How to remove pet urine smells from a carpet

Dealing with pet urine stains and their lingering odors may feel like a daunting task, but it doesn't need to be
By
Updated on April 15, 2024
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

Pet urine gains a stronger, more pungent smell as time passes and it decomposes. Removing it promptly (and thoroughly) from the carpet will reduce the chances of seeping into the pad and subfloor.

Enzymatic cleaner, baking soda and vinegar are good options to break the urine molecules and neutralize the smells. For a final cleaning touch, you can use hydrogen peroxide to help tackle carpet stains.

For a successful odor and stain removal, the cleaning solutions need to penetrate deeply into the carpet fibers and act for an extended period, sometimes requiring a few hours.

Most pet parents are no strangers to pee accidents around their home. A puppy in toilet training can have an occasional mishap, or a territorial cat may want to spray a corner to mark it as its own. Sometimes, you move to a home with old urine stains and just need to remove that ammonia-like odor from your life.

When pets pee on the carpet, and the spot is not properly treated in time, the urine penetrates deep into the carpet fibers; it can soak into the padding and subflooring before drying. The longer it sits, the farther it will expand, and the more deeply it will bind to the fibers.

That’s why, in this article, we’ll explore some natural cleaners and methods to treat pet urine stains. So that if an accident does happen, it becomes less stressful to deal with.

Three cleaning solutions for neutralizing pet urine smells

One key thing to understand about pet urine is that it’s not fresh pee that smells bad. Instead, the foul smell is produced by bacteria decomposing the urine. With time, urine crystallizes, sticking into the carpet’s fibers as it dries. Urine crystals trap bacteria that transform the urea contained in the urine into ammonia, gaining that pungent, irritating odor.

So, the quicker you act, the better, as you won’t give bacteria time to produce the stale, old urine smell. Your best bet is to use one of the following cleaning solutions:

1. Enzymatic cleaners

Efficient stain and odor removers, these cleaners have a bacteria-based formula capable of breaking down the organic compounds found in pet urine and droppings. The protease-based bacteria can break up new and old urine molecules, dissolve lingering odors and remove carpet stains without toxic chemicals.

Tip

You’ll need a good amount of enzymatic cleaners to remove urine from your carpet so opt for galon-sizede bottles of brands like Nature’s Miracle or unscented Anti Icky Poo.

2. Vinegar and baking soda 

This miracle-maker duo is widely praised by the internet for dealing with unwanted smells. Pet-safe, eco-friendly, affordable and easy to find, vinegar and baking soda are great odor neutralizers. However, their efficiency largely depends on how they are used. 

Vinegar is acidic (its main component is acetic acid) and neutralizes the alkaline salts in dried urine. On the other hand, baking soda is alkaline, hence an anti-acid capable of neutralizing acidic odors, like urine. However, when mixed, they produce a chemical reaction (the fizzing bubbling) that will cancel the properties of each, producing salted water as a result.

If used properly, each one will play its role in removing urine odors by neutralizing the bacteria in the urine, while the fizzy reaction will act on the carpet stains.

3. Hydrogen peroxide

Although widely known for its first aid uses, hydrogen peroxide is also a powerful cleaner capable of removing stubborn stains through an oxidation process (the same chemical reaction as bleach). Commonly found at a 3% H2O2 dilution, hydrogen peroxide is safe for many household uses and very efficient when dealing with stained fabrics. 

Tip

Hydrogen peroxide is less aggressive than regular bleach but can still bleach out the dye of darker carpets. Try it in a corner to see how your carpet reacts before applying it on a wider surface. 

Do not use hot water or steam cleaners. Heat can bind urine proteins into the carpet fibers, permanently setting the stain and odor. Besides, steam cleaners will introduce more moisture to the area and can drive the urine down into the carpet padding and subflooring, even if dry. 

How to clean fresh pet urine from your carpet

As mentioned before, the sooner you get to deal with the pee on your carpet, the more manageable it will be. Taking swift action will greatly lessen the hassle, sparing you from long-term struggles with stubborn stains and lingering odors. 

Upon finding pee on the carpet, follow these steps:

Step 1: Use paper towels or rags to soak up as much moisture as possible, fast

You want to avoid the pee from filtrating into the padding and subflooring. Start by soaking up as much urine as possible from the carpet surface with the help of paper towels or rags. Press down gently to help the paper towels blot down the moisture, but don’t scrub or press down too hard to avoid working the urine further down into the carpet.

Replace the paper towels with new ones and repeat the process until the area is barely damp.

Tip

If you can lift the carpet, put some paper towels under the soiled area to avoid further filtration. 

Step 2: Use tape to delineate the problematic area

Once you have soaked as much liquid as possible and the stain starts to dry up, it can be tricky to see or remember the whole area that needs to be thoroughly cleaned. That’s why delimitating it can come in really handy for the whole process. You can use tape, display objects around it or even draw a circle on the carpet surface with your fingers.

Tip

Make a circle slightly bigger than the stain, as urine can spread through the fibers. Once you are at it, you want to make sure no patch is left untreated or that some drops of pee go unnoticed, only to develop a foul smell over time. 

Step 3: Cover the area with baking soda and scrub the carpet

Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda and let it stick to any remaining dampness. Scrub and rub the powder onto the carpet, as far down as possible, ideally to the bottom of the carpet backing. Add a tad more baking soda and let it absorb the smell as long as possible, at least a few hours. After that, vacuum the carpet to remove the baking soda.

Tip

It can take a couple of vacuuming sessions to fully remove all the leftovers. Empty and clean the vacuum’s bin once you are finished; don’t let the urine-smelling grime to sit on it.

Step 4: Clean any remaining stains with hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar

Once you have removed the urine and neutralized the odor, check for any remaining darker spots on the carpet. It is best to address them sooner rather than later; otherwise, they will be harder to eliminate. 

  1. Pour a small amount of hydrogen peroxide over the stains and gently dab them. 
  2. If hydrogen peroxide is too strong for your carpet, sprinkle more baking soda and spray white vinegar over it for the fizzing reaction. 
  3. Let it sit for about an hour, and then scrub it. 
  4. Lastly, vacuum the area to remove any leftover residue.

Bonus Tip: If an hour has passed, soak urine with an enzymatic cleaner

If the urine has been sitting there for longer than an hour, it probably got into the carpet padding. It’s best to bring in an enzymatic cleaner or white vinegar to soak the area with either of the two.

If you go for an enzymatic cleaner:

  1. You want to completely soak the area with it. Enzymatic cleaners work better on damp, humid surfaces. 
  2. Keep spraying for as long as the manufacturers’ instructions say it takes the cleaner to eradicate stains and odors.
  3. Make sure the cleaner penetrates the carpet fibers by rubbing it in.
  4. After applying, let it dry naturally.

Caustic chemicals and detergents will kill the bacteria of the enzymatic cleaners, so if you choose to treat the urine using this type of cleaner, don’t apply any other product beforehand.

If you go for white vinegar: 

  1. Fill a spray bottle with a mix of 50% vinegar and 50% water.
  2. Spray the delimited area with a generous amount of the vinegar mix. 
  3. While you spray, rub the area to help the liquid penetrate the fibers and get deep down.
  4. Once applied, let it air dry. The smell of white vinegar will evaporate in a few days. 
Tip

If you are trying to clean a pet urine stain in a carpet with tough fibers that won’t decolorate, you can spray 100% vinegar without the water. 

How to get old cat urine smell out of your carpet

When urine has had time sitting on your carpet, it likely soaked through the carpet into the padding and subflooring, so you’ll have to clean deep. Besides, the smell will get more intense over time. 

There are a few tricks to try before considering reflooring the room:

Step 1: Use a black light to uncover the dried urine spot(s)

Dried urine may not be visible to the naked eye. You’ll know it’s there because it smells, but the tricky part is finding the actual spot that needs cleaning. 

Use a black light to track down the stain; the damaged areas will glow with a greenish or yellowish light thanks to the phosphorus in the urine. Once you’ve spotted it, make sure to mark it. 

Tip

You don’t want to skimp here: urine may have soaked into the carpet pad, spreading through an area at least twice as large as it appears on the surface.

Step 2: Vacuum and rehydrate the area 

Start by vacuuming the area thoroughly to remove as much soil as possible. It will make the cleaning process easier, with no debris or dirt interfering. Then, spray a small amount of cold water to rehydrate the urine. 

At this point, the smell will probably intensify; that’s normal. As it gets moist, the urine will smell worse. But no cleaner will be able to break down the dried, crystallized urine either.

Step 3: Apply an enzymatic cleaner directly on the carpet

The protease enzymes will work their way through the slightly humid fiber and break down the urine molecules. 

  1. Instead of spraying, directly pour the enzymatic cleaner liberally into the carpet surface.
  2. Rub it in to help the cleaner reach the underside of the carpet and the padding.
  3. Let it sit for as long as the manufacturer’s instructions recommend.
  4. Cover the area to keep it from completely drying out while the cleaner does its job.
  5. Finally, let it air dry.
Tip

The urine smell is persistent; it probably won’t go away on the first try. Make a second and third application if necessary. However, let the spot dry between enzyme treatments. 

Step 4: Clean the carpet with baking soda and vaccum

Once the enzymatic cleaner is dry, sprinkle the area with baking soda and let it neutralize any remaining odors. Vacuum the whole area. If the spot is near any walls or baseboards, wash those as well with the enzymatic cleaner.  

If the smell lingers after this thorough cleaning, then the urine probably leached onto the subflooring. 

Subfloorings are generally made of materials like wood that can absorb liquids, including urine. So, to completely eradicate the smell, you’ll need to neutralize it down there.

A professional can help eradicate smells by treating the subfloor and replacing the padding.

If you are up to doing it yourself, follow these steps:

  1. Pull up the carpet and pad to get to the subfloor and find the stain. 
  2. Pour enzymatic cleaner into the stained area as you did in the carpet and then let it dry
  3. Seal the area with a layer of oil-based, stain-blocking primer. 
  4. Check the padding condition; if it retains even a mild odor, it would be best to replace that bit.
  5. Reinstall the carpet in the treated area. 

How an air purifier can help remove pet urine smells

The best way to deal with cat urine smell around the house is to address any recent or old mishap and remove all traces from the carpet. Introducing an air purifier can help deal with the smell while the cleaning process is underway.

If you are planning on investing in an air purifier to tackle urine smell, make sure the unit you choose fits the following criteria:

Activated carbon filtration — The only way an air purifier can help deal with unwanted smells is by filtrating odors with a layer of activated carbon that can adsorb contaminants in a gaseous state.

✅ HEPA filtration — While activated carbon is excellent for odor control, we still want to remove any particles generated from pet hair and dander, which can add to odor issues.

✅ Enough power to clean the air in your room — You need to choose an air purifier that will be able to effectively clean the air in a room as big as yours. If you have your floor space figure, you can use our CFM calculator to find what CADR you will need to look for before buying a unit:

At HouseFresh, we believe in providing honest air purifier reviews, even if a unit falls short of our expectations (or exceeds them). That is why we buy and test the units’ real-world performance in our own home lab. 

Tip

Based on our results and hands-on experience, we’ve selected three air purifiers capable of combating urine smells effectively:

  • Our top pick is the EverestAir. The fastest air purifier we have ever tested, the EverestAir looks as good as it cleans the air.
  • Our budget pick is the Levoit Core 300. Excellent air cleaning performance for less than $100.
  • Our pick for large rooms is the Alen BreatheSmart 75i. This powerful air purifier will be supercharged by Alen’s B7-Fresh filter with 3.6 lbs of activated carbon.

Check out our full list to find the best air purifier for pet odor.

Final thoughts

Dealing with pet urine stains and their lingering odors may feel like a daunting task. Yet, with the right knowledge and cleaners, you can tackle the problem and get rid of the unwanted smells. 

Besides, if your pet is repeatedly urinating in a particular spot, eliminating any trace of it will also discourage them from any potential reoffending. 

The sooner you address the stains, the better your chances of completely eliminating the smell. But while you are at it, an air purifier with HEPA and activated carbon filters will freshen up the air until you get to the root of it. 

SOURCES

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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.

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