What is Cat Litter Made Of?


You may not think about it when scooping the litter box but the ingredients in kitty litter matter to your cat’s health and well-being. Cat litters are primarily made of clay and other minerals, natural ingredients such as pine, wheat or corn, or synthetic crystallized silica.


Cat litter ingredients.

Clay Cat Litter is the Most Common Kitty Litter


Most cat litters, whether clumping or non-clumping, are made of a mixture of clay types. This wasn’t always the case, though. Before kitty litter was invented, cat owners used sand, dirt, ash, or old newspaper to fill their cat’s toilet box. You might still hear some people referring to their cat’s toilet as the “sandbox” for this reason. In 1947, Edward Lowe gave his neighbor a container of Fuller’s Earth, a term used to describe clay minerals capable of absorbing their weight in liquid, and modern cat litter was born.


Fuller’s Earth worked so much better than the cheaper (or free!) alternatives of sand and paper that cat owners were willing to pay for the product, despite naysayers’ predictions. Today, cat litter is an almost $10 billion industry in the United States and if you’re browsing the litter selection online or at your local pet or grocery store, you’ll discover that are many, many kinds of litter to choose from.


Different Kinds of Clay Cat Litter for Clumping and Non-Clumping


Most cat litters are variations of the original Fuller’s Earth formula, but that doesn’t mean that 21st century cat litters are the same as post-World War II litters. Companies tweak the types of clays and other ingredients used to create kitty litter formulas that have different levels of absorption and odor control. So while most cat litters have the same basic ingredients, the type, mixture, and ratios of ingredients, as well as other additives do make a difference when it comes to how well they work.


The most common clays used in cat litters are bentonites, such as sodium bentonite or calcium bentonite, that can swell up to 15 times their original volume. Other common clays added to cat litter mixtures are sepiolite, montmorillonite and kaolinite, depending on whether it is a clumping or non-clumping formula.


To get technical, all of the clays found in cat litter are hydrous aluminum silicates, formed from volcanic ash millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period (you know, the time period of the great extinction, probably from when a meteor struck the earth). These clays work well in cat litter because they trap moisture between layers of the clay, creating a negative ionic charge that attracts water and liquid.


Perhaps appropriately for its use in kitty litters, the negative charge imbalance in the clay is caused by cations (yes, cat-ions). Many clumping cat litters literally attract cat urine to cations and bond them together.


Today, roughly 40% of cat litter sold in the US. is the traditional clay, non-clumping formula, while clumping cat litters made of clay another ingredients makes up the other 60%.


Ingredients in Non-Clay, Natural Cat Litters

Although clay is the most common cat litter ingredient, there are cat litters made from a variety of other materials, including pine chips, wheat, walnut shells, corn cobs, sawdust, and paper.


These alternatives to clay litter come in both clumping and non-clumping formulas. For example, ARM& HAMMER Naturals* Clumping Litter is made from corn, baking soda, and plant extracts to absorb cat urine and form hard clumps for easy scooping.


ARM & HAMMER™ Feline Pine™ litters come in a clumping and a non-clumping formula. The pellets are made from pine sawdust reclaimed from the lumber industry, and the clumping formula has a plant-based clumping agent added to the pine shavings.


Many people like natural cat litters like Feline Pine™ or those made from wheat or other plant materials because they are very low dust and control tracking as well as absorb odors.

*Also contains mineral oil for dust control, and artificial scent added



Other Kitty Litter Ingredients

You may have also seen crystal kitty litter on you stroll down the cat litter aisle. These litters are typically made of a synthetic form of sodium silicate called silicon dioxide. You know the little packets of silica gel you find in some foods or when you buy a new pair of shoes? The ones that say “do not eat?” These are dessicants, or drying agents, that absorb excess moisture to help keep the food, or in the case of shoes and pocketbooks, the leather, fresh. Crystal kitty litter is made from a similar silica formula and absorbs cat urine without making clumps.


Other ingredients that may be added to cat litter include:

  • Baking soda. This natural salt is made from trona deposits and is added to clay and other types of cat litter to absorb and neutralize odors.
  • Mineral oil. This ingredient may be added to help control dust so kitty isn’t trying to toilet in a dust storm and you’re not enveloped in a cloud of dust every time your cat covers their waste or you pour more litter into the box. It can also help keep kitty litter from sticking to the bottom of the box for easy cleanup.
  • Fragrances. Light fragrances may be added to a kitty litter formula to help deal with odor.


Cat Litter Options for Kittens and Cats with Health Issues

Just like humans, some kitties have allergies, asthma, or sensitive respiratory systems. For these cats, experts recommend a low- or no-dust cat litter, whether it’s made from clay or another ingredient. Plant-based litters, such as Feline Pine™ have no dust, and other formulas, such as ARM & HAMMER™ Slide™ Easy Clean-Up Litter are clay-based, but 100 percent dust-free.


Also like humans, some cats are sensitive to fragrances. Try an unscented formula, such as ARM & HAMMER™ AbsorbX™ Unscented Lightweight Cat Litter, or for more dust-control, use ARM & HAMMER™ Cloud Control™ Breathe Easy Clumping Cat Litter, which is dust-free, excludes 26 known scent allergens, and uses Dander Shield Technology™ to help reduce airborne dander when scooping.


If you have a diabetic cat or one with renal issues, you may prefer a non-clumping cat litter (whether clay or non-clay based) so you can more easily monitor your cat’s urine output. Vets often recommend that cats recovering from spaying/neutering or other surgery use a non-clumping or non-clay litter to keep particles away from incisions. Many vets and shelters prefer pellet-based litter for kittens as well, at least until they are a few months old.


Lastly, cats have highly developed senses of smell and tend to be sensitive to the ammonia odor that can reek from a litter box that isn’t maintained or one filled with a litter that doesn’t absorb and control odors well. Be sure your cat litter’s ingredients are formulated for odor control to help keep you and your cat happy and healthy.


Choose a Litter with Ingredients You and Your Cat Prefer

There are many types of cat litter available, but the basic ingredients are either clays, silica, or plant shavings of some sort. While clay litters still dominate the market due to their liquid-absorbing properties, alternative kitty litters made from paper, wood, wheat, corn, and other natural ingredients are also available.


As a cat parent, pay attention to the ingredients in your kitty litter to be sure you’re choosing a litter that fits with your – and your cat’s – preferences. If you do choose to change your current cat litter for another, remember that your cats don’t typically like change. Be sure to slowly add the new litter to previous one, gradually phasing out the old, or if the litters do not mix well, put out an additional litter box with the new litter so kitty can investigate. Gradually remove litter from the previous box and then take it away entirely once you’re sure kitty is using the new litter.


A Variety of Cat Litter Types & Ingredients from ARM & HAMMER™

ARM & HAMMER™ makes multiple kinds of clumping cat litter, including formulas containing odor-absorbing baking soda and odor-control agents to cut down on smells.Try one of these ARM & HAMMER™ Litters to find the best option for you and your cat:



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