Given the choice, I doubt that any cat would choose a human to clean their litter box.
Humans are fickle, scatterbrained, inconsistent, and worst of all, “busy”.
Without human assistance, outdoor-dwelling cats wouldn’t have to accept anything less than an immaculate toilet area. Nature’s litter box has no sides, leaving cats free to choose a clean spot. Under those natural circumstances, a cat would seldom – perhaps never – have to step in their own waste.
Regardless of if you’re a great litter box cleaner who scoops the box twice a day, your cat probably steps in their own waste at least a couple of times every month. And what happens when you’re not home for the day?
An automatic litter box can solve these problems. We’re talking about nothing less than a robot maid for your cat’s powder room — a poop-scooping machine that doesn’t groan at the thought of cleaning the litter box and does so with a diligence that no human could muster.
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But it’s not always that simple. Not every automatic litter box is perfect. Some create more headaches than they cure. Here’s how to choose a good one.
In this article, you’ll get the facts on automatic litter boxes. We’ll talk about their benefits and limitations, what you should look for in an automatic litter box, and do a comparison of the top rated automatic litter boxes on the market today.
What should you look for in an automatic litter box?
Great automatic litter boxes don’t jam.
Cleaning cat litter is a sticky business, and a pile of clumped-up litter can get you in a jam, especially if you’re a machine with a limited range of motion. Automatic litter boxes are notorious for jamming.
So how can you spot the jam-prone automatic boxes before you buy them? Certain designs are more prone to jamming than others. Litter boxes that pair clumping litter with a raking mechanism have a tendency to collect gunk, but not all have the same problems. It’s important to evaluate customer reviews to get a snapshot of your potential future.
The best automatic litter boxes clean quickly and effectively.
Remember that your cat can’t do their business when the automatic litter box does its business, so don’t choose one that’s much slower than a human with a scoop in their hand.
Besides working quickly, the automatic litter box should deliver a complete clean. Again, compare the automatic litter box to yourself. What’s the use of a self-cleaning box that leaves clumps and chunks that you’d sift out?
Besides working time and speed, think about noise levels. Automatic litter boxes can be scary, and the noisy ones are the most disturbing of all.
The best automatic litter boxes control and contain odors well.
With the exception of the toilet-style CatGenie, automatic litter boxes don’t make your cat’s waste disappear completely.
Instead, they store it within an odor-trapping waste compartment. These compartments should contain odors effectively and should also have a large capacity, allowing you to go for weeks before making a trip to the garbage can.
The best automatic litter boxes fit within your budget.
One of the top questions people ask about automatic litter boxes is “are they worth it?”.
The answer to that question involves a cost-benefit analysis that only you can perform. It’s a good idea to recognize that the most expensive boxes aren’t always the best. Realize, also, that the cost of the litter box is more than the number in the Amazon checkout.
Like a cheap printer that costs you hundreds of dollars a year in ink, the real cost of the litter box adds up over months and years of use. Some litter boxes will drain your wallet as you pay for special litter and maintenance. Others will save you money by cleaning more efficiently and allowing you to use the same litter longer.
The best automatic litter boxes are compatible with litter your cat likes to use.
Some automatic litter boxes only work with certain types of litter. The PetSafe ScoopFree litter box, for example, is only compatible with crystal cat litter. The CatGenie won’t work unless you fill it with proprietary plastic pellets.
These arrangements are problematic for multiple reasons. You’re stressing your cat by introducing a new type of litter in addition to a strange new litter box. If your cat doesn’t like the type of litter that the box requires, you’re out of luck. By selling a litter box only compatible with proprietary litter granules, the manufacturer is locking you into their high markups for life.
Ideally, choose an automatic litter box that is compatible with the type of litter your cat prefers.
Great automatic litter boxes allow you to monitor your cat’s health status.
Your cat’s litter box activity is one of the best indicators of their health status, and when their box does the work for you, you’re missing out on an opportunity to evaluate their wellbeing.
Some automatic litter boxes make up for this shortcoming by incorporating use counters or other means of monitoring your cat’s box usage.
Now that you know what it takes to make a great automatic litter box, let’s review the top products on the market.
Top Automatic Litter Boxes Reviewed
*Overall best automatic litter box
This automatic litter box earns its place as our top-rated pick with its superior odor control, smooth operation, and reasonable price. This well-known litter box has a slightly above-average reputation, with 1,465 reviews on Amazon and a 3.5 out of 5 star rating.
The ScoopFree Ultra combines the long-lasting odor control of silica gel litter with a convenient raking mechanism. Silica gel crystals have several benefits in an automatic litter box setup.
For one, crystal litter absorbs liquid waste, meaning that you don’t have to worry about it turning into sludge and jamming up the machine. And just as it absorbs liquid waste, crystal cat litter desiccates solid waste and renders it odorless. In short, this is a litter that eliminates odors and doesn’t create sludge.
To compensate for the fact that you won’t be closely watching your cat’s waste, the ScoopFree Ultra features a use counter to give you a better idea of how often your cat uses the toilet.
But it’s not perfect.
The ScoopFree Ultra can handle a lot, but it usually can’t handle cats with diabetes or kidney disease. Silica gel litter has a high absorption capacity, but when it reaches its absorption limit, the liquid has nowhere to go. If your cat urinates more than most, saturation is inevitable. Combine this with the fact that replacement trays and replacement litter are both high-priced items, and you’ve got an expensive challenge on your hands.
Instead of buying the disposable litter trays, you may opt to purchase the company’s $49.95 reusable plastic tray and pair it with any silica gel crystal litter.
At $129.31 on Amazon, the ScoopFree Ultra isn’t a particularly exorbitant choice, but recurring costs could make it expensive over time. If you choose a reusable tray, however, it could be a good choice for single-cat homes.
Watch a video review of the PetSafe ScoopFree litter box:
- Reliable and not prone to jamming
- Quiet, quick operation
- Offers good odor control
- A good choice for cats who like silica gel litter
- Features a use counter
- Disposable litter trays quickly become expensive
- Not a great choice for cats who dislike silica gel litter
- Can become saturated under heavy use
An upgrade option for those willing to spend more for better performance
Because its rotating design uses gravity to its advantage, the Litter Robot avoids the jamming and caking issues common among other automatic litter boxes. In addition to smooth operation, the Litter Robot helps to make your life easier by featuring a set of intuitive controls, multiple settings, and useful notification lights.
It is compatible with any type of clumping litter and works with silica gel crystals.
To avoid the sticking that is the bane of most other automatic litter boxes’ existence, the Litter Robot has a flexible rubber lining that pops out when the machine rotates, pushing clumped litter off of the interior surfaces and into the waste drawer below.
The waste drawer is equipped with a carbon filter, which captures odors before they can escape. According to a review on Wirecutter, the drawer contains about 4 cups of clumped urine. When the waste drawer fills, the Litter Robot’s ready light will start to blink, notifying you that it’s time to discard the contents.
Another user-friendly aspect of the Litter Robot is the fact that it’s now available with the WiFi-powered Litter Robot Connect app. This app allows you to monitor your cat’s litter box usage whether you’re home or not.
Unfortunately for budget shoppers, the Litter Robot’s superior performance comes at a high-performance price. The Litter Robot Open Air III with Connect costs almost $500. Without the Connect smartphone app functionality, the latest Litter Robot model costs $449.
This is one case when you’ll have to ask yourself whether or not you’re lazy enough to spend almost $500 for the luxury of not having to clean out your cat’s litter box.
Consider, though, the Litter Robot’s lower operating costs compared to other automatic litter boxes. It’s compatible with any clumping litter or silica gel litter, so you won’t need to worry about buying proprietary granules of any type. Compared to the ScoopFree Ultra, for instance, you’ll pay less over time for the Litter Robot.
Watch the Litter Robot in action:
- One of the most reliable automatic litter boxes on the market – doesn’t jam and seldom has serious malfunctions
- Has an eye-catching design
- Features a night light
- Has a step to catch loose litter
- Intuitive functionality and easy assembly
- The waste drawer is secure and odor-tight
- Connects to your iOS device for remote litter box monitoring
- The Litter Robot litter bed is small and might not accomodate larger cats
- Great performance comes at a cost – the Litter Robot currently costs about $500
- At the time of this writing, the Connect app is not available for Android operating systems, but the company expects to release their Android app around November of 2018
Self-washing automatic litter box is often recommended for multiple cat homes
Installing the CatGenie is like adding a new toilet to your bathroom. It looks like a small human toilet and hooks up to water lines in the laundry room or bathroom. Each time your cat uses their little toilet, their waste is flushed away into the (bigger) toilet or through the plumbing.
This is the only automatic litter box on this list that doesn’t just scoop. It washes your cat’s litter with a combination of water and CatGenie sani-solution. Once the plastic litter granules are washed, the CatGenie uses hot air and agitation to dry them out.
The CatGenie is interesting in this respect. It’s the only automatic litter box that whisks your cat’s waste away through the plumbing, sparing you from ever having to haul away your cat’s waste in a bag. It’s not necessarily the end of your cat litter struggle – the CatGenie can grant your wish for a life free of scooping and scraping, but for many users, it brings a new world of problems.
Because it requires the use of proprietary granules and special, non-refillable sani-solution cartridges, the CatGenie has a higher lifetime cost than either a standard litter box or some other automatic litter boxes. A review on Wirecutter estimated that the CatGenie’s replacement costs would add up to $400 after 10 months. But it’s worth the convenience, right?
Not necessarily – the CatGenie may end up creating more problems than it solves.
Customer reviews of the CatGenie are mixed. Some say that it’s a miracle machine, making the feline litter box as struggle-free as their own toilet. Others, like Amazon customer Suren, disagree. Here’s what Suren had to say in this top-rated review of the CatGenie on Amazon:
“If you like smelling delicious baked cat poo, enjoy clogged hoses and drains, and love questionably clean litter all over your entire house — this is the product for you!!!”
It sounds dramatic, but this kind of drama is characteristic of this litter box’s negative reviews.
Heated and dried cat waste is a reeking reality for many dissatisfied CatGenie users.
It’s important to recognize, however, that these negative reviews aren’t indicative of the average CatGenie experience. On Amazon, this automatic litter box has 903 reviews and a 3.9 out of 5 star rating. Over half of those reviewers gave 5-star ratings. A lot of people love the Genie, describing it as a hassle-free litter box that works like a household appliance.
This video shows how the CatGenie works:
- Allows you to flush your cat’s waste away
- Can be cleaner and less odor-prone than a standard litter box
- Receives more positive reviews than most other automatic litter boxes
- Solid waste may be baked during the drying process
- At $239.97, this is one of the more expensive automatic litter boxes on the market
- Comes with replacement costs for sani-solution and washable granules
- The lightweight plastic granules have a scattering and tracking problem
- Makes it almost impossible to monitor your cat’s toilet health
An alternative to the PetSafe ScoopFree that doesn’t demand silica gel litter
The LitterMaid litter box is a classic in the self-cleaning space.
Like the ScoopFree, the LitterMaid looks like a standard litter box. It’s a rectangular pan equipped with a raking mechanism that crosses the litter bed, scraping up and sequestering waste. When your cat steps into the litter box, a sensor built into the inner wall of the LitterMaid detects their presence. 10 minutes after your cat leaves the box, the machine starts a cleaning cycle.
Unlike the ScoopFree litter box, the LitterMaid is intended for use with any litter of your choice. You can pair it with clumping clay, silica, or any natural biodegradable litter your cat enjoys.
Most cats prefer clumping clay litter over any other type of litter on the market. In that sense, an automatic litter box should be compatible with such a well-loved litter substrate. On the flip side, clumping litter presents a unique set of challenges when paired with the LitterMaid litter box.
On Amazon, the LitterMaid has 269 customer reviews and a rating of 3.2 out of 5 stars. About a third of reviewers describe it as a scooping wonder, while another third hate it.
When litter clumps in the LitterMaid, it tends to stick to the rake. Anytime your cat urinates near the rake, clumping litter will adhere to the cleaning mechanism, preventing it from doing its job effectively.
This has lead some users to coat the rake with baking soda or use cooking spray to prevent sticking. Others choose their litter strategically, observing that only hard-clumping, fast-acting litter works effectively in the LitterMaid.
Watch the Litter Maid in action:
- Compatible with any cat litter
- A large litter box with plenty of room for any cat
- Tends to jam and clog
*A simple design at an affordable price point
This automatic litter box is in constant motion. The almost imperceptible motion doesn’t stop when your cat steps in or when you’re handling it, but slowly continues on, making a full rotation every hour. As the litter bowl rotates, the machine captures clumped litter and sends it up a conveyor, which delivers clumped waste into the built-in trash bin.
The litter bowl measures 19 inches across, and when you consider that a considerable quantity of that bowl is covered by the conveyor mechanism, that’s not a lot of room for a cat. Amazon reviewer Soleil said that their “cat is only 4.5 lbs, so very small and he filled up over half of the given space for them to use the bathroom.” According to a review on Cat Food Dispensers Reviews, it’s not appropriate for cats weighing over 12 lbs. PetSafe says that it’s designed for cats weighing up to 15 lbs.
On Amazon, the Simply Clean has 2,618 customer reviews, earning it a 3.2 out of 5 star rating. Critical and positive reviews are almost evenly matched. 34% of reviewers give it 5 stars and 28% give it a single star. Negative reviews concentrate on the motor’s tendency to fail just days, weeks, or months after purchase.
One reviewer avoided this problem by pairing the litter box with an outlet timer. By only allowing the litter box to run for one hour every day, this customer was able to spare the motor from endless exertion.
Watch the PetSafe Simply Clean in action:
As of this writing, the Simply Clean costs $67.99 on Amazon, making it one of the lower-priced automatic litter boxes on the market.
- Almost noiseless during operation
- Allows your cat to use it at all times
- Compatible with any clumping cat litter
- An extremely small litter area
- Sometimes clogs and jams
- The motor tends to burn out after a short period of use
Transition Tips: How to Help Your Cat Start Using a New Automatic Litter Box
Between operational noises and the unexpected movements, a self-cleaning unit is a little bit more disturbing than the standard inanimate plastic pan. For cats who grew up using a traditional litter box, it might not even be clear that the new litter mixing machine is a litter box at all. It’s important to gently acclimate your cat to the new litter box.
Remember that if given the choice, your cat will probably opt for what’s familiar.
Instead of removing your cat’s old litter box immediately, think about just leaving it dirty. Your cat will recognize the superior cleanliness of the automatic litter box and choose it instead of the one that hasn’t been cleaned for a few days.
Help them to understand that this thing is a litter box.
Cats instinctively bury their waste and seek out soft, dig-able substrates. But after years of using one litter box, the introduction of another strange-looking litter box could leave your cat unsure of what to do.
Tell your cat that this is their litter box in no uncertain terms – place a scoop of their old litter in the new litter box. Your cat’s ultra-sensitive sense of smell will help them to read the message.
Let your cat use the new litter box a few times before turning it on.
The noisy movement of an automatic litter box can be jarring, so you may prefer to allow your cat to first accept their new toilet without the added disturbance of its self-cleaning functionality.
Looking for a better way to clean your cat’s litter box, but don’t want an automatic box? Think about choosing a sifting litter box instead.
About the author
Mallory Crusta is a writer and adventurecat enthusiast on a mission to make cats’ lives extraordinary. She’s one of the founders of Wildernesscat – a site for happy, healthy, and adventurous cats who are fueled by nature. Visit Wildernesscat for radically natural cat nutrition, home remedies, and lifestyle inspiration.