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Pet Odor Alert: How to Remove Lingering Pet Smells

Pets are often beloved family members, but that amazing animal love often comes with a stench.

From hairballs and litter boxes to fecal piles and vomit, our furry friends can quickly turn a happy home into a nose-pinching disaster zone.

To remove lingering pet smells, the tricks are to:

  • Prevent them from occurring whenever possible
  • Maintain cleanliness by cleaning up accidents when they occur
  • Consider major intervention (if all else fails)

Pet Odor Prevention

The easiest way to control pet odor is prevention via routine cleaning.

  • Regularly vacuum and clean the areas and objects that the pet frequents including bedding, crates, toys, dishes, etc.
  • Bathe dogs as needed and brush out the coats of dogs and cats that will tolerate grooming.
  • Frequently change filters for air conditioning and furnace units.
  • A fresh dryer sheet tucked inside a bed or crate can help combat odors, but make sure the pet can’t get to or ingest the sheet.
  • Open windows that allow for a cross breeze to help diffuse some of the airborne odors.
  • Baking soda, coffee grounds or white vinegar placed in open shallow containers, or vanilla scented candles may also help absorb or neutralize pet odors.

Litter box odors not only stink up the house, but they also discourage the cat from using the box.

  • Always have at least one more box than you have cats (2 cats = 3 boxes).
  • Clean the litter boxes daily and use litters that are appealing to the cats.
  • Avoid cat liners that can snag claws and make sure the box is in a place that the cat will use.
  • Do not use a scented litter that may lead to urinary tract problems, especially in male cats.
  • Scrubbing the litter box in between complete litter changes can help avoid odor build up.
  • Most dish detergents or a solution of 20 parts water to 1 part bleach will work well.
  • Always thoroughly rinse and dry the box before refilling with litter.
  • Clean the areas around the litter boxes with every litter change to remove spills or accidents. For cats that spray, this may include wiping down the adjacent wall and baseboards.

Most dogs use the bathroom outdoors, but the yard can also start to smell as a result of frequent urination and defecation.

  • Use a pooper scooper to remove all the solid waste from the yard.
  • Take a water hose and liberally spray all areas the dog favors for urination.
  • Scrub any areas of the yard that are favorite urination spots, such as a dog house or fence.
  • If odor still permeates the backyard, consider using an enzymatic cleaner.

Since some pets may be sensitive to the smell or chemical makeup of cleaners, make sure to:

  • Carefully read product instructions.
  • Thoroughly rinse any treated areas before allowing the pet back in the area.
  • Monitor for any signs of reaction, especially eye or skin irritation.


Accidents are just part of having pets.

In most cases, the stain or pile is readily evident, but for some odors, especially cat urine, the location of the accident can be more difficult to determine.

A simple black light can be used to find urine. The urine glows because it contains high levels of the element phosphorus.

An easy way to keep track of the stain is to trace the area in chalk, which can then be dusted out once the urine is removed.

Eliminate the smells by taking the following steps:

  • Remove the pile or puddle.
  • Rinse with water and soak it up with an absorbent sheet (towel or paper towel).
  • Repeat this process as needed. It may take several attempts.

A number of methods can be used to clean carpets and floors.

Carpet cleaners or spot cleaners are excellent tools for cleaning carpets that have been soiled.

The machine forces the water through the carpet and sucks it back up into the machine, taking the dirt and grime with it.

Always follow the directions and use plain water.

Make sure to also look under the carpet and treat the pad or underlying floor as needed. Avoid steam cleaners.

The heat generated can actually set the stain long-term into carpets and furniture.

Odor neutralizers and stain removers can be useful.

Once the area is clean and dry, an odor neutralizer can be used. Most pet stores carry a selection of products that will work.

Make sure to always test a small part of the fabric or carpet to ensure it doesn’t bleach or stain the material.

Baking soda is an excellent natural deodorizer and can be sprinkled liberally onto carpets before vacuuming.

Baking soda can also be used to neutralize odors in litter boxes and trash cans used for poop removal, or added to the washing machine when washing soiled bedding and clothes.

If a stain still remains after the area is thoroughly cleaned and neutralized, there are several commercially available stain removers and homemade concoctions that may be used.

Be careful with any solutions that contain ingredients with strong odors such as ammonia, vinegar, or pine scent.

Some pets may be more likely to mark in areas that smell like these substances.

Please note that using multiple cleaners in one area is not suggested.

Enzymatic cleaners may bond to a previous cleaner instead of removing the proteins associated with the stain.

Remove any previous cleaners prior to attempting the use of another one.

Major Intervention

If none of the above works, it may be time for more drastic measures.

  • Throw out any objects that still smell.
  • Hire a professional cleaning crew.
  • Replace carpets and carpet pads, and possibly other flooring.
  • Remove and replace varnish and/or paint on wood furniture, walls, baseboards, and floors.
  • Upgrade the house’s ventilation system. Consider HEPA and HVAC systems.
  • Use a fast-drying sealer to encapsulate lingering smells on drywall, plaster, brick, paneling, masonry or woodwork.
  • Consider calling an environmental cleanup firm that can identify the chemistry of the unpleasant smells and help provide additional guidance.

Some pets may be more sensitive to commercial cleaners than others.

Always monitor pets carefully when using any product cleaners for signs of reaction that can include:

Pets that have an unusual accident of frequent accidents should see a veterinarian to rule out underlying medical problems.

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