The clumping action that controls odors and causes litter and waste to stick together may seem complicated, but it’s really a simple reaction. Clumping litters' basic ingredients work together to keep litter box odors in check, helping you and your feline live in perfect harmony.
The primary ingredient in clumping litter is clay. It’s a different type of clay than the kind found in a bag of traditional non-clumping litter. Sodium bentonite -- the primary ingredient in clumping litter -- is a natural type of highly absorbent clay. When Smokey does her business, sodium bentonite particles go to work and immediately swell to 15 times their original size, locking in moisture. Not only does the clay expand, it sticks together when moistened, forming hard clumps that are easy for you to remove.
Special clay isn’t the only clumping agent in this type of litter. Guar gum is often added to enhance the clumping power for sodium bentonite. It keeps particles stuck together and makes clumps extra hard so they don’t fall apart. Xanthan gum is an alternative that serves the same purpose. Your favorite brand may use one over the other, or possibly both, depending on the cost of each ingredient at the time of manufacturing.
Baking soda is common in many cat litters, including clumping litters. Its role is to aid in maximum odor control. Baking soda soaks up some of the moisture, keeping that litter pan as dry as possible and preventing that awful smell from filling up your room. If your preferred brand of clumping litter doesn’t have baking soda, feel free to sprinkle some at the bottom of the pan the next time you change the litter, or sprinkle a little on top of the litter when you scoop.
If you’ve ever walked down the cat litter aisle and taken a big whiff, you’ve probably noticed that it smells like the laundry soap aisle. Litter manufacturers often blend fragrances to their mixtures to help cover unpleasant litter box stenches. Although you may love the flowery scent of that premium clumping litter on sale, Smokey may hate it. Kitties can be finicky; if her litter has a stronger scent than she tolerates, she might be less inclined to use it, instead leaving “presents” hidden in other areas of the house. If you’re switching brands or varieties of cat litter, opt for an unscented type in the beginning or at least until your picky pal approves. Use two litter boxes, side by side, over the course of a couple weeks to switch.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.