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The Best Cleaning Tips for Pet Stains, Messes, and Smells


Slobbery kisses, wagging tails, and snuggles are just a few of the many things pets do to endear themselves to us. On the flip side? “We love our pets, but the messes they leave behind are among the worst — stinky, gooey, and always unexpected and unpredictable,” says Ryan Deal, president of Lucky & Lady, a pet care start-up in Atlanta. Options for cleaning up those messes abound, but some will prove more successful than others. These smart strategies, straight from pros, will help you get the job done.

First, Do a Little Prep Work

“Before treating any accident — vomit, urine, feces, and so on — remove as much of the material and liquid from the area as possible,” says Jennifer Kovacs, vice president of merchandising, dog, and cat supplies at Petco. “This allows for the stain removal product you apply to deeply penetrate the stain.” 

For flooring: Carpeting and area rug mishaps can cause a headache, but there’s hope for cleaning them without leaving a trace behind. “When cleaning urine or vomit, don’t overwork it,” Deal says. “Brushing or disturbing the mess will only push it into fibers. Go slow. The first step is to soak up as much of the liquid material as possible with cotton or paper towels. Use baking soda to absorb anything else.” 

If it’s vomit or excrement, let the rest dry. A soft brush can then help to loosen what remains for vacuuming. If it’s urine, you’ll need an extra step. Liberally use an enzymatic solution with “good bacteria” (“Enzymes will break down the urine, and the bacteria will help to ensure this ‘isn’t the potty place’ for your pet,” Deal says), wait 15 minutes, then use disposable paper towels to absorb what’s left. “These solutions are available at most pet stores… [and] also work well on hard or resilient floors by making the location undesirable for future mishaps,” Deal explains.

For bedding: “Pet messes on bedding — yours or theirs — are best cleaned rapidly,” Deal says. Remove anything solid quickly, and then launder fabrics and bedding in cold water, which helps to avoid pushing lasting odors into the bedding. 

Alternatively, “take any moveable messes to a laundromat, where the machines are designed to deep clean,” Deal says. “If you’re a conservationist, know that commercial laundry machines use lots of water, but they get the job done.”

For furniture: Furniture and upholstery can be tricky. Just like when cleaning other messes, lift off anything solid, and be careful not to rub or grind the mishap into the fabric’s fibers. If you’re removing urine, soak up as much liquid as possible with paper or cotton towels. 

“Upholstery on furniture is often not as resilient as carpeting, which is engineered for foot traffic,” Deal says. “If the upholstery isn’t removable, try a principle often used by HAZMAT crews: ‘Dilution is the solution for pollution.’ Using a spray bottle, saturate the soiled upholstery with distilled water. Tap water contains minerals, which can exacerbate the problem.” 

Use a handheld cleaner, like this Bissell model, to extract the liquid. You’ll need to repeat this process several times.

Remember That the Product (and Its Application) Matters

Not all pet cleaning products are created equal. “When deciding what to apply to the affected area, look for a product that will treat the stain and any subsequent odor or residue,” Kovacs says. “It’s also important to pick a product specific to your pet, as formulas for cats and dogs differ.” 

“When applying the product, cover an area twice the size of the accident itself, as stains often spread, particularly on carpet or fabric,” Kovacs says. “Be sure to thoroughly douse the entire application area, especially when it comes to porous surfaces, to allow the selected product to penetrate and treat the affected surface.”

A Note on Hairy Situations

If your pet’s mess is actually on fur or hair, it’s best to take them to a professional groomer. “Pet groomers have access to quality materials, which can remove scents and odors from just about anything,” Deal says. “Technically it’s referred to as de-skunking, but the procedure works well to remove any naturally-occurring aggravation, such as urine or vomit from another pet. And if your pet’s source of odor or trouble is happening around the sanitary area, a professional pet groomer can be essential to keeping the area neatly trimmed to reduce anything that catches urine or poop.”

And If You’ve Taken a Wrong Step…

“If the mishap is yours, such as a misstep into dog poop, the team has a solution for that, too,” Deal says. “Save that old toothbrush and use it to lightly scrub the bottom of shoes under warm running water.”


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