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Since the filing of the first patent in 1991, the cat products industry—and dozens of indie inventors—have vied to produce the perfect robot cat litter box.
The perfect robotic litter box would have all the attributes of a covered litter box (including odor reduction) plus it would scoop liquid and solid cat wastes into a storage receptacle that would hardly ever have to be emptied. The automated cleaning would be scheduled to take place when the cat had finished its business and left.
Difficult to get all this into one machine? Yes. Kickstarter is, well, littered with the ghosts of failed robot litter box projects. And landfills are filled with the pieces of motorized litter boxes that frightened cats, frustrated purchasers, required hard-to-find cat litters, or just plain ground to a halt one day, never to be repaired.
The good news is that there’s now a robot cat litter box that actually works: It scoops waste effectively, it doesn’t frighten (most) cats, it uses regular clumping litter, and it packages scooped waste in ready-to-dispose of plastic bags.
It also costs more than most household toilets (and that doesn’t include the litter). You’ll find this premium litter box at the top of our list. But first, a few words about what often happens when litter boxes and technology collide.
It’s the rule of appliances that when they go wrong, they go spectacularly wrong: The washer that floods the laundry room, the dryer that catches fire, the oven that locks itself into the clean cycle while your holiday roast is inside. Just about everyone who has owned one of the early robot cat litter boxes can regale you with stories of burned out motors and piles of unscooped litter. (As I found out while researching this article.)
They’ll also tell you tales of freaked-out cats. Keep in mind that, to the cat, a robot cat litter box is just a litter box—until the moment it inexplicably starts moving. Some cats find the motorized scooping activity intriguing, and others—well, how would you like it if the toilet in your bathroom suddenly started to make growling sounds?
That’s why most households are still scooping by hand, hoping to prolong the time between scooping with heavily perfumed litters, covered boxes, and elaborate sifting systems.
But now there is hope: Robot cat litter boxes have improved. They now work for some households, some cats, and some litters. And when they do they can be a huge timesaver.
Note: If you are planning to switch to a robot cat litter box, you’ll need to give some thought to where you will put it. They will likely be a bit larger than your current litter box, and they have specialized power cords (power adapters) that are 6 feet long. If you need to use an extension cord to reach an outlet, check the manufacturer’s guidance to see if that is safe, and what type of extension cord they advise. (Litter-Robot, for instance, says it’s fine to use a sturdy extension cord but don’t attach any appliance other than the Litter-Robot to the extension.)
Ready to meet your match? Here’s our report on the machines that do it best. The top-rated litter box is expensive, but we’ve found some affordably priced alternatives that are great for weekend litter cleanup duty and for single-cat households.
Our Top Pick: The Litter-Robot 3
Let’s cut to the chase: The Litter-Robot 3 works. It’s expensive: $500, which may be more than the cost of the toilet in your own bathroom.
Litter-Robot 3 (the first Litter-Robot went on the market in 1999) has solved the problems that plagued most early robot cat litter boxes. It’s powerful. It’s repairable if something goes wrong. It’s quiet. It has a timer so it doesn’t sift litter into the waste drawer’s plastic bag until well after the cat has exited the box (and it will stop its cement-mixer like sifting if you have an adventurous kitty who leaps back in while it’s moving).
The WiFi-enabled version, the Litter-Robot 3 Connect, has an app that lets you view the waste-level in the drawer, tracks your cat’s visits, and reminds you when it’s time to empty the drawer. It also keeps a record of your cat’s litter box visits—which could alert you to health issues.
What’s not to like? Well, the thing is huge (29 inches high, 22 inches wide, and 24 inches deep) and despite its modernistic design and choice of neutral colors, it won’t blend in anywhere in your house except, perhaps, the laundry room. The cleaning cycling makes a bit of noise—though the controls allow you to turn off the cleaning function while the household is asleep. This litter box is not for kittens—your cat must be 5 pounds or more the box’s mechanisms to function correctly. The special adapter cord for the Litter-Robot is 6 feet long and plugs into a standard outlet.
Despite a few caveats, the Litter-Robot has gathered an enthusiastic and loyal following.
“I love it,” my friend Beth gushes. “It really works.” She has two cats. One kitty is a dependable customer of the Litter-Robot. The other, an older cat, goes back and forth between the robot cat litter box and a traditional box. Still, litter scooping is vastly reduced in Beth’s household.
Wondering if your cats will like the Litter-Robot? Read this humorous account of a household where four cats adore the Litter-Robot but Cat #5 is Not A Fan.
Vital statistics: 24 x 22 x 29 inches, 24 pounds.
What we like about it:
- The fully enclosed unit so no leaks or kicked litter
- No special litter or bags required (waste bin can use a 13-gallon kitchen bag)
- Controls allow you to pause waste sifting overnight
- 90-day money-back guarantee and 18-month warranty
Also Great: PetSafe Simply Clean Self-Cleaning Litter Box
With the PetSafe, you’re back to an open litter box (which might delight your cat). The cat makes use of the litter in the unobstructed half of the box. The cleaning occurs on a very slow, 90-minute continuous cycle, during which time all the litter in the box passes through a separator. (The box itself is quietly rotating, but it’s not noticeable.) The separator returns litter to the circular box while sending clumps of waste up the chute to the waste container.
My friend Beth (not the one with the Litter-Robot, another Beth!) says she and her cats are both pleased with the Simply Clean litter box. Her tip: Avoid the really hard clumping litter—it’s rough on the separator, which does better with softer clumps.
Obviously, this open litter box is not a good choice if your cat is a litter-kicker, or if you have a cat that needs a high-sided box to contain spraying. The constant low hum of the slow cleaner is unnoticeable to some households but annoying to others. Premium clumping litter is required.
The PetSafe Simply Clean is great solution for litter-cleaning if you go away for long weekends and don’t want to return to a messy, smelly box. Your cat would appreciate it, too.
Vital statistics: 26 x 15.5 x 10 inches, 14 pounds. Comes with a 6-foot cord.
What we like about it:
- At $100 (or less, when on special), it’s an affordable convenience
- Excellent at reducing odor, even with the open litter box
- Not much larger than a regular litter box
Also Great: ScoopFree Ultra Automatic Litter Box
This litter box uses a design you are probably familiar with: Several minutes after your kitty leaves the box, a motorized rake moves through the litter in the box, collecting waste that is then deposited into a front container. The bottom of the box is a removable, disposable plastic tray that you take out and discard when it’s full (there is also an option for a reusable tray that you’d then need to clean). The ScoopFree Ultra also comes in a top-entry model. The Ultra model is recommended for cats up to 15 pounds.
The Ultra Automatic is intended to be used with ScoopFree’s blue silica crystal litter (which, by the way, is not a clumping litter; you can read more about what silica cat litter is and how it works in this article). I’ve read accounts that some people like to use this box with clumping litter, which is possible, but doing so will violate the box’s 1-year limited warranty.
The ScoopFree isn’t for every household, but it has its fans—especially single-cat households. With the crystal litter, one collection tray lasts 20-30 days before needing to be replaced.
On the downside: Users report that, as with other raking systems, the teeth of the rake can get clogged, reducing efficiency. Others note that, with multiple cats, frequently replacing trays is expensive and annoying.
Vital statistics: 28.50 x 20.50 x 11.50 inches, 20 pounds.
What we like about it:
- The cover is optional, in case your cat does not like enclosures
- Excellent at reducing litter box odor
- Even with the addition of a reusable waste tray or a covered model, it’s less than half the price of the Litter-Robot
If you are seeking something a little less sophisticated (or perhaps, less complicated) than a fully robotic cat little box, an automatic litter box might be more your speed. These usually tech-enhanced cat boxes are similar to the robotic units listed here, but they tend to be less expensive, and in general, don’t have the gleaming and more universally beloved reputations of the three litter boxes we’ve collected in this article.
If you’re interested in reading about these options, see our article, 10 Automatic Cat Litter Boxes for Happy Cats.
Looking for more information on litter and litter box systems for your cats? We have a few other articles that can help:
- 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
Featured image via Litter-Robot.com