Got Cat Pee Problems? You'll Be a Whiz at Eliminating Odors With These Tips

by Michael Franco
woman kneeling next to a blue litter box  with a pink scoop and plugging her nose

If you have a cat, then you know how highly they think of themselves. And how could they think otherwise? They are often treated as the king or queen of the house. Unfortunately, they sometimes do things that are not quite so dignified as their unofficial royalty would suggest ... like littering outside of their litter box.

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The smell of cat urine is quite strong and can be very difficult to get rid of. Read on for some tips to keep your cat-loving home fresh and odor-free.

Clean Up Quick

The best way to get rid of cat odors is by cleaning them up as soon as they happen. The longer urine is left in place to dry, the harder it will be to remove the smell. Soak up the urine with a paper towel. If the accident happened on a washable piece of clothing or rug, get it in the washing machine as soon as possible.

The next step depends on where the cat has relieved itself. Fabrics are best treated with an enzymatic cleaner. An enzymatic cleaner contains enzymes that help break down stains. There are many commercially available products designed especially to remove pet odors and stains. These types of cleaners are important because the enzymes can help get rid of the strong cat urine smell.

Cats have a keener sense of smell than humans do, so even if you don’t smell anything anymore, your cat might. Non-enzymatic cleaners like general carpet and fabric deodorizers don't have the formula necessary to break down the smell of pet urine. This could cause ol’ Felix to return to the spot and do his thing there again.

For couch or chair cushions, after soaking up as much of the wet spot as possible, soak the stain and the surrounding area with an enzymatic cleaner. Let it sit for 15 minutes or so and then blot out as much of the cleaner as possible; leave it to dry, ideally outside, if possible.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

You probably have two very useful cat-pee-fighting products already in your home: vinegar and baking soda. Vinegar can be used on hardwood floors, carpets and mattresses, and then followed-up with an enzymatic cleaner. Be sure to test a small section of the floor or fabric before using any product to make sure the material won’t be affected. Mixing one part vinegar and one part water is a great way to clean hard surfaces like floors and walls.

If your cat has sprayed your clothing or bedding, wash the items separately in the hottest allowable temperature recommended by the manufacturer. Add detergent plus a quarter-cup white vinegar to your washer’s bleach dispenser. Alternatively, you can add a half-cup of baking soda directly into the washing machine with the fabrics.

Sprinkle baking soda on soft surfaces like carpets and cushions after cleaning them. Let the baking soda sit and dry, and then vacuum it up.

The Tough Stuff

If there’s an odor of cat urine in one of your rooms and you can’t see a stain or identify the exact spot, the urine may have soaked through the carpet and into the flooring beneath. No amount of carpet cleaning will get rid of that smell; you'll need to neutralize the odor. Best to use an oil-based, stain-blocking primer on the floor beneath the carpet. You’ll most likely have to replace the carpet padding and perhaps the affected area of the carpet, as well.

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Keep Kitty Away

While you’re working on cleaning up the stain, keep your curious cat from investigating. Not only may the lingering smell encourage kitty to strike again, you also want time to get the spot thoroughly cleaned. If the stain is on the floor, put a laundry basket over it until it’s completely dry. If it’s a couch or chair, place aluminum foil on the stain. Weather permitting, open a window and turn on a fan. This will allow some fresh air in and, hopefully, escort the odors out.

Is Your Cat OK?

Urinating outside of the litter box is not normal for cats. If your cat is doing it regularly, or has picked up the behavior suddenly, check with your vet. If there was a change in the household (someone new moving in) or you moved houses, this could cause anxiety in your cat. The animal could also be stressed or frustrated by another change in its routine.

Marking (when an animal urinates on something to show that it’s been there) can happen if you have an unneutered male cat. Your cat may also have a problem with its litter or litter box. You can try changing the brand of litter you use, changing the location of the litter box or adding a second one. Any changes in your cat’s behavior should be shared with your vet.

Additional Tips

Never use a steam cleaner or heat. Intense heat can cause urine odors to set into carpet and upholstery. This will only make the smells more difficult to get rid of. You can choose to use an extracting wet vac that expels clean water onto the carpet and then sucks the dirty water back into the machine.

Don’t use chlorine bleach when washing fabrics that have been stained by cat urine. The ammonia in cat urine can create dangerous gasses when mixed with bleach. Ammonia in general should be avoided as it (and other chemical cleansers) may set the stain. Ammonia is also a component of cat urine. If cats smell ammonia on a surface, they may be attracted to it and urinate again.

Having the right products on hand and tackling the spot quickly will keep everything fresh and clean for both the two- and four-legged members of your household. In addition to being prepared for these little incidents, you can take some of the bigger worries out of homeownership by being prepared with a plan from HomeServe. Homeowners on a HomeServe plan have a range of professionals just a phone call away to help them tackle their biggest house-related concerns. From plumbing to electric, you'll feel secure knowing experts are ready and waiting to help.