Is the Cheapest Cat Litter Really Cheap Enough to be Worth it?

I tested the cheapest cat litter I could find for 30 60 120+ days (so you don't have to).

It turns out it may not be as cheap as you'd think.

You'll hear how my test went, the pluses and minuses, and what I learned (which might surprise you), but first, let me ask you this...

Brands of litter with text overlay Is the Cheapest Cat Litter Really as Cheap as You Think?

Does your cat sometimes go a little bananas in the litter box?

During this test, I paid even more attention than usual to Jazzy's bathroom habits. He can get a little crazy while he's in the litter box!

Sometimes I can hear him playing around in there when I'm in the other room.

It sounds like he's trying to dig a golf ball out of a sand trap with his front paws while doing the Mambo (whatever that is).

via GIPHY

Why. Why. WHY?!

Before we dig down into the dirty details, why did I do this?

Because I'm crazy? No. Well, that's possible, but we're not here to talk about that right now.

It's because we're all tired of paying too much for litter every month. #amiright?

Let's face it, even if you buy the cheapest cat litter you can get, you're still paying too much.

Because (surprise!) it's dirt... or some ground up corn cob rejects, or pine pellets your cat finds uncomfortable to walk on.

Or perhaps you're more of a recycled newspaper pellet kind of a person?

Or maybe you're into crystals?

If you've bought any of those products, you know those alternative litters can be even more expensive.

Wouldn't it be great if you could pay 10% less for your cat litter? What about 20%? There has to be a way to save money on this stuff.

But I wondered. Is the cheapest cat litter on the market just as good as the more expensive stuff?

I decided to do an experiment and see if there was a noticeable difference in cat litters based on price. But first, I had to find the cheapest cat litter, and where to buy it.

In some cases, I found cheaper pricing at local stores than I did when shopping online. Does that surprise you? It did me.

With my price comparisons done, I bought the cheapest cat litter I could find and used it for over 120 days (you're welcome). I intended to run this little project for 30 days, but you'll soon understand why the test took so long.

And let me just say... don't try this at home. Not the way I did, anyway.

Changing cat litters, especially if you do it quickly, can end up causing your cat to stop using the litter box. Believe me, you don't want that.

Alright, I won't leave you in suspense any longer.

Here are the deets, starting with five things I learned from this experience...

5 Things I Learned from Using the Cheapest Cat Litter for 120 Days

1. The cheapest prices are not always online.

Sometimes you can find prices on litter that are close to or even better than online prices at your local store.

2. Big clumps are good

I didn't realize how much I loved big, fat, clumps of litter. Clumping litter is all I use, because I can't handle the non-clumping stuff, and none of the alternatives seem like they've solved all the challenges.

I didn't know, however, just how much I relied on big clumps to make cleaning the box easier. Until now.

3. Fragile and broken clumps are bad

When clumps fall apart, I get sad and so does my cat. I found the cheaper stuff falls apart, and when good clumps go bad, it's not fun.

OK, I knew that broken clumps were bad, but I found out just what a pain they are. It's hard to keep the box clean when the clumps won't stay together. Set your standards high and demand tight clumps from your cat litter!

4. On a good day, I can clean the litter box in 53 seconds flat

If I put the popcorn in the microwave, scoop the litter box, get rid of the evidence, and wash my hands for 20 seconds, the popcorn might just be done when I get back.

I sometimes look at cleaning the litter box as a big task. Like, ugh! I have to clean the box again! That's just a mind trick, though.

Unless you're physically unable to do it, cleaning the litter box is a surprisingly quick experience if you keep it clean. Scoop twice a day, and three times if you can (or get someone to help you).

Your cat will thank you. It's so much easier and faster to clean the box when you scoop it more often.

5. All the cat litter brands were dusty

There's a lot of marketing speak from companies about their products being low dust. Sometimes you'll see them advertised as 99% (or more) dust free.

During my experiment, I bought and used a number of different brands of cat litter. Some are very dusty and some are less dusty, but they are all dusty.

Note to self: buy a mask.

My search started and ended with clumping clay litters. As such, I did not price or test any alternative litters this time around.

Flushable cat litter, corn-based, wheat-based, soy-based, newspaper-based, pine-based or anything of the kind-based cat litter were not on the menu for this test.

Why only clumping clay litter?

There are a few main reasons I only used clumping clay litter in this comparison:

  • As veterinarian Dr. Lisa Pierson points out, non-clumping litter and some other alternative forms of litter don't allow for complete urine removal.
  • Because Jazzy the Wonder Cat is used to clumping clay, I didn't want to throw him off by doing that big of a switcheroo on him. I may have him test other types of litter in the future, but not right now.
  • Unlike some alternatives, most cats don't complain about clumping clay litter.
  • As I said above, alternative litters tend to be more expensive than clumping clay litter anyway, and non-clumping clay has to be discarded often.

In any case, once you get a litter that works, you usually want to stick with it. I've seen too many people change up litter type or brand, only to have their cat stop using the litter box. Yikes!

I didn't want to complicate my life, or his, any further.

It's bad enough I was trying the cheap stuff out on his little royal furriness, or is it his little furry royalness? Not sure.

Speaking of the cheap stuff, I searched several local pet stores and grocery stores, and I also checked pricing online.

So how low can we go?

How Cheap is Cheap?

In pricing litter, I ignored sales tax differences since sales tax will be different depending on where you live and where you order from.

The least expensive cat litter I could find at my local stores was Special Kitty at Walmart. All prices shown below were valid at the time of the test, but prices may change or vary by region.

Special Kitty cat litter comes in a 28 lb. box, and a 40 lb. box. The 40 lb. box is $9.99 at my local Walmart. That's about $.25 (25 cents) per pound if my math is right.

For comparison...

I found Arm and Hammer brand Double Duty or Multi-Cat litter sold in 40 lb. boxes for $14.29 at Amazon, or about $.36 a pound.

I've seen it for a few pennies less from time to time at other online retailers, but north of $14 is about the lowest price for $40 pounds worth of Arm and Hammer's dirt.

Tidy Cats comes in a variety of flavors (24/7 Protection, Glade scented, etc.) at several local stores, including Target, Dollar General, and Walmart. The typical regular price is about $12.97 for a 35 lb. container.

That's about 37 cents a pound. I've seen it on sale at Target for a bit less. You can also get a 40 lb. box at Amazon for $14.77. Still not as cheap as Special Kitty's regular price of 10 bucks, or 25 cents a pound.

The bottom line on price?

None of the clumping clay litters I looked at are as cheap as Special Kitty litter purchased at the Big W. Let's look at the pros and cons.

Pros and Cons of Special Kitty Litter

Pros:

  • Cheaper than other brands I looked at.
  • Clumps well (initially).
  • The scented version is not too overpowering.

Cons:

  • Dust. It's dustier than I'd like, but in fairness, I could probably say that about most clumping clay litters.
  • Every batch I've bought has larger chips or chunks in it that my cat likes to play with while he's in the box. Silly Jazzy kitty.
  • They make a (more expensive, as far as I can tell) "fragrance free" version, but I have not seen it available at my local store in a 40 lb. container.
  • In-store pick up only. You can order online, but at the time of this writing, you'll have to go to your local Walmart to pick it up.
  • Clumps break apart when disturbed during scooping (or by your cat). 
  • Urine sometimes pools in the bottom of the box, making scooping difficult, and resulting in a mess.

Let me focus on those last two... the main problems I found with this litter are:

  • The clumps break apart when you scoop (or when your cat goes crazy in the box).
  • Urine may pool in the bottom of the box, resulting in a mess and making clean up difficult.

When it comes to clumping litter, you want big, fat, clumps. You know what I mean?

Cat urine litter clumpBig clumps of litter are good

And, you want those clumps to stay together when you scoop the litter. If they start to break apart when you move the litter around or get your scoop underneath them, well, that's just bad news.

When little pieces break off or worse, if the clump begins crumbling, dirty litter remains in the box. As much as you try to scoop all that crumbled stuff up (and we try hard, don't we?!), you won't get it all.

And that means:

  • Despite all your efforts, you still end up with more dirty litter in the box. This defeats the purpose of using clumping litter in the first place!
  • You scoop and throw away more litter than you normally would.

If your cat is like mine, your cat may break up some of the clumps, too. When Jazzy does his Mambo dance in the box, sometimes he breaks up the clumps.

Not only do you end up with a dirtier box, but you'll need to replace the litter and scrub the box that much more often. Ugh!

And that's not all. Urine hitting the bottom of the box causes the plastic to absorb the urine odor, and eventually you'll find yourself with a permanently stinky box. You'll have to replace the box that much sooner.

When is Cheap Not So Cheap?

The end result of clumps that won't stay together? Wasted litter and wasted money.

This caused me to run through the cheapest litter faster than the better stuff. Not that the better stuff is outrageously expensive, mind you, but as I've said, it's dirt.

While this litter is less expensive to buy, the lack of ability of the clumps to stay together causes waste. That waste makes it equal to or more expensive than the other brands, and it makes cleaning the box more difficult.

The bottom line? While buying the cheapest cat litter seems to save you money up front, in the end, I found it does not.

But then I thought... what if I mix them?

Mixing Cat Litter Brands Can Be a Mixed Bag

Alas, my cheap cat litter experiment had failed. With my dreams of saving enough money to buy a castle in France or Scotland or somewhere like that crushed like a bug in a cat's paw, I suddenly had a sad.

In fact, I was all ready to title this, "my failed attempt to save 30%+ on cat litter each month," but that sounded defeatist.

I'm not one to give up so soon when I'm on a mission. I dusted myself off and put my mad litter scientist hat back on, and boom! Just like that, my new experiment was on.

It started with a question...

How can I solve my clumping problem but still save money?

It occurred to me that I could mix the cheapest cat litter (Special Kitty) with the more expensive litter, which clumps better. I figured this might solve my clumping problem while still saving some money.

Think of it like watering down the drinks, only with a lot more dust.

I mixed the Special Kitty with other litters, including Tidy Cats, Scoop Away, Arm and Hammer, and Fresh Step. This worked, but there was a problem.

The two litters are of different consistencies. What's the result? They don't stay evenly mixed when scooping, or when your cat acts like a hurricane tearing up the ocean floor and swishes things around in the box.

The finer stuff (Special Kitty is finer than almost all the others I tried) tends to end up on the bottom. In other words, a certain amount of the the cheaper litter ends up on the bottom of the box.

As I mentioned above, the problem with this litter is when your cat urinates, urine starts to pool in the bottom of box, and/or the clumps still fall apart.

Either way, scooping is difficult, and you've got a mess on your hands. 

I've gotten the mixture down to a point where it's tolerable. About 20-30% of the cheaper litter is all it can handle. Any more than that, and the problems rear their ugly heads.

Of course, you'll have to decide whether it's worth the savings to buy a whole different litter and maintain the right percentage.

And now you know why my test took so long.

What About Batch Differences?

I mentioned the dust. I'm aware that cat litter can be different from batch to batch. It's possible I got a dusty batch.

It's not unusual for a brand name to use different suppliers or manufacturers that package up their products in the same box with the same labeling.

In fact, Walmart has a Special Kitty Hotline. If you have questions about the product you bought, they want to know the bar code from the box so they can help you.

I've bought at least 5 boxes of this litter and so far, it's been pretty consistent from box to box.

What About Alternatives?

As I mentioned, I only tested clumping clay litters. I've heard of people using all kinds of things as cat litter alternatives, like horse bedding as an alternative to pine litter. Some people even recommend using chicken feed.

I haven't been that adventurous myself yet. If you're not up for the mixing routine, and horse bedding doesn't appeal to you, the other brands I've mentioned are only slightly more expensive per pound.

You can buy all the brands I tried at Amazon.

Now over to you. What's the cheapest cat litter you've found? Does it work well for you and your cat? Let us know in the comments!

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