Love Your Pet But Not the Mess? A Guide to Keeping Your Home Clean

Cat being brushed
Brush your pet regularly, and ask your veterinarian how often to bathe your pet.

Got pets? It’s probably safe to say that you’ve had to deal with pet-related messes. Even the most perfectly housetrained dogs and litterbox-loving cats occasionally get sick, and, in my experience, it never happens on the easy-to-clean tile floor. It’s almost always on the carpet. Or the new rug. Or in the middle of the bed in the guest room… the day your mother-in-law is visiting.

Whether you’re dealing with urine, vomit, feces, or just an overabundance of fur, you need the right products and tools to keep your house looking — and smelling — clean. Follow the tips in this article, and, based on my personal experience, the only evidence that you share your home with a pet will hopefully be the presence of your actual dog or cat.

However, do keep in mind that not all household cleaning products eliminate all germs, so if you’re dealing with fecal matter, it’s always a good idea to follow up with an EPA-recommended cleaner that’s designed to kill bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and staphylococcus. Also, any time you’re cleaning animal waste, including urine, vomit, or fecal matter, protect yourself by wearing rubber gloves and washing your hands after you’re done cleaning.

Additionally, it’s always a smart idea to talk to your veterinarian about any products you’re using. He or she will be happy to answer your questions and might even have some tried-and-true suggestions of his or her own!

Stains on Carpet, Furniture and Bedspreads

I’ve found that the best first step for any pet mess is always to scoop — or soak — up whatever you can immediately. Blot; don’t rub. Don’t rush this part, because in some cases, the more you absorb ahead of time, the more success you should have at eliminating the stain and residual odor entirely; if that means you have to put a few layers of paper towels or clean, white cloths down and cover them with a heavy book, do it. (If you’re worried about the book getting wet, you can cover the paper towels or cloths with plastic wrap before you lay the book on top.) And if you find a new stain that you can’t treat right away, spray the area with clean water and cover it with plastic to keep it damp, which can help prevent the stain from fully setting.

Now, get to work. Grab baking soda and white vinegar. Pour enough vinegar over the spot to make sure it’s covering the entire area. Then, sprinkle baking soda over the area and allow it to sit… and sit. It may take a day or two for the baking soda to absorb the stain and dry, but then you can vacuum it up and, voila! No more stain. If your pet seems interested in the spot afterward, you could follow up with a more powerful odor neutralizer.

For fresh blood stains, try blotting, then using a sponge full of cold water to bring the stain out. If this doesn’t remove the stain (or if the stain is older), blotting the area with hydrogen peroxide, possibly numerous times over the course of a few days, should do the trick. In a hurry? Sprinkle baking soda on first and let it sit for however long you can, then vacuum it up. Follow that by spraying or dabbing the area thoroughly with a mixture of white vinegar and lukewarm water (or the pet-safe cleaner of your choice), allowing that to sit before blotting it up — a few hours is best, but even minutes will help. (I use a 50:50 mix, but you can dilute it with more water if you prefer.)

For a bedspread, rug, or other item that can be laundered, use your washing machine. Soak, scoop, or scrape up what you can ahead of time, then run the fabric under cold water to flush out remnants. Pretreat the stain with laundry prewash stain remover, and wash it in the hottest water the fabric will allow. Add ½ cup of white distilled vinegar to your final rinse to up the anti-odor ante. Got a particularly large or delicate item? It might be worth taking it to a professional cleaner.

One note regarding vinegar (and any other cleaners, for that matter): It’s always smart to test these products on a small, out-of-the-way spot to make sure they don’t affect the color of your carpet or furniture. I haven’t had an issue with discoloration, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

What to Use and Avoid

When looking for a commercial product, look for enzymatic cleaners. If a product comes with directions to dilute, follow them — closely. While many of these products are safe for pets when used as recommended, they may not be safe if left undiluted. Check with your veterinarian if you have any questions about a product or how to use it.

Although a wet vac can help, many experts recommend avoiding steam cleaners, particularly for urine; that’s because the heat can permanently set the stain and odor. White vinegar and baking soda aren’t the only household items that I find work well for pet stains.

  • Club soda works for nearly any type of spot, but it’s only effective while effervescing, so you might need to treat the spot multiple times.
  • Bleach isn’t pet-safe when undiluted, but a mixture of 10 parts water to 1 part bleach can get rid of cakedin stains and odors on light-colored items. Test a few drops on a hidden spot. Let it sit for about a minute, then rinse thoroughly with warm water. If the test causes no discoloration, spray affected areas with the mixture, and let it sit for just 15 seconds before rinsing thoroughly.

Pets should be kept away from the area until it’s completely dry.

How to Handle Fur

Start with prevention! Brush your pet regularly. Baths can help loosen fur that brushing misses. (Ask your vet how often to bathe your pet.) Of course, with heavier shedders, prevention only goes so far.

Use a broom in corners of your carpet and near floorboards to loosen fur, and vacuum at least twice a week. Fur covering your furniture? Rub the area with a rubber kitchen glove, then rinse off the fur (use a drain protector so fur doesn’t go down the drain). A lint roller can work wonders for grabbing hairs woven into fabric, and many vacuums now come with a fur-specific attachment.

Consider using a slipcover or throw to cover your pet’s favorite spot. Remove it before guests arrive and greet them with a nice, clean seat … at least until your pet climbs up for a snuggle.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of HealthyPet magazine.