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What is the best way to remove the smell of cat pee?

Grey cat with pee stain on the carpet

Cat pee smells bad, here is how to remove the smell

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Getting rid of cat pee is not just a worthy act of housekeeping. To rid a soiled area of the smell of cat pee will prevent your cat from peeing again in and around the same place.

By Nick Whittle

Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:30

Cat pee is a smell that is tough to get rid of especially in the summer months, and it is one of the more unpleasant aspects of owning a cat. Nevertheless there are ways and means to rid a room of cat urine odour, including steam cleaning and treating the pee with hydrogen peroxide.

Here we look at some of these methods in more detail.

To avoid embarrassment, and to prevent your cat from returning to an area that smells of cat urine, take a few tips from us. Eliminating the smell may seem like an impossible task, but armed with the right cleaning products and the will to do some hard scrubbing, you can freshen up a soiled room in no time.

Why does cat pee smell so bad? 

Generally speaking cat urine smells no worse than the urine of any other animals (including that of humans). The reasons we begin to notice the smell at home however are as follows:

  1. Cats are very sneaky when it comes to their toilet habits. A cat does not like to be caught in the act of pooping or peeing, and thus will try to find somewhere out of sight to do his business. Naturally, urine that is left to fester will begin to smell.
  2. The urine of uncastrated male cats and unspayed female cats is loaded with hormones, causing it to smell especially pungent as it decomposes.

The cat’s need to mark its territory may be essential to assert its place in a feline hierarchy, but it is considered an anti-social behaviour by humans.

Scent marking outside of the litter tray and around the house is something we should aim to discourage at every opportunity. Stale urine is not just a breeding ground of dangerous bacteria, it is also a reminder to a cat that in its world, to urinate wherever it pleases is tolerated.

Of the smell of cat pee, we must blame the bacteria both in the air of the home and in the cat’s bladder. Bacteria get to work on the urine and break it down into various molecules, one of which is ammonia. This substance is arguably the smelliest by-product of bacterial decomposition, but as the urine continues to decompose various other chemicals are created which also have a nasty odour. Such smells from the decomposition attract flies.

Why do cats sometimes urinate outside the litter box?

If your cat has begun to pee somewhere other than its cat litter box you should consider the following as possible medical causes:

  • Your cat doesn’t feel comfortable inside and associates its box with pain.
  • Your cat cannot fit into its box or finds using the box awkward due to arthritis.
  • Your cat has an inability to hold its urine (or faeces).

Importantly, a cat will not soil an area of your house in an attempt to ‘get even’. No animal knows the concept of revenge. If anything, your cat will feel uneasy peeing in places it knows are out of bounds.

Laura George, DVM at Cats Exclusive Veterinary Center in Shoreline, Washington tells PetMD, “Despite popular belief, cats do not urinate outside the box to 'get back' at the owner for something.”

You should also consider the following as possible behavioural causes:

  • Your cat is unhappy with its living space, or agitated or bored
  • Your cat is on heat and is marking its territory
  • Your cat cannot reach its box or is unaware of its whereabouts

“If there is not a medical problem and the problem truly is behavioural, early intervention is key,” adds Dr George. “Behavioural issues can sometimes be resolved by adding additional litter boxes around the home, scooping frequently to remove waste or by moving a litter box from one space in the home to another.”

Litter box training should be started earlier. Check out our advice for training your kitten to use a litter tray

How to get rid of the smell of cat urine

The most important part of a cat pee clean-up is urgency. As we have learned, the longer the pee is unattended the smellier it gets. Furthermore, if cat pee is left to dry up, it more or less disappears from view; that makes it even harder for us to spot and to clean.

In addition to the traditional and very effective method of aeration, these few little things can effectively help you to get rid of the terrible scent of feline urea. No, it is not a question of putting your cat outside (on the contrary!) or bleach: the latter tends to attract cats so... use it instead to clean their crate in order to attract them!

Home remedy 1: Sparkling water

How can sparkling water be effective against bad smells? It's thanks to its salt content! So, don't hesitate to get the saltiest one you can find and apply it directly to where the urine stream took place: it will also bring the stain to the surface, making it disappear. Just let it work for a few minutes and then dab it well with an absorbent cloth.

Home remedy 2: White vinegar

White vinegar is THE "magic" product that all grandmothers have in their cupboards to maintain their homes. It disinfects, cleans, prevents bad smells from settling in... and is displeasing to the cat's refined sense of smell! So, do not hesitate to put a little bit of it in sparkling water (2 spoons of vinegar per 4 spoons of water) to loosen the surface that served as a urinal and let the mixture act a few minutes before absorbing everything to be sure that no smell remains. Chances are your cat won't be coming back to mark this place anytime soon!

Home remedy 3: Baking soda

Along with vinegar, baking soda is the second secret that all clever grannies share. It is a natural and affordable product that can be used anywhere in the home, for cooking and cleaning. Moreover, as much as it is effective against stubborn stains, it is also extremely effective in preventing unpleasant odours: it has the ability to stabilise the pH of acidic and highly basic solutions... which prevents the smell developing!

So, how should you apply it? Put two cups of baking soda in a pot of boiling water and add 5 drops of tea tree essential oil... place the container in the centre of the room in which you can smell the cat urine until the container cools completely! The essential oil will clean the air while the bicarbonate will absorb the odours of the room.

Home remedy 4: Lemon

Like vinegar, lemon is acidic and rather corrosive. And in the same way, it cleans, disinfects, fights against bad smells and is an unpleasant smell to the cats. So, feel free to combine lemon juice  in a mixture of sparkling water and bicarbonate that you can then spray wherever the smell of urine persists to make it go away!

Home remedy 5:  Make a homemade repellent

Getting rid of the smell of cat urine is good. Preventing them from coming back is better! So that they don't mark their territory again, in addition to sterilisation/castration, think of... black pepper! If this condiment stings our noses, know that it has an effect on your cat's nostrils. Don't hesitate to infuse two generous spoons in half a litre of boiling water... then spray the cooled infusion on the carpets and other surfaces so loved by your cat. Usually, they shouldn't be coming back any time soon.

Home remedy 6: Enzyme cleaner

Enzymatic cleaners sold for the express purpose of eliminating cat pee can be found in most pet shops. The enzymes in this cleaning product, which are similar to those contained within white wine vinegar, break down the urine and neutralise the smell. Some of these cleaners also contain bacteria that act as a buffer to the smelly bacterial products in cat pee. These types of enzyme cleaner can also be used on hard surfaces and carpets.

TIP: Do not use a cleaning spray that contains ammonia otherwise you will worsen the smell and tempt your cat to a repeat performance!

A word of warning about clothes and soft furnishings

You may use enzyme cleaners on clothes and soft furnishings but you should read the instructions and warning labels first. Once you are confident that the spray itself will not stain your clothes you can cover the cat pee with the spray, and blot it with some warm water before loading it into the washing machine on a normal cycle.

TIP: Do not use a cleaning product that contains bleach because it will stain your clothes and bed linen.

Cleaning cat urine is an unpleasant duty of owning a cat but it is also an essential one. Remember to be vigilant of your cat’s overall behaviour if it has begun to pee and poo outside its litter box; this could spell trouble, and may mean that your cat is unhappy with its lot.

It is your responsibility to address whatever problem you think the cat is suffering with. If your cat continues to pee in the same place despite your cleaning the area regularly you may need to get tough and prevent his access until the temptation has subsided.