Cats are one of the most popular house pets for a lot of reasons. They are beautiful, soft, and have personality for days. Cats can make us laugh, comfort us when we’re down, and even provide household pest control. The fact that they are so easily trained to use a litter box is a big bonus, but on the negative side, that litter sure can make a mess around the house.
Does cat litter ruin vacuums? It can if you use the wrong one in the wrong way. We will show you five of the best vacuums for picking up cat litter, as well as some tips for maintaining your vacuum. Cat litter, after all, is made up of tiny pebbles coated in clay, so it can do some damage without proper attention to its disposal.
Overview of Potential Cat Litter Vacuum Models
Canister vacuums are the most common type with a motor, powerhead, and removable containment unit that can be either bagged or bagless. Opinions are split on whether a bagged or bagless model is best for cat litter. On one hand, a bagless model can be emptied after every vacuum, minimizing smell. However, loose fur and litter does billow into the air a bit when the canister is opened. With a bagged model, all of that stuff stays in the bag, but unless you have unlimited funds for replacement bags, you’ll want to wait to change it until the bag is full. That can contribute to lingering odors.
Handheld vacuums are great for storing near the litter box for small messes. Many models are cordless, adding to the convenience factor. They don’t hold very much litter at once, but it’s best not to overload any vacuum with huge quantities of litter. We always recommend sweeping or gathering most of the litter up another way before vacuuming, so a little handheld may be the perfect thing to get the last of the litter dust in those tight corners.
Stick vacuums are a nice compromise between a large canister vacuum and a small handheld one. They are slim and lightweight, easy to store but with a greater capacity than handhelds. Many stick vacuums are also cordless, making them a good choice for litter box locations without an outlet nearby. It’s also nice not to drag a cord through the mess that you’ll later have to wind back up.
For a hands-off approach, a robot vacuum for cat litter is a great choice. However, it is important for the life of your vacuum to avoid sucking up wet litter. This will harden inside and jam up the internal components. A robotic vacuum isn’t able to distinguish between wet and dry debris. Unless you make sure you do the bulk of the litter removal another way before the robot makes its pass, you may find that this type of vacuum has a fairly short lifespan.
Also called shop vacs, wet/dry vacuums are designed to tackle all kinds of heavy duty messes, both wet and dry. They can be ideal for cleaning kitty litter because the debris does not pass through any electrical or mechanical components. You are less likely to need to pre-clean before using a shop vac for cat litter. However, they are bulky and not suited to cleaning the whole house, so you may end up with a machine you trip over a lot but don’t use that much.
Valuable Features in a Cat Litter Vacuum
Many vacuums are labeled as pet vacuums, but that may or may not mean they are ideal for your needs. Following are some things to consider in a cat litter vacuum, regardless of how the device is branded.
Bypass motor/cyclonic action
One handy feature in a vacuum that will be dedicated to cat litter is a bypass flow motor. This keeps dirt and air separate so that minimal dust lodges in the filter. If your vacuum is labeled as “cyclonic” that generally means that it uses a bypass motor to generate strong suction, which is critical for handling heavy material like cat litter.
Retractable roller brush to tackle carpets and hard floors
For litter that gets trapped deep inside carpeted surfaces, you need a vacuum with a good strong roller brush. The attached bristles move aside carpet fibers in order to allow the suction to reach buried debris. However, roller brushes can damage hardwood floors.
Many models come with multiple settings that allow you to engage or disengage the roller brush depending on where you’re cleaning, so take a moment to verify that the one you’re interested in will do that. It can also be beneficial to have a roller brush that is designed to snap out easily for cleaning, especially if you have a long-haired cat.
The last thing you want while vacuuming up cat litter is to breathe in the urine and feces soaked dust that surrounds it. A HEPA filter is the gold standard when it comes to effective retention of everything that goes in. Since vacuums need to vent air in order to maintain suction, without a high end filter, some small particles will flow right back out as you’re vacuuming and float around in the nearby air, eventually settling onto the floor again.
A final consideration: bagged or bagless?
As we mentioned above, there are pros and cons to both types of vacuum when it comes to cat litter. Replacement bags can be pricy, but they keep all vacuumed debris securely inside when you empty the machine. However, you will typically vacuum many times before a bag is full, which can cause a lingering odor.
Bagless models, on the other hand, can be emptied every time they’re used (though they don’t need to be). This can help to reduce odor, but every once in awhile, you’ll need to clean the entire canister inside and out to prevent the growth of bacteria. Pay special attention to the place where the canister seats to the machine – dust buildup there can impact suction.
Top 5 VACUUMS FOR CAT LITTER - Product Comparison
#1 Editor Choice
Black+Decker Smartech Pet
Bissell Pet Hair Eraser
Craftsman 12004 6 Gallon
Dry cartridge + wet pick-up foam
Top 5 vacuum for cat littler recommendations detail reviews:
1 Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away TruePet Upright Vacuum, Bordeaux (NV752)
The feature that really makes this a pet vacuum is its Anti-Allergen Complete Seal Technology and HEPA filter, which traps 99.9% of dust and allergens inside the vacuum. With two additional foam filters inside, this Shark model is a great choice if anyone in your home is sensitive to dust.
It’s also easy to use, with on/off and hard floor/carpet mode controls located right at your fingertips. It has swivel steering that allows easy navigation around and under furniture, plus a detachable canister for when you really need to get into a tight space. The Shark comes with four accessory tools, including one that’s perfect for hard floors, as well as multiple others that tackle pet hair with ease.
A bonus feature is the LED lights attached to the powerhead, which really let you see the dust, litter, and hair that needs to be cleaned. Shark stands behind this product with a lifetime warranty on defects and workmanship for the original owner – this excludes items that are meant to wear out, such as the filters and roller brush bristles.
- Allergy safe
- LED lights and included accessories
- Lifetime warranty
- Roller brush must be cleaned frequently
- Heavy to push around
- No available extension hoses
- 13.2 x 11.9 x 45 inches
- 15.4 pounds
- Lifetime warranty
2 Dibea 600W Lightweight Corded Stick Vacuum Cleaner
The Dibea Pet Hair Vacuum is made specifically for hard floors. It does not have a brush roll, so will not be extremely effective on carpets. However, it has powerful 15kpa suction that can easily tackle debris as heavy as cat litter. The cyclone action and HEPA filter keeps the motor dust-free and all mess inside.
It’s lightweight and has a swivel head to make navigation more comfortable. The 19.7 foot cord is long enough to tackle most rooms without unplugging. LED lights help to illuminate the mess. This vacuum also does double duty as a stick model with detachable handheld component. But because it’s compact, the containment unit is only 1.0L. Some users complained that removing the dirt cup to empty it can be tricky.
Despite its limitations, the Dibea has the kind of suction power needed to tackle cat litter, and is compact and easy to store. If your litter box is located on a hard surface, this could be the model for you.
- Allergy safe
- Lightweight and easy to maneuver
- No brush roll to clog
- For hard floors only
- Small collection cup/difficult to empty
- No included accessories
- 39.5 x 18.5 x 6.7 inches
- 4.63 pounds
- 12-month warranty for quality-related issues
3 BLACK+DECKER HHVJ325BMP07 SMARTECH PET Cordless 10.8V Hand Vacuum with Scent and Base, 2.5 Ah
If you’re looking for a cordless handheld vacuum to deal with cat litter, this Black+Decker model is a great choice. The brush roll is independently motorized so it can stand up to heavy litter and stubborn hair. The bristles are also rubber, which makes them strong, long-lasting, and anti-tangle.
Even better, this vacuum addresses the constant problem of odor with a scented pre-filter. It is designed to make use of “smartech” features, such as automatically adjusted suction power, battery level indicator, and clogged filter alert. There are also two speeds which allow you to go hard at floors and furniture, while treading more lightly on items like curtains.
You won’t lose power due to the cyclonic action that helps keep the filter clean and suction strong. The 16.9 ounce dirt cup is translucent so that you can see when it needs to be emptied. With three accessory attachments, you should be able to get into the tightest of spaces and clean any type of surface.
Though not HEPA rated, this vacuum uses two washable filters and a scented pre-filter, so that minimal dust ends up back in the air. The charging base is wall-mountable for easy storage.
- Smartech features
- Scented filter
- Rubber brush roll
- Small dirt collection cup
- Replacement filters may be tough to find
- No way to swap out battery to extend time between charges
- 16 x 7 x 6 inches
- 3.4 pounds
- Two years
4 Bissell Pet Hair Eraser Upright Bagless Pet Vacuum Cleaner Machine with Tangle Free Brush Roll, 1650A
Designed especially with pet owners in mind, this Bissell upright bagless model features a tangle-free brush roll. Its Smart Seal Allergen System keeps the dust, fur, and litter inside while the Febreze Pet Odor Eliminator eliminates bad smells rather than just masking them.
This vacuum also has a patented technology to separate hair from dust in the containment unit. While most of us have never considered why this is helpful, Bissell says that it allows all of the mess to fall out easily in a hands-free manner when emptying the container. Aha – now we remember how often we’ve had to put our fingers up into a bagless containment unit to fish out clumped up debris that gets wedged inside.
The Bissell Pet Hair Eraser has a quick release wand to go from floors to furniture and other surfaces in a flash. It comes with a TurboEraser Tool to remove embedded hair and litter from carpets and upholstery and a 2-in-1 tool with rubber fingers and a soft dusting brush for delicate surfaces. It also has an extension wand/crevice tool with its own LED lights, because all kinds of stuff can hide in crevices.
- Tangle-free brush roll
- Allergy safe/odor eliminator
- Easy to empty with one-touch
- Filters must be cleaned frequently
- Heavy to push around
- Struggles on deep pile carpets
- 13.5 x 12.4 x 46.8 inches
- 18 pounds
- Five year warranty
5 Craftsman 12004 6 Gallon 3 Peak HP Wet/Dry VaC
In general, you want to avoid vacuuming wet cat litter because it really clogs up the system. With a wet/dry vac, however, this is less of a problem. This Craftsman model is a good choice if you have multiple cats and a large area to clean. It tackles heavy duty messes with a 17 foot cleaning reach that includes a 7 foot secure fit hose, 10 foot cord, and two extension wands. In all, it comes with 8 accessories to get into just about any space.
The Craftsman also converts to a blower if you need to dislodge stubborn litter from under or behind things. With a huge 6-gallon capacity for debris, you won’t need to empty it very often, even though for hygiene and odor purposes, you really should. It’s also a versatile choice in that you can clean up urine or vomit, not just hair and litter.
The downside to a wet/dry vacuum for managing cat litter is that it is quite bulky and takes up a lot of storage space. If pet care is its only purpose, it may not be the best choice. Indeed, a shop vac like this one is not ideal for whole house cleaning because it has only small heads attached to a hose, rather than the sizable powerhead found on upright and canister vacuums. But, if you have additional garage and outdoor applications for your vacuum, a Craftsman wet/dry could fit the bill.
- Handles wet and dry messes
- Lots of included accessories
- Long reach
- Bulky/tough to store
- Wheels can break without careful use
- Initial setup is tricky
- 6.2 x 6.2 x 8.3 inches
- 16.25 pounds
- One year warranty
Maintaining Your Cat Litter Vacuum
Cat litter really isn’t the best for any vacuum, so that’s why we recommend sweeping or scooping as much as possible before vacuuming what’s left. Litter’s hard clay granules not only damage mechanical components, but also give off fine dust that can clog a filter. This is especially problematic in bagless vacuum cleaners that push material through the fan. The blades and the hosing get scratched and weakened, leading to the need to replace them frequently.
Another concern in vacuuming cat litter is odor. Once inside the vacuum, litter contaminated with urine and feces can leave its smell on all of the machine’s internal components. If the litter is scented, that distinctive odor will remain, too. These internal pieces are hard to access and clean, so your vacuum may have a lingering cat smell forever that is especially noticeable whenever you use it.
But provided that you only clean small amounts of dry litter at once, it shouldn’t destroy your vacuum. Following are more tips to both keep your litter box area clean and preserve the life of your vacuum.
Consider a dedicated vacuum
In this article, we’ve considered several different vacuums with features that make them ideal for picking up cat litter. Perhaps you want to purchase one for that purpose alone. No matter how powerful, vacuums do pick up and retain contaminants on the wheels, outer edges, and hoses – any part that touches the surface to be cleaned. Having a vacuum dedicated just to the space where your cat does its business will keep the litter and waste much better contained. Another option is to wipe down the entire vacuum before using it in another room.
Avoid wet kitty litter
Wet kitty litter clumps together in a cement-like texture when it dries. If that process occurs inside a vacuum, it’s likely to impede free movement of the components and potentially lead to burnout. It’s also next to impossible to clean thoroughly and bacteria can breed like crazy in an environment made moist by urine. Plus, it just stinks.
Use a hose attachment
If your vacuum doesn’t have a rubberized or specially designed brush roll, cat litter can get stuck in the bristles. That means you are likely to spread it even further afield if you use the vacuum to clean any other spaces in the home. Lodged cat litter can also scratch hardwood floors. One way to get around this is to use your vacuum’s hose attachment rather than the regular powerhead.
Empty and clean canister regularly
It’s kind of a pain to empty the vacuum every time you use it, but doing so can help reduce bacterial growth and lingering odors. Don’t forget to shake or rinse out the hose if you used it, as well. In bagless models, rinse or clean out the containment unit with a bleach wipe every so often. The brush roll is also going to need attention every so often to avoid spreading contamination. It can be helpful to get a vacuum with a specially designed brush roll that snaps out easily for cleaning.
Use a litter mat
There are several different types of mat designed to go under a cat’s litter box and help remove the pieces that stay on the cat’s feet before they walk away. It also catches the spray of litter that tends to occur when the cat jumps into or out of the box. A litter mat will reduce the amount of litter that ends up on the floor, and can be dumped and rinsed easily.
Odor Control for a Cat Litter Vacuum
Several of the vacuums on our list have odor control as a design feature. If your choice does not, there are other ways of managing the smell. The key is to locate the source and kill the bacteria that are most likely causing it. But because odors can penetrate deep into the inner workings of the vacuum, some sort of scented solution may also be necessary. It’s important not to pollute the air and exacerbate allergies with the residue of harmful cleaners or air fresheners, though, so a green solution is almost always best.
The easiest thing to use is a store-bought enzyme odor cleaner. These are formulated without harsh chemicals and kill bacteria and/or mold that grow over time due to a moist environment. White vinegar mixed with water works well, too, as does baking soda. You can either mix the latter with water to clean the vacuum, or sprinkle some inside the containment unit to absorb odors as they occur.
One clever way to disperse a nice scent while vacuuming is to place potpourri inside the canister or containment unit. Potpourri is readily available in stores and quite easy to make, as well. If you choose to make your own, you have greater control over the combination of scents and may find that your favorite smell makes the job of vacuuming just a little less onerous.
Fragrant essential oils may also be wiped inside the dirt catcher; the smell will disperse as the vacuum is used, but may also cause debris to stick to the inside of the unit. Be careful not to get oils near the belt, motor, or any connection points that could affect suction.
Since cats are like members of the family, we would do just about anything for our cherished pets. But that doesn’t mean that dealing with their litter box is ever a fun job! We hope we have given you the information necessary to make a dirty job less of a hassle, and to keep your home clean and odor-free, no matter how many four-legged friends you share it with. The right vacuum for cat litter can make short work of this chore, leaving you more time to try and read while your cat sits on top of the pages.