How to Get the Pet Urine Smell Out of the Carpet

We love our furry friends but not the messes they make. Here's how to get rid of stains and odors for good.

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Maybe you’re training a puppy, or the kitty you brought home hasn’t learned the rules yet. Or maybe your housebroken pet had an accident. As most pet owners know, accidents do happen.

And sometimes it may not be an accident. After all, dogs and cats are biologically wired to communicate through their urine — marking territory, among other behaviors. That means even pets with generally good house manners may be leaving an important message. It’s just not for you.

Whatever the reason, the scent can be off-putting and linger for a long time. Pet pee can ruin or discolor carpets, rugs and upholstery. Jen Jones, dog behaviorist at Your Dog Advisor, says uric acid causes the stain and the odor.

“When the urine is not properly cleaned up, the strong uric acid forms into crystals,” she says. “These crystals are expert bonders, too, and they will tightly latch onto the surface they are exposed to.” And cats have even more concentrated urine than dogs.

Alessandro Gazzo of Emily’s Maids says the tight bonding happens in the “million microscopic sponges” in the padding underneath your carpet meant for comfort and acoustic insulation. That adds up to one big challenge eliminating pet pee stains and odors. Here’s how to tackle your pet pee problem.

Tools and Materials

Most homemade recipes for removing urine stains and odor from carpet and upholstery use some of our hardest-working pantry staples. Gather up:

  • Microfiber towels;
  • Bristle brush;
  • Baking soda;
  • Vinegar;
  • Water.

How To Get Dog and Cat Pee Smell Out of Carpet

According to Jones and Gazzo, if you find a puddle of urine, your best bet is to soak up as much as possible before it has a chance to set in. Do this before you use any cleaners. Microfiber cloths are really absorbent, Gazzo says, making them an ideal tool to use.

After soaking up the mess, try a homemade cleaner like a vinegar solution before moving on to an enzymatic product for getting pee out of carpet.

“Some people recommend initially using a solution that has a greater proportion of white vinegar (so perhaps three-part vinegar to one part water) and leave this to dry,” Jones says. “As a second step, you can use a second solution that is one part vinegar and three parts water, so that the vinegar smell will not be so strong.” Others recommend one or two applications of equal parts water and vinegar.

Once completely dry, lightly sprinkle the area with baking soda. Let it sit about 15 minutes and vacuum it up. For especially tough odors, leave the baking soda overnight and vacuum the next day. But, Jones says, don’t be tempted to take a shortcut and mix the vinegar and baking soda together; their acidic and alkaline properties will cancel each other out. If a cat keeps peeing on carpet, it might because it can still smell urine odors in that spot. Getting rid of the smell will discourage them from doing it again.

Clean Cat Stain On Carpet Gettyimages 1097573324krblokhin/Getty Images

Try an Enzymatic Cleaner

“Uric acid is not soluble in water and this means that a normal cleaning product or water-based solution is generally not effective at removing it,” Jones says. “Sometimes you may think that you have gotten rid of them. But when the uric acid crystals are exposed to more water (or your dog potties in the same place), they recrystallize and the smells resurface again with a vengeance.”

So if the homemade recipe didn’t work after a couple of tries, or the urine dried or sat for awhile before you discovered it, then try an enzymatic carpet cleaner for pet stains such as Rocco & Roxie Supply Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator or Nature’s Miracle. These cleaners break down the uric acid and make it easier to clean up.

Jones recommends really soaking the area, not just spraying it lightly. You can also use a bristle brush to really scrub the fibers (if they’re durable enough). Or cover the area and let it soak for awhile before trying to absorb the mess.

Still missing the mark? It’s possible you’re not targeting the exact spot. Gazzo recommends using a UV light to locate the actual stain.

Last Resort Pee Cleaning Option

If you’ve repeated these steps a couple of times, the next option is renting a carpet cleaning machine from a grocery and hardware store, or calling a pro. Note: Don’t use a steam cleaner or hot water because the heat can seal the stain or smell. If all else fails, you may be forced to remove the carpet or rug and pad.

Katie Dohman
Katie Dohman is an award-winning freelance writer who has written about home, design, and lifestyle topics for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured in Artful Living, Midwest Home, Star Tribune, and Teen Vogue, among many others. She is currently living her own how-to story as she and her husband work through a complete gut remodel on their 1921 home—while parenting three tiny tots and dodging their dog and cat, who always seem to be underfoot.