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Carpet Cleaning Tips for Pet Owners

Eliminate pet stains and odors quickly after the accident by using this simple vacuum technique plus special bio-enzyme cleaners. Solve the problem in 5 minutes.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Overview: Be prepared and clean up immediately

Many pet owners do exactly what they shouldn’t do when they clean up pet messes. But if you learn how to clean up the right way, with the right products, you can prevent a permanent stain. I’ll show you three tips that work with all pet messes and discuss a few cleaning products. You’ll get the best results if you have the products and a carpet extractor in hand when you discover the accident.

Clean up wet messes

Using paper towels to blot up urine and vomit soaks up the surface liquid but still leaves a lot in the carpet. And stomping on those paper towels only makes it worse. That forces the liquid deeper into the padding and then into the subflooring. Instead, invest in a handheld carpet extractor (shown is the Bissel SpotLifter 2X; about $49 through our affiliation at amazon.com). Don’t use a shop vacuum—the smell will linger in the filter and it’s much harder to clean than a small extractor. Hit the carpet as soon as possible and vacuum like there’s no tomorrow.

Then to finish cleaning up a urine stain, fresh or dried, use a urine-specific bio-enzymatic cleaner (one choice is Nature’s Miracle Urine Destroyer; about $15 per quart from a pet store). It neutralizes the urea and uric acid and eliminates proteins and starches. Ordinary carpet cleaners can’t do that. In fact, using a carpet cleaner before a bio-enzymatic cleaner can set the stain permanently. Liquid messes spread as they’re absorbed into the carpet, so always treat a larger area than the original stain.

Clean up solid messes

Scooping up the solids with paper towels or rags can actually force them into the carpet. Instead, use a putty knife and dustpan to scrape them up as shown in the photo.

For all solid messes, saturate the stain with an oxygenated bio-enzymatic cleaner. Let it sit for 45 minutes to separate additional solids from the carpet fibers. Then clean up those solids. Bio-enzymatic cleaners take a long time to work. Just let the treated area air-dry. Then vacuum to raise the nap.

More About Cleaning Solutions

Home remedies that use vinegar and baking soda simply mask the odor for a short time and don’t eliminate the cause. Instead, buy a product made for your particular type of pet mess.

Commercial pet cleaning products range in price from a few dollars to more than $20 per quart. The least expensive products usually contain a carpet detergent for the stain and an odor-masking chemical. Since they don’t actually neutralize the substance, the smell usually returns on humid days.

Spend more to get a product with enzymes. These products are good for small surface stains. But if you’re dealing with a large stain, one that has soaked deep into the carpet, or one that has already dried, spend more yet and use a product with bacteria, enzymes and an oxygen booster.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Putty knife

You'll also need a hand-held extractor and a dust pan.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Bio-enzyme cleaners

Comments from DIY Community Members

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August 13, 4:11 AM [GMT -5]

I had a Steam Cleaning company do our carpets and will never have another do it. I rented a rug doctor from a local store and being we have pets I used the per formula cleaning solution. AMAZING results!!! ServiceMaster not worth the money.

February 26, 4:45 PM [GMT -5]

In response to a reader's query about removing older stains, I've had really good luck with any cleaner that has the word "oxy" in it - especially the Resolve and Woolite products. Just be sure to follow the directions carefully. I found that working in circular motions and "feathering" the cleaner on the edges of the stain helps to minimize any stain or too-clean spot that's left. That brings up another problem - if your carpet is soiled overall, the clean spot is going to stick out, so be prepared to shampoo the whole thing if that will bother you. I highly recommend the upright cleaners you can rent from home improvement stores - it did an awesome job on my carpets.

July 20, 10:31 AM [GMT -5]

This strategy works reasonably well, particularly given that it doesn't require special potions and cleaners; definitely sufficient as First Aid. However, the tip presupposes that you catch your pet "in the act" and find the stain while still moist. But who is this fortunately, especially in a multi-pet household when you must figure out "who done it" as well? Usually, cats will not fail their litter boxes as long as they are healthy and not unduly stressed out; if a cat does, step 4 should be "trip to the vet for urinalysis", no question. -- Do you have good recommendations for un-fresh stains??? Finding them is easily done with a black-light/Woods-lamp, which will make urine stains (and some others as well) glow in the dark. I stick post-it notes on the spots while the lights are out to mark the spots that I wouldn't see with the lights on. Also, it appears that treatment of un-fresh urine stains must be done in two stages: elimination of smell, then extraction of stain. I find the latter particularly challenging; any proven strategies there??

July 19, 11:12 PM [GMT -5]

De-moisturizing will be much faster and more complete if, instead of the towel and book stack, you use your heel.
Just place a stack of paper towels (or fold a few if the area is small) over the wet area. Place your heel on the stack (in several locations if necessary). Turn the stack of paper towels over and replace as they become wet.
The weight of your body will remove water faster and more completely. The books don't have enough weight to do much and they can be damaged by the moisture.

July 19, 10:59 PM [GMT -5]

Duh! common sense prevails,

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