Cat Litter as Ballast for Model Railroads: Cheap Alternative

cat litter as ballast

Model railroads are a loved hobby for many persons out there, offering a creative space that combines craftsmanship, big attention to detail, and a love for trains in general.

One of the big aspects of creating a very realistic model railroad is the use of ballast – the rocks that support the railway ties and tracks from moving. Usually, this was done by buying products designed specifically for this purpose

However, over the years a growing number of model railroad builders are turning to a very surprising material: cat litter

cat litter for train lines railroad
This is the non clumping litter we tried to use as ballast for a model railroad

Yes, you read that right – cat litter as ballast. We are going to delve into this cost-effective and realistic alternative for your model railroad project.

Why Cat Litter?

The idea of using cat litter as ballast may seem a bit odd at first, but it can give you several compelling advantages. The main benefit that we found is the cost-effectiveness.

Commercial model railroad ballast can be pretty expensive, especially if you are building a very big project. This is where cat litter comes in, by being significantly cheaper and available at all the supermarkets.

On top of that, multiple types of cat litter can provide a surprisingly realistic look, closely to resembling the texture and color of real railroad ballast.

Choosing the Right Cat Litter

As not every cat litter is created from the same material you will have a few choices to make.

We recommend something like non-clumping or unscented cat litter. The clumping litter can become very sticky if it comes in contact with water, and is not very realistic if you want to use it for your project.

Similarly, the scented cat litter can give off a very strong odor, which is not required for many displays.

cat litter in sieve
We started by washing the cat litter to remove all the dust

Preparation and Application

Before you start throwing the cat litter in your model railroad, we recommend you to take a few minutes and prepare for this.

First we think that you should wash the cat litter to remove any dust by placing it in a sieve and running it under water. Once it’s washed, you need to allow the litter to dry completely before washing it.

After that you can use it as a normal ballast. Spread the litter along the tracks, ensuring it’s evenly distributed between the ties. Once you are happy with the placement you can secure the ballast using a mixture of water and glue as this can help the litter to bond together and stay in place.

You might find that some pieces of cat litter are too big, we recommend that you sort them after you wash them by shaking the sieve. Usually the big pieces will stay on top

Pros and Cons of Using Cat Litter as Ballast

Line any DIY solution, using cat litter as ballast has it’s pros and cons. It’s important to weigh these factors before deciding to use cat litter for your project.

  • Cost-Effective: Cat litter is significantly cheaper than commercial model railroad ballast. This makes it a very good option for hobbyists on a budget
  • Always Available: Cat litter can be found in any supermarket or pets store, making it a conveniently accessible option
  • Very Realistic Appearance: Certain types of cat litter can closely resemble the texture and color of real railroad ballast, adding to the realness of your model
  • Preparation Required: You will need to wash and dry the litter before using it to remove any dust. This adds some extra work when you compare it to commercial ballast
  • Potential Messiness: Cat litter can be messier than commercial ballast, especially if you allow it to get wet.
  • Attraction for Pets: If you have a cat, they might be attracted to the litter on your railroad, leaving you a present on the tracks
cat litter left to dry on balcony
We then put the litter to dry on our balcony, creating the perfect ballast for the railway project

Experiences and Tips from Model Railroad Enthusiasts

Many model railroad enthusiasts have found success using cat litter as ballast. Some people recommend experimenting with different brands of litter as we suggested to find the one that is best suited for you.

Others have suggested mixing cat litter with traditional ballast to create a more varied and realistic texture on the project.


Using cat litter as ballast for model railroads is a creative, cost-effective and realistic alternative to the traditional products.

While it may require a bit more preparation and care, the results are surprisingly effective.

So don’t wait and give it a try!

You might find that this unconventional material is the perfect for your model railroad project.


Can I use any type of cat litter as ballast?

No, it’s best to use the non-clumping and unscented cat litter.

Do I need to prepare the cat litter before use?

Yes, it’s recommended to wash and dry the cat litter before using it to remove any dust.

Can I mix cat litter with traditional ballast?

Yes, some people have tried in and they are recommending to mix cat litter with traditional ballast to create a more varied and realistic texture

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your model railroad.

Happy railroading!

Indre K Williams

Indre K Williams

Indre K Williams (DVM) graduated from the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2015, she brings a wealth of knowledge and a genuine passion for animals to their writing. With years of experience working closely with pets and their owners, she has developed a deep understanding of their needs and behaviour.

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