There’s plenty to love about our feline companions. The purrs! The toe beans! The small teefers! All cats are precious (and sometimes weird and chaotic) baby angels, obviously. That cat pee smell, though? Well…that’s less than heavenly.
When cat pee outside of the litter box is left unnoticed, bacteria eventually decompose the urea (a metabolic waste concentrate), which produces the distinctly unpleasant, ammonia-like smell of cat urine. Unneutered male cats’ urine has hormones in it that only add to the overall stink.
This odor latches onto just about any surface: walls, floors, upholstery, and clothing. Luckily, there are plenty of simple solutions for getting rid of stubborn cat stains and odor that will get your house smelling feline fresh in no time.
The Litter Box: Human Solutions
Assuming your cats aren’t taking nature calls elsewhere in the house (we’ll address rebellious streaks later), it’s best to start at the source of the smell: a dirty litter box. No one likes a filthy, stuffy bathroom, so keep your cat’s litter box fresh with these easy steps:
- Thoroughly scoop out soiled litter at least every three days; multi-cat litter boxes could use even more frequent cleaning.
- Dispose of soiled litter in outdoor garbage cans, never indoor.
- Replace the whole litter box once a year. (Who knew?! Definitely not us.)
- Use activated charcoal pieces, filters, or packets to absorb odors.
- Use litter deodorizers to boost the odor-blocking power of natural, unscented litters.
- Keep the litter box in a well-ventilated area away from clothing, upholstery, or intake vents.
The Litter Box: Cat Solutions
So, your precious fur-child is defiantly peeing and pooping everywhere but the designated location for such activities. Cats are nothing if not major divas, and they can be frustratingly finicky about their litter box situation for a number of reasons:
- Your litter box might not be the right size.
- You might not have enough litter boxes for all of your cats.
- The litter brand/type might not be what your cat prefers.
- Your litter box might not be in the right location.
Small changes to the litter box itself might eliminate the, er, elimination problem entirely, but if not, keep reading for more cat odor-erasing hacks.
Stifle the Stink: Finding the Right Odor Eliminators
Getting rid of a serious odor takes serious supplies, and when it comes to cat odor, it’s best to think like a chemist. Cat urine is made up of many components, some of which can be thoroughly cleaned with household cleaners like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda.
Other components, however, can only be completely broken down by enzymatic reaction. For example, cleaning uric acid with the aforementioned household products will only provide a temporary fix until exposure to humidity causes uric acid crystals to reform and the smell to return. For this reason, enzymatic cleaners are the best option for eliminating cat odors and stains.
There are hundreds of enzymatic deep cleaners on the market, and not all are created equal. We’ve found these enzymatic cleaners to be the most promising (and affordable):
- Bubba’s Super Strength Commercial Enzyme Pet Odor Eliminator
- Sunny & Honey Biodegradable, Non-Toxic, Essential Oil Scented Cleaner
- Top-Rated Rocco & Roxie Odor Eliminator
- Simple Solution Extreme Pet Stain and Odor Remover
Fragrance sprays and candles can mask milder cat odors. Burning incense, particularly strong, heady fragrances like nag champa, tend to work better on more pervasive smells. Smoke odor eliminator candles also work well to cover up notoriously long-lasting smells like cigarette smoke, burnt oil, and cat pee.
Odorous Options: What Not to Use
Equally important in the battle against cat urine odor is knowing what cleaning products and techniques not to use. For the best chance of getting rid of cat pee smell, avoid these rookie mistakes and not-so-great cleaning products and tools.
- Never use bleach products when cleaning cat urine; combining bleach and ammonia creates chlorine gas.
- If the stain is still wet, always gently blot with a thick pad of paper towels before cleaning to avoid pushing the stain further into the carpeting, upholstery, etc.
- Avoid using steam cleaners on cat pee stains; the heat permanently sets the odor and stain by bonding the protein to artificial fibers.
- Don’t use ammonia or vinegar; strong chemical smells might encourage your cat to reinforce their scent marking by peeing more in that area.
- Not all surfaces are best cleaned the same way. Make sure you’re approaching stain and odor elimination specific to wood flooring, concrete, or carpet.
- Save a soiled laundry basket by rinsing stained clothing with cold water. Never throw soiled clothes directly into the washer; this will only set the smell. Always rinse as much of the urine out of the clothing before laundering.
Addressing Underlying Behavioral, Medical, and Dietary Issues
You’ve scrubbed, you’ve sprayed, you’ve tried 10 different litter box models, and still, nothing works. Before you go from “crazy cat lady” to “legitimately crazy cat lady,” consider potential underlying causes of malodorous behaviors.
- Phoebe Buffay sang it best: “Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you?” The compound responsible for cat urine’s strong ammonia smell is a byproduct of protein metabolism. Switching your feline’s food from chicken-based to seafood-based might work better for their digestive system and result in less offensive #1s and #2s. Offering plenty of water also helps dilute cats’ urine, making for a far less pervasive smell.
- Marking territory is a behavioral phenomenon and won’t be fixed with any amount of carbon filters, incense, and/or tuna fish bribes. The Veterinary Centers of America offers professional guidance on how to curb spraying behavior in both male and female cats.
- Cat aggression, whether in single or multi-cat households, can increase odors due to anal gland expression and the release of stress hormones. The ASPCA is an excellent resource for learning how to handle cat-to-cat and cat-to-human aggression.
- Finally, despite what strictly-dog people might think, cats are not always acting out in spite. Persistent and untreatable odor can be a sign of a more significant medical issue like kidney disease, diabetes, or a UTI. Contact your local veterinarian immediately if you feel like your cat is exhibiting any of these symptoms.
Living Your Best Cat Parent Life
Cats communicate with humans in several ways, and while it might take some getting used to the subtleties of their meowed cues, it’s important to listen. Pee-soaked couch cushions are definitely annoying, but it might be the only way your kitty knows how to get their point across.
All cats are unique, which means there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to eliminating cat odors from your living space. Be patient with both yourself and your feline friend as you work together to find the right routine. Although it might not feel like it when you’re scooping their poop with a shovel, cat ownership is a two-way street. Both parties need to feel safe, comfortable, and healthy for the relationship to thrive.
Even if the end seems nowhere in sight, keep at it. Professional medical and rehabilitative options should always be pursued before surrendering cats to shelters or humane societies. With patience, love, and a bit of human-to-pet communication, you’ll be able to enjoy odor-free cuddle sessions, nose boops, and playtime for years to come.