Self Cleaning Litterboxes – A Buying Guide


Cleaning a litterbox is one of the most unpleasant household tasks around. Thankfully there are self-cleaning litter boxes, so those of us who really can’t deal with cleaning up every day have an alternative. Like a lot of other electric devices the technology is improving rapidly on these devices, so the noisy difficult to use self-cleaning boxes of the past are being replaced by much quieter and more efficient products that work better than they ever did before.  If you have been shopping around for one of these fantastic helpers, we will give you the low down on what you need to know.

  • Learn which systems are the best and which to avoid
  • What features should you be looking for
  • Common issues and questions
  • We give you breakdown on the best products and why users love them

2016 Best Self Cleaning Litterbox Comparison

ProductSummaryRating(Out of 5)Price 
ScoopFree UltraBest overall hooded, self-cleaning system. Great at stopping odors.4.2Check Pricingscoopfreeultra
CatGenieMost environmentally friendly.You don’t have to touch or smell litter.4.1Check Pricingcatgenie1
Omega PawInexpensive and easy to use, best budget option.4.0Check Pricingomegapaw
Litter-Robot IIIDeluxe, perfect for those who don't like to scoop litter everyday.4.5Check Pricinglitterrobot

How do self-cleaning litterboxes work?

If you haven’t used a self-cleaning litterbox you may be wondering what they are, and how they work. In their most basic form they do the scooping for the user. Generally using a combing mechanism or a tilting motion these systems collect the waste and put it into a sealed compartment that the pet owner will have to empty at some point in time.  Most models on the market have slightly different designs and ways of disposing of the waste, some rake the waste into a receptacle while others flush the waste into the homes sewage system. Most designs collect clumps and deposit them into a plastic bag or tray that the owner changes. The owner will still have to dispose of the waste (with the exception of the CatGenie) but often you only have to do this once a week, or in some case once a month, not every day. This helps to keep things clean and fresh, and are especially good for those finicky cats who cannot deal with a dirty environment.

 

Things to think about before buying:

Self-cleaning systems can let owners avoid having to touch or smell cat waste. If you are not sure if it is right for you, some of the situations they work best for are:

  • Cats who need a totally clean litterbox all of the time.
  • Owners who strongly dislike touching litter.
  • Owners who are short on time and find it difficult to clean the box as much as they would like.
  • Owners who are finding their current box to be too smelly.
  • Owners who are pregnant or have a weakened immune system and would prefer not to interact with cat waste.

They are, for the most part, easy to set up, maintain and use, although there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for one.

Size– It is important to consider the size of the unit when shopping around.Size is important not only if you have more than one cat, but also think about where in your house you are going to be putting the box and whether it will fit. You should measure your space, and think through what kind of size you should be looking at.

How often will it need to be cleaned? These aren’t miracle products and you will have to do some cleaning. With most automatic litter boxes, you will still to need empty the waste compartment once every week and clean out the tray every now and then. What you won’t have to do is clean it every single day. Nearly all the models available are quiet and discreet, and clear away the waste without making a lot of noise and attracting a lot of attention.

How is the waste stored/trapped? In most models the waste is usually sealed in a covered, odor-controlling waste trap.

Guarantees and Warranty– Many of these devices from the big name reputable brands offer, fairly generous guarantees and pretty good warranties. The standard warranty seems to be 1 year limited, while some of the guarantees include 90 day money back option.

When to not get a self-cleaning box? These products tend to not work well with animals who have runny stools or diarrhea. Also so some products won’t work with cats under a certain weight (the kitten may not weight enough to trigger the sensor to clean after being used).

 

Features to Look for:

Features vary quite a bit depending on the type of system that you go for. Here are some features to consider when shopping around.

Privacy Hood – Depending on your pet’s preference, most models have an option to have a hood so your cat has some privacy and the litter is kept properly contained.

High Walled Design- In addition to the privacy hood, you may want to consider designs that have high walls if your cat likes to scatter litter.

Programmable– Depending on your schedule, you may want to shut off the cleaning feature at night to avoid noise (although model models don’t make much noise at all). You can do this through a programmable feature on some models. You can also generally program the number of times per day that the cleaning system will run.

Motion-sensors are used to determine when you cat enters and leaves the box on most electric self-cleaners, these are used for safety as well as to help determine when the automatic cleaning system will kick in.

Battery backup– If you are worried about a lself cleaning system not working during a power outage, there are some models available with a battery backup (Littermaid and Natures Miracle both offer this feature).

 

Common Questions and Issues

What Boxes work best for multiple pets? Most self-cleaning systems work well 1 to 2 cats. The Litter-Robot III is quite large and works well for multiple animals.

What products are best for the environment? Litter is notoriously bad for the environment, auto devices do  allow you to use less, but if you are looking for the best option for the environment you will want to have a look at the CatGenie that uses reusable granules that are washed and dried each time it is used.

Do they stop the litter from smelling?

Generally yes, auto cleaners work better at keeping out any smells as they remove the waste and contain it in a closed air tight compartment.

Why aren’t you supposed to use them for cats under six months?

There are a couple of reason not to use them with kitten. The first is that a really young cat may not be large enough to properly set off the motion sensors that tell the box to activate and begin cleaning. The second is that the consistency of the waste of a kitten is usually much softer, making it difficult for the cleaners to work effectively.

Are these products really safe? Yes, they are completely safe for cats to use. The big fear is obviously that the cleaning system will start while the cat in in the box and your pet may be hurt or become terrified. The cleaning cycle will never start with an animal still in the unit, as they all have sensors that can tell if the device is empty or not.  That is why you need to make sure you cat reaches an minimum weight/age requirement before using.

How do you get your cat used to a new box?

Most pets are able to adapt pretty easily to a new box. To make sure yours does, place the new unit next to your old litter box. Do not clean out the old box. (Cats prefer to use a clean box, and the new unit will always be clean.)  If your pet is shy, do not operate the automatic cleaning feature automatically for a few days. Manually activate any automatic unit 2 to 3 times a day for the first 2 to 3 days, to let your cat get used to going into the litterbox before you set it to clean automatically. As soon as your pet is acclimated to the new self-cleaning unit you can set it to clean automatically.

Reviews

Best Option (Overall)

ScoopFree Ultra

greenamazonPROS:

  • No smell
  • Covered compartment keeps waste locked away
  • Motion Sensors work well

CONS:

  • Waste can get stuck in the rake
  • If you lose power it won’t work.
  • Trays are a little pricey to replace

Need to Know:

The PetSafe ScoopFree Ultra  is a hooded, self-cleaning system that works by automatically raking waste into a covered compartment every 5, 10 or 20 minutes after your cat uses it (it also has a button so you can manually control the raking it need be). Sensors detect your pet’s movement and reset the timer after each use. It features a health counter that tracks how often it is being used.

It comes with a crystal litter tray that is supposedly 5 times more effective at reducing odor compared to clumping litters. You will have to change the tray around once per month for each cat at a cost of around $49.99 for a set of 3 trays (although some users report that the tray needs to be changed more often than that).
What users love: One of the things that users really like about this system is that crystals do a really good job of odor control, and the process of swapping in a fresh litter drawer is quick, easy and clean. The cleaning cycle is pretty quick lasting only around 30 seconds, and the sound is very minimal. It’s extremely convenient and things are kept very clean.

What could be improved? The cost of crystals refill tray is expensive compared with the clumping type, some users use a compatible plastic tray that they refill themselves, and that can help to reduce the cost.

PetSafe.com

 

Most Environmentally Friendly Option

CatGenie

greenamazonPROS: 

  • You don’t have to touch or smell litter at all
  • Very little maintenance
  • You don’t have to buy litter

CONS:

  • Setup can be a little tricky

 

Need to Know: The CatGenie is a pretty unique product. You hook it up to sewage and water lines and it flushes all of the waste away after it has been washed through washable granules.  It comes with everything you need to make your home litter free. It is the greenest cat box around and probably the most economical since you don’t have to keep buying litter.

What users love: Reviewers recommend the Cat Genie for pets who love having a completely clean environment. Users love that the washable granules that take the place of traditional litter work well and are much less expensive because of the reduced replacement frequency. One box of the granules lasts several months. It also reportedly does a great job or keeping odors out, and if you are worried about the environment, this is a great alternative.

What could be improved? Some users complains that the system sometimes doesn’t manage to get all the waste out on the wash cycle, so when the heat dries the granules the result can be a bit of a noxious smell. To stop this from happening you should have it running after each use.

CatGenie.com

 

Best Budget Option

Omega Paw

greenamazonPROS:

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use – tilt to one side and dirty litter moves to compartment that you empty into the trash.

CONS:

  • Some issues with durability
  • Slide clasps are plastic and are not very secure

 

Need to Know: This is a good system for the price. The design and the simple idea are great, but many users have had issues with poor construction mainly with the inside filter not fitting well. Also the clips that keep the lid on easily move out of place, so when you roll the unit to filter, the side you roll it onto gets a gap, and clean litter slips through. You can fix some of the issues with duct tape and other DIY fixes but many users are not going to want to do this, but if you don’t want to spend $100s of dollars on a more expensive device the Omega Paw can take out some of the hassle of cleaning up after your pet.

What users love: Price is the main selling feature of the Omega Paw as well as being very convenient, and easy to use.

What could be improved? Many reviewers complain of flimsy construction and poor quality with litter often spilling out of the box and the plastic insert is not very durable. The drawer that catches the waste when you roll the box has a tendency to slide open mid-roll, so little fragments spill out.

OmegaPaw.com

 

Best Option (Deluxe)

Litter-Robot III Open-Air

greenamazonPROS:

  • Hides the smell
  • Good Quality
  • Dump all the waste with the press of a button
  • Has a line to show how much litter to refill
  • Great customer service

CONS:

  • Waste container could be bigger
  • Expensive

 

Need to Know:

If you can get past the eye popping price, this is probably the best self-cleaning box on the market. It has a big litter  chamber and a large upward-facing entryway. The waste is automatically cleaned after each use and deposited into a drawer. It has a couple of neat features like a Drawer Full Indicator, an automatic Night Light for elderly cats, Sleep Mode, and adjustable Wait Time settings. It has overwhelmingly great reviews and most users agree it is a great investment if you are tired of scooping every day. Some users find that they are having to buy litter much less often, so that helps towards the initial cost.  The size of the Litter Robot is pretty big, so make sure you check the dimensions if you are considering purchasing

What users love: Users find that the catch tray is easy to empty and there is no complication or expensive refill or bag system to use. The reviews for this system are almost all positive, with many customers being impressed with the quality and the performance of the system, especially if you have multiple cats.

What could be improved? Some reviewers have found that the flexible bottom keeps coming off the lip of the entrance, although the company is really good at sending out a fix if you have this problem, you just need to contact customer service.
Litter-Robot.com

Are they worth it?

Auto cleaning boxes can be much cleaner and much less smelly than traditional litter boxes.  Some cats won’t use a box unless it is completely clean every day, which can be a nuisance for pet owners who just don’t have the time. Some owners may be pregnant or have weakened immune systems and would prefer to avoid changing or being near cat litter entirely. Not only are these devices convenient and easy to use they are great for helping to keep cats and their owners healthy and happy.

If you are one of the many people who hate to clean the litter box, you will most likely not regret trying out one of these auto cleaning systems. Yes, they can be somewhat pricey, but there are budget options available and many users find that the savings in litter justify the high cost of some of these products. If you do decide to invest in a higher end model, make sure you are aware of the return policy and if there is a money back guarantee available, in case you find that you end up with a device that isn’t right for you. Many customers have found these machines can really improve the quality of life and love that they don’t have to scoop anymore.