How To Remove Cat Urine

We regularly see recommendations for homemade formulas to clean cat urine stains here on the forums of

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These formulas are widely circulated on the Internet, and typically include either vinegar or hydrogen peroxide and baking soda.

Of course, many people unfamiliar with the problem of cleaning cat urine stains simply try to clean up cat pee as they would any other stain, only to find out later it didn’t work.

In fact, using traditional household cleaners on cat urine actually “sets” the stain. This makes the stain even more difficult to remove with proper enzyme cleaners.

There is a strong, legitimate, and chemically important reason to use an enzyme cleaner to clean cat urine stains. Home-made mixtures, vinegar, baking soda, or typical household cleaners simply do not contain the required ingredients to remove ALL the components of cat urine.

Vinegar and baking soda temporarily neutralize the odor, and hydrogen peroxide is 30 percent more oxidizing than chlorine. But cat urine is composed of things that REQUIRE enzymes to break down the chemical bonds.

Cat urine is composed of:

  • Urea
  • Urobilin/Urobilinogin
  • Uric Acid
  • Sodium
  • Other electrolytes
  • Creatinine
  • Pheromones
  • Bacteria - typically 5 different strains.

When cat urine dries, the urea is broken down by the bacteria. This is what makes it smell like ammonia.

As it decomposes further, urine releases thiols that make the odor worse. (It is the thiols in skunk spray that make it SO potent and difficult to remove).

The urea and urobilin/urobilinogen are not hard to clean. Urea is water-soluble, and urobilin is the pigment that causes the color.

Traditional household or carpet cleaners will deal with these, and this is why hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and/or baking soda also appear (initially) to be effective at eliminating the problem.

But the problem has not been solved! Uric acid and its salts have been left behind. Uric acid is not water-soluble and bonds tightly to whatever surface it touches.

The vinegar and hydrogen peroxide/baking soda mixtures (or traditional household cleaners) do not - are not chemically capable of - removing the uric acid and its salts.

They only temporarily make the smell go away because they do clean up the other components of the cat urine. But when exposed to humidity, the salts cause the uric acid crystals to reform, and they start to release the smell again; not always at levels detectable to the human nose, but the cats’ more sensitive noses can smell it.

And the scent of their urine outside of the litter box encourages them to continue urinating outside of the box, with their families left scratching their heads wondering why.

Notably, because of the uric acid component of cat urine, cat pee has a half-life of six years. This is why it is absolutely essential to use a cleaner that can break down the uric acid.

Soap, vinegar, baking soda, ammonia, chlorine, and hydrogen peroxide (to name the most common cleaners) are not chemically capable of breaking down the uric acid in cat pee.

The ONLY thing that will break down the uric acid to PERMANENTLY remove the smell is an enzyme cleaner. Enzymes are the only thing that will break down the uric acid.

The enzymes break down uric acid into carbon dioxide and ammonia, both gasses that then easily evaporate. This is why it is also essential to allow the enzyme cleaner to air dry. It needs the “natural” drying time to break down the uric acid salts and allow the resulting carbon dioxide and ammonia to evaporate.

Not all enzyme cleaners are equally effective. Good enzyme cleaners are expensive. Cheap ones will work, but need to be reapplied over and over (and probably end up costing as much as the expensive enzyme cleaners).

Enzyme cleaners that work well and reliably, as tested by members of include Nok Out, Urine Off, Anti-Icky Poo, and Stink Free [Amazon links].

Of course, ANY cleaner needs to be used properly. Most enzyme cleaners come in a spray bottle. This is deceptive because just spraying a light layer of enzyme cleaner over a urine stain will not result in complete cleaning of that spot.

Cat pee wicks, and unless the enzyme cleaner completely envelopes all of the cat pee, even it won’t work. "Spraying" doesn't work. DOUSING, POURING, and SOAKING are required when cleaning up cat urine.

To properly use an enzyme cleaner on a fresh stain:

  1. Blot up as much of the urine as you can before applying anything.
  2. Soak the affected area with the enzyme cleaner.
  3. Let the enzyme cleaner sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Blot up as much of the enzyme cleaner as possible.
  5. Leave the enzyme cleaner to air dry.

Covering the area with something is always a good idea. This will not only help prevent the cat from attempting to pee on the same spot while the enzyme cleaner does its work; it will stop family members from stepping or sitting on the wet spot.

Some people lay aluminum foil down over the area; other recommendations have included an upside-down laundry basket or an aluminum baking sheet.

The same basic procedures apply to an old stain. But be aware that an old stain may require two or three full cycles of enzyme cleaner application (allowing it to completely dry between applications) in order to completely clean the stain.

Cushions and mattresses CAN be cleaned!

SOAK the affected area of the cushion. As mentioned earlier, cat pee wicks, and you must get the enzyme cleaner to wick to all of the same places the cat pee did or it won't work.

When one of our cats peed on the couch, we took the cushion outside, blotted up as much of the cat urine as possible, then soaked the cushion by very slowly pouring the enzyme cleaner on/around the affected area, giving it time to really soak through the cushion.

We let it sit for 15 minutes, and squished out as much of the excess enzyme cleaner as possible, then blotted up what we could (with a lot of towels). If sunny, we left it outside as long as we could to dry.

We then laid aluminum foil down over the couch, put the cushion down, put aluminum foil over the top of the cushion, and a throw blanket on that.

Before bed, we'd remove the throw blanket so the aluminum foil was left, discouraging the cat from peeing on it until it had the chance to dry.

To treat the mattress, we used essentially the same process, only we did not remove it from the bed. We slowly poured the enzyme cleaner on/around the affected area, ensuring it had the chance to really soak in thoroughly.

We let it sit for 15 minutes, then blotted up what we could with a lot of towels. We then laid down several layers of clean towels over the area and made the bed. Just swap out those clean towels each day (if done properly it will take days to dry).

We took a very large box, cut it down, and laid it over the top of the bed during the day. This prevented the kitty from wanting to pee on the bed while the enzyme cleaner did its work.

Thick cushions and mattresses may require several applications to completely remove the cat urine. The thickness is the issue, and getting the enzyme cleaner to all the same spots the cat pee went to is more difficult on the thick things.

But rest assured, your couch or your mattress is not ruined if your cat pees on it. You will be able to clean it!

Written by Laurie Goldstein

Laurie Goldstein is a CFA Charterholder. In addition to her work as an equity analyst, she applies her research skill to all things cat, focusing on nutrition and advocacy for feral cat management via trap-neuter-return (TNR) and educational research on cat predation. Learn more about feral cats on her website

Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

24 comments on “How To Remove Cat Urine

JM May 19, 2021
Does anyone know how long the smell of cat urine lasts? I'm not interested in knowing how to get rid of it. There is loads of information on the internet for that. If you do nothing, will it ever go away? I bought a renovated home and I get subtle whiffs of cat urine from time to time. I'm not interested in ripping up new floors, new drywall and taking extreme steps to solve it. I'm simply interested in how long will the smell last? 3 years? 6 years? or forever? You say the half lie is 6 years, does that mean after six years of no new pee you will start to see the smell decline?
    JL June 29, 2021
    Hi JM - Here is something that happened to me to speak to how long the smell lasts. I bought a house with carpet on the floors. Beneath the carpet was nice original hardwood, but someone had spread a bunch of White Kilz paint in many areas (strange?). I had my floor guy come in to sand the floors to make the hardwood look nice again. He said "I figured out why they put Kilz on the floor". An area he had sanded suddenly smelled super strongly like cat urine. When I bought the house, the previous owner had been there 12 years and had never owned a pet. This smell was from prior to that!
    PetCatGuides July 17, 2022
    Very informative article. Now I can deal with my cats urination problem.
darrell puckett August 29, 2020
Laurie, thank you for your article. So far the best I've read in my research. The co. I work for bought a house to flip. The entire house had been used as a litter box for years before it and the cats were abandoned and the cats left there to die. There were literally mounds of cat poop up against the walls. Even the fireplace was full of it. I can't even imagine how this could have gotten this bad. The initial scoop shove and haul off has been done along with feeble attempts to remove the odors. I've noted the products you mentioned above, however, as you can imagine, we have a situation that's going to require a more industrial (size) solution.
    Furballsmom November 26, 2020
    Darrell, if you come back, thank you for your positive comments! I hope you were able to overcome the situation, and we would love to hear more. If you have time, please register with The Cat Site and let us know how things turned out :)
    Alan January 31, 2021
    Hi I have the same situation in a house I’ve just bought, I was wondering if you’d had any joy with cleaning the smell up? I even took the floorboards up and dumped them but the smells still there ? Thanks Alan
Christabel July 29, 2017
Great article Laurie. I have had times where i end up cleaning the wrong spot where my cat pee on my area rug because i couldn't find them. So i ended up buying a Pet urine detector black light which has been a life saver ever since, all the spots that were soiled always glow under the black light. You can check out 5 Best Pet Urine Detector BlackLight – CARPETRA for info
    Corinne August 13, 2021
    Thank you!!!
oliverandmax September 23, 2014
Re: black lights, if you have a cat pee problem it's essential you have one, when it's dark you can see it where your cat sprayed no sweat, I bought one on ebay couple years ago
oliverandmax September 23, 2014
You do need to pick it up, shipping would be awful
oliverandmax September 23, 2014
I just found a new cleaner, that removes cat urine as well as human, it's really cheap if you go buy it at Staples, they sell a gallon, 2 ounces will make another gallon (add the rest in water), that's a ton of cleaner for 23.59, 128 gallons from this, you will not need to buy anything else for a very very long time, no matter how bad the problem is :
Anne March 2, 2014
@AmylynnW That's a very good question. Could you please post that in the cat care forum?
amylynnw March 2, 2014
What about for clothes that got nailed in the clothes basket. Is there something I can put in the wash? or do I need to soak each item individually and hang to dry?
Anne July 22, 2013
Amy, I'm just seeing your comment. You should have no problem posting on the forums if you managed to post a comment. It's the same permissions set Give it another try and if you're having trouble, send me a private message (you can do that by clicking on my username and getting to my profile page).
roger l moore July 22, 2013
@amy 9000 I don't remember the address, but I found something on the internet a few days ago about using a blacklight to find the spots where the cat pee is, and then treating just those spots. If I recall, old cat pee shows very faintly under blacklight, fresher stains show brighter, and certain cleaners will show up even brighter than cat pee... not to mention all the other proteins that show up under blacklight. Anyways, to find the faintest/oldest cat pee, the room needs to be pretty dark. And it helps to have a wider blacklight to see more area at once. I forget how wide. I posted some links below that I found using google a minute ago. I didn't read through all of them, but the basic gist is: room has to be dark... urine will show up as yellow, not bright white. Wet urine probably won't show up under the blacklight. Dry urine will glow, but will fade over the months, or years. I don't know where to get a low cost black light suitable for this task.
amy 9000 July 6, 2013
Since I can't manage to get into the forums, though signed up, I am asking for BIG HELP here: How do I treat the entire crawlspace under my 900 sq. foot house to rid if of cat urine odor using one of the products that Laurie Goldstein has recommended? I'm having to keep the windows open while the air conditioner is running, as the smell is entering through the ductwork and wreaking havoc on my well being. Two neighborhood cats entered crawlspace when door was opened during repairs. PLEASE and THANK YOU Laurie, for telling me how to deal with this on a large scale using one of the products you've recommended . Amy Pierce in N.C.
deborah julian September 17, 2012
Great information. One of my cat has had a bladder. SO glad to find this post.
Anne February 12, 2012
Hello mowmow and welcome to TCS. Litterbox problems can be very frustrating indeed. I see you've also posted on the board, which is great - that would be the right place for it rather than here. Thank you!
mowmow February 12, 2012
I have used everything and even covered the area and the coat still goes on the foil or plastic runner...I'm at my wits end.. She will use her little box sometimes or she willl pee on the paper in front of the litter box but lately she has been peeing on one area in the living room.... She is 16 yrs old...had he checked by the vet...said she was old but in comparably decent health for her age..I tried putting food where she is peeing but she willl pee beside it...also she does do her #2 in the littler box....So does anyone has any ideas as too why she would be doing this....I do have another cat around the same age and she doesn't bother her...I put one of those colllars they sell to help calm her but it isn't doing anything...she is still peeing on the same spot even after i spent the day soaking and scrubbing it....PLEASE HELP
    Juanita June 26, 2021
    I had a couple older cats who stopped using the litter box for peeing & started using my little unused entryway to pee in. It wrecked the carpet. I put puppy pads down. I changed it out 2 times a day, 4 pads at a time. I did that for 2 or 3 years. I finally figured it out the one cat basically just could not longer scoop the litter with his paws, he was old & I guess feeble & so he’d pee on the pad. The other I think was losing his mind, dementia type thing & diabetes. Your old cat could be just getting too feeble to jump in the litter box. The one cat of mine his back leg muscles were really tight & I don’t think he could jump over the lip of the litter box any more. Just a thought for you any ways that your cats muscle tone could be deteriorating.
catwoman78 December 10, 2011
We use a product called Urine Gone and it seems to work for us too. If you see that maybe try it also^^
Anne November 27, 2011
Quoting from Laurie's article: "Enzyme cleaners that work well and reliably, as tested by members of include Nok Out, Urine Off, Anti-Icky Poo, and Stink Free." Hope this helps :)
mrsa0901 November 27, 2011
Good info, can you recommend a good enzymic cleaner?

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