- This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.
Self-cleaning litter boxes for cats are some of the hottest items on the pet supplies market these days, and it’s not hard to understand why. They’re effectively marketed as a way to avoid the messy, smelly experience of scooping a box—and that’s not their only benefit, according to satisfied cat parents.
But they’re also a huge investment, with some automatic litter boxes costing as much as $600 (and that doesn’t include the litter). Can the perks really justify the price tag? We review the market and consider whether self-cleaning litter boxes are worth it for cat parents.
The Quest for the Perfect Self-Cleaning Litter Box
The first patent for an automatic litter box was filed in 1991—and from that day on, pet entrepreneurs have been revising the design in search of the perfect self-cleaning litter box. (Just look at Kickstarter, where there are a dozen campaigns right now.)
For the most part, however, an automatic litter box’s goal remains unchanged: to minimize your contact with cat waste.
There are a variety of ways that a self-cleaning litter box can achieve this. Some sift litter into large-capacity, odor-reducing waste bins that can hold several days’ worth of waste. Others rake solid waste into disposable trays while absorbing liquid waste in silica crystals. One type washes and dries reusable litter granules, flushing waste down a nearby household drain.
In addition to making automatic litter boxes time-saving and convenient for people, manufacturers have also had to make them appealing to cats. Early models were often loud, cramped, difficult to enter, or prone to breakdowns. The latest models have whisper-quiet motors, wide entrances, and good warranties.
They can be a game-changer in litter management—if the litter box matches the household’s needs.
Types of Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes
If your image of a self-cleaning litter box is a traditional rectangular litter box equipped with a loud, motorized rake, you’re in for some pleasant surprises. In the past ten years, companies have designed and refined several types of robot litter boxes that fall into four categories.
Rotating sifters. The Litter-Robot 4 is the best-known rotating sifter, though the Leo’s Loo Too is increasingly popular. These self-cleaning litter boxes sit atop a large waste bin. Electronic sensors and timers make sure that the sifting doesn’t begin until well after your cat has left the box.
The latest models of rotating sifters come equipped with WiFi so you can keep track of what your cat is doing in the box and if the waste drawer is full. Expect to pay more than $500 for one of these big appliances (plus buy premium clumping litter).
Wash-and-reuse litter. At the moment, the CatGenie AI Automatic Cat Box has a corner on robot litter boxes that reuse litter. The CatGenie connects to your cold-water system to wash reusable litter granules and deposits cat waste in the household drain. The unit then heats and dries the cleaned litter. This unusual system costs more than $500, but there’s no need to buy any litter—or haul bags of waste to the trash.
Raking litter boxes with silica crystal litter. This moderately priced self-cleaning litter box—the ScoopFree Ultra Automatic Litter Box—looks like a traditional rectangular box but includes a rake that passes through the box after the cat exits. Waste is raked into a disposable tray (or an optional cleanable tray), and the silica crystal absorbs urine and suppresses litter box odors. It requires using the proprietary ScoopFree silica crystal litter and trays.
Slow-sifting litter boxes. The PetSafe Simply Clean is a comparatively inexpensive set-up (often on sale for about $100) that lets you use any type of clay clumping litter you want. When the container rotates, the clumping litter passes through a sifter that diverts waste to a disposal bin. This process goes so slowly that a cat using the box won’t notice that it’s moving.
For more information about the automatic litter boxes on the market, see “The Best Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes for Cats—and Cat Parents.”
Is a Self-Cleaning Cat Litter Box a Good Investment?
First, the bad news. The bottom line here is that it’s not truly a litter box if the cat won’t use it, and there’s no way around the fact that self-cleaning litter boxes are not for every household or every cat.
Reviews of these products (like this one of Leo’s Loo Too), and our own experiences as cat parents, make it clear that while many cats take to these gadgets, others refuse. Some cats simply do not want to deal with a litter box that makes noise. Many older, arthritic cats (mine included) are unable to climb into the high entrances of the rotating sifters.
That makes a self-cleaning litter box an expensive gamble.
The good news, however, is that the payoff is real. If your cat is willing to try one of these self-cleaning litter boxes, there are many reasons why one of them might be a game-changer for your household. Here are several scenarios in which even a pricey $500 litter system might be well worth the money:
- If you have health issues that make it dangerous for you to handle cat waste. Instead of daily scooping, you could have someone come in once or twice a week to empty the waste drawer for you.
- If you can’t lift heavy bags of litter or cat waste. A wash-and-reuse litter box system uses reusable litter and will put waste directly into your household drain system.
- If litter box odor is a problem in your house or apartment. Most automatic litter boxes (especially the Leo’s Loo Too, which has an ultraviolet germ-killing feature) can dramatically reduce cat box odors.
- If you work long days or go on short trips. Any of these litter boxes will ensure that you won’t come home to a full, stinking box (and your cat won’t be tempted to go elsewhere).
- If you are short on space and need to keep the litter box in a visible area of the house. Automatic litter boxes like the Litter-Robot and Leo’s Loo are discreetly covered and have sleek, attractive designs.
- If you or another member of your household need a reminder to tend to the litter. The WiFi-enabled litter boxes can handle it, plus provide data on your cat’s litter box habits.
So Should You Get an Automatic Litter Box for Your Cat?
If the risk is worth the rewards—or you have a friend waiting in the wings to take a failure off your hands—an automatic litter box can be a time-saving investment like few others in the pet world.
If your cat isn’t used to a hooded litter box but you’re contemplating one of the covered automatic models, you could try purchasing a cheaper hooded box as an intermediate step, or creating a DIY cover for the box they already have, to see how it goes over.
There are also some tricks you can try to help your cat adjust to a mechanical litter box, like adding their old litter to the new box to make it seem familiar and avoiding using the automatic clean cycle until your cat has tried it out a few times.
But if your cat has a long history of being finicky about their bathroom, a self-cleaning litter box might be an investment that won’t see returns.
While none of my elderly, ornery cats ultimately took to the Litter-Robot that I bought, my friend Ken reports that the same model is a huge success with his two young cats. And he has a tip for other owners of self-cleaning litter boxes: Ken put the Litter-Robot in his garage and installed a cat door that leads from the house to the garage. This way, the whole litter box operation is completely out of the way—except for changing the bag in the waste drawer once a week. “It’s perfect,” he says.
Looking for more information on litter and litter box systems for your cats? These articles can help:
- The Best Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes for Cats—and Cat Parents
- What To Do If Your Cat Isn’t Adjusting to a Self-Cleaning Litter Box
- Leo’s Loo Too: The Smart Litter Box Changing Your Cat’s Litter Game
- 17 Stand-Out Cat Litter Box Furniture Options to Fit Your Style
- 10 Cat Litter Mats to Keep Litter From Getting Everywhere
- The Truth About Litter Boxes: 15 Best Litter Boxes for Picky Cats