The Smell of Money: Intensified

March 8, 2011
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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.

Last 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 partially effective.

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 chemistry.

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.  

Acid Neutralizers

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. 

Oxidizers

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 extensive problems.

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 odor.

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 manner. 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.

Pairing Encapsulates

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. 

Rinsing

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. 

Equipment

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 steps.

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 moisture.

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.

Conclusion

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 sale.

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.”

  Author’s Note: 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.

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