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Cleaning multiple months of cat litter
May 1, 2012 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Cleaning a severely neglected house with (non-neglected) resident cats

There is a house with five cats that has not had a litter box emptied in several months. This, of course, has led to the cats using the floors in multiple rooms as a litter box over the course of months. There are four medium sized rooms the cats have had access to, but no furniture/other objects to be cleaned. Eventually, the floors will have to be replaced, but in the interim:

My question is: What sort of cleaning service would be willing to take this on? It's an unpleasant job, and in addition to taking out the cat waste, the floors, walls, and windows will need to be scrubbed. Is this something that a normal cleaning service might be willing to take on for additional pay, or a situation where a 'disaster cleanup' service is necessary? How on earth do I present this?

(Note for the cat curious - all of the cats needs: food, attention, vet visits, etc were taken care of during this time. All of the cats are healthy, disease free, and well adjusted. There is a plan in place to ensure the house does not reach this level of neglect again, and the owner has agreed and made arrangements)
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Keep in mind that there may be no way to completely eliminate the odor or urine traces, as it is probably in the subfloor now. If the cats peed in corners, it could be in the drywall as well.
posted by liketitanic at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

You might try a company like ServiceMaster -- they do heavy-duty cleanup after disasters like fire.

I imagine your situation would be something that a company like that has seen before. I would just present it exactly as you have here.
posted by pantarei70 at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2012

I'm with liketitanic, once that stuff gets in the subflooring and drywall, you'll have to replace everything.

Nothing will get the smell out of the wood/gypsum and as long as it lingers, cats will continue to mark the area.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:28 AM on May 1, 2012

My gut instinct is that a place like ServiceMaster or Steamatic is going to be a better value. A regular old cleaning service may well charge such a high premium for this kind of cleaning that their price would exceed that of a disaster cleanup kind of place.
posted by gjc at 8:30 AM on May 1, 2012

There are almost assuredly local cleaning services that'll happily bid for the job. Given that those companies generally rely on exploited labor, it would be to your karmic advantage to not take the lowest bid. Times are tough, people will do anything for work, and experienced cleaners have seen it all.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:40 AM on May 1, 2012

I was once faced with cleaning and rehabilitating a small house in which the elderly owner died. She was found approximately a month after her death in her house with 60 live cats. We literally shoveled the excrement out through the windows. I'm sure you can imagine the odor we dealt with.

I removed all flooring down to the sub-floor then cut out and discarded the sheetrock on all walls 4 feet up from the floor. Having improved but not eliminated the smell I then spread lime (isn't that calcium carbonate?) over all the sub-floor including the floor plates at the base of the walls. I left the lime until it turned yellow, then vacuumed it up and replaced it until it no longer turned yellow. (This took nearly a month, the time it took to turn yellow increased with every application.) By the end of this process the smell was nearly gone. Eventually I replaced all the window sills and that did the trick. Oh yeah...I also spread lime on the ground in the crawl space under the house.

This was nearly 20 years ago and the house is still occupied (it became a rental) and there has never been a complaint about odor. It was a huge job, but having rehabilitated the condemned home and selling it we were able to build our great home we love so much and live in now.

The work will be very expensive if it is done correctly.
posted by txmon at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2012 [14 favorites]

There are several contractors that specialize in the dissaster clean-up, like ServicePro, ServiceMaster, and Paul Davis Restoration. (Those are all US companies, and pretty much nation-wide).

However, those companies can be expensive. You do not need a building permit to do this work, so why pay top dollar for licensed contractor? I am contractor myself, and a real estate investor on the side. Licensed contractors are important when they are needed, but honestly I do not see the need for a general contracting license to do this work.

Shop around for a handy-man in your area, and half-supervise his work. Handy-men are dying for work right now. This would be a two week project for someone. You should have no problem finding someone to do it. Just make they are insured and have workers comp.

A cleaning service will not be enough. You need a handyman. He has to not only clean out all the garbage, he has to haul it to the local dump. He has to rip out the carpet and flooring. He may even have to rip out some sub-flooring, depending on how deep the urine soaked in.

He then needs to use an industrial cleaner to clean everything. Then, he should seal it all (paint floors, walls, and ceilings) with something like Killz.

A clean service is not going to tear out carpet, make a dump run, and paint the whole building.
You need a good handyman.
posted by Flood at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't even mess around with trying to get the odor out of the subflooring. You might think it worked, only to find that the odor starts back up on rainy days, or warm and humid days, and then have to go back and do it all over anyway.
posted by HotToddy at 9:20 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having improved but not eliminated the smell I then spread lime (isn't that calcium carbonate?) over all the sub-floor including the floor plates at the base of the walls.

Calcium hydroxide. Calcium carbonate won't do much, if anything, for odors.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:35 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh lord, flashback!!

I just spent two weeks in April cleaning and painting the house of a recovering cat hoarder. Fifteen cats, wet cat food just dumped (and caked) directly on surfaces everywhere--on counters, stool tops, on top of the air conditioner, the porch railings. Cat pee and shit everywhere, but the litter box was pristine. Fortunately, all the furniture had been removed. It was a grim job. Gloves and mask for the first week.

First thing was to pull baseboards and rip out all the carpets. The worst of the subfloor was replaced, the floor scrubbed and then sprayed with Nature's Miracle, and then painted with Kilz. Twice over the worst parts. All the walls were scrubbed,treated, Kilzed two feet up and repainted. Edges where the walls and floor meet were sealed with RTV silicon. The baseboards were scrubbed, primed with Kilz, painted and replaced. EVERYTHING had to be cleaned--the cats had sprayed on the electrical outlets, so the plates were removed and washed, the power turned off, and the outlet itself wiped down and sprayed lightly with Nature's Miracle. Interior corners of closets and cupboards were scrubbed and treated several times.

The worst of it was the kitchen, as the cats had sprayed on the counters and it had run behind the back splash. That had to be ripped out and replaced after the walls behind were done. The kitchen cabinets were sanded, then re-primed with Kilz before painting.

Around and inside the forced air duct work was scrubbed by hand and treated, but really should have had a complete cleaning and servicing throughout.

The worst bathroom had carpet--gag! Once that was out and the place cleaned, the toilet was lifted, and vinyl flooring was put in.

This was an on-the-cheap job. Ideally, much more of the subfloor would have been lifted, especially around the ductwork. The sheetrock, at minimum, should have been cut halfway up the wall and replaced in the worst places, and the kitchen should have been gutted completely and redone.

Once the painting was done and the new carpet and laminate was put in, it was habitable. Still a lingering smell, but no worse than other places where there are cats and cat boxes. Of course, there can never be cats in the place again, or they will spray everywhere. Time, keeping things clean, and airing will help, too.

I painted the Kilz on, but the best, and fastest way is to use a paint sprayer.

Get a COMPLETE list together of what needs done in the house and be sure it all gets covered. Get references for agencies, if possible. When you discuss the job with the cleaning agency, make sure you know exactly how they'll handle it. Some places don't clean and treat with Nature's Miracle or any de-scenting agents, they just paint over the top. I was in a place that the 'restorer' service had the carpets put directly over cat crap--they didn't even bother to sweep it up. A disaster clean up service will do the best job, but will also be more expensive.

If you're not going to remove carpets, you might as well give it up. Most of the stench and filth are in the carpets. Pull them and Kilz the floors, then live with subflooring for a while. If at all possible, convince the owner to put in tile or laminate and then use area rugs. Both those options allow for sealing the subfloor much better than carpet, and if there's another 'accident' on the floor, at least there's a chance of cleaning it up correctly.

I don't know what your plan is for the cats, but once the place is cleaned, the cats can NEVER be back in those rooms again. They will immediately begin spraying and pooping. Can't help it, it's a cat thing. Even keeping a scrupulously clean litter box isn't good enough.

Note for the cat curious--The woman that owns the house was in a severe depression (abusive marriage, her two children had died) and has been receiving therapy. She's entered into a good relationship, has a good job, and is getting care for physical health issues now. Through all her problems, the cats always had good food, excellent vet care, and a clean litter box (for what that was worth).

Her treatment plan for the cats involved finding homes for a couple, putting down two older cats with serious health problems that were causing her to hemorrhage money on their care, and making the outdoor cats stay outdoors. Part of her 'therapy' was to make an outdoor kitty palace from a shed. We put in several shelves, plenty of cat pillows, their favorite two chairs, cat ladder, cat tree, scratchers, toys, and a major feeding station with storage for wet and dry food. A project yet to be done is the building of insulated cubicles with heat lamps for the winter. She lives in a rural area with a barn, so these cats have a pretty good life.

Had she not had a pregnant feral mama dumped on her property, things may never have gotten as bad. I can remember meeting her when she only had three cats and things were normal. Cat hoarding is an awful thing.

Any questions, feel free to memail.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:50 AM on May 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

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