Litter Box Blues: How to Clean Cat Urine Stains and Odors

Cat pee has a pungent smell that can last indefinitely unless you treat it. Here are some do-it-yourself cleaning solutions.

Learn how to beat the litter box blues. By: Jennifer Morrow

We’ve all had that sinking feeling when you see your pet hunch down and you know he is urinating on your floor. Panic, stress and a race to move him elsewhere sets in almost instantly.

In other instances, we smell a faint urine odor but cannot find the source. Whether you catch the pet instantly or find it later, urine stains do need to be cleaned if you want to get rid of the odor.

Urine can seep through the carpet to the padding and subfloor. Upholstery and wood floors are also at risk of harboring the ammonia-type smell, but there are some solutions to help remove the stain and unpleasant odor.

Cat urine is stronger than dog urine because of the protein-rich diet, and the source needs to be found or it will keep creeping up no matter how many deodorizers you spray in your home.

Cats urinate outside their litter boxes for several reasons. Some of these are:

No matter the surface of the urine, always try to soak up as much of it as possible with paper towels or a dry cloth. Press on the area to absorb the urine; do not rub it in since this can spread it into surrounding fibers or deeper into the subfloor. There are several cleaning solutions you can use depending on the surface.


After drying the urine as much as possible, use a cleaning solution to treat the area. Always test an inconspicuous area first if you are unsure of the effect the solution will have on the carpet (under a sofa or behind furniture where any damage won’t be seen).

  1. Rub baking soda and water into the carpet and leave it to dry. Vacuum up the solution when dry and repeat if necessary. This solution is good for surface soiling but may not be best for deep or subfloor extraction.
  2. Also use warm water and vinegar if you have it on hand.
  3. Using a steam cleaner or renting an extractor or wet vacuum may be effective in removing the moisture and killing the odor-causing bacteria.
  4. A cleaner or detergent with hydrogen peroxide is another alternative, but test this on dark carpets as it might lighten some fabrics.


Dry the surface as much as possible with a dry cloth or paper towel. Clean the surface with a cleaning solution such as one of those above and pat dry. Use a hair dryer to dry the area starting from the outside of the stain.

Some steam cleaners also have accessories or handles for these types of furniture and can be used to kill the bacteria. Just as with carpet, test an inconspicuous area first so you don’t leave permanent damage in a visible area.

Hardwood Floors

Urine can seep through the seams of the wood floor and affect the padding or subfloor below. If you have pets, make sure your wood floors are sealed well. In the event of a urine accident, dry the moisture as much as possible. The warm water and vinegar mixture may be best, but any damage may depend on the type of wood you have on your floor.

Test a hidden area just as you would with fabrics before applying any chemicals or cleaners. If you are successful in removing the urine completely and it does not return for a few days, consider applying another coat of sealer to your floors to prevent further accidents from getting trapped into the subfloor.

After treating the area for stain and odor, you can apply an odor remover. These are usually found in pet stores; look for one that has enzymes in it to attack any remaining bacteria. Be careful not to look for one designed to treat blood stains as these are not as effective on urine odors. You can also use the same homemade remedy for removing skunk odor.

If you smell urine but cannot find its source, try using a blacklight to illuminate the soiled area. Even with the above solutions, sometimes the urine is old or trapped so deep into the subfloor that it simply cannot be removed without replacing the flooring. If you do decide to replace your flooring, seal the subfloor well (if installing a wood floor, seal the surface well).

Additional Resources

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of the book One Unforgettable Journey, which was nominated for a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. In addition, she was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. Kristine has been researching and writing about pet behaviors and care for many years, with her articles appearing in various publications. She is the CEO of a large mental health practice in Louisiana and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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