Cat Reading a Newspaper on the Toilet

For those of you who own cats, you’re well aware that litter-box maintenance is by far the most difficult, disgusting, and time-consuming dimension of cat ownership. Just how time-consuming? Well, my peculiar editor estimated somewhere around 15 hours per year (see the math below). This is obviously an unacceptable use of our time. So what is one to do? Well, this post explains how I reduced the time it takes to maintain my feline’s litter box from 15 hours to 5 hours per year (again, see my peculiar editor’s calculations below). I think you’ll find that my hard-learned methods will help optimize your time, reduce costs, and make you appreciate your little kitty just a bit more.

Automated Litter Box is the Only Way to Go

I’ve researched, owned, and even customized so many different litter boxes and spent so much money on you name the contraption, I’m embarrassed to tell you how much time, how much money, and how obsessed I became with solving the litter box enigma. I’ll spare you the gory details and just tell you about what I discovered after almost a year of hard-core, scientific trial and error.

Without question, an automatic litter box is the way to go if you own an apartment, a condo, row home, or any other enclosed environment that generally doesn’t encourage your cat to be outdoors. In my opinion, cats and dogs should be outside from time-to-time, but if this is not possible, you’ll learn that some cats (actually most cats) will embrace indoor living and develop an extremely reliable routine. Once your cat and you are in the groove, you can greatly reduce you cat-related labor through techniques such as the modified litter box that I’ll outline here.

My Brief Introduction to the LitterMaid

So after innumerable failed litter boxes, I finally settled on the LitterMaid automatic self-cleaning litter box.* In particular, I recommend one of the following two models: LM500 or LM900. The reason I encourage you to buy one of these two models is based on the fact each one has a hardened plastic rake that does a better job than the metal-pronged series. With either of these models, you should be able to get at least two or three years of use. I recently replaced my LM500-based version after three years of relatively low-maintenance use. Check out the reviews on Amazon.com for a broad overview of these models and take a close look at the user reviews. For those of you looking for a panacea, you might be slightly disappointed by my litter box recommendation. However, for those of you who recognize that there’s absolutely no easy way of dealing with this unseemly dimension of cat ownership, you’ll find that this hacked LitterMaid litter box will be a great help.

LitterMaid LM900 (photo: LitterMaid.com)

LitterMaid LM900 (photo: LitterMaid.com)

The LitterMaid litter box is shaped very much like a traditional litter box. On one end is an enclosed motor housing and on the other end you’ll find a plastic, disposable receptacle that’s sole purpose is to house the hardened, clumped, shall we call it cat “fun.” In the center of the box, you simply place a 2-inch layer of clumping litter, and once evened out your cat will obediently climb in and do what he or she does. Once the feline exits the box, a motion-triggered optical “eye” starts an internal clock that after 10 minutes activates a lengthwise plastic rake that descends from the motor housing, scrapes the top 1/2 inch of litter, moves anything it encounters across the litter, and finally, pushes it up, over, and into the plastic disposable receptacle.

Now this thing works fairly well but you can’t just fill it and completely forget about it. Cats differ in their use of any litter box so your in-house experience may vary, but after you and your cat get the hang of this thing, it will become predictable and simple. The LitterMaid litter box company, like many consumer corporations, wants to make as much money off you in any way possible. Thus, LitterMaid sells litter, filters, disposable plastic receptacles, and many other accessories. Don’t buy any of these accoutrements. While I appreciate their effort to make money, I believe there’s a better way.

How to Hack the LitterMaid

Step 1. After you purchase your LitterMaid litter box, go to your local Walmart, Kmart, Target, or similar venue and purchase two 12″ long by 6″ wide by 5″ deep plastic container. You’ll need to two of these items; the lids aren’t necessary. If you have a larger cat and purchase the LM900 LitterMaid litter box, you may need larger receptacles.

Get something that looks like this. (photo: Sterilite.com)

Get something that looks like this. (photo: Sterilite.com)

Step 2. Once you’ve unboxed your LitterMaid and assembled it, which shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes, place the litter box in a location that’s out of sight yet accessible to the cat. I begin by setting the whole system on two entry mats that I bought at Walmart (or try Camping World). These mats, which look like fake grass, will help knock the litter off the cat’s feet after it extricates itself from the box as well as catch most of the litter your cat kicks out. In fact, these mats are so effective I have very little collateral litter to deal with. If you have a cat that fires litter all over the place, I suggest you purchase one of the litter box “houses” that will further help keep the litter localized.

Step 3. Now, take your first plastic container, put it under the motor end of the litter box, and then place the other receptacle under the other end where the clumped litter would have been pushed into the disposable receptacle. What we’ve done here is replace LitterMaid’s tiny, disposable receptacle with a much more voluminous container that you’ll only need to empty once or twice a month. Another trick that will speed things up is to line the new plastic receptacle at the dumping end with a garbage bag. Come emptying time, all you need to do here is lift the bag out, cinch it, and toss it. When I put in a new bag, I usually pour some baking soda over the fresh plastic receptacle lining to help mitigate odor. In addition, I scatter a sizeable amount over baking soda over the litter itself. Now, pay attention here. The litter I recommend for this operation is the World’s Best Cat Litter (original or extra strength). This litter is all-natural (from corn), clumps well, and minimizes the odor. It’s slightly more expensive than other litters, but it’s truly worth it. Trust Smartlife on this one and spend a few dollars for this extremely good litter.

Step 4. Now we remove the plastic disposable lid that goes into the two holes on top of the litter receptacle lid. Throw the lid away and duct tape the top and the bottom of the two holes to help contain the litter. Finally, I take one of the LitterMaid disposable receptacles (the deep plastic pieces) and cut out the bottom of one. I then place the cut receptacle container in its appropriate place. We do this for two reasons: (1) to help ensure that the cat “fun” gets where it’s supposed to and (2) to limit the amount of exposure to the larger storage container (odor).

Here's what a successfully hacked LitterMaid should look like.

Here's what a successfully hacked LitterMaid should look like.

Step 5. That’s it. Now all you need to do is monitor the litter level, keep the litter box somewhat clean, watch the receptacle fill level, and use everything I’ve recommended without variation and you’ll be able to go away for long weekends without a concern.

Cats like clean litter boxes, and my method will save you a lot of time. Believe me, once this is up and running and you have it dialed-in, you’ll thank me for saving you a lot of effort.


How Much Time Will You Save with the Hacked LitterMaid?

You'll save yourself a whole 10 hours of litter maintenance per year.

You'll save yourself a whole 10 hours of litter maintenance per year.

Click here to see the details behind these estimates.

Image credit: Modified from LitterMaid.com

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*When I made the decision to purchase the LitterMaid several years ago, it was the only self-cleaning-litter-box game in town. Since then, a number of competing products have hit the market such as ScoopFree, Litter-Robot, and CatGenie. You may want to investigate these, as I’ve heard some users say that they make litter-box maintenance even easier. Smartlife will conduct a product comparison in the future.