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If you live with cats, you will at some point become an authority on ways to get rid of cat pee smell. I owe my expertise to Bosco, a big orange tabby who grew up in a Seattle fish market where he was trained to pee on newspapers rather than cat litter. This presented a problem when he came to live with me. The poor cat assumed, based on his training, that anything rectangular and on the floor was fair game. He peed on bathmats, rugs, hardwood floors, a contractor’s drill case, and on a brand-new Coach briefcase. So I discovered a few ways to get rid of cat pee smell (while keeping Bosco).
Cat pee smell is pervasive, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world (or your favorite chair). Here’s a little background about why cats pee outside of the box and why cat pee smells so incredibly bad.
Why Cats Pee Outside the Box
Litter box issues can be frustrating, especially when they result in a stinky cat pee smell. Most often, when your cat pees outside of their box it’s a sign that something’s amiss. According to the Humane Society of the United States, the most common reasons a cat stops using the litter box include:
- Environmental factors such as a dirty litter box, upsetting noises, or a perceived threat from another cat in the household. A cat may be objecting to a new type of litter or having their litter box moved to a different location. Some cats hate change, and peeing is how they let you know.
- Marking behavior. Cats spray on vertical surfaces to leave their scent, especially if they haven’t been spayed or neutered. Some fixed cats will also mark. Marking is more common if your cat is having territory issues with a new cat or person in the house.
- Medical issues. Inappropriate elimination could be signs that your cat has a urinary tract infection, blockage, kidney problems, or diabetes. It could also mean that the cat has arthritis, and a formerly easy-to-use litter box is now uncomfortable.
- Stress/anxiety. If your cat feels anxious, they may pee outside the box (often on your possessions) to let you know.
If you suddenly find cat pee outside of the litter box, start by calling the vet. Urinary tract problems won’t clear up on their own. Even if you suspect your cat is stressed out or marking, and it’s a behavioral issue, it’s important to rule out medical causes.
Why Cat Pee Stinks
Why is cat pee so smelly and stubborn? According to the folks at PetMD, cat pee isn’t all that different from other animal urines. But it tends to sit undiscovered for a while, and as the bacteria in the urine decomposes, it gives off a strong ammonia-like odor. At a certain point, as urine breaks down, it begins to give off mercaptans—the same compounds you find in skunk spray. Yuck.
You are likely to get a stronger smell with older cats, whose kidneys don’t process urine as well, and with unneutered male cats, whose urine includes hormones.
The Best Ways to Get Rid of Cat Pee Smell
Several years ago, when I was cleaning up after Bosco, there weren’t a lot of good cleaning products, except for some heavily perfumed stuff. But in recent years, enzyme-based cleaners, which break down the chemicals in cat urine and eliminate the smell, have come on the market. If you have a major cat pee situation in your house, I recommend trying two or three different brands of cleaners. Some work best on fabric, others work best on carpets, and some are most effective on hard surfaces like walls and floors. Sprays are great for hard surfaces, but you’ll probably want pour-on liquids to soak into rugs and fabrics.
Use UV Light to Find the Cat Pee
Before you reach for the cleaners, be sure to figure out exactly where the cat has peed and how long the pee has been there. Start by following your nose, and look for discolored or damp-appearing spots (on hardwoods, the wood grain may be raised). If the room stinks but you can’t locate the source, try a UV flashlight.
Ultraviolet light (also called a black light) illuminates any substance containing phosphors (including cat pee). This makes it easy for you to locate and treat set-in urine stains. You’ll need to search at night, with all other light sources turned off. Once you’re in the dark, turn on your UV flashlight and get searching.
Once you locate the soiled area, outline it in chalk or mark it some other way so you’ll be able to find it again when the lights are back on.
Keep in mind when you find a spot where the cat has peed that the urine may have traveled under a rug or subflooring, or pooled under the foot of a couch, table, or cabinet. When you pour liquid cleaner on the spot, use enough that it can follow the path of the cat pee and eradicate the scent.
The Escolite is an easy-to-use, high powered UV light in a handy flashlight form. It uses three regular AAA alkaline batteries (not included). I’ve spent many nights on my hands and knees using this light to examine the backs of my chairs and couch (favorite spraying spots for a formerly feral cat in our household).Find on Amazon
Wash Clothes, Bedding, or Towels with a Laundry Additive
If the cat pee smell is coming from your hamper or laundry basket—or your quilt—here’s good news: It will wash out. But plain old detergent won’t cut it. To get rid of cat pee smell from linens, you need to neutralize the odor with special cleaners. Try one of these, and be sure to wash in cold water and line dry (heat can “set” smells). If possible, hang the items to air-dry outdoors, in the sun.
Thornell Laundry Odor Eliminator is our favorite laundry additive to combat the smell of cat pee. For pre-treatment, saturate the cat pee stain and let it sit for five minutes before washing. Then, add the recommended amount of this concentrate to the machine along with your regular detergent. L.O.E. is good for eliminating several noxious smells, including ones that have defied other cleaning methods.Shop on Chewy
Eucalyptus-scented OdoBan gets rave reviews for effectiveness on a wide range of pet and household odors. But it includes some harsh chemicals, so you want to be very careful to use it only according to directions and keep it away from children and pets.Shop on Chewy
Skout’s Honor is designed to be used for spot treatment of stained and smelly fabrics before laundering. It can also be added to the wash through the bleach dispenser. Some people don’t like the odor of Skout’s Honor, but others say that goes away with an additional rinse cycle or wash.Shop on Chewy
Getting Rid of Cat Pee Smell on Carpets, Floors, and Upholstery
Enzymes to the rescue! If you come across a damp spot on the floor or carpet, start by blotting up as much pee as possible with paper towels or a clean cloth. Then, rinse the area with clean, cool water. A wet/dry vacuum is like the Bissell Crosswave Pet Pro can help with this rinsing step. Never use a steam cleaner on cat pee stains. The heat and steam can lock odors in, making them even more difficult to remove later on.
After you’ve rinsed, douse the spot with a cat-specific cleaner (like the ones listed below). Most use enzymes to break down cat pee smell; one, Stink-Free, uses a non-enzyme oxidation formula. Whichever cleaner you choose, pour it on and let it sit for 10–15 minutes before blotting up the excess liquid with a clean cloth. Then leave the spot to air dry for up to two days. If the cat pee smell persists, you may have to repeat the process.
We’ve listed multiple cleaners because sometimes it seems like one works better than the other. They have very different scents, and that can be an issue for your household. It’s pretty subjective. The important thing is that they’re all great at eradicating cat pee odors.
I’ve used these products on carpets, vinyl flooring, and older hardwoods, but never on the newer engineered wood floors, which are laminated layers. Please check with your flooring manufacturer before letting a liquid cleaner soak into your engineered wood.
Nature’s Miracle is one of my go-to products to get rid of cat pee smell on floors, carpets, and other hard surfaces (such as walls). Keep in mind that we’re focusing here on removing odors first, and stains second. If stains are a major concern, check out Nature’s Miracle Just For Cats Stain and Odor Remover Spray.Shop on Chewy
Simple Solution is another of my favorite enzymatic products for getting rid of cat pee smell from flooring and furniture. It has its own particular, slightly sweet, smell, which you may or may not like. But one thing is for sure: It definitely gets rid of the stink of cat urine.Shop on Chewy
Stink Free is how to get rid of cat pee smell and stains at my house. This oxidation formula, containing five strong cleaning agents, works as well as the enzyme cleaners but has a relatively neutral odor that disappears quickly. Be sure to read the directions—there are some good tips for increasing effectiveness and recommend cleaning the area with plain water a few days later to remove any excess product.Shop on Chewy
This is another great enzymatic cleaner option, especially for upholstered furniture. Be sure to let the enzyme solution soak into the cat pee spot and sit for a while before you blot up the excess. Then, leave it to dry completely. If you’re cleaning a couch or chair with removable cushions, take the cushion(s) outside to dry in the sun.
Because cushions can take a long time (sometimes several days) to dry, it’s important to keep them protected from further pee attacks. To discourage your cat from returning to the scene of the pee crime, cover cushions with aluminum foil. Most cats hate the feel and sound of foil and will avoid walking on it.Find on Amazon
A Few More Tips for Getting Rid of Cat Pee Smells and Stains
When you find a puddle or damp spot, take action immediately—even if you don’t have a special enzymatic cleaner on hand. Soak up as much urine as possible with paper towels, then saturate the area with water and blot that up (getting more of the urine). This PetMD guide has some directions for using baking soda and vinegar for some types of cleanup. My experience with those is that they get rid of odor in the short run—but it reappears. Enzymatic cleaners can often remove odors permanently.
Last Resort: Use Ozone to Get Rid of Cat Pee Smell
What if your cat pees on a valuable item (such as your vintage sweater, your shoes, inside a suitcase, or on a piece of artwork)? Most of these can’t be soaked in baking soda, vinegar, or enzymatic cleaners. But don’t freak out! Quickly remove as much of the urine as you can using plain water and gently blotting with paper towels or rags until the towel comes away clear. Let the item dry. If and when the cat pee smell returns, take the item to a dry cleaner that has an ozone room and ask them to ozone treat it.
When Bosco peed on my new Coach briefcase, I called the Coach company in tears. They advised me to soak the briefcase in water and a bit of Woolite to remove the spot and most of the urine and fill the briefcase with a few towels to keep its shape while it air-dried. The dried briefcase looked great but still stank of cat pee. I headed for the specialty dry cleaner and, after 24 hours in their ozone room, my briefcase came back absolutely scent-free.
Ozone may not be the solution for your wall-to-wall carpeting, couch, or hardwoods, but it can save expensive clothing and other valuables.
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