We all have to go sometime … to the bathroom to purge the contents of our bladders, I mean. Since our kitten and cat pals share our homes and living spaces, we provide them with things like litter boxes or other areas specially designed for their waste disposal needs. It’s almost inevitable, though, that cats will miss the mark on occasion. We’ve all woken or come home to find an unwanted stain on the bed or a foul stench wafting from the carpet.
To paraphrase a commercial I once saw about human incontinence: Are your cat’s going problems becoming a growing problem? What are the best ways to remove cat urine? This is our focus, folks. Whether you call it wee, pee, liquid excretion, going No. 1, or my archaic favorite, “making water,” there’s little more frustrating or confounding than finding, smelling, or otherwise detecting cat urine in the house.
Before we can effectively remove cat urine, we need to understand it. For humans, urine is something reserved for private spaces, and the reason for bringing it into the world is to get it out of our bodies. For cats, peeing serves a far wider and more comprehensive range of useful and constructive purposes. Cats use their urine like we use our cellular telephones and mobile devices — to communicate with their friends and warn off their enemies. These messages can be anything from “This is my territory, stay away” to “I would like to mate.”
We can certainly detect an acrid smell, but the contents of feline urinary messages are not for us to comprehend, only to clean. So how does peeing recreate everything from emails and missed connections to warning signs and emojis? Cat urine contains pheromones, proteins, and other chemicals, which other cats know how to read. For instance, a male cat that has not been neutered has pheromones that act like an OK Cupid profile, announcing his interest in a relationship. Regardless of a cat’s sex, urine is also used for marking territory. The volume of urine, the chemicals it contains, even the length of time it has been on an object all change and define the meanings it carries.
If your cat is peeing in the house and frequently missing the litter box — whether by accident or for very good reasons — how can you find it, clean it, and remove it? We’ve noted that cat urine can have a very strong odor, and of course, if it’s in a conspicuous place, we can easily observe the stain. Cat owners are not always lucky enough — if “lucky” is the right word — to find a puddle or wet area on the mattress, floor, or laundry basket. Likewise, not all cats’ pee can be located by the sniff test. What if the ammonia smell is faint, outside our field of vision, or has long dried out? Most of the research I’ve read suggests a method you’ll recognize from police procedurals and crime dramas: black light.
If you suspect your cat of errant urination, start your investigations in the places and rooms where she tends to hang out. Making the room as dark as possible, a portable ultraviolet bulb carefully wielded can, in many cases, reveal the location of a fresh or stale pee. The fresher the urine, the more obvious it will be. As it ages and dries, elements in cat urine crystallize, which black lights can also discover. If you think your cat may be marking territory, don’t just look at the floor, under furniture, or on the furniture — the ASPCA notes that territorial markings are most often performed on vertical surfaces.
You may not understand the messages your cat’s urine is conveying to rodents or other cats, but if you can detect it, you can take steps to clean it. Cleaning the cat’s mess depends on the object she’s urinated on. There are different strategies and cleaning products to eliminate cat pee from a leather couch than from a mattress. Hardwood is different than concrete, just as carpet is different from clothing. Whatever you do to whatever surface, avoid using ammonia-based cleaners. Ammonia’s smell closely resembles the odor in urine, and will only frustrate your cat, motivating her to re-mark the space. If you buy a commercially available cleaning product marketed for cat urine cleaning and smell removal, quality products will note which surfaces they are best suited to.
The most important factor is to find a cleaner that will effectively dissolve the complex enzymes and chemicals comprising cat urine and neutralize its strong smell. Clothing, bedsheets, and other loose cloth products should be professionally laundered or dry cleaned in situations where bleach might ruin or discolor the fabric or material. Doing laundry at home? Baking soda is a crucial additive. Eliminating cat pee from carpets, mattresses, and furniture can be tricky, as their materials can be affected or ruined by household cleaners, from bleach to vinegar.
All sources agree that recently evacuated, wet cat pee should be dabbed or blotted at. Rubbing will only further embed urine into cloth, leather, and wood. Newsprint or absorbent paper towels are preferable to wet rags, and cold water is better than hot. Some scented cleaners, along with homemade mixtures of bleach, vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide with water, may remove part of the urine or mask some of the smell, only to leave remnants that are recognizable to your cat’s keen nose.
In the same way that cleaning with ammonia will encourage a cat to pee again, an incomplete cleaning may only spur a cat to mark that spot again. Rather than attempting to rub, dab, or create homemade concoctions, a wet-dry vacuum cleaner — especially a rented industrial-strength wet-vac containing an enzymatic solution — may provide a more efficient approach. If you decide to take a DIY tact, make sure to use baking soda afterward. Its odor-suppressing qualities will give you time to clean the area again before the scent, and fresh cat pee, can return.
Naturally, there are scenarios worse or more complex than a cat urinating on your favorite article of clothing, your adjustable mattress, or your freshly waxed hardwood floor. For instance, if you are finding bloody cat urine outside the litter box or otherwise, it may signal a range of health concerns ranging from fertility in unfixed cats to cancer in senior cats. Should this be the case, schedule a consultation with your veterinarian immediately.
Has you cat been missing the mark lately? Is it happening more frequently than you’d like? Share your homemade cat urine cleaning solutions, your most trusted brands, and litter-box retraining procedures in the comments!
About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a one-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Idris, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.