliable disposable litter box for travel, and a self-cleaning model that won’t intimidate skittish cats.

The best cat litter boxes in 2021

Best litter box overall: Nature’s Miracle Oval Hooded Litter Box, $28.05 on Chewy
The versatile Nature’s Miracle Oval Hooded Litter Box is spacious, affordable, and easy to modify for sensitive cats.

Best litter box for large cats: Smart Cat Ultimate Litter Box, $18.79 on Chewy (temporarily out of stock)
The spacious Smart Cat Ultimate Litter Box helps prevent litter scatter and is easy to clean.

Best top-entry litter box: Modkat XL Litter Box, $127.49 on Amazon
The modern Modkat XL Litter Box has top and front entries and a unique folding lid for easy cleaning.

Best self-cleaning litter box: Petsafe Scoop Free Self-Cleaning Litter Box, $149.95 at Chewy
Simply designed for cat comfort, the Petsafe Scoop Free Self-Cleaning Litter Box removes solid waste so you don’t have to.

Best litter box for multiple cats: Sterilite 41-quart Storage Box, $10.98 at Walmart
Though not traditionally marketed as a litter box, the Sterilite 41-quart Storage Box offers expert-recommended size and simplicity at an affordable price.

Best disposable litter box: Nature’s Miracle Disposable Litter Box, $8.99 at Chewy
Made from recycled paper and infused with baking soda, Nature’s Miracle Disposable Litter Box holds up against leaks and odors for 30 days.

Best litter box overall

black litter box with white cover positioned on floor, our pick for best cat litter box overall

The versatile Nature’s Miracle Oval Hooded Litter Box is spacious, affordable, and easy to modify for sensitive cats.

Pros: Can be used uncovered, covered, or partially covered; simple design; spacious pan; no swinging door; snaps and handle on cover make it easy to remove and attach; charcoal filter odor absorber; affordable

Cons: Basic design might not be appealing to some people

Often what a cat desires in a litter box is not the same thing that appeals to our human interests. I saw this firsthand as my two cats tested the litter boxes for this guide. After speaking to Dr. Wailani Sung, a veterinary behaviorist at the San Francisco SPCA Veterinary Hospital, and cat behavior consultant Daniel “DQ” Quagliozz, what I’ve learned above all is that cats need choices in order to feel secure.

I selected Nature’s Miracle Hooded Flip-Top Litter Box precisely because it allows me to give my cats different options to best meet their toileting needs. The first option with this box is to use the base alone without adding the cover. With high, rounded sides, the 25.25-by-18.75-inch pan is spacious and sturdy.

The second option is to add the cover. It snaps into the base in four places and has a handle and a charcoal filter for absorbing odors. Unlike some covered litter boxes, there is no plastic door a cat will need to push through that may also swing disconcertingly once the cat is inside the box. 

The third option is to flip the front of the cover up so it opens up about a third of the box. This makes for easy cleaning and, if left in this position, also creates a hybrid covered-uncovered box that may better meet the requirements of both cat (easy entry and no over-confinement) and guardian (odor control and less visible waste). 

While the Nature’s Miracle Hooded Flip Top isn’t particularly stylish, the large, versatile box will satisfy the whole family — two-legged and four-legged, alike — for a very reasonable price.

Best litter box for large cats

a blue litter box filled with brown cat litter placed on the floor, our pick for the best litter box for large cats

The spacious Smart Cat Ultimate Litter Box helps prevent litter scatter and is easy to clean.

Pros: Generous size; high, ramped sides help decrease litter tracking; affordable

Cons: Only one color option

Simplicity and spaciousness are the first two factors Quagliozzi and Sung look for in a litter box. “Most of the traditional litter boxes offered are [too] small,” Sung said. A litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of a cat. SmartCat’s Ultimate Litter Box  is among the largest of the litter boxes we tested at 25 by 18.5 inches.

At approximately 1.5 times the length of an 17-inch cat, there is plenty of room for larger cats to comfortably stretch out and cover waste in this box. Even better, it has relatively high, ramped sides to decrease litter scatter.

SmartCat’s litter box is made from durable plastic resin that is easy to clean and has an oversized rim for convenient lifting. At $20, this litter box is priced right, too, but it’s only available in one color: bright blue.

Best top-entry litter box

white square litter box with gray lid that has semi-round opening is the best top-entry litter box

The modern Modkat XL Litter Box has top and front entries and a unique folding lid for easy cleaning.

Pros: Modern design, front- and top-entry, perforated folding lid for capturing loose litter and easy cleaning, reusable rip-free plastic liner, scoop, three color options

Cons: Kittens and older or anxiety-prone cats may have trouble using this box, expensive

Most cats require athletic ability to enter a top-entry box, and, once inside, the cat can only go in a place that allows them to pop their head out of the hole. With a higher lid and entries at the top and front, Modkat’s XL Litter Box fits the needs of a wider variety of cats.

Good-looking and well-designed, the Modkat XL is 21-inches long, 16-inches wide, and 17-inches tall and is sold in three colors (white, gray or black). The lid entrance is a generous 10.25 inches in diameter and the front opening measures 8.5-inches wide by 9.75-inches tall. If you’d rather your cat not use that opening, just close the built-in sliding door.

The lid folds back for easy cleaning and litter tracked onto the roof returns to the pan through perforations. The box comes with two rip-resistant reusable plastic liners, which will last up to three months each, and a scoop. 

While the front-entry makes this litter box more accessible, aging cats and kittens may still struggle to access the door that hovers about 6 inches above the floor. My senior cat had no trouble, though, and used this box frequently. Although he didn’t use the top-entry, he tracked no more litter out of this box than the others we tested. 

The Modkat XL’s biggest flaw is its price tag. Nevertheless, for a well-designed litter box that actually looks somewhat stylish, the Modkat XL is a solid investment.

Best self-cleaning litter box

gray litter box filled with blue crystal litter with a self-cleaning rake in back is best automatic litter box

Simply designed for cat comfort, the Petsafe Scoop Free Self-Cleaning Litter Box removes solid waste so you don’t have to.

Pros: Easy to set up and use, covered compartment holds solid waste, uses odor-absorbent and dust-free proprietary litter, tracks how often a cat uses the box, disposable trays can be easily thrown out

Cons: Proprietary litter is pricey; litter may be harmful to cat if ingested, waste compartment is small

Self-cleaning litter boxes are controversial among cat experts. Sung does not recommend them because they can frighten cats and guardians may miss the signs of intestinal or urinary problems.

Still, if you’re struggling to clean your cat’s litter box(es) at least once daily, a self-cleaning model can help. Of the four I tested, my cats preferred the one that most resembled a generously sized standard litter box: the Scoop Free Self-Cleaning Litter Box by Petsafe.

This easy-to-setup box is designed with a sensor rim and a built-in rake that sits on top of a 23-by-15.5-inch disposable litter tray. Sensors recognize when a cat enters the box. Twenty minutes after they have exited, the rake automatically pushes solid waste toward a covered compartment at the opposite end. A health counter keeps track of how often your pet does their business. 

The Scoop Free box must be used with Petsafe’s disposable or reusable litter tray and its proprietary blend of crystal cat litter. The litter is absorbent, drying, and 99% dust-free, but must be replaced every two to four weeks at a cost of $16.95 per disposable tray or about $17 per bag. Chemical-based litters may also be harmful to a cat if they accidentally ingest them.

Just because the box is self-cleaning doesn’t mean you’re completely off the hook. The small compartment that collects waste may need to be emptied several times before it’s time to change the litter tray. All things considered, this box works hard to keep the pan constantly clean and fresh, ensuring a pleasant toileting experience every time.

Best litter box for multiple cats

clear sterilite storage box filled with tan color cat little is best litter box for multiple cats

Though not traditionally marketed as a litter box, the Sterilite 41-quart Storage Box offers expert-recommended size and simplicity at an affordable price.

Pros: Large size with plenty of room for natural toileting behaviors, made from durable plastic, snap-on lid for easy moving, low sides for easy entry by most cats, inexpensive

Cons: Shallow sides don’t prevent litter from being kicked or tracked out of box

Because many traditional litter boxes are too small for more than one cat to use several times a day, both Quagliozzi and Sung often recommend that their clients use a wide, flat plastic storage container instead. With their extra-large size and simple design, they make excellent, affordable stand-ins for the real thing.

Sterilite’s 41-quart Storage Box is made from durable, clear plastic and measures approximately 35 inches by 17 inches, providing a cat with tons of room to perform natural toileting behaviors like digging and covering their waste. Because the box is waterproof, it won’t leak any excess urine that goes uncaptured by litter.

While the included white plastic lid will need to be stored away most of the time, it can be pulled out and snapped in place to easily move the box to a different location without spillage. With sides that are approximately 6 inches high, this box is shallow enough for most cats to easily enter and exit.

Guardians with cats who aggressively scratch and kick their litter, however, may need to do more floor cleanup than they would with a litter pan with higher sides. 

Best disposable litter box

white cardboard litter box filled with gray cat litter, our disposable cat litter box recommendation

Made from recycled paper and infused with baking soda, Nature’s Miracle Disposable Litter Box holds up against leaks and odors for 30 days.

Pros: Recycled materials, leakproof and tear-proof, infused with baking soda to keep smells at bay, comes in 2-pack, lasts 30 days, ideal for temporary use or travel

Cons: More challenging to scrape stuck-on clumps than in a plastic box, generates a lot of waste when used long-term

Whether you’re looking for a sturdy stand-alone litter box or a liner for a plastic box, Nature’s Miracle disposable boxes are an excellent worry-free option. Even after a full month of use by my two cats, the bottom of the pan was fully intact. Nowhere had urine even started to penetrate the recycled paper material.

Nature’s Miracle currently makes two versions of their disposable litter box: regular and jumbo. Unfortunately, the style we liked best, the 23-by-18-inch triangular corner box, has been discontinued. The next best option for comfortable toileting based on the recommendations of Sung and Quagliozzi is the 21-by-14.5-inch jumbo-size rectangular box, which is sold in packs of two

Nature’s Miracle Disposable Litter Box is made of dense, compacted recycled paper that the company advertises as leakproof and tear-proof. In our monthlong test, I found both claims to be true. The box is also made with baking soda to help keep bad odors in check. Nature’s Miracle disposable boxes can be used with any type of litter  — I chose a clumping clay version — and when it’s at the end of its 30-day life cycle, the landfill-safe pan can be easily thrown out.

Because the disposable litter box is made of paper instead of plastic, its biggest flaw is that clumps that get stuck to the bottom or sides are a little harder to remove than they are in a smooth plastic box. And although this is a great option for travel or temporary care, sending a pan to the landfill every month seems unnecessary when there are so many reusable options available.

Nevertheless, both guardians who are ultra-fastidious with regard to their litter boxes and those who need a reliable temporary box will find a great solution in the Nature’s Miracle Disposable Litter Box.

What else we’ve tested

round black little box with oval entrance is the litter-robot 3 automatic litter box

What else we recommend

  • Litter Genie Cat Litter Box: This flexible box is a great choice for small cats. Made from lightweight plastic with handles, it’s easier to empty and move around than most other standard boxes. But because even smaller pets need an area that is 1.5 times their length to comfortably do their business, this one, which is 3 inches shorter than the Smart Cat Litter Box, failed to clench the top spot. 
  • Frisco High-Sided Cat Litter Box, Extra Large: Designed with high sides for aggressive litter-kickers, this is a solid, affordable box for smaller cats. At 24 inches long, it’s just slightly less spacious than our top pick.
  • Petmate Giant Litter Pan: Formerly our top pick, this pan is no longer available for purchase. The spacious pan was made with antimicrobial material to fight odors and had built-in pockets for supplies, making it ideal for both cat and guardian.
  • Nature’s Miracle High-Sided Litter Box: I like this simple, affordable high-sided box, but it’s only 60% of the size of our selection for best budget box, the Sterilite 41-quart Storage Box.
  • Catit Jumbo Hooded Pan: This litter box was a close second to our best overall pick. Like the Nature’s Miracle hooded box, it can be used uncovered, covered, or with the front section flipped up. It was only the cost — more than twice that of the Nature’s Miracle pan — that kept this box out of the top spot.
  • Frisco Hooded Cat Litter Box, Extra Large: This is a good all-around box that is spacious and easy to enter. The door flap is lightweight and removable, but the cover has to be completely lifted off of the base for cleaning.
  • Litter-Robot 3 Connect: This box is an expensive lesson in how cat preferences and human preferences often don’t align. The technology is very impressive — it even comes with an app to help track your cat’s business — and it appears to work well. I say “appears” because after two months my cats still hadn’t dared to enter the Litter-Robot. In my own tests, it had no trouble dealing with the various objects I tasked it with filtering out: pencils, erasers, and water to activate urine-like clumps. Unfortunately, the box’s tight interior prevents a cat from being able to toilet on even ground — a deal-breaker for my cats. Luckily, the machine comes with a 90-day money-back guarantee for cats who refuse to give it a try.

What we don’t recommend

  • Omega Paw Roll’N Clean Cat Litter Box: This self-cleaning box has received plenty of good reviews, but it missed the mark for me. Rolling the box to filter waste often resulted in pouring litter onto the floor and I still had to regularly scrape clumps stuck to the bottom of the pan. At just 10 by 15 inches, the interior of the pan is also extremely small when the filter is in place. 
  • Littermaid 3rd Edition Multi-Cat Self-Cleaning Litter Box: This self-cleaning litter box was riddled with problems. Clumps of urine-soaked litter frequently stuck to its rake or  the door of the waste disposal compartment and plenty of soiled litter was left behind on the base of the pan. The lifting waste compartment lid frequently got stuck and had to be manually lowered.
  • Petmate Jumbo Litter Pan: Petmate’s jumbo-size litter pan is a solid 21.25-inches long, but that’s only 125% the length of my smaller cat and 115% the size of my larger one. Sung recommends litter pans be at least 150% the length of your largest cat.
  • Van Ness High Sides Cat Litter Pan, Giant: While this is a decent standard litter pan with a great price tag, it is significantly smaller, 19.25 inches-long, than the other pans we tested.
  • Frisco Open Top Cat Litter Box with Rim: At just 19.75 by 15.13 inches, this litter box is much too small for a cat to toilet comfortably.
  • Booda Dome Cleanstep Litter Box: While I like the look of this litter box, it devotes too much space to design and not enough to the litter (the pan is only 12 by 21 inches). The inclusion of the stairs also makes this box unnecessarily complicated for more sensitive cats who prefer simple access.
  • Nature’s Miracle Disposable Cat Box: The regular-size disposable litter pans by Nature’s Miracle are made of the same great stuff as the jumbo version I selected as the best disposable box. This one is significantly smaller with 25% less space.
  • Kitty’s Wonder Box Disposable Litter Box: This disposable litter box is well made, but it’s tiny, just 13.5 by 17 inches. The size makes the Wonder Box a decent option for travel, but it’s not appropriate for long-term daily use. 
  • So Phresh Disposable Cat Litter Box: This box made from sustainable bagasse fiber was on par with the Nature’s Miracle disposable box except that it’s almost 3 inches shorter and has lower sides.
  • Kitty Sift Disposable Sifting Litter Box: I really liked the concept of this box that filters out waste with three layers of perforated recycled cardboard. It remained leak-free throughout our testing period, but I found sifting the litter made a big mess and I had to remove clumps that stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  • Modkat Top-Entry Litter Box: We previously named this the best top-entry litter box, thanks to its functional, appealing design. It is, however, much smaller than its cousin, the Modkat XL, and can only be entered from the top. It also comes with a hefty price tag, especially if your cat turns out to dislike entering the litter box from the top.
  • Petmate Top-Entry Litter Pan: The dimensions of this affordable box are similar to those of the Modkat, but style is lacking with this pan and it doesn’t come with a liner. I also found that every time I attempted to clean the Petmate, the lid slipped out of the hinges and pulled completely off of the top.
  • Tidy Cats Breeze Cat Litter Box System: Frankly, I don’t see how this litter box is any better than using a standard box with non-clumping litter. It has an absorbent pad to suck up urine that seeps through its proprietary pellets but solids still need to be scooped. On top of that, the urine-soaked litter pads need changing weekly, generating a lot of unnecessary waste, and the pan is just 20.5 inches long.
Our cat litter box testing methodology

We identified the best litter boxes available at major retailers based on criteria established by our experts. Each box was put to use for a minimum of one month, undergoing the following tests during that period. Unless a litter box required a specific litter to operate effectively, all litter boxes were filled with our favorite budget litter, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Strength Cat Litter.

Ease of entry test: Because not every cat is agile enough or motivated enough to jump up into a litter box, I considered ease of entry. I measured the sides of each box and the height of any openings and watched to see whether my cats appeared to have difficulty accessing the boxes. I also observed how my cats responded to each box, noting which they preferred to toilet in more frequently.

Tracking test: For each box, I collected the litter tracked onto the floor over a period of three days, then compared the quantity of litter between boxes. Surprisingly, I found that the litter tracked from every box we tested was roughly equivalent.

Cleaning test: I cleaned each litter box twice daily, noting how easy it was to access and remove the waste and how much litter stuck to the bottom and sides of the pan. After a month of use, I thoroughly cleaned each box, disposing of the litter and wiping it out completely. I noted how challenging the boxes were to clean and approximately how long it took to go from full and dirty to empty and clean.

Size test: Sung explained that cats need a space that is at least 1.5 times their length to scratch at the litter and bury their waste. For this test, I began by measuring the length of each of my two cats when standing in a relaxed position. I then measured the length of each of the litter box contenders and compared the numbers. Larger litter boxes were favored over their smaller counterparts.

Cat litter box FAQs

cream colored cat inside a white hooded litter box, our pick for best cat litter box in 2021

What is the best litter box for a cat?

Dr. Jamie Richardson, medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York City, looks for three major qualities in a cat litter box: size, accessibility, and escapability. The litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of your cat so they can turn around comfortably and find a clean area to do their business if you haven’t managed to scoop that day, she explained.

It should also be easy for your cat to enter and exit. “Make sure the sides aren’t too high for your cat,” Richardson said. “Or if you have an arthritic cat or a very small kitten, you might consider providing a ramp.”

Lastly, it’s important for a cat to feel safe when they do their business. Litter boxes with high sides, as well as ones that are fully enclosed or top-entry, may make some cats feel trapped leading them to avoid it.

Can a litter box be too big?

No. “Most cats won’t mind a box that is a bit larger than they need, provided you keep it very clean,” said Richardson. “The main concern is with litter boxes being too small.”

Where should I put my cat’s litter box?

The best place to put your cat’s litter box is in a quiet, secluded area away from household traffic, Richardson said. That way your cat will feel safe and comfortable when toileting. She advised against placing a litter box at the end of a hallway, somewhere your cat may feel trapped, or in the area where they are fed. “Cats typically don’t like to go where they eat,” she said.

How frequently does a cat use their litter box?

The typical cat uses the litter box as many as half-a-dozen times a day, urinating two to four times and defecating once or twice. Every cat, however, is an individual and some go more or less frequently on average. Cleaning your litter boxes daily will help you monitor for behavioral changes that may indicate a health problem such as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD).

How many litter boxes do I need and what size should they be?

A good general rule of thumb for litter boxes is to have one per cat plus an extra, Sung told us. Each litter box should have enough space to comfortably dig and bury waste with dimensions that are at least 1.5 times the size of the cat.

How often should I clean the litter box?

To keep fastidious felines toileting happily, our experts recommend cleaning the litter box at least once, if not several times, each day.

Do cats like open or closed litter boxes?

Some cats may be intimidated by hooded or covered litter boxes, especially if they are low enough that the cat must crouch to do their business. An open-topped litter pan is the most universally accepted by cats of all types.

What if my cat stops urinating?

Cats are highly susceptible to FLUTD, a range of conditions that affect the bladder, urinary tract and/or urethra. Male cats, in particular, are commonly afflicted with urinary stones or crystals which block urine from being expelled from the body. And when a cat can’t urinate, the toxins that build up can be deadly. A vet has just 24 to 48 hours to remove a blockage and save their life. If a vet is unable to identify FLUTD or other medical problems, a cat who refuses to urinate is likely doing so out of anxiety. To get to the root of the problem, seek out a behaviorist who can help identify and overcome a cat’s triggers.

Why is my cat peeing outside the litter box?

There are a variety of reasons why a cat may urinate outside of their litter box. Inappropriate elimination can occur when a cat dislikes the size or design of their litter box or the style of litter in the pan and has found another location—a pile of laundry, a potted plant, a fluffy rug—that better satisfies their desire to scratch and dig. Inappropriate elimination can also be a sign that a cat dislikes the location of their litter box. A box placed next to a washing machine or too close to the dog’s bed, for example, may cause anxiety that induces them to look for an alternative place to urinate. Lastly, a cat who suddenly begins to urinate outside of their litter box may be attempting to communicate a health issue such as an oncoming FLUTD.

Why am I finding urine on vertical surfaces?

Urine left on vertical surfaces is called marking. Marking is not urination, per say, but the spraying of pheromones, a behavior which they accomplish by raising the tail and backing up to a wall, bookcase, sofa or other location. Most cats who mark do so out of anxiety or because they are experiencing conflict with another animal. Any cat can mark but it most commonly occurs in intact males.

Our sources

  • Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi, cat behavior consultant and owner of Go Cat Go! in San Francisco, California. For two decades, Quagliozzi has worked with cats at the San Francisco SPCA, San Francisco Animal Care and Control, and through his private practice, Go Cat Go! Quagliozzi’s expertise has been featured on Animal Planet and in a variety of other media outlets. We spoke to Quagliozzi via phone in August 2020.
  • Jamie Richardson, medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York, New York. Richardson completed her veterinary degree at London’s Royal Veterinary College and has worked with animals around the world, from South Africa to Hong Kong. At Small Door Veterinary, her primary interests besides general practice include preventative care, dentistry, and internal medicine. We consulted Richardson via email on October 19, 2021.
  • Wailani Sung, director of behavior and welfare programs and board-certified veterinary behaviorist at the San Francisco SPCA Veterinary Hospital in San Francisco, California. Sung attended the University of Georgia for both a master’s degree and doctorate in psychology with a special interest in animal behavior. She went on to earn a second doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Sung is one of fewer than 100 board-certified veterinary behaviorists in the United States. She currently directs the San Francisco SPCA’s Behavior Specialty Service and writes on animal behavior for Vetstreet, PetMD, and Healthy Pet magazine. We interviewed Sung via email on March 30, 2020.
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