Will an Air Purifier Help With Cat Litter Box Smells?

We love our cats more than anything in the world.

But there are some things that not even the biggest cat lover likes about them.

Of course, there’s the biting and scratching. But as pet parents, we can tolerate all that.

What often gets our goat is the awful stench emanating from their litter boxes!

So, why do your cat pee and poop smell so bad?

Will air purifiers help? And if so, which types can work best?

In this article, I will explore the answers.

Cat Litter Box Smells - Air Purifier

Why Do Cat Litter Boxes Smell So Bad?

To understand this, you must first learn what cat urine is made of. Like all urine, cat pee has a mix of urea, uric acid, a bit of sodium chloride and electrolytes, and so on.

It’s mostly the ammonia in urea that’s the problem. Cat pee has a lot of urea as compared to even dogs or us.

When urine breaks down into its components after drying out, it releases ammonia.

Now if you have ever been in a chem lab in high school, you might know what ammonia smells like.

Yeah, that stuff smells funny.

Here’s the kicker – our human noses can detect ammonia in extremely small concentrations. We’re talking 500 parts per million.

Cats themselves can pick it up in much smaller doses.

And here’s something else you need to know about cats – these guys are territorial creatures. Their pee is what marks their territory. 

A lot of cat owners don’t get that their pet is just as territorial as a dog. And that’s why the pee smells particularly bad.

It helps to mark out their kingdom – and tells other cats to stay out of the way.

There’s one more reason. Mating.

Cat pee contains pheromones to attract their mates (more so in males than females). When that stuff degrades, it creates compounds called thiols which are made out of sulfur.

Remember sulfur dioxide from the chem lab?

So the ammonia and sulfur compounds team up and deliver a sucker punch straight to your nose.

And that brings us back to the main point of this blog.

Apart From The Stench, Is It Harmful?

Yup. Ammonia is quite bad, especially if you let it linger around in your home long enough.

Exposing yourself to low concentrations of this gas can cause the following symptoms:

  • Irritation in the nose, throat, and eyes
  • Coughing
  • Respiratory tract illnesses

Will an Air Purifier Help With Cat Litter Box Smells?

Thankfully yes, an air purifier can help get rid of cat litter box smells.

Since the cat pee smell is basically because of gases like ammonia and sulfur dioxide, an air purifier is a great way to get rid of those smells.

Here are some things that air purifiers are particularly good at getting rid of:

  • Gases like ammonia
  • Pet dander
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Dust & Dust mites

In fact, some products are designed specifically for pet owners.

These air purifiers can get out litter box stench, dander, pet hair, and more.

But there’s a lot to think about getting an air purifier, specifically what technology it is using and whether that will be right for cat pee smells. I will cover more about this in the next section. 

Related article: Do Air Purifiers Help With Bad Smells?

Types of Air Purifiers and Which One to Use

Not all air purifiers are good at removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like ammonia.

Here’s what you need to know about the different types of products that are available in the market.

Ozone generator

Ozone generators DO NOT WORK when it comes to pet smells.

In fact, the EPA has this to say about them:

“There is evidence to show that at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is not effective at removing many odor-causing chemicals.” 

Well, there’s not much left to say after that.

If you bought one and are thinking about what to do with it after reading that, there are only two things that can be done.

Return your ozone generator air purifier if you can.

If not, pump it up, leave the room, close it from all corners, and come back after half an hour.

Let the air out, and don’t let any children or pets enter the place for the next hour or so.

Clean up everything that could have ozone still settled on it.

But really, we would recommend that you just get rid of the thing.


Lots of people on the internet seem to be claiming that ionizers work very well with such odors.

The fact is they don’t.

Ionizers are designed to capture stuff that is much bigger than odor molecules. They won’t help you to get rid of cat litter box smells.

Carbon filter

Yes, activated charcoal works on pet pee stink.

It can trap pollutants in the air molecules and remove them from circulation.

But the thing to remember is that activated charcoal filters get filled up with all these pollutants pretty quickly.

If you are going to buy one, you will have to keep changing the filters every few months.

It can get a bit expensive over time. 

HEPA Filter 

Pure HEPA filters do not work with cat pee odor.

The reason is that the HEPA filter pores that absorb dirt and particulate materials from the air are too big for the molecules of ammonia and other odor-causing materials.

Some air filters have HEPA filters lined with activated carbon filters.

Those can work, as mentioned earlier.

The good thing about HEPA filters is that they are particularly useful for pet dander and dust, so if there are activated carbon filters on them, both purposes are solved.

But remember, always check with your provider.

If there is no activated carbon present, HEPA filters will not work for cat pee odor.

AHPCO Air Purifiers

There are several new technologies available in the field of air purification.

AHPCO-based purifiers can remove particles a thousand times smaller than HEPA filters, so they definitely have a good chance of removing cat litter box smells.

Related article: Best Plug-In Air Purifiers

Other Things To Try To Get Rid Of Cat Litter Box Smells

As far as I have experienced, air purification is still not a complete solution to the cat litter box problem.

Here are other things to try out.

  • Change your litter regularly.
  • Keep the litter box outside the house, in an open space.
  • Clean out the box regularly (once a day).
  • Cat wipes can help reduce the odor.
  • Carbon-based litter box liners work to absorb some of the molecules causing the stench.
  • Sometimes, changing your cat’s diet can also help to reduce the stench.

Wrap Up

Air purifiers have their limitations.

Cat litter box smells are caused by very small gaseous molecules of Ammonia and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Most air purifiers will not work with this stuff.

You can try out HEPA filter air purifiers with an activated charcoal lining.

But keep in mind that the filters will have to be changed very regularly to keep the stench out.

Other actions, such as cleaning out the litter box daily and lining it with carbon-based liners, can help. 

My best suggestion would be to try out multiple things and see which one works for you.

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