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How to get rid of cat odors in the house

Instant, easy hacks to tackle cat smells and tips to deep clean your home.
By
Updated on November 30, 2023
Written by
Amparo Lopez
Amparo is a staff writer for HouseFresh, having joined us in 2023. She is a sustainability advocate, holding degrees in communications, human-centered design and environmental policy. Her work has a focus on air pollution and climate change.
TL;DR

A thorough cleaning routine is key when dealing with cat smells. Regular vacuuming, mopping and dusting will remove cat dander and hair that otherwise builds up and accumulates a foul odor. Brushing your cats and feeding them quality food will reduce the amount of hair they can shed.

When it comes to litter boxes, you should scoop daily and deep-clean weekly. Cat bedding and blankets need weekly washing as well.

When your regular cleaning routine is not enough, deep clean carpets, overlooked hard surfaces, upholstery, vent covers, walls and ceilings. An air purifier with an activated carbon filter will remove hair and dander particles as well as unwanted smells, making a huge difference in your indoor air.

Unlike other pets, cats aren’t smelly. They are naturally clean creatures and can spend about half their day grooming themselves.

But here’s the thing: despite their cleanliness, some “cat smells” tend to accumulate around the house. Even if you have a regular cleaning routine, it’s not always enough. 

It’s actually more common than you’d think; some cat parents don’t even notice mild cat odors. Noses can get used to smells and “go blind.” 

The good news is the extra steps you could add to your household chores are quite manageable. So, without further ado, let’s get to some simple tips to boost your current routine and enjoy a fresh-smelling home.

6 instant hacks to get rid of cat odors in the house

A regular and sustainable routine that will keep cat odors at bay includes: 

1. Increase airflow and let fresh air in 

When your indoor air stagnates, any unwanted smell intensifies. Odors will linger and stick around on all kinds of surfaces. Opening windows and allowing outdoor air to circulate throughout your home will freshen up your living space, dissipating odors and pet allergens.

2. Keep the litter box clean

Litter boxes are a common source of foul smell. Regular cleaning and maintenance are paramount for a fresh-smelling home and a happy, healthy kitty. 

Follow these tips to ensure an odor-free litter box:

1. Scoop out solids and clumped litter at least once a day; twice will be even better, especially if you have multiple cats.

2. Once a week, remove all the contents from the litter box and clean it thoroughly using soap and water. Refill it with fresh litter.

You should choose a fragrance-free soap because strong chemicals, like ammonia or bleach, can be harmful to cats. 

Also, keep in mind that cats have a powerful sense of smell and can perceive even the slightest residual scent from heavily perfumed soaps. If your cat doesn’t like how their litter box smells, they might choose to relieve themselves elsewhere.

3. Vacuum and mop the floors under and around the box every time you deep clean the litter box.

4. Always seal the bag where you collected the waste and take it outdoors as promptly as possible.

5. Wash the litter scoop every time you use it to keep it clean.

Tip
  • Opt for unscented cat litter; most cats dislike scented ones.
  • Choose a convenient location for the litter box. It should be placed in a moderately active area of your home:
    • Placing it too far from social spaces might make it hard for your cat to find or unappealing to use.
  • Placing the litter box near noisy or vibrating appliances, like a washing machine, can stress them out.
  • Ensure the litter box setup offers your cat both privacy and tranquility while remaining easily accessible. Boxes with low sides and no lids are generally better. They allow your cat to see around and provide an escape route if needed, making them feel secure and in control.
  • Consider a robot litter box that will activate automatically after your cat uses them. However, you’ll need to empty the waste at least twice daily.
  • The number of litter boxes also matters. According to the Humane Society, you should have one litter box per cat in the household, plus one extra.

3. Vacuum, mop and dust regularly

In cat-friendly households, a great deal of dust is made of cat dander and hair. Those furry buildups that tend to accumulate in corners or fly around the room are adding to the cooped-in smell. Remove those unseen dusty odors by keeping surfaces clean: 

  1. Vacuum floors, carpets and hard surfaces at least once a week. Use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter; they are more effective at removing dust and dunder without recirculating it back into the air.
  2. Mop all non-carpet floors at least once a week. Use pet-safe floor cleaners; avoid strong chemicals that release toxic fumes, like ammonia.
Tip

Focus on vacuuming and mopping your cat’s play areas, favorite hideouts, nap spots and any surface they frequent. This routine will reduce hair buildup and the resulting odors if performed weekly.

For those pesky hair spots on couches and upholstered furniture, either sprinkle a pair of rubber gloves with clean water to wipe the fabric and remove accumulated hair or use an efficient and reusable pet hair remover. To give your textiles a final deodorizing touch, spray them with the water and vinegar mix.

3. Clean hard surfaces with a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water. Spray the mix and give your furniture a good wipe. The vinegar will clean and deodorize at the same time.  Don’t worry about the vinegar smell; once the cleaner air dries, the scent will evaporate.

Tip

This cleaner is safe to use on many different surfaces like metal, plastics, wood (as long as it isn’t waxed), glass and leather.

Don’t use vinegar on natural stone surfaces; the acidity will eat away the stone. Instead, for those surfaces, make a cleaner with

  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon of dishwashing soap
  • 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol.

The rubbing alcohol will avoid any sope residue on the surfaces that, otherwise, would accumulate over time.

4. Pamper your pet with regular grooming and quality food

Although cats take good care of themselves, regular brushing will remove considerable amounts of loose hair, dirt and dander from their coat. A weekly brushing session for short-haired cats and daily brushing for long-haired ones will result in fewer hair build-ups floating around and sticking to clothes and couches.

When it comes to choosing their food, a nutritious, balanced diet will reduce hair shedding and lead to less strong-smelling waste. Discuss with the vet your cat’s specific needs to find the best-suiting food for them.

Tip

Even when high-quality, the food in your cat’s feeding bowl can cast a pungent smell. 

Automatic feeders that release the right portion only at mealtime would avoid the constant odors coming from your cat’s bowl, and you’ll be fostering healthier routines for your kitty. 

Also, keep the stored food properly sealed for a double benefit: no cat food smells in the pantry and fresh meals for your pet.

5. Clean your cat’s bedding 

Keep their bedding, everyday blankets or wall hammocks clean to avoid smell and hair building up on the fabrics. Machine washing them once a week is a good rule of thumb, as the amount of hair won’t be too much for the washing machine. 

For cushions or bedding with non-removable covers, handwash them with hot water and soap. Rinse thoroughly before putting them to dry.

Avoid any heavily scented detergent. Cats have a strong sense of smell.

Tip

All washing machines have filters or traps to collect hair and other debris during washing cycles. You should regularly clean these, or your laundry will be forever linty. 

If in doubt about how to clean the filters, just search for the model’s manual on Google to find cleaning instructions.

You can also use a pet hair remover in your laundry to minimize the amount of hair stuck to your clothes.

6.  Use an air purifier 

Air purifiers with HEPA filters are known for helping with pet allergy symptoms, as they remove dander, dust, hair and a wide variety of airborne pollutants as small as 0.3 microns. 

But they can help with smells, too. As long as an air purifier has activated carbon filters, it will remove odor particles through a process known as adsorption. 
Besides, ozone-free and non-ionic air purifiers are completely safe for pets.

Tip

When choosing an air purifier to place in the room with your cat’s litter box, opt for quieter ones to avoid any noise-related stress. Most manufacturers specify the noise levels in decibels (dB). 
If in doubt about which one you should get, check out our recommended air purifiers for litter box smells and air purifiers for pet odors.

Where to clean if the cat odors persist

Sometimes, cat smells linger on unexpected surfaces — this is particularly true for places that are not getting the attention needed in an everyday cleaning routine. And that’s completely normal considering there is just a limited amount of time we can dedicate to keeping our homes tidy and clean. 

But if you are up for it, here are some suggestions to nail a thorough cleaning and get rid of those more persistent odors.

Step 1: Freshen up carpets with baking soda and vinegar

Every once in a while, on top of regular vacuuming, carpets need a good deep clean to freshen them up. Start by removing stubborn cat hair with a carpet rake. Then sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda and spray with white vinegar to get the bubbly, fizzing reaction. Let it act for at least 30 minutes, and finally, vacuum thoroughly.

Step 2: Clean hard surfaces that often go overlooked

Clean blinds, fans, light fixtures, shelves, drawers, woodwork and baseboards (below and behind them). All these items will collect dander and dust over time. Spray them with 50/50 vinegar and water mix and wipe them with a rug to make sure there is no lint left on any of them.

Tip

Pay attention to places your cat likes to rub against. Cats have scent glands they use to mark their territory with pheromones. Although these are almost imperceptible to humans, they can leave a scent behind, especially when they rub frequently against specific furniture, fabrics, or walls.

  • Use an enzymatic cleaner to wipe out any residue your cat may have left on the surfaces they rub against.

Step 3: Wash curtains and refresh upholstery with baking soda

Curtains and upholstered furniture absorb and trap odors, including those from your pet. That is why it’s imperative that you wash your curtains and pillow covers:

  • Anything that can be laundered should be.
  • Use white vinegar instead of softener; it will help neutralize the smells. Plus, it’s eco-friendly and your fabrics will still be soft when they dry.
  • For upholstered furniture, sprinkle baking soda, leave it overnight to soak up the odor and vacuum it up the next day. Spray them regularly with the 50/50 water and white vinegar solution.
  • Also clean your cat’s tree and carpeted cat shelves if you have any around the house. As cats spend so much time playing around these and napping in high spots where they feel safe and in control, hair and smells will undoubtedly build upon those carpeted surfaces. 
Tip

For stubborn odors, use an enzymatic cleaner instead of baking soda. Spray a fine mist on the surfaces (don’t soak them) and let them air dry.

Step 4: Wash your walls and ceiling with vinegar

Over time, odors will soak into paint. So, at least once a year, give your walls and ceilings a deep clean. Make an all-purpose cleaner made of vinegar and warm water (in equal parts) and a tablespoon of dishwashing soap. Use a mop for hard-to-reach areas.

Step 5: Replace HVAC filters and check vent covers

Filters and vent covers collect dust, pet dander and hair. Your indoor air flows right through them, so when they are not regularly cleaned or replaced, the accumulated lint and debris will be recirculated throughout the house.  

Filters and vent covers collect dust, pet dander and hair. Your indoor air flows right through them, so any accumulated lint and debris will be recirculated throughout the house. Make sure to replace HVAC filters periodically and keep vent covers free of hair and dust.

Step 6: Clean the fridge

As unexpected as this may seem, fridges are magnets for cat hair and dander. Unplug and separate it from the wall to vacuum and mop behind and under it.

Also, check the coils at the back and the slotted grate on the bottom that leads to the dripping pan. Vacuum and wipe clean both.

Tip

To further remove pet odors from the kitchen, clean or replace filters from appliances that have them.

Final thoughts

Maintaining a fresh and clean-smelling home requires some ongoing care, it’s true. But it’s worth it. With a boosted routine and a deep-cleaning session every once in a while, your home should be free from unwanted cat smells.

A balanced and nutritious diet, a clean litter box and regular grooming sessions will reduce one of the main sources of the smell: pet hair and dander. Your home will feel tidier and fresher; your kitty will definitely enjoy it as much as you.

SOURCES

About the author

Amparo Lopez

Amparo is a staff writer for HouseFresh, having joined us in 2023. She is a sustainability advocate, holding degrees in communications, human-centered design and environmental policy. Her work has a focus on air pollution and climate change.