LITTERFREE SELF-WASHING CAT BOX
By Dan Richman
PROS: Works as described. No more litter!
CONS: Very loud. Creates stench during cleaning cycle.
SYNOPSIS: If you've got $300 to spare, this is a very good product. It has a few minor kinks, but it works.
Perhaps the hottest feline product over the 2002 Holiday season was the LitterFree Self-Washing Cat Box, a revolutionary new product that actually flushes cat waste down the drain, thereby eliminating the need for litter and all of those hours spent cleaning litter boxes! I was so excited at the prospect of ridding my house of litter that I took the $300 plunge.
The LitterFree box hooks up to your existing plumbing system... either via the toilet, or a utility water line (i.e. a washer). There's both an "in" (for the water to flow into the box) and an "out" (for the waste to flow out of the box). Installing the box is very, very easy. Unless your plumbing system dates back to the 19th century, you should have no problems at all. Inside the box go the "granules" which serve as sort of a litter substitute. Each granule is about the size of a popcorn kernel, and they help to "agitate" the feces & break it up during the cleaning cycle.
My cats had no problem adjusting to the LitterFree box. However, in my case, I didn't have to change the location of the box. If you have to move your box across the house so it will be closer to a water line, you might run into problems. But the LitterFree folks have a toll-free line you can call for advice. They even give you "adjustment granules" to put on top of your cat's current litter, just to help him/her get used to it before you install the actual LitterFree box.
The cleaning cycle
The LitterFree box is programmable, so you can set it to run up to 3 cleaning cycles per day, automatically. Or, you can do it manually by pushing the "Start Cycle" button. They say to run it once per day per cat. I have 2 cats, so I typically run it morning and night.
When the cycle begins, a healthy amount of water flows into the box, and then the box "churns" the water, granules, and cat waste. The granules help to break up solid particles, and after a few minutes, all of the liquid (water plus waste) is flushed out. The process is then repeated 3 times. Water flows in, is churned around (rather forcefully), and then is drained. After the last cycle, a small amount of cleaning solution flows into the box from the cartridge (included) to help sanitize the box. All in all, this process takes 15 minutes or so, and is quite loud. The LitterFree is louder than my washing machine!
During the cleaning cycle, I highly recommend you close off the area. It creates quite a stench, especially at the end of the cycle when the box blows hot air over the granules to dry them. The cleaning solution doesn't do a great job of killing the stench at the end, either. Make sure you have a hefty air freshener nearby!
The unit is put together very well. It's basically 2 parts -- the box itself, and the (rather heavy) cleaning unit that snaps into the back of the box. It also comes with a removable roof for the box. On top of the cleaning unit are the buttons & timer, and out of the back comes a plug (with a nice, long cord) and both the intake & outtake tubes (also long enough to allow versatility).
There are 2 parts of the system that need to be replaced intermittently. First, the cleaning solution must be changed after 60 cycles. So, if you have 1 cat, each cartridge lasts 2 months. You can pick up cleaning solution cartridges at PetSmart & other pet stores for roughly $20. The granules must be changed every 6 months, and they only cost about $25. Overall, these parts are probably a little more expensive than litter, but not significantly so.
The final analysis
LitterFree is a great product, and it definitely works as described. However, you must be aware of a few minor drawbacks:
In my opinion, LitterFree is worth the money. Never again will you be vacuuming litter all over your home or scooping nasty litterboxes. The granules will sometimes find their way outside the box, but they're easy to pick up & put back, and it's far less gross than litter (especially since they're vigorously cleaned during each cleaning cycle).
Noise. The cleaning cycles are very loud. If you have timid cats, they might be a little freaked by the noise emanating from their litterbox. If your cats' litterbox is already in the utility room (near the washing machine), they'll probably adjust fine, since they're used to noise in that area. However, you might want to close off the area while running the cleaning cycles (at least initially) if your box is not in a noisy area of your home.
No sensor. That's right. If you program the LitterFree to run automatically at a certain time, and your cat just happens to be in the litter box at that time, watch out. Water will flow in, and probably scare the living daylights out of your furry friend.
Stench. Let's be frank. When you run a cleaning cycle, you're essentially making "poop soup," and it's hardly gourmet. Then, after the poop soup has been swirled around the box a few times, hot air runs over the granules to dry them. So, get ready for the smell of hot poop. Granted, this smell isn't a whole lot worse than the stench of dirty litterbox, but the hot air certainly adds a not-so-nice touch. Just make sure you have a trusty air freshener.
Multiple cats. I've tested the box in a 2-cat household. The manufacturer doesn't recommend using the box in a house with more than 2 cats, and definitely not more than 3.
So, save up your money & get yourself the world's first flushing litterbox!