Learn how to clean up the stains and odors left behind when cats and dogs have accidents indoors.

By Jessica Bennett
Updated November 17, 2020
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People like to think of their pets as part of the family, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating when a beloved dog or cat relieves itself inside your home. Whether you're attempting to train a new puppy or caring for an aging pet, accidents are bound to happen with animals in the house. When they do, it's important to act quickly and clean up as much waste as possible before treating the stain. The best method for pet stains differs depending on the surface, so adapt your technique accordingly. Pet stains on carpets and upholstery, for example, might require more vigorous cleaning with a variety of products, while you might be able to simply buff out spots on wood floors.

If you don't notice a pet stain until it has already set, you'll likely have to use more powerful cleaning agents to lift out the spot. But with the right technique, it won't be permanent. Even when the stain is visibly gone, however, the odor might still persist. In our guide below, we'll show you how to remove pet stains and odors, including techniques for tackling old stains and neutralizing stubborn smells. These tips will help you treat and eliminate stains and odors in a way that discourages a pet from using that same area for a repeat performance.

red door labrador retriever
Credit: Edmund Barr

How to Remove New Pet Stains on Carpet and Upholstery

For pet stains on carpet and upholstery that are still wet, begin by soaking up as much urine as possible. By removing more now, you'll make it easier to get rid of the odor later. Press a clean cloth or a few layers of paper towels on the area to absorb any remaining liquid. If possible, place another cloth or paper towel layer under the stained area (for example, under an area rug or cushion) to stop liquid from seeping through to the surface below. Press the cloth into the spot, either by standing on it or applying pressure with your hands, for about one minute to blot up any liquid that has soaked in. Repeat this process with fresh cloths or paper towels until the area is mostly dry. Rinse the spot with cool water to flush out any remaining urine and blot again with a clean cloth to dry the area.

dog lying in entryway with storage bench, hooks, and shelf
Credit: Brie Williams

How to Deal with Set-in Pet Stains on Carpet or Upholstery

Removal of heavy set stains in the carpet or upholstery might require using some more powerful cleaners. An extractor or wet-vac machine works the best. Use water only, rather than chemicals. Using cleaning chemicals with strong odors, such as ammonia or vinegar, might encourage your pet to revisit the area to cover up the odor. You should also avoid using steam cleaners that could permanently set the stain and odor into the fibers. Once the area is clean, follow up with a good pet-odor neutralizer ($5, Target). Be sure to test the product on a small portion of the fabric first. If the stain still remains, try using a carpet stain remover that's specially designed for pets ($6, Target).

If chemicals have already been used on the pet stain, be sure to thoroughly remove them first before trying a new method. If the urine has already soaked into the carpet padding, removing and replacing the carpet and padding might be your last resort.

blue kitchen with dog

How to Clean Pet Stains on Wood Floors or Furniture

If pet urine discolors wood on your furniture, walls, baseboard, or floor, rub the spot with #000 steel wool and floor wax. If the stain goes deeper, lightly sand the floor and clean with fine steel wool and odorless mineral spirits. For stubborn stains and odors, you can also try a pet stain remover made for hard floors ($12, Petco).

Cleaning supplies in metal basket
Credit: Blaine Moats

Tips for Getting Rid of Pet Odors

You can often clear up pet odors caused by accidents using natural cleaning ingredients. Vinegar and baking soda are two powerful household ingredients that can neutralize pet odors throughout your home. On carpets, rugs, and upholstery, sprinkle baking soda over the entire area and let it sit overnight to absorb the odor, then vacuum the surface. You can also try mixing a solution of equal parts water and distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. Wet the area with the mixture before sprinkling on the baking soda.

For machine-washable items, add 1/2 cup baking soda directly into the load along with your regular detergent to help lift out the odor. If the smell still won't budge, try an enzymatic cleaner, such as Nature's Miracle Stain & Odor Remover Spray ($8, Petco), to spot-treat the area.

Even if your pets don't typically have accidents in the house, they can still leave behind odors that are difficult to dissipate. To get rid of general dog or cat smells, start by tackling any visible spots or stains using the strategies above. Then use the vacuum to pick up pet hair, dander, and dirt. Be sure to hit every surface where fur might collect, including carpets, upholstered furniture, area rugs, hardwood floors, and curtains, and clear out the vacuum filter often. Mop hard-surface floors with disposable mopping cloths ($8, Target) that will catch any remaining pet hair instead of pushing it around. If the smell persists, consider hiring a professional to deep-clean your carpets and floors.

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