Dogs and cats may be our best friends, but not necessarily the best friends of our carpeting and upholstery. Animal stains have been a problem for as long as people have had indoor pets. Neglected stains can result in an unpleasant odor and permanent structural and color damage to textiles.
The most important factor in removing animal stains is getting to them quickly; the sooner the better. If immediate action is taken to remove the animal stains, little or no change in color should occur and that ‘accident’ will not become apparent after the carpet, rug, or furniture has been professionally cleaned.
If a urine spot remains undetected, you will usually be able to find it within a few days after it has completely dried because of the off-gassing that occurs. Dried urine will smell like strong ammonia, especially when the humidity is high or when the area is rewetted. The smell will vary depending on the type of animal, its age, sex, and diet. There are many products available to counteract urine odor, but many of them simply mask the odor, and will wear off with time. Some pet odor-removal products can damage textiles, so thorough testing is necessary.
The urine spot can also be detected by its color. Some dyes used in textiles immediately change color as soon as urine comes in contact with them. This immediate reaction is often correctable with the application of an ammonia solution (see page 2) while the urine spot is still fresh.
Urine is the most common animal stain and also the most damaging when not removed. Over a period of several days or months, urine often causes permanent changes in the dyes and fibers. Not only can the dyes change but also the fibers themselves may become weakened or destroyed. In nylon carpet the color change is often correctable using carpet dyes or dye-removing agents. However, dried urine on natural fibers such as cotton and wool usually causes an uncorrectable change in color. In areas of heavy concentration delamination can occur in carpet, where the two layers come apart, robbing the carpet of its strength and stretch. Carpet seams are especially susceptible to damage and can separate. The pad underneath the carpet also will break down in time.
The next time you encounter a urine ‘accident’, immediately absorb as much liquid as soon as possible with plain paper or cloth towels. Treat the area with the standard detergent solution (see below). Absorb this into the towels. Then blot the area with the ammonia solution (Skip this step if urine is dried). Again absorb this into towels. Then blot the area with a vinegar solution (see below). Blot the area to absorb the vinegar solution, then place several terry cloths or a ½ inch stack of paper towels over the spot to absorb all moisture. Put a weight on the towels and leave it dry a minimum of six hours.
NOTE: There are many products that are sold in supermarkets that claim to remove urine. First of all, remember that no product can remove urine. Spraying another solution on the spot will only add to it. Only extraction equipment or absorption can remove it. Second, keep in mind that removing urine is a multi-step process as outlined above. This is necessary to remove the various elements in urine, made up of both acidic and alkaline elements. Using this process may be more time-consuming than using a store-bought product but it is has proved to be the safest remedy available to homeowners. Many products on the shelves have not been thoroughly tested. In many cases widely-advertised carpet cleaners have caused permanent color loss, only adding to the urine problem. What is safe on a white olefin burbur could cause permanent damage to wool or even nylon.
Pet feces are considerably easier to deal with than urine. Compact deposits can be quickly removed with a plastic bag. The surface should be cleaned with the standard detergent solution and blotted dry. Follow this treatment with a disinfectant recommended by your veterinarian.
Loose feces require the same clean-up process as for fresh urine removal. This should also be followed with an application of disinfectant. If your pet’s food contains red dye to make it look ‘meatier’, this could leave a red discoloration and will require professional treatment to be removed.
A word of caution regarding disinfectants: They may discolor carpet and upholstery. Always test the product in an inconspicuous area when you first purchase it to see if it’s safe. Remember to rinse, and then wait for it to dry to see if any color changes occur.
Standard detergent solution: one teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap in a cup of warm water.
Standard ammonia solution: one tablespoon of clear, uncolored household ammonia in one cup of water.
Standard vinegar solution: one part white vinegar to two parts water.
Besides the unpleasant pet odor and staining associated with pet accidents, the potential health risks must also be considered. It is in the best interests of your family's health to completely remove any and all urine, vomit, or feces deposits from your residence as soon as they occur. Urine is the most common animal waste found in homes, and is also the most invasive. The only way to effectively remove urine from carpet is to thoroughly rinse and extract it using high-powered extraction equipment. Because carpet is porous, urine penetrates into the pad, which is extremely absorbent, and therefore must be either rinsed or removed completely. In areas of high concentration, the wood flooring below must be sealed with an oil-based sealer, to prevent urine soaked wood from producing an odor. Enzymes and odor counteractant chemicals must also be employed to eliminate odors.
In severe situations the carpet should be completely removed and discarded. Your carpet cleaning professional can perform an inspection to determine if that is necessary.
There is much you can do to minimize damage to your textiles. Remember, remove small deposits immediately. We want to remove urine, not flood it in soap, so use cleaning solutions sparingly. If an area has received multiple deposits, or there are multiple deposit areas in the room or house, get help. Always feel free to call if you have any questions.