It’s never fun to have to clean up the accidents our pets leave behind, especially when it involves carpet. The task can be frustrating if it’s an ongoing issue and can cause stress in relationships with your four-legged family member. Cleaning up after pets is the responsible thing to do, as their urine and excrement can cause serious health problems if not addressed, not to mention irreversible damage to your home.
There are many ways to tackle the problem, and not all of them are effective. There is no universal one-size-fits-all way to do it. Different types of stains and odors will require different strategies and materials.
First Things First:
Where is the stain and what kind of carpet do you have? Most carpets are acrylic, wool, polyester, or other synthetic materials. Synthetic carpets can usually hold up to a good cleaning with hot water and extraction. Wool carpets need special treatment, and you can read more about that here.
If you are going to use any kind of cleaner, including natural substances like vinegar, spot test first in an inconspicuous area. Darker-colored carpets are at high risk of being discolored, lightened, or otherwise damaged.
Don’t try to conceal the odor- address the source! Don’t be tempted to immediately go crazy with odor “eliminators” and spray deodorizers! It’s best to tackle the source of the smell and stain first. Additionally, some animals develop allergies to these highly-fragranced products, and the allergies can end up causing potty problems!
The Science Behind the Smell
Delving into the chemistry of cat and dog urine helps us understand how to get rid of it. Cat and dog urine is composed of water; urea; uric acid; dissolved ions like sodium, potassium, and chloride; creatinine; and miscellaneous hormones, proteins, and metabolites. Cat urine is not only concentrated due to how their digestive systems work, it has an additional amino acid, felinine, that can break down into volatile sulfur-containing compounds. You might think you’ve gotten rid of them once you can’t smell it anymore, but your cats likely can still smell it.
And that awful smell? It’s caused by the breakdown of urea and uric acid, along with that of proteins and amino acids unique to each species. These substances and compounds have to be eliminated chemically to stop the smell and stop the animal from revisiting the spot and marking it over and over again.
Use The Right Tools For The Right Job:
Build a toolkit for this time and next time. Our kit includes:
- Sturdy absorbent rags (we cut up old towels or used these) that you don’t mind throwing away. Tip: microfiber ones aren’t as absorbent.
- Dull scrapers (having 2 allows you to pick up solid matter with them). We like these because they act like little dustpans too!
- Stiff bristled brushes with handles. We like several different shapes, and these do a great job.
- Black light flashlight for spotting urine stains
- Medium-sized bucket for cleaning and store it all in
Don’t use a steam cleaner on urine stains. It can actually set the stains and force the noxious odor-causing compounds deeper into the carpet. Even worse, it can spread them around.
Don’t use bleach! If there are a lot of urine stains, dumping bleach on the surface can create toxic fumes because urine contains ammonia, and dried urine contains concentrated ammonia. Mixing bleach and ammonia can create a potentially fatal gas.
Ammonia is an awesome cleaner with many uses. Unfortunately, it may mimic the smell of urine to an animal and tempt him to return there to repeat his mistake.
Above all, you should always pretreat stains before using a carpet cleaner or extractor. Sanitize the immediate area of contamination. Otherwise, you may end up spreading it around. Never utilize a robot vacuum to clean these kinds of messes.
Types of Pet Stains:
Cat and dog urine contains water; urea; uric acid; dissolved ions like sodium, potassium, and chloride; creatinine; and miscellaneous hormones, proteins, and metabolites. Cat urine has an additional amino acid, felinine, that can break down into volatile sulfur-containing compounds (even if you can’t smell them, your cat can; this is why cats urinate outdoors to mark territory). Odors result from the breakdown of urea and uric acid, along with that of proteins and amino acids unique to each species.
The best way to remove urine of any sort is with an enzymatic cleaner. You can spray and blot all you like and probably get a lot of it up, but it’s not likely you’ll be able to remove all of what’s there, especially if it’s had time to penetrate the carpet down to the pad. Using an enzymatic cleaner that actually chemically breaks down the urine compounds is going to be the best way to get rid of the problem. Even if you intend to have your carpets professionally cleaned, we recommend you use an enzymatic cleaner first to penetrate and treat the problem areas!
Our favorite enzymatic urine and odor remover is Pawstruck’s Professional Strength Stain & Odor Remover. It’s got the least strong odor, works fast on stains and is 100% made in the United States!
1. Soak the urine stain with an enzymatic cleaner and blot:
This will begin the process of breaking down the odor-causing compounds and loosen the stain. Wait 20 minutes or so and then try to blot up as much as possible.
2. Re-treat the area
After blotting up as much urine as you can, reapply more of the enzymatic cleaner and allow it to sit overnight. If the odor/stain persists, it may take several treatments. Before vacuuming the area, you can apply baking soda to the carpet and then vacuum it up.
Excrement & Feces Stains
Animal feces needs to be immediately cleaned up as it can contain some nasty diseases that could transfer to humans, including salmonella, campylobacter, giardia, roundworms, hookworms, and worse. Whether it was diarrhea or droppings, it can stain.
1. Remove the bulk of the excrement:
You want to clean up the dog excrement while it’s dry if possible, so you aren’t forcing more of it into the carpet. Don’t immediately hit the area with liquid or cleaner until you have cleaned up as much of the solid matter as you can. Try not to grind or push any of it further into the carpet if possible. If it’s dried into carpet fibers, you can use a plastic fork or other material to comb through the carpet fibers to break up the dried dog excrement so it can be cleaned up. A plastic knife or scraper can be used to scrape up dried excrement too.
Again, don’t get the area wet until you’ve gotten as much of the excrement up as possible, and you may have to come back to it and scrape it up a second time (after letting it dry) if it’s still wet. A brush with stiff bristles will help you get the last of the dried poop up from out of the carpet fibers.
2. Remove the stain:
Once you’ve removed as much of the dog excrement out as dry material, it’s time to address what’s left. If your dog just left a pile of droppings behind, you still need to sanitize the area after removal.
If you are concerned about colorfastness, you can use hot water and vinegar on most carpets to sanitize, as it will evaporate and not leave a residue behind. We use a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts hot water in a medium to small bucket. Take that same stiff-bristled brush, dip in your vinegar and water, and scrub the stain, beginning on the outside and working in. You may need to do this a few times. Use a clean bucket of water each time. Always use cleaning products in a well-ventilated room, open windows and doors, and get a fan going.
3. If there is still a stain left behind, an enzymatic or oxy cleaner should be used.
Use a spray cleaner to tackle the problem. You may need to scrub it in and blot up several times to get the stain out. Adding baking soda may help absorb odors, and can be vacuumed up.
Vomit is extremely acidic and by itself can change the color of a darker colored rug. This is one you want to tackle right away. Enzymatic cleaners can help break down odor and stains, but unfortunately, with vomit, you have to remove the solid matter the way you do dog excrement.
1. Remove solid matter:
Try to remove as much of the mess as you can with hands, a scraper, and paper towels, not grinding or pushing any of it further into the carpet. If you cannot clean it all up immediately, dump baking soda over the affected area and keep pets clear. If possible, try to avoid vacuuming up vomit, unless you are using a wet carpet cleaner that can be cleaned out itself.
2. Remove stain:
Follow the same steps as you would for removing a dog excrement stain. If you are concerned about colorfastness, using vinegar and baking soda for blotting and lifting up the stains may reduce the likelihood of damaging the carpet’s color. Use absorbent rags or cloths to blot and every time one is soiled, use a fresh one. For permanent odor removal, an enzymatic cleaner may be what’s needed to completely eliminate the source of the smell.
Blood will set very quickly if you use warm water. If the blood has dried you can use a brush or scraper like with excrement and vomit to remove the surface deposit but immediately vacuum this up, it will be powdery and if it gets wet again, it will spread the stain.
If you’ve removed any dried surface deposit, tackle the stain itself. A solution of cold water and Dawn dishwashing detergent will help loosen the stain and allow you to begin blotting it up. Blood is one of those substances that can be addressed with an oxy cleaner, but be sure this will not damage your carpet. A good old-fashioned salt paste (a few tablespoons of salt with enough cold water added to make a paste) will work well on a more delicate carpet or rug.
Cleaning Wool Carpets & Rugs:
Wool is a pretty tough material but it has its own requirements for cleaning. Bleach, oxy, and alkaline cleaners are a big no-no for a wool carpet or rug. They can discolor and damage these natural fibers. The best cleaners to use on these are acidic cleaners such as vinegar and enzymatic cleaners. When the rug is dry, you can use baking soda. This will help soak up any remaining odor of dampness from cleaning and vacuum it up after 30 minutes.
When spot-cleaning a wool rug, try not to damage the pile by scrubbing vigorously against its nap. Instead, use gentle circular motions. If you need to use a brush, go in the direction of the rug’s nap. A carpet shampooer can actually destroy a good wool rug. If your wool rug is saturated with urine or animal diarrhea, consider a professional rug cleaner or carpet cleaning service.
Most of the time, pet stains can be addressed by cleaning the mess up quickly using the right products. Some homeowners have been able to resolve soaked-in pet urine issues on hardwood floors and furniture using enzymatic cleaners. Others have to replace carpet and flooring (and sometimes even sub-flooring) if the problem is bad enough. We’ve seen successful odor elimination in distressed properties with urine-soaked floors after removal of carpet and pads, followed by repeated treatment of the subfloor and baseboards with enzyme treatment, then new carpet put in.
However, in cases where the problem has gone on for years or is catastrophic, you may have to have a professional team deal with mitigation. For example, animal hoarding problems can create serious health risks for both humans and the animals living in the home. If you are facing a situation like this, we recommend not trying to salvage the carpet and baseboards. You should pull it and the underlying pad up to see if the subfloor has been soaked or damaged by the urine. Unfortunately, mold and other nasty things can form underneath the carpet, especially if somebody tried to clean it improperly and it didn’t dry properly.