A little about the science of pet urine odor: 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 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. Traditional cleaners can remove the soluble components of urine, including urea and dissolved ions. The complication comes from the uric acid, which crystallizes and is highly insoluble in water, and some of the proteins present in pet urine. Many cleaners do not remove uric acid, which breaks down over time into odor-causing substances. Additionally, it may be more difficult to remove protein and amino acid components of urine, which your pet may be able to smell (and be tempted to re-mark), even if you can’t.
Pet products have come a long way from the highly perfumed synthetic and headache-inducing absorbent powders your grandmother would sprinkle around her home to mask the smells of a badly behaved dog. While there are still powder-based treatments on the market, there is more science and research going into addressing pet potty issues than just concealing the problem with air fresheners and perfume.
With all the pet potty products on the market, it’s imperative to examine what needs to be cleaned up and where. Some products are meant specifically for dogs or for cats. Certain products are unsafe to use on your home’s interior surfaces and then others are suitable for use throughout your entire home. Consider where your pet has marked- has he wet on the carpet or on a hard floor? Are the stains old or fresh? Has the urine seeped into crevices such as under molding, thresholds, or into a porous surface such as grout in a bathroom? Do you have other pets in the home such as birds who may become ill from the use of strong cleaning products? While many cleaners say they are “natural” and “non-toxic,” the fragrances used in them can cause adverse effects in humans and pets alike.
We’ve narrowed our reviews of pet urine removers into four categories. Please note- we did not want to waste your time including products from the two categories of products we don’t recommend you use.
Enzymatic Method or Microbe Method: Enzymes break down the odor-causing compounds in pet urine
- Penetrates and chemically breaks down the urine without extraction needed
- Can be used on most surfaces safely
- Some of these cleaners have strong odors
Odor-eliminator/deterrent Method (Not recommended): Citrus or orange-based, these cleaners are oil-based and meant to be diluted
- Cannot be used on wood floors or furniture as it will strip surfaces, essential oils may discolor textiles
- Odor may be very strong when used indoors
- Will not break down the odor-causing compounds
- May clean hard surfaces effectively and reduce stains but will need extraction when used on carpet
Detergent-based Method: Typically a detergent-based cleaner works by making organic stains more soluble in water, allowing them to be rinsed away or extracted with water.
- May leave residue resulting in increased dirt attraction
- May not remove the urine compounds that cause odors
Powder Method (Not recommended): Relies on a liquid and powder or powder alone to absorb stains and odors
- While the powder vacuumed up often takes with it the moisture from fresh urine stains and any activating compound put down first, it will not always remove the odor-causing compounds
- Time-consuming and messy
- Will require extraction and almost always leaves residue that will attract more dirt
Peroxide-based: Often marketed as “natural” or mineral based, relies on foaming or chemical reaction to bubble out stains and urine compounds
- May discolor/bleach surfaces, fabrics, textiles and damage wood and laminate floors
- Must be blotted up and removed/extracted
- Peroxide compounds do act on uric acid but results may vary
Remember to always spot-test any new product in an inconspicuous area of your flooring such as under a piece of furniture or in a dark corner.
While most minor pet potty problems can be addressed with a quick response and the appropriate product, major issues may require more powerful means such as steam or extraction cleaning or a professional team to come out and take care of the problem for you. Some homeowners have been able to resolve soaked-in pet urine issues on hardwood floors and furniture using enzymatic cleaners and others have to replace carpet and flooring (and sometimes even sub-flooring) if the problem is bad enough.
If the potty problem is sudden or new behavior this may also indicate serious health conditions your pet may be experiencing. Before you become too frustrated with his potty problems, be sure to take him to the veterinarian to be checked out.