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How to Remove Pet Odors from Your Home

Updated on August 31, 2014

So you're a cat person.

I love cats. I have five of them, and they're darlings. Well, maybe not darlings. Actually, cats tend to be jerks, and even when they're showing affection they sometimes cause property damage and leave messes behind.

  • Your litter box. As a rule of thumb, your ratio of cats to litter boxes should be one cat per box. The most used box (as they will prefer one box to the other) should be cleaned daily. The others should be cleaned often. However, even with diligent daily scooping, at least once a month, the entire box should be emptied, scrubbed out, and disinfected. I like to run hot water over them for a minute, then soak them in bleach water. Do not put bleach directly onto urine. It will mix with the ammonia in the cat urine and create a toxic gas. It is a good idea to read the ingredients in any household cleanser you use before adding bleach. Do NOT mix if the cleanser contains ammonia! While you're scrubbing the litter boxes, this is a good time to clean around, behind, and under the area where your box sits. Sometimes cats will decide that the box just isn't appropriate for that particular call of nature, and they will do their business beside or behind it. I like to scrub this area with vinegar and water, and then use a cleanser such as PineSol or a Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day all purpose cleaner.
  • Put down the Swiffer and look at your house from your cat's height. Cats will walk through your house, rubbing their faces and leaving their scents on sharp corners and baseboards. Occasionally you're going to have to get down on your hands and knees and scrub the floor, the baseboards, and all sharp edges on your walls, furniture and appliances from about fourteen inches off the floor and down. Dust and dirt will stick to the oils your cat's saliva and fur leave behind. These marks don't usually require bleach, a good all purpose cleanser should work fine, unless your cat has been spraying urine - in which case, vinegar water first, then bleach, being careful to never apply bleach directly to the urine.
  • Marking. Cats occasionally mark in the house. Sometimes it's due to illness, such as stress related cystitis, sometimes it's territorial, and sometimes it's just a cat that needs training. There are many products on the market, such as Nature's Miracle, but I tend to prefer home solutions to these things. Any fabric marked can be presoaked in vinegar water, then laundered as usual. If they mark on furniture or carpet, vinegar will work if added to a carpet shampooer or upholstery cleaner. Clean these items at least twice - if any trace of the urine remains, a cat may continue to spray in that same area. In the case of furniture or carpet and a cat who is a serial offender, getting rid of the soiled carpet in favor of the hard floor underneath, or buying a plastic sofa cover that you can then put a washable cloth slip cover may be the way to go, along with a visit to the vet with your cat to determine the cause of the bad behavior and discuss solutions such as medication.

We love our messy dogs!

I have two dogs in addition to my five cats, and I've found that while they're less bad in terms of having "accidents" in the house, they will create a bad odor just from their skin and fur, especially when coming in out of the rain. There are a few ways to keep the house smelling fresh, even with wet dogs rolling around on the carpet and furniture.

  • Wet dog smell. Keeping a towel by the door to dry your dog off as soon as it comes in out of the rain will help a little. Don't just wipe off muddy paws. Dry your entire dog and toss the towel in the laundry as soon as you can. That towel will retain much of the wet dog smell.
  • Slipcovers are your best friend. Machine washable slipcovers are wonderful. They don't have to be expensive. Even a cheap throw or a secondhand blanket can used. Even if you don't normally allow your dog on the furniture, unless you physically block the couch and chairs when you leave the house, you can't be certain of what your pet is doing when you're not home. Swapping your slipcovers once a week and washing them regularly will keep that dog smell out of the furniture.
  • Your poor carpet. Baking soda is a wonderful product for deodorizing your carpet. Arm and Hammer sells scented powder specifically for freshening the carpet, but if you don't want an overly perfumed scent the regular, cheap kind will do. Sprinkle it on the carpet and forget about it while you do some other housework, then go back and vacuum it up. It will take many of the odors with it. You can also add vinegar to a carpet cleaning solution and use a carpet cleaner regularly, but keep your dog off the carpet while it's still wet...or both your dog and your carpet will smell like wet dog.
  • General freshness. You need to regularly air out your house. Even if you have air conditioning, or when it's snowing outside, throw open those windows every few days. In the summer, open windows and a fan will do wonders. In the winter, pop something in the oven and crank open the kitchen windows. Placing fans in the other rooms will allow the air to circulate and some of the old air to leave the house, without freezing yourself out. Even a spotlessly clean closed up house will smell terrible after a few days if there are sweaty, drooling dogs inside.

Helpful Products

  1. White vinegar. I can't say enough good about white vinegar. It's non toxic. It neutralizes the odor of urine. The vinegar scent will evaporate as the area dries. Vinegar is great for all household odors, not just pet odors. Dilute it with water and use it to clean any area that has a bad odor.
  2. Bleach. You can buy many expensive household disinfectant products, but they all contain bleach. Save your money and just buy the bleach. While it is not safe to add bleach directly to urine, it is great to use to disinfect an area after it's been rinsed or cleansed with diluted vinegar.
  3. Baking soda. This can be used as a scrub to clean paw prints off surfaces, sprinkled on a carpet and vacuumed up to remove odors, or an entire open box can be placed next to a litter box to attract some of those odors.
  4. Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day products. I love these products because they're non-toxic, they clean without too much scrubbing needed, they do not leave a residue, and they smell wonderful without smelling like cleanser.
  5. PineSol. I prefer the lemon scent. This product cleans beautifully and is very inexpensive. It can be used in every room of the house. It's a little more of a harsh cleanser than the Mrs. Meyer's products and has a stronger scent, so I like to use it to clean toilets and for scrubbing out litter boxes.

I may stink, but at least I'm cute.

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