Cleaning up after pet accidents is not often a pleasant
experience. When faced with those nasty jobs, I used to remind myself that
animal waste and the putrid odor that accompanied it was the smell of money
that helped me deal with the cleanup.
The extent of the cleanup and odor removal may depend on the
customer. If they currently own and love the dog or cat that caused the
problem, they may not recognize it as a huge problem and may not want to pay
for a complete and thorough job.
On the other hand, if they just moved into the house and the problem was
caused by an unrelated animal – they will be very interested in doing whatever
is necessary for complete eradication of the problem. Now we just need to know what to use and how to use it.
month I addressed some customer issues, the nature of urine, and what tools to
use to ascertain the extent of the problem. Now, let’s look at some of the
“tools” for treating pet urine.
When I started cleaning carpets in the early 70s (yes,
unfortunately, I am that old) we had very limited options for effectively
treating and removing urine contamination in carpet. Dousing the carpet with
disinfectants was partially effective, as it destroyed the bacteria that was
present and reduced the odor of decomposition, but it did little to neutralize
the chemical odors associated with the other aspects of urine. Solvent-based
and strong water-based deodorants were used to mask the odor, but were only
For many years, most of our customers had to learn to live
with lingering odors or replace their carpet. Today, we have several terrific
options for dealing with all aspects of urine – the odor, the stain and the
contamination. Let’s first address some of the solutions available using
Now, this is not an attempt to perfectly describe and
pigeonhole all the excellent products available in the market. For the sake of
brevity, I’ll describe products generally, grouping them into four categories.
Urine is deposited as an acid. During decomposition a strong
alkaline, ammonia, is formed. One of the results is an alkaline salt. Removing
the salt is an important first step for removing more difficult stains.
As the name suggests, acid neutralizers neutralize the
alkaline salt, allowing it to be dissolved quickly. Well-formulated acid
neutralizers may also include a deodorizing ingredient and something to help
emulsify lipids or body fats that are deposited along with the urine. These
lipids tend to resist water. Once they have been removed, any water-based
cleaning to follow will be more effective.
Most of the powdered products that are activated with hot
water fall into this category. These products include ingredients like sodium
percarbonate and sodium perborate that create extra oxygen in the water to form
peroxide compounds. Using these products creates a very active oxidizing effect
that can be effective at removing both the odors of decomposition and rapidly
breaking down organic staining material.
As with all effective treatments, the solution must come in
contact with the contamination. It should dwell for 20 to 30 minutes to be
effective. Longer dwell times and repeated applications may be required for
Because oxidizers can be used to correct urine contamination
that has reached through the carpet backing to the cushion (pad) or subfloor,
it is among the most popular treatments.
Bacteria and Enzymes
Although urine may be free of bacteria when it is deposited,
it quickly comes in contact with naturally existing bacteria in the
environment. The bacteria begin the process of decomposing or breaking down the
urine. This then serves as food for the bacteria. Ammonia and other gases are
created as part of the decomposition. This is the principal source of urine
Left on its own, the natural breakdown with its associated
odors may continue for weeks or months. But the process can be speeded up
significantly with the introduction of friendly (non-pathogenic) bacteria. These
bacteria are specifically selected to swiftly feed on the components of urine.
They produce enzymes and can be considered an enzyme factory. They produce the
right enzyme in the correct amount needed to complete the job.
Enzymes are chemicals produced by living organisms like
bacteria. Bacteria are unable to absorb and digest food internally. They use
enzymes to digest or break down complex molecules to simpler ones that can be
used by the bacteria as food. Chemically, they can be thought of as a catalyst.
They speed up the breakdown of these chemicals without themselves becoming part
of the reaction.
The bacteria feed. They grow. They multiply and the process
continues even faster. Some of the more popular products start with a higher
concentration of bacteria so that the process is completed in a more timely
Since rapid decomposition is occurring, the gases of
decomposition are being released. So bacteria/enzymes products may include
additional deodorizing ingredients. Ventilation also helps reduce odor during
the time the bacteria are most active.
Soon the urine has been broken down and digested. The source
of the odor is gone and will not return. With no food source, the bacteria
become dormant or die.
Some may find the thought of cleaning up contamination with
bacteria rather yucky. But the fact is that most bacteria are beneficial and
not at all harmful. Bacteria produce delights like cheeses and yogurt. They are
also necessary for our digestive system. You have more bacteria in your body
than you do cells.
Exactly how odor molecules trigger the sensation of smell is
not completely understood. One popular theory can be illustrated by a lock and
key. Receptors (the locks) at the ends of our olfactory nerves are specially
shaped. Only the correctly shaped molecule (the key) will fit into the receptor
activating the sensation of odor.
A deodorizer that pairs or bonds with an odor molecule or
completely surrounds (encapsulates) the odor changes the shape of what reaches
our noses. The key no longer fits the lock. Thus, the molecule has been changed
to something that has no odor.
This process can reduce odors in the air and eliminate odors
on surfaces as long as the pairing agent or encapsulant comes in contact with
the odor molecule. The odor elimination is immediate. If an odor is only
reduced, more product needs to be applied to get the appropriate result.
Bonding and encapsulating products may come with no added fragrance to allow
you to know how well they are working or they may include a scent to help mask
the urine odors until they have been completely eliminated.
The pairing agents included in a deodorizer may be targeted
to bind with specific odors or may be part of a mixture design to handle a
variety of odor types.
Encapsulating deodorizers are one of the newer technologies
in deodorization. They go a step further than pairing with an odor molecule;
they completely enclose it making it unlikely that the two can separate.
Fragrances come from essential oils. If not properly rinsed,
a deodorizer with a fragrance could leave behind a light, oily residue that
would attract soil. Powders, especially those with fillers, may not dissolve
completely. These residues also need to be rinsed away.
Deodorizers with no fragrance don’t always need to be
rinsed. For example, a bacteria/enzyme product with no added scent could be
left in a carpet to provide an on-going residual action, should more urine be
deposited in that location in the future.
Flushing out as much staining material as you can prior to
chemical treatment, then extracting as much of the
decomposed/emulsified/dissolved contamination as possible, are both important
Sub-surface extraction tools like the Water-Claw can be
effective for both steps. They not only remove the bulk of water from the
carpet, but they can even squeeze most of the water from the pad. This allows
the carpet and pad to dry quickly without concerns about new problems caused by
These tools are available as small spotting tools around 8”
x 7”, or as large, stand-on models in a range of sizes from 8” x 14” up to 12”
x 21”. Choose a size that fits with the vacuum your have available.
Many products, processes and tools are available for
treating urine. Selecting the right tool for a particular situation depends
upon the client’s budget, the time available and the client’s level of
tolerance: you can’t provide $200 worth of service to someone who is only
willing to pay $20. Extensive correction may not be finished by the time the
in-laws arrive for dinner in a few hours. If pets are still living in the home,
the extent of odor removal may not be as great as a home being offered for
Removing urine contamination can be very rewarding both
personally, as you greatly improve the indoor environment for your customer,
and financially by applying your professional knowledge and expertise. There’s
a reason for the old saying “Dogs are a cleaner’s best friend.”
My colleague Scott
Warrington has produced a full guide to urine treatment and decontamination. He
offers this for free. It can be downloaded at www.Cleanwiki.Com
or email ScottW@Bridgewatercorp.net
and ask for a copy.