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I’m something of a cat pee expert (weird flex, I know). My cat Margot was a semi-feral barn kitten separated from her mother too early, and she never quite nailed the whole litterbox thing. As a kitten, she developed a surface preference for soft stuff like my clean laundry and the bathmat. Over the years, I’ve cleaned cat pee off just about everything.
Cat pee smell is pervasive, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world (or your favorite chair). Read on to learn all about why cats pee outside of the box, why cat pee smells so bad, and how to get that cat pee smell out of anything. I’ll even recommend some of my personal favorite products for getting rid of cat pee smell!
Litterbox issues can be frustrating, especially when they result in stinky cat pee smell. Most often, a cat peeing outside of the box is a sign that something is amiss. According to the Humane Society of the United States, some of the most common reasons cats stop using the litterbox include:
- Environmental and social factors such as a dirty litterbox, startling noises, or a more dominant cat threatening them.
- Marking behavior. Cats “spray” to leave their scent, especially if they haven’t been spayed or neutered. Some fixed cats will also mark.
- Medical issues. Inappropriate elimination can be a sign of illness such as a urinary tract infection, blockage, kidney problems, and diabetes.
- Stress/anxiety. If your cat feels anxious, they may leave their urine somewhere unusual as a way to let you know.
If you suddenly encounter cat pee outside of the litterbox, 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, it’s important to rule out medical causes.
You can’t get cat pee smell out of the carpet if you don’t know where it is! Start by following your nose, and look for discolored or damp-appearing spots. If you still can’t locate the source, try a UV flashlight.
UV light (or black light) illuminates any substance containing phosphors (including cat pee), making it easy for you to locate and treat set-in urine stains. Just turn off the overhead lights, turn on your UV flashlight, and get searching.
Bonus tip: once you locate the soiled area with a UV flashlight, outline it in chalk so you can still see it when the lights are back on.Buy Now on Amazon
If the cat pee smell is coming from the laundry basket, good news: you can just put it back in the washing machine! But plain old detergent won’t cut it. To remove cat pee smell from linens, you want to neutralize the odor.
Enzyme cleaners are essential for getting rid of cat pee smell. Use an enzyme laundry additive like Thornell Laundry Odor Eliminator. For pre-treatment, saturate the cat pee stain and let sit for five minutes before washing. Then, add the recommended amount of enzyme additive to the machine along with your regular detergent. Heat sets in odors, so wash with cold water, and don’t use the dryer, either! Instead, hang laundry to air-dry, in the sun if possible.
If you don’t have an enzyme detergent and need to do laundry, like, now, you can also use simple baking soda or vinegar to remove cat pee smell from laundry. First, rinse the clothing or linens in cool water. Pre-treat with a 1:3 vinegar solution. Then, add a cup of vinegar plus your usual detergent to the load. I use white vinegar, but some people swear by apple cider!Buy Now on Amazon
Enzymes to the rescue again! If you come across a damp spot in the 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 super helpful for this step. The BISSELL Crosswave Pet Pro has great reviews! Never use a steam cleaner on cat pee stains, as the heat and steam will set in odors.
Next, douse the spot with an enzyme cleaner like Nature’s Miracle. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before blotting up excess liquid with a clean cloth, then leave to air dry for up to two days. If the cat pee smell persists, you may have to repeat the process.Buy Now on Amazon
This one’s my specialty, thanks to Margot’s later-in-life preference for peeing on the couch. Argh! To get cat pee smell out of upholstery, start by following the same steps as described above for carpets.
Bubba’s Pet Odor Eliminator is another great enzymatic cleaner option. Be sure to let the enzyme solution soak into the cat pee spot and sit for a while before blotting 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.Buy Now on Amazon
Enzyme cleaners are awesome, but cat pee smell does tend to stick around. Why is cat pee so smelly and stubborn? According to PetMD, cat pee isn’t all that different for other animal urines. But it tends to sit undiscovered for a while, and as the bacterium in the urine decomposes, it gives off a strong ammonia-like odor. Older cats also tend to have extra-stinky pee because their kidneys have lost some of their function.
Because cat pee stains can be so persistent, they require persistence to clean them. Sometimes, you need to repeat cleanings to get stubborn cat pee smell out of furniture. But take it from me, someone with tons of experience: with enough elbow grease and patience, you can save the couch from your pee-crazy cat!