After 10 weeks of research and extensive in-home testing with the top five automatic litter boxes and our cats Kit Kat and Jelly Bean, we found the Pet Zone – Smart Scoop to be the best automatic litter box.
Despite being automatic, it’s still brilliant at the basics; you can use regular litter, it has a familiar open litter box shape and is not disruptful with its quiet cleaning. Both Kit Kat and Jelly Bean took to using the Smart Scoop quickly. With its easy setup, effective cleaning and practical design, it made for a well-rounded product that cuts down the work of that dreaded chore, even with our two finicky felines.
Top Pick: Pet Zone - SmartScoop
This no-frills automatic litter box is easy to adapt to and cleans up consistently. Our cats preferred its open, familiar design and we appreciated its low maintenance and efficient cleaning.
The highly-regarded Litter-Robot III – Open Air litter box is also an impressive feat of design and mechanics. It enables you to use regular litter, and it boasts one of the more advanced cleaning methods with its unique rotating sifting system. Although the Litter Robot is a premium product, it can be a pricey gamble to know whether your cat will like it or not.
Runner Up: Litter-Robot III
This premium automatic litter box uses a patented sifting system for thorough cleaning and comes with many features.
We understand first-hand that keeping your cat’s bathroom area clean is never an easy task, especially when one considers the frequency of scooping and the sights and smells of handling waste directly. So it’s a good thing there are automatic litter boxes to cut down the hassle of this unpleasant chore. There is obviously no magic solution that will completely remove the task of cleaning up after your cats, but these are great products that can make that job a lot easier.
Table of contents
- How we selected finalists to test
- The five best litter boxes
- Important features to consider
- How we tested
- The best automatic litter box: SmartScoop
- The runner up: Litter-Robot III
- Other finalists we tested
- The bottom line
How we selected finalists to test
The promise of having to scoop even one less clump of litter is enticing to any cat owner. However, these products can feel like an expensive gamble as they can be ten times more expensive than a manual litter box and have less-than-stellar reviews.
Our research brought us to many articles that only ranked the automatic litter boxes by their advertised features and consumer reviews. We unfortunately didn’t come across articles with any real in-home testing, so we took this opportunity to do our own discovery.
We also combed through the /r/Pets subreddit, where it seemed like many cat owners resorted to their own hacks for for manual litter box clean-up since automatic litter boxes can be tricky. Finally, we read through hundreds of Amazon reviews on various automatic litter boxes to help us identify what users look for in the perfect automatic litter box.
With our hours of research and personal experience in caring for two cats, we honed in on the most important features for a good automatic litter box:
- Effectiveness in cleaning
- Impact on cat’s usage
- Setup and programmable features
- Environmental presence
- Odor control
- Frequency of maintenance
The five best litter boxes
|Product||Cost||Cleaning Mech.||Litter Type||Overall Rating|
|1. Pet Zone - SmartScoop||$$||Scoop||Clumping litter||4/5|
|2. Litter-Robot III||$$$$$||Rotating sifter||Clumping litter||3.5/5|
|3. PetSafe - ScoopFree Ultra||$$||Rake||Crystal litter||2.5/5|
|4. LitterMaid - LM980||$$||Rake||Clumping litter||2/5|
|5. CatGenie (not recommended)||$$$$||Rotate, scoop, wash, flush||Plastic granules||0/5|
Who needs an automatic litter box?
With over three million Google search results for “how often do I have to clean my cat’s litter?” you can easily surmise it’s an unpleasant chore that is often delayed. While it may stink that you need to clean it, it’s never good for your cat to have a filthy, full litter box. This could lead to a number of issues, ranging from negative association with the litter box causing accidents around the house to more serious health issues like urinary tract diseases. So an automatic litter box can easily aid in maintaining a clean and approachable bathroom area for your cat by taking care of the cleaning process and removing waste from the litter for you.
The health benefits for your cat mostly just depend on a litter box that’s clean, so let’s face it, this is just as much about what you need. A self-cleaning litter box is valuable to any cat owner wanting to add convenience to their daily routine, unless you have one of those magical felines who will participate in toilet-training. The automatic box can make an even bigger difference if you have multiple cats. If you’re tired of scooping out your cat’s litter box daily, then an automatic litter box is probably something you’ve considered more than once already.
Important features to consider
- Cost – The price tag for an automatic litter box can range from a minimum of $100 to $450. This doesn’t include the cost of litter and the accessories the box may require. Also, a good rule of thumb for the number of litter boxes in your house is one per cat, plus an additional one.
- Effectiveness in cleaning – The whole purpose of buying a self-cleaning/automatic litter box is in its name. You want a product that fulfills its claims. It’s important to consider what type of mechanism the litter box uses to clean the waste. Does it rake? Does it scoop? Does it sift? We found that sifting did much better than raking, with scoops performing somewhere in between.
- Impact on cat’s usage – Transitioning any cat to change can be a difficult undertaking. You have to be careful in not disrupting your cat’s habitat too much, regardless of how convenient it is to your lifestyle. If the design is very different than what your cat is used to, consider keeping their regular litter box around to ease the transition (and your ability to return the new box to the manufacturer if the cat won’t touch it.)
- Setup and programmable features – Nobody likes reading through long pages of manuals to set up a new product. It’s also important to note what features are available with your litter box. Can it can be programmed to clean at certain times? Is there an indicator for how many times your cat has used it?
- Environmental presence – Your cat’s bathroom area shouldn’t be a statement piece in your home. It should be able to coexist with your living space and not be so loud that it frequently annoys you.
- Frequency of maintenance and odor control – Again, automatic litter boxes should turn the litter box maintenance from a daily process to a weekly one, keeping your cat’s litter area tidy enough between maintenances and controlling the smell that comes from a filthy litter box.
How we tested
When you’re trying to choose the right product, online searches can lead you down a rabbit hole of reviews and lead to reservations about spending so much on a design you’re not confident in. While the existing reviews we found only rank litter boxes by comparing features, we did the real dirty work for you.
Comfort for your cats and for you
If you’ve ever turned a printer on around a cat, you know firsthand how intrigued and surprised a cat can be about an inanimate object moving. Now imagine how they feel when their litter box comes to life.
It was a careful and calculated process transitioning Kit Kat and Jelly Bean to test out the efficacy of these litter boxes. As cats are creatures of habits, it is recommended that you keep their existing litter boxes next to or near their new ones to help ease the transition. (This is a bit of an issue for the CatGenie, which had to be placed next to a toilet). Then, slowly phase their old litter boxes out once they get adjusted to the new one.
With this in mind, and our five self-cleaning litter boxes ready, we set up their new automatic litter boxes in their existing bathroom area. We kept their old litter box nearby, too. With the litter boxes that used regular litter, we stuck with our tried and true, Fresh Step – Ultra Unscented. With the litter boxes that required specialized litter, we used their respective branded products.
We observed how they reacted to the cleaning mechanisms in action and whether that scared them away from using some boxes. We also noted how easy (or difficult) it was for the cats to get in and out of the boxes.
Of course, despite our planning and adhering to litter box transition guidelines, cats aren’t robots: we had two accidents. We know that this was not an easy adjustment for them, either, so we added an additional manual litter box nearby to help them transition. Overall, it’s important when changing anything with your pet’s surroundings to be attentive, and react when you see that they need help.
The litter box room-presence was another important aspect of human comfort we considered. Our cats use the litter box quite often, so it was imperative that the automatic litter box wasn’t loud, as it would be running often. We also noted how each litter box looked in our living space.
Automatic cleaning mechanism
We never knew there was so much to learn about litter boxes. However, after testing out five litter boxes with particular cleaning mechanisms, we discovered the pros and cons of each method.
- Scoops did a good job cleaning waste but sometimes left crumbs around the litter box.
- Rakes did not leave a mess but were sometimes loud and would often get waste stuck on the teeth, requiring additional maintenance.
- The toilet system cleaned very thoroughly but was hot and loud
- The sifting system also cleaned well but the turning dome could be intimidating to cats.
We rated the effectiveness of each cleaning mechanism by comparing to our usual method of manually cleaning with a scooper by hand.
It was important that the automatic litter boxes sifted through the litter, removed the waste completely and reset the litter so it was smoothed out. We also observed how each mechanism disposed of the waste and whether it controlled the odor. Odor control really depended on how well the litter type covered the smell and how each receptacle kept smells in.
Setup and additional features
We determined if the setup was easy or difficult by timing how long each litter box took to set up, whether it required additional tools, and if it required a specific location. Manuals that were simple and easy to follow also made a difference in setup time.
The setup also revealed whether there were additional things to program and what the buttons on the litter box did. It was significant for us that the litter box could sense the cat’s presence, which they all were able to do. All of the litter boxes included a safeguard to stop the litter box from running if a cat is detected in the box. Additional features were a bonus and not necessary in the effectiveness of cleaning and convenience of use.
Maintenance and cost of ownership
We noted how frequently we had to monitor the litter box for any clogs or clumps that were stuck. It was imperative the cleaning mechanism worked effectively as this influenced the maintenance of the litter box. We also observed the size of the waste receptacle and how often we had to replace or clean it out.
Some of the litter boxes required additional accessories or specialized brand litter, adding extra costs for the usage of the litter box. It also was relevant how much the litter box itself cost, as they vary greatly in price. So when you take into consideration wanting multiple automatic litter boxes, it can add up even more quickly.
The best automatic litter box: SmartScoop
This was a clear win. Even though the Pet Zone – SmartScoop did not have the flashy features of other models, it simply worked well. It can be difficult to determine what the best automatic litter box is when they all tout special features like the best cleaning mechanism or an appealing design. However, the most important aspects were not whether you could flush your cat’s waste through a toilet or a counter that tracks the frequency of your cat’s litter box usage to help monitor their health: the simple and thorough cleaning mechanism wins.
Pet Zone - SmartScoop
A clear winner--the SmartScoop maintains a clean litter box in a familiar shape in form.
The Pet Zone provided convenience with its ease of handling and simple, functional features. It can sense when a cat enters the litter box and stays for a period of time. It cleans up after the cat leaves, preventing any odor from lingering too long.
There’s enough room for even the twenty-pound Kit Kat, with a considerable litter area and without the closed space that might cause problems for bigger cats. It was not obtrusive in our room; it looks like a regular litter box and is low to the ground. The noise level is minimal, with a low whirring sound as it runs through its cleaning cycle.
Additionally, it is designed to be simple and easy for both cats and humans to use. It is a straightforward, open top litter box. Unlike some competitors, it provides a recognizable rectangular shape and allows for the regular litter your cats are accustomed to using.
The uncovered design allows for an easy entrance for any sized cat. All together, Pet Zone provided a familiar bathroom environment, so both our cats adjusted to using it quickly. It raked and scooped fairly quickly, so the noise didn’t last too long either. This was important, since it never bothered or intimidated the cats from using it.
Pet Zone’s raking and scooping deflector has a pretty thorough method of cleaning. The dual system uses regular litter and ensures the clumps of litter gets raked clean to one side, which then gathers it all so it can be swept up in a scooping motion and deposited into the waste drawer. Although some clumps got stuck, it didn’t happen frequently, and only with larger blocks of waste. It came with a tool designed for the very purpose of removing clumps, so it was a painless task to just tap the scooper to unblock it.
There are no bells and whistles with the Pet Zone. It has a simple AC adaptor that you plug into an outlet, and an on/off switch. It doesn’t need to programmed since the cleaning timer was already excellent. We never had issues with either cat being in contact with the rake. The Pet Zone only needs to be plugged in, no extra setup requirements. It did its job well and thoroughly and cut back on a lot of manual cleaning.
- Pet Zone – Smart Scoop’s open top and large rectangular shape allows for any size cat to use and adapt to it quickly
- It allows you to use regular litter so it’s familiar for your cats
- Pet Zone’s cleaning system ensures it is thoroughly cleaned. The waste gets deposited into a receptacle with good odor control
- It ran quietly and quickly and did not bother the cats
The runner up: Litter-Robot III
High-end and high-tech aren’t words we would use to describe the typical litter box. However, those two qualities are found in our runner up, the Litter-Robot III. From the smooth round design and sturdy build to the impressive rotating dome sifter, this is a remarkable litter box. It even lights up inside and emits a blue glow when it’s dark.
Litter-Robot’s patented rotating and sifting system was one of the most thorough cleaning mechanisms we observed. It uses regular litter and does the most effective job in completely cleaning clumps of waste, as this method leaves no litter unturned (litter-ally). The detached globe slowly rotates to sift the clumps through to a waste drawer, then rotates back to settle the litter.
The Litter-Robot includes more settings than many of the other litter boxes, which is helpful for pet owners who want more customization. You can adjust its timer to decide how long after a cat uses the litter box to activate cleaning mode. This box comes with a programmable sleep mode as well.
At a premium, this is for those who need extra features and don’t want to deal with any mess.
The setup and waste removal were the easiest among its competitors. Like our top pick, it only needs to be plugged into an outlet to work. When it came time to remove the collected waste, you simply pulled out the waste tray underneath and dumped it out. Additionally, the waste tray is large, which cuts back on the frequency of maintaining its cleanliness to every two weeks. When it ran through its clean cycle, the noise was never an issue. That being said, it was a bit slower than the other models we tested.
A few areas in which the Litter-Robot fell short were its entrance and imposing size. While the design is remarkable, almost like a mini rocketship, it doesn’t blend discreetly into your home decor and takes up a lot of space. The entry to the litter box was also a hindrance to our larger and older cat, Kit Kat, and made it difficult for him to use.
While Kit Kat never quite got accustomed to using the steeper vertical entrance, Jelly Bean eventually became less daunted by the entryway and used it quite frequently. However, she is a smaller and more active cat. So keep in mind, it would be less convenient for older cats. Litter-Robot does sell a separate ramp that you can place in front of the entrance to help out older cats.
Lastly, the Litter-Robot is a premium product with a premium price— more than double the cost of our top pick. It is not a cost effective solution, especially if you want more than one automatic litter box in your home. We also would need to purchase a ramp to make the entry more accessible, which adds another $50 to the cost. That being said, if you’re able to foot the bill and can make room for it in your home, the Litter-Robot is an exceptional automatic litter box that lives up to expectations.
- Litter-Robot’s impressive patented rotating and sifting cleaning system did the most thorough job of cleaning the litter
- It also allows you to use the clay litter your cat is used to
- The Litter-Robot has remarkably easy setup, waste removal, and maintenance
- Its large size might be too imposing for some homes, and its entryway is difficult for older/less active cats
- Its price tag is highest among automatic litter box competitors
Other finalists we tested
PetSafe – ScoopFree Ultra Self-Cleaning Litter Box
The PetSafe was unique in that it used specialized crystal litter. Instead of clumping, the litter absorbs urine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do nearly as well covering the smell of feces. Moreover, bits would often get stuck on the rake. This was one of the quietest among its competitors, but that’s because the motor that pushed the rake was not as powerful.
It also comes with a hood that can help with its odor issues, but may make the opening too small for larger cats to enter.
That being said, the PetSafe was one of the easiest boxes to clean. With its disposable litter trays, all you had to do was lift the plastic top off, remove the cardboard litter tray, throw it out and install a new one. Some nice-to-have features that add to the litter box’s value are a health counter (which tracks how many times your cat uses the box) and an adjustable timer.
The LitterMaid was a pretty standard self-cleaning litter box. It uses normal clumping litter and a rake to push clumps into the waste receptacle. Carbon filters included with each of the waste receptacles kept odor under control. Clean up was as easy as throwing away the waste receptacle and replacing it with a new one.
The carpeted ramp was nice, since it made it easier for cats to get in the litter box and also helped prevent litter from tracking outside of it. It also has an optional sleep timer to deactivate it at night.
However, a big issue was that feces would get stuck fairly often on the rake, although there was a scooper included that made it easy to remove. Since the track for the rake is on the inside of the litter box, sometimes litter (or even worse, feces) would get on the track. When that happened, the rake would grind very loudly as it ran, like someone sharpening a pencil. This means extra maintenance was required, which detracted from how convenient using this litter box was otherwise.
The CatGenie was the most unique and complex litter box. It uses biodegradable plastic granules instead of regular litter and is connected to your toilet/water line. The system rotates the granules into the scooper, and emulsifies the solid waste by adding water to it. It then flushes the granules with water in its “SaniSolution,” and finally blows warm air to heat and dry the granules. The benefit of it being connected to your toilet/water line is that there is no manual disposal of waste required.
The cleaning cycle is very loud. Since it blows warm air during the drying cycle, it heats the area around it as well. The 30 minute cleaning cycle is quite long and also sounds like an open dishwasher running through a wash cycle.
In addition, the plastic granules are unfamiliar to a cat used to clumping litter. With all these factors in play, it was one of the most intimidating litter boxes for our cats to use. Due to the way it cleans, we were unable to add clumping litter to at least give it a recognizable scent. Jelly Bean used it to pee once and Kit Kat would not go near it at all.
The lack of familiar design, loud cleaning cycle and foreign litter can be a deterrent for an easy litter box transition. It also took up a substantial amount of space, and its required hook-up to a water line made for an inconvenient setup and location.
The bottom line
Sometimes simple is best. The Pet Zone – SmartScoop did exactly what it was supposed to do. It cleaned itself without you noticing. Plus, it’s reasonably priced. If you want to go for an ultra-premium option, the Litter-Robot is what you want, as long as you can get your cat to use it. But if you want something that just works, especially one that you might need multiple of, the SmartScoop takes the cake.
Runner Up: Litter-Robot III
If you need a premium automatic litter box with an assortment of features that make maintaining clean litter even more effortless, the Litter-Robot III - Open Air is suitable.