How to Get Cat Pee Out of Clothes, Towels, Rugs, and Carpet
When I first wrote this article around three years ago, I went on a bit about how evil cats are and how they're always plotting to destroy the world—and, well, it made a lot of people mad. People do not like to hear that cats are bad because inherently they really aren't. If your cat is urinating outside of their litter box, there is likely a good (in the cat's eyes, anyway) and solvable reason.
Still. As someone who has two cats that she loves very, very much, I can't help but feel like they've committed a special kind of wrong when one of them urinates on something of mine or my children's. It's just so violating.
Why cats choose to eat houseplants, destroy fine china, sleep in cardboard boxes and very large shoes, and pee on $90 jeans is beyond human logic. That's okay, because we don't need to understand it. All we really need to understand is how to fix it. And clean it. Learn how to do that in this article and why your cat might be acting up.
- Removing cat urine from clothes, towels, curtains, and small area rugs
- Removing it from carpet you can't just throw in the washer
- Removing it from a couch without a cover
- What if vinegar and baking soda aren't working or aren't strong enough?
- Is there a difference between peeing and spraying?
- Why's my cat peeing in the first place?
- How can I help prevent future mishaps?
How to Remove Cat Urine from Clothes, Towels, Curtains, and Small Area Rugs
If the item is too large to go in the washer (like if your cat peed on the carpet), see below. Otherwise, start here. The good news is that of everything your cat could choose to take a leak on, you can usually do the following to save the item:
- Assess the damage. If the urine is old (as in, you just discovered the accident several days after the deed was done), throw the pile into a bag—paper or plastic will do—and douse the clothes in baking soda to help lift the urine. Seal the bag by either tying it or taping it shut. Let the clothes (or curtains, rug, etc.) chill like this overnight. If the urine is fresh, though, just head straight to the washing machine. You can hose it off outside first if you feel weird throwing cat pee into your washer. If it's a towel, curtain, or small rug that will fit in the washing machine and can be washed that way, follow the same instructions.
- Wash clothes or fabric. Throw the cloth material in the washing machine with a regular dose of laundry detergent, two to four cups of white vinegar (depending on how large the load is), and a liberal scoop of baking soda. Use the smallest setting (as in small load instead of large) you can so you can really get the fabric agitating in the machine. The white vinegar deodorizes the urine—which can help prevent future urination on the same item—while the baking soda helps lift the urine out of the fabric. Wash on hot.
- Run fabric through again on a hot cycle, this time with no soap, vinegar, etc. to fully rinse away any residue.
- Hang to dry. Because you're washing on hot, it's best to hang this load to dry to prevent shrinking.
What about other fabrics?
- Delicate fabrics: To remove cat stains and odors from delicate fabrics, use the same method as you would for washing regular fabrics, but use the "delicate" or "knits" setting instead of a regular setting, as well as a larger load setting to prevent wear and tear of the fabric.
Cat urine-stained upholstery and carpet: For carpet and upholstery that has been heavily saturated, the baking soda and vinegar method may not be strong enough. For those tough jobs, invest in a compact upholstery cleaner—preferably one that utilizes hot water or has a built-in water heater—to remove cat urine stains and odors.
How to Remove Cat Urine from Carpet
Cleaning cat pee out of carpets and large rugs that can't be thrown in the wash is a different game. While the agitation from the washing machine helps to throw the urine out of the fabric, so to speak, cleaning carpet is tricky. This is because, if you're not careful, you'll just sort of rub the pee in more. Thankfully, if the urine hasn't been there for too long, you may be able to save the carpet—or at least prevent the stain from soaking too deeply into the baseboard. Try the following before ripping any of your Berber up:
- Soak up the stain. Dab paper towels on the spot to soak up as much of the pee as you can. Don't rub the stain; you want to avoid pushing it further into the carpet.
- Spray white vinegar on the area.
- Let the vinegar soak, and then dab it out. Again, dab paper towels on the spot to soak up the moisture. Repeat this step once or twice more, depending on the severity.
- Use baking soda next. Sprinkle the stained area with baking soda to absorb as much vinegar and urine as possible. Let that sit until dry.
- Vacuum up the baking soda.
If that doesn't seem to have done the trick, try a cleanser formulated to clean the enzymes found in cat urine and follow the directions on the bottle. This is also something you may want to invest in if the issue is a recurring one.
You can also use a black light to find places you may have missed.
How to Remove Cat Urine From a Couch
You can't very well throw a couch in a washer, can you? Fortunately, if the cat uses your couch as an impromptu litter box, it's easy enough to clean up.
- Soak up the stain. Whether your cat sprayed on a vertical couch surface or peed on a horizontal one, do your best to blot up the puddy piddle. Remember: don't rub the stain. If you rub it, you run the risk of pushing the liquid farther into the couch and making it harder to get out.
- Spray white vinegar on the area. For a recent incident, spray the vinegar on the area and let it sit for a minute, but do not let it dry completely. For a recently discovered but long-ago-committed incident, do the same thing—except you might have to call in some bigger guns like OxiClean or Shout if the stain is particularly tough to remove.
- Soak and dab the vinegar out. Long before the vinegar dries, dab most of it out.
- Put baking soda on the area. Sprinkle the vinegar that remains with baking soda. The baking soda's goal is to soak up the rest of the vinegar and urine. You do want to let this one sit until it dries, that way you can just vacuum what remains away. This should bring the rest of the stain with it. You may need to repeat this process a time or two for it to completely disappear.
- Lightly spray the area with essential oils or Listerine. It's not madness. If you want to avoid a repeat situation, spraying the effected area with citrus-smelling or lavender pure essential oils, or Listerine. Cats hate the smell and will hopefully be deterred from visiting this location as a litter box again.
My cat still won't stop peeing on the couch!
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Perhaps kitty has decided that the couch is the place to pee. If you feel as though you've exhausted your options and your cat is still determined to pee on your couch, try getting a washable, waterproof couch cover. That way, you can just toss the couch cover in the washer whenever your cat goes rogue.
Listerine and essential oils can be used to deter your cat from revisiting a previously peed on spot.
Vinegar and Baking Soda Not Doing the Trick?
With especially old or deeply penetrated urine stains, baking soda and vinegar may not do enough to lift the odor and the bacteria that causes it. This is where a more powerful tool comes in handy. The has proven itself to be a total lifesaver in my life (seriously, my mom "borrowed" mine and I immediately had to order a new one because with two toddlers and two cats, it's become a nearly everyday essential for me). Bissell Little Green ProHeat
You can use it wet or dry and with hot or cold water but my favorite thing about the Little Green ProHeat is that used on the hot water setting, it helps loosen pet urine stains before lifting them and I feel like there's at least some germ-killing action happening as opposed to using plain cold water and sopping it all up with a rag or paper towels.
I use this machine with an accompanying solution (you can pick which Bissell formula works best for your problem area) to remove pet stains (including the more than occasional hairball) from our carpet.
Also useful for removing stains we won't go into detail over from upholstery, couches, mattresses, and rugs when your two children simultaneously come down with the stomach flu. Hurrah!
The Smell Is Still Sticking Around. Can I Use Activated Charcoal to Get Rid of Cat Pee Odors?
Yes. Many people swear by activated charcoal (also known as activated carbon). It can be helpful in the removal of urine odors because activated charcoal is pretty much a sponge that'll soak up most things. You can likely pick up a package at your local pet store, and there should be instructions on how to use it on the package. I think the one caveat to this would be that you should be aware that activated charcoal is black and sooty. So maybe don't put it on a white carpet (just in case not all of its absorbent sooty goodness comes up). You could also see how well the charcoal will come up by testing a small, furniture-covered area, such as an area that the couch covers or a patch of carpet that the TV usually covers. That way if it doesn't all come up, the residual charcoal will be covered by furniture, and you won't have to see it.
What's the Difference Between Peeing and Spraying?
Yeah, they're different. Peeing usually looks like a puddle, whereas spraying usually looks like a specific area got misted. Peeing is usually more to draw your attention to a specific area or problem. For instance, my friend's cat Lightening will lock eyes with her and pee on her bed when he thinks litter-box conditions are unacceptable (which fortunately isn't that often, in his expert opinion).
Spraying, on the other hand, is usually more territorial. It's usually to prove a point or to mark something as "theirs." However, it's important to note that peeing can also be used to mark territory, especially if the puddle looks quite small. Spraying can also be a retaliatory action, as in "you threw me outside, so I peed on your cookbooks" (I wish I was kidding—this happened).
Both male and female cats will do both of these, by the way. It's not limited to a specific cat gender.
Peeing vs. Spraying at a Glance
Upright, tail erect towards the sky, tail often quivers when spraying
Result looks like
Why Is My Cat Peeing on Things in the First Place?
- Other cats in the house: Some cats... just don't get along together and end up in a pee war—spraying on anything and everything. Those same antagonistic cats might get along swimmingly in another cat configuration. For instance, my friend's cat Odin doesn't pee around dogs or if he's the only cat in the house. But if another cat moves in, nothing is sacred to Odin—including my friend's bed and the computer printer. When her friend with a cat named Shamrock moved in, Odin and Shamrock starting peeing on and spraying everything. Shamrock now lives with three other cats and doesn't pee on a thing. If you've got more than one cat, they might just not be compatible.
- Other cats outside: If there are strays outside, it could be encouraging your cat to spray on things as a way of marking their territory.
- Don't like the litter you've chosen: Cats are really great at communication. If they don't like something, they're going to let you know directly—possibly in a pretty inflammatory way like spraying on the things you care about. If you've recently changed litter types, it's possible that your cat will pee around the litter box instead of going in it as a way to protest the new litter. They might also decide that a pile of clothes or a potted plant is a suitable replacement for the unpleasing litter. There's an easy fix here (hopefully): switch to a different brand of litter. Some cats like scented litter, some don't.
- They're mad at you: These fuzzy little beans can be petty creatures. Did you put your cat outside when it wasn't temperate? Were you gone for an unreasonable amount of time (according to your cat, not you)? Did you move a favorite sleeping spot? Did you bring home a new feline companion? Did you decide that kitty can't sleep in the room with you anymore because 5 AM is not an acceptable wake-up time for you? These could all be reasons why your cat is peeing or spraying. Try your best to figure out and address why kitty might be angry. For instance, if your cat is used to sleeping with you but always wakes you up in the middle of night—and then starts urinating because you kick them out of your room at night—it might mean that kitty needs to go outside at night. It could also mean that you relent, your cat gets to sleep with you, and you decide that your cat was right. Five AM is a great hour to wake up at.
- They're just being jerks: I put this here as a red herring. Often times, your cat is peeing or spraying because of a reason. "Just to be a jerk" would be the anomalous 1% of the time. Though, admittedly, my friend Brandon has a cat named Dozer who will pee on everything including cars, and it's so obvious that it's just to be spiteful. Some cats are rude. You really should try to get to the bottom of your cat's behavior rather than writing it off.
- Medical issues: Sometimes peeing can be an indication of a medical issue. If they've randomly started peeing around the house, it can be a sign of cysts, bladder stones, or a urinary tract infection. If you can take your cat to the vet, it may be worth the money for the peace of mind even if nothing's wrong.
- Old age: Much like people, cats can get incontinent with old age. If your cat is getting on in age, it's possible that your cat can't help itself. You can get kitty diapers, but then you might have to bathe your cat because it'll get its pee on itself. You might need to relegate your cat to hard-surface-only locations so that the involuntary urination is easy to clean up.
- Cat-to-litter-box ratio: Mo' cats = mo' problems. If you have more cats, you're going to need more litter boxes. If you have four cats, you probably want to have at least two litter boxes in the house—perhaps more if they're inside-only kitties. Ideally, the cat-to-litter-box ratio would be one litter box per cat plus one extra.
- Litter box cleanliness: Some cats might pee if the litter box is too clean or not clean enough. If the box doesn't look clean, try cleaning it every day and keep an eye on your cat's behavior. If it looks clean and kitty still thinks the whole house is a litter box, try being a little less fastidious about the box, and see if that has a change on your cat's behavior.
- Location, location, location: Your cat might not be too fond of where you've moved the littler box to. Aim for a location that's private and offers multiple escape routes. If the litter box is in a high-traffic area, your cat might not be too pleased about it.
- Stress: Major life events can stress your cat out, just like they can stress you out. Moving, having a child, being away from home for an extended period of time, or even throwing a party can be a stressful event for your cat. You may need to give your cat some time to adjust to the new circumstances (such as a move or a child). You can investigate ways to make your cat comfortable like ensuring that they have a quiet, safe space to escape to when they feel so inclined.
- Unneutered: Unneutered male cats can be pretty territorial. Spaying or neutering your cat could help with rogue spraying and peeing. You should probably spay/neuter your cat anyway so that it doesn't contribute to additional kittens.
How Can I Prevent My Cat From Peeing or Spraying on Things?
It's important to remember that most of these accidents are preventable. Your cat usually isn't trying to cause havoc and be horrible. There are many reasons why a cat might urinate outside of their litter box. Sometimes it's innocent—something random to us but instinctual to your cat. Other motivations may be more serious, like an unchecked medical condition that requires attention. Whatever the reason, here are a few tips to prevent your little buddy from creating any more choas:
- Spay or neuter. If you haven't already done so, spay or neuter the perp. Not only is it the responsible thing to do, but it will help deter your cat from feeling the need to "mark" territory.
- Clean up previous pet stains. Cats seem to go back to spots where they or another pet have urinated to cover over it. Properly cleaning the area can help your cat to forget there's somewhere important they have to pee.
- Keep laundry and blankets off the floor. Because cats just like to add to the chaos, keep piles of dirty clothes and folded blankets off the floor. These are like cat magnets. First they cuddle, then they pee. Leo, a friend of mine, adopted this amazing stray kitty that showed up on his porch. The cat, S'mores, was slowly acclimated to house living. The only place it peed since being adopted? Leo's roommate's gargantuan, stinky clothes pile.
- Purchase rugs that don't have a rubber bottom. As weird as this may sound, sometimes certain smells can attract cats to a spot that they just have to pee on. The smell of rubber is one of them.
- Keep that litter box pristine. Your idea of clean and your cat's idea of clean may not be the same. Choose a time each day to clean the box and sprinkle a baking-soda based deodorizer to keep things fresh for your cat.
- Don't make the cat mad. Easier said than done, amirite?! In my case, my cat often pees on my stuff if I don't feed him at a specific time of day or if I've done something to irritate him.
- Take your cat in for a check-up. Sometimes peeing outside the litter box can indicate a health problem in your cat, such as diabetes. If all else fails, get your critter checked out.
- Use essential oils or Listerine to avoid new offenses. Cats seem to disdain the smell of citrusy essential oils such as citronella, lemongrass, and orange. They also seem to dislike peppermint, eucalyptus, and lavender as well. Dilute the essential oils (generally in a "three parts water to one part oil" ratio), and spray them on the visited area. The oils won't hurt your cat and should help deter future deposits in that spot. The same applies to Listerine as well.
What are your best tips and tricks for handling cat accidents, odors, and stains? Have a cat pee question you want to ask? Comment below!
Questions & Answers
Can old cat pee be washed out of clothes?
If you’re dealing with an old cat urine stain, like the kind that happened three months ago in the corner of your basement on your pile of summer clothes and you’ve just now discovered it, then there’s still hope that you can remove the stain and the odor from the fabric.
First, assess the damage - is it a white blouse that says “dry clean only” with a nasty ol’ orangish brown cat pee stain, or are we talking a black tank top from Old Navy that you normally just toss in the washer without a second thought? For more delicate fabrics, know that you’re treating at your own risk; I can’t guarantee that the stain and odor will come out, or, that if it does using this method that the clothing will still be intact. But I think there’s a gentle way to go about it that will give you the best chance at salvaging your clothing.
Next, you’ll need four products to get the stain out as efficiently as possible. One, you need laundry detergent; any kind will do. Two, you need OxiClean Stain Remover with Odor Blasters; this comes with a purple lid and is around $8. Three, grab a bottle of OxiClean Max Force Laundry Stain Remover which has a red spray nozzle and is around $4. Last, get an old toothbrush or a new one, doesn’t matter, to help ease out the stain.
The reason I suggest the OxiClean products is that they’re affordable and, in my experience, efficient! They work!
Okay, now down to the stain removal. If the stain is really obvious then you can start by spraying the Max Force Laundry Stain Remover onto the affected area and gently work the product in with that toothbrush. Let it sit that way for the rest of the day before going to the next step.
If there isn’t an obvious stain, skip the spray and go straight to filling a utility tub, bucket, sink, whatever, with one heaping scoop of the OxiClean powder and very hot water. The ratio is not an exact science but the way I do it is to eyeball just enough water to fully emerge the garment while still making sure there’s a high concentration of powder. You can tell the mixture is right if the water is opaque and white. Now let the garment soak for a few hours. Make sure to only soak like colors together. Don’t throw a red polo in with a cream dress because the dyes might transfer. I also sometimes stir the clothing in the water around. I don’t know if that’s helpful, but I do it anyway because I feel like it helps to shift the stain around instead of letting the crud that’s being lifted by the OxiClean just settle on top of the fabric.
After a few hours have passed, pull the skirt, top or whatever is in there out and see how it looks. Remember that cat urine is composed of enzymes that need to be broken down so the more time you spend soaking the piece, the better. It probably smells weird, but if the stain looks as though it’s begun to lift, then it’s a good time to throw it in the washing machine. Throw that in on a hot setting and the appropriate spin speed. If it’s a delicate piece, use knits/gentle; if it’s not just use your normal cycle settings. Use a heaping pour of laundry detergent and another scoop of OxiClean, add an extra rinse and push start!
The moment of truth will be when the washing machine stops. Don’t just throw the garment in the dryer. Inspect it and see if it smells and looks as though the stain has been removed. If it has been, hang it up to dry and if it hasn’t repeat the soaking process before washing it again. Sometimes these things take time, but with the right product and a little patience, I’ve almost always been able to remove cat urine stains from my clothing, even if the stain is old.
When using the vinegar and baking soda to wash urine stained clothes, do you just throw the mixture in on top of the clothes? Or, is there another way to use these ingredients?
Since these ingredients are gentle, it would be fine to throw the vinegar and baking soda on top of your clothing just as you would with laundry detergent before starting the machine. If you happen to have dispensers, this provides a more even distribution. First, pour your laundry detergent into the detergent compartment, then add the vinegar and finally the baking soda (since adding the baking soda before the vinegar can give you grade-school-science-fair results).
Another good idea is to set your machine for an extra rinse to fully expel the urine, vinegar and baking soda.
Is cat pee ammonia?
Cat pee isn’t straight up ammonia but there’s ammonia in it. That’s because there’s a bit of ammonia in everyone’s urine (yep, even yours). Ammonia in urine occurs as a result of the breakdown of proteins in our diet, so basically it’s just a byproduct of your cat’s food and water intake and comes out as waste.
My carriage was outside under a tarp and a cat had kittens in it. It’s a heavy material. What can I do to get the scent out?
I'm lame, and I don't know if you literally mean a carriage, like a baby stroller or a carriage as in a vehicle, but the following advice applies to either:
So, you're going to need to go heavy duty here. If it were me, I would pull the carriage out so it can get some fresh air. If we're talking about a vehicle, open the windows too.
Next, if there are any removable upholstered parts pull those out and throw them in the washing machine on hot with a huge scoop of OxiClean. I'd do an extra rinse before throwing it in the dryer.
For anything else that is cloth/upholstered you're going to need to get a portable carpet and rug machine.
Spray everything down with an OxiClean spray and let that sit overnight. Then, use the machine and an OxiClean based formula to soak, scrub and wet-vac up all of the stains and affected areas. I've cleaned my own car this way just to freshen it up after it mildewed a bit inside from our snowy boots.
Once you've gotten the carriage washed, keep it outside to air out and dry properly, so it doesn't produce mildew.
I suggested OxiClean products a lot because that's what I use on almost everything. Don't use bleach, even though it's tempting. If the cats urinated in there at all, then there's ammonia, and you don't mix ammonia and bleach otherwise you get a dangerous chemical reaction.
If you can't get OxiClean based products let me know what country/region you're in and I'll try to find an alternative that's available in your area.
© 2013 Kierstin Gunsberg