How to Remove Pet Stains and Odors
Accidents happen; here's how to clean up and eliminate the smell
You know how it goes: Your pet decides that your new carpet's the perfect place to relieve himself. Or perhaps you walk into your bedroom and catch a whiff of something like ammonia, or worse.
You're struck with visions of cleaning and cleaning but never getting rid of the stain and smell. And even if you do manage a thorough clean-up, you worry that your pet has developed a new bathroom habit that will be impossible to break. Don't despair—we can help you solve this problem.
Follow a master plan
First, determine which areas are soiled. Then clean those areas completely. As long as your pet can smell his personal scent, he'll continue to return to the "accident zone." And even if you can't smell traces of urine, your pet can, so you must be sure to remove (neutralize) that odor—this means following all the recommended cleaning steps. If you fail to completely clean the area, your re-training efforts will be useless.
Once it's clean, make the accident zone unattractive and/or unavailable to your pet and the appropriate "bathroom" area attractive.
Have your pet checked out by a veterinarian to rule out medical causes for the accident. When you are certain your pet is healthy, use positive reinforcement to re-train your cat or dog (or train your kitten or puppy) to eliminate in the proper place. There may have been a reason why your pet chose the wrong place to eliminate. Explore the training links at the bottom of the page to learn more; understanding your pet's motivations will make it easier to get him or her on the right track again.
How to find the soiled area
This may seem obvious, but in some cases the spot will have dried invisibly and be hard to locate. Follow these steps:
- Use your nose to sniff out soiled areas.
- Examine the suspect area closely to catch hard-to-find soiling. You might want to use a black light (which you can purchase at a home-supply store) to discover even old urine stains. Turn out all of the lights in the room; use the black light to identify soiled areas, and lightly outline the areas with chalk.
How to clean machine-washable items
Machine wash as usual, adding a one-pound box of baking soda to your regular detergent. It's best to air dry these items if possible. If you can still see the stain or smell the urine, machine wash the item again and add an enzymatic cleaner (available at pet supply stores) that breaks down pet-waste odors. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.
If your pet urinates or defecates on the sheets or blankets on a bed, then cover the bed with a vinyl, flannel-backed tablecloth when you begin the re-training period. It's machine washable, inexpensive and unattractive to your pet.
How to clean carpeted areas and upholstery
For "new" stains (those that are still wet):
- Soak up as much of the urine as possible with a combination of newspaper and paper towels. The more fresh urine you can remove before it dries, especially from carpet, the easier it will be to remove the odor. Place a thick layer of paper towels on the wet spot, and cover that with a thick layer of newspaper. If possible, put newspaper under the soiled area as well. Stand on this padding for about a minute. Remove the padding, and repeat the process until the area is barely damp.
- If possible, put the fresh, urine-soaked paper towel in the area where it belongs—your cat's litter box or your dog's designated outdoor "bathroom area." This will help remind your pet that eliminating isn't a "bad" behavior as long as it's done in the right place.
- Rinse the "accident zone" thoroughly with clean, cool water. After rinsing, remove as much of the water as possible by blotting or by using a wet vac.
For stains that have already set:
- Consider renting an extractor or wet vac to remove all traces of heavy stains in carpeting (get one from a local hardware store). This machine works much like a vacuum cleaner and is efficient and economical. Extracting/wet vac machines do the best job of forcing clean water through your carpet and then forcing the dirty water back out. When you use these machines or cleaners, carefully follow the instructions. Don't use any chemicals with these machines; they work much better with plain water.
- Use a high-quality pet odor neutralizer once the area is really clean (available at pet supply stores). Be sure to read and follow the cleaner's directions for use, including testing the cleaner on a small, hidden portion of fabric first to be sure it doesn't stain.
- Try any good carpet stain remover if the area still looks stained after it's completely dry from extracting and neutralizing.
- Avoid using steam cleanersto clean urine odors from carpet or upholstery. The heat will permanently set the stain and the odor by bonding the protein into any man-made fibers.
- Avoid using cleaning chemicals, especially those with strong odors such as ammonia or vinegar. From your pet's perspective, these don't effectively eliminate or cover the urine odor and may actually encourage your pet to reinforce the urine scent mark in that area.
- Neutralizing cleaners won't work until you've rinsed every trace of the old cleaner from the carpet if you've previously used cleaners or chemicals of any kind on the area. Even if you haven't used chemicals recently, any trace of a non-protein-based substance will weaken the effect of the enzymatic cleaner. The cleaner will use up its "energy" on the old cleaners, instead of on the protein stains you want removed.
- Your job will be more difficult if urine has soaked down into the padding underneath your carpet. In some cases, you may need to take the drastic step of removing and replacing that portion of the carpet and padding.
How to clean floors and walls
If the wood on your furniture, walls, baseboard or floor is discolored, the varnish or paint has reacted to the acid in the urine. You may need to remove and replace the layer of varnish or paint. If you do so, make sure the new product is safe for pets.
Employees at your local hardware or home improvement store can help you identify and match your needs with appropriate removers and replacements.
Washable enamel paints and some washable wallpapers may respond favorably to enzymatic cleaners. Read the instructions before you use these products. You should also test them in an invisible area.
Once you've established that your pet is healthy, you can teach her where you want her to eliminate. The following links will help you:
- Are You and Your Cat Ready for Litter Box Success? »
- Top Five Reasons Your Cat Isn't Using the Litter Box »
- Help Your Cat Resolve Litter Box Issues »
- Housetraining Puppies »
- Housetraining Adult and Senior dogs »
- What to Do If Your Cat Is Marking Territory »
- Urine-Marking: Why Dogs Mark Their Territory »
- Dogs: Submissive Urination—Why Your Dog Does It and How to Help Him Stop »
- Dogs: Excitement Urination »
The re-training period may take a week or more. Remember, it took time to build the bad habit, and it will take time to replace that habit with a new, more acceptable behavior.
Treat your pet with patience and encourage him!
Adapted from material originally developed by applied animal behaviorists at the Dumb Friends League, Denver, Colo. All rights reserved.