How can I stop a smell if I can't smell anything?
March 18, 2012 6:01 PM   Subscribe

What can I do about cat smells in my house? I'm freaking out a little.

My mom was in my house this weekend and mentioned that the house smells like cat feces/urine, even after I've cleaned the trays and taken out the litter. I washed the floor a few times and she said that helped, but now she says when she got home a plastic bag I gave her smelled like cat feces.

I'm now worried I go everywhere smelling like cat feces and no one is telling me. What can I do? I have two cats. i don't smell anything. I'm in my apartment right now and don't smell anything. I'm planning to get the place professionally cleaned. I feed them Wellness wet food and dry food, neither is overweight although one had a virus a few weeks ago.

I live in a one bedroom apt in New York City.
posted by zutalors! to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Have a good friend come over and give the place a sniff. Could it be that your mom is just over sensitive ?
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:04 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I should add, the plastic bag was nowhere near the litter at any point.
posted by zutalors! at 6:07 PM on March 18, 2012

I hate to ask, but maybe is your mother being just a little overcritical? Because this sounds like the exact same kind of BS my mother pulls as a way to make me feel crappy. She often hyperfocuses on my housekeeping because she doesn't love the fact that I live far away from her.

Anyway, our cat litter smells have gone way down since we switched to Nature's miracle, though you have to be faster about scooping poop. You might also consider getting some sort of air purifier.

But really, sometimes moms can be nuts. The whole "plastic bag smells like feces" sounds like nutty parent stuff.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:14 PM on March 18, 2012 [19 favorites]

I would ask for a second opinion, too. If you're keeping the litter box clean and your cats aren't peeing all over the place, it shouldn't smell in your house.
posted by something something at 6:27 PM on March 18, 2012

Cleaning the litter each day (and removing it from the home) should keep on top of the smell. You could also try an odor neutralizing spray - we use Pure Ayre.
posted by ainsley at 6:37 PM on March 18, 2012

You can also add baking soda to the pan to see if that helps. But really. I highly doubt all your friends are so retiring that they'd not tell you if your house was full of cat stank.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:41 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

What helped me a lot was a simple air purifier with a HEPA filter. Just place it somewhere next to the litter box. Plus it'll help w/ dust and other odors.
posted by pyro979 at 6:57 PM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have a cousin whose house IS full of cat stank and I just never go inside anymore. We're very friendly, but don't have the kind of relationship wherein we do a lot of stuff inside, and my house is much bigger and more central, so she comes here naturally anyway. There was a period of time wherein even her car smelled like cat. She obviously was immune to it, because she lived there (you know how you just get used to the smell of your own house and don't realize it's musty/garlicy/whatever until you leave for five or six hours and then come home)? I DIDN'T say anything to her because she herself looked and smelled fine and it felt weird to be like, "man, your house stinks" out of the blue.

All this being said, I have a very sensitive nose, and if she asked me, "can you come over and smell my house?" I would be happy to do so, and I would be honest. So find your friend with the best sense of smell and ask. (All THAT being said, I also have tons of friends and family with cats whose houses smell delightful, so you're probably in the clear.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:58 PM on March 18, 2012

Response by poster: Do you have a purifier recommendation, pryo979? Or anyone.

I don't feel super comfortable asking anyone to smell my house, but I might post-purifier. I need one for allergies anyway.
posted by zutalors! at 7:10 PM on March 18, 2012

There are two cats in my (larger, but not like exponentially more huge) apartment. My roommate, who is the owner of the cats, gets really paranoid about this same issue and is constantly buying scented candles and the like.

A few comments from a non-cat owner who is generally supportive and thinks her cat-having house mostly smells just fine:

1. You are probably making too much of this. And ditto what everyone has said about mother/child dynamics.

2. Maybe there is a smell. If so, in my experience it sticks mostly to textiles, carpets, etc. Do you have carpet (or lots of rugs, curtains, wall hangings, cushions, etc) in the apartment? If so, wash this stuff a lot if possible. Also look at getting your carpet professionally cleaned every so often. This is probably a way bigger deal than hiring a house cleaner, unless your cats pee and poop all over the place all the time (in which case you have much bigger problems).

3. How often are you cleaning the litter box? I only notice a cat pee smell in my apartment if the cat owning roommate hasn't been diligent about that. Also, where is the litter box? Is it in the middle of the apartment where smells circulate freely, or is it in a closet or the bathroom or a closed off out of the way place? This seems like a no brainer, but maybe?

4. It is almost impossible that YOU smell like cat poop. Seriously. Don't even.
posted by Sara C. at 7:19 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's your relationship with your mom like? How often do you scoop? How do get rid of what you scoop? How often do completely change litter? If your cats eliminate out-of-box what do you use to clean up? Do you have a lot of carpet? Do you keep your windows closer all the time? While no one can judge whether your apartment smells over the internet (and you're not asking us to), some additional more information might be helpful.

But yeah, your best bet it so have a friend come over and give your apartment a whiff. I work at a vet clinic and we do have clients that come in smeling like cat waste. They tend to have more than one cat (2+) and live in smaller spaces. They are usually also the clients that are coming in and saying "why is my cat pooping on the floor?" and we ask "how often do you scoop the litter?" and then they say "once or twice a week" and then I'm like "Yikes. Poor cat."
posted by OsoMeaty at 7:24 PM on March 18, 2012

"Yike. Poor cat" in my head of course!
posted by OsoMeaty at 7:25 PM on March 18, 2012

Response by poster: What's your relationship with your mom like? How often do you scoop? How do get rid of what you scoop? How often do completely change litter? If your cats eliminate out-of-box what do you use to clean up? Do you have a lot of carpet? Do you keep your windows closer all the time?

relationship - It's good but I do have anxiety when she visits only around the topic of cleaning - she'll make comments like "is the bathroom usable?" like she expects to find a hazard area. I do think she was telling me about the poop smells out of concern though, not malice.

I scoop about 2x day and replace the litter every other day. I don't have carpet. The only time they've gone out of the box really is when the one cat had a virus, he was too weak to use the box every time. He's fine now. I used Nature's Miracle on the areas he peed on. He also pees on clothes left on the floor, so I try not to leave clothes on the floor. One reason for the prof cleaning is just to get anything that I might have missed after the virus. I've kept my windows closed due to it being winter, but yeah I could open them.
posted by zutalors! at 7:38 PM on March 18, 2012

I can always smell when a person allows a cat in their home. The stench sticks to their clothing. Even worse is when they try to cover the smell with those horrid plug ins.

Simply put, your house smells like cat because you live with a cat. People who don't like cats will find the odor offensive. People who love cats will not notice. Same way with someone who smokes cigarettes inside their home. They stink. Everything they own stinks. This is offensive to people who do not smoke. For people who do smoke, well, they can't smell for shit anyway.

Air purifiers are great for allergies but cat hair will gunk them up fast. I like Honeywell True HEPA Air Purifier from Home Depot. It gets the job done (it is loud) and the filter can be vacuumed, which saves money in the long run. I do not know what cat hair will do to it, though.
posted by myselfasme at 7:38 PM on March 18, 2012

I'm going to go with the "your mom is being hypercritical" train of thought. The fact that you have anxiety about the subject of housekeeping with her is a tip-off, and that she assumes your bathroom is a disaster area before even going in certainly sounds she is looking to be critical of your housekeeping without any evidence to justify it.

So consider that this cat complaint also might not have a strong basis. My guess is that she caught a whiff of a smell, maybe on a draft (or maybe your cat had recently pooped and failed to cover it up all the way? -- both of these things make my little apartment briefly smelly), and it stuck in her brain. She probably had retained the memory of the smell when she pulled out the plastic bag at home, and convinced herself that it really did smell.

From what you've said, it sounds like on the topic of cleaning she still very much thinks of you as her baby, requiring her input and watchful eye. It might be worth having a talk with her about this, especially since the anxiety you have knowing she's going to be in your home probably puts a damper on otherwise good visits.

FWIW, I also agree that at least one of your friends would have given some indication of your place smelling or you smelling.
posted by houndsoflove at 8:19 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Houses with cats always smell like cats and cat piss. That does not mean that you smell like cats and cat piss. Anecdotally speaking, I have some acquaintances that own cats and their homes reek of the filthy things, but the people certainly don't and as long as I'm not in their house I'd never know they had cats.

I'd let it go and not worry about it if the only complainant is your mother. Trust that your friends and acquaintances would alert you if you smelled like cats.
posted by Sternmeyer at 8:31 PM on March 18, 2012

I think your mom got a whiff or two of cat and jumped on it because she (consciously or unconsciously) knows you have this cleaning anxiety. FWIW, I seriously doubt the plastic bag smelled like cat feces or that you smell like cat waste. I'm glad your cat is feeling better.

Definitely get an air filter if you can find one that meets you needs. I really want a HEPA air purifier, but I have not found one that meets my requirements and is also in my price range.

I have a menagerie, and yeah it can get stinky up in here. But I've never had anyone tell me I smell like a stinky cat/dog/iguana butt.
posted by OsoMeaty at 8:41 PM on March 18, 2012

I am a cat owner who is conscientious about cleaning and scooping. I never thought my house smelled bad, but I noticed a vast difference when I changed litters to Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat. That stuff is like magic, seriously. When I came home from work the day after the switch, the first thing I smelled was a sort of floral lavender-ish scent, which I thought was very odd because I don't use scented room fresheners. I honestly thought for a moment that someone else had been there, some strange person devoted to breaking and entering for hygienic purposes, but then I walked into the bathroom and realized that I had been smelling the cake of soap in the shower all the way from the front door. I could rarely detect a strong litter box smell before I made the change, but I certainly detected its absence.

At the same time I switched litters, I also switched from a plastic litter box to a recyclable paper box. They last for months if you scoop regularly, and they don't hold odors the way plastic boxes do.
posted by timeo danaos at 8:57 PM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

I just switched to a new litter I'm pretty excited about - especially because you can get it at the grocery store for $7.99 - Arm & Hammer Essentials. It smells really nice - kind of a combination mint/cedar aroma. It's quite light, in a way those clay litters are not. IT's nontoxic and not at all dusty\. And it lasts a really long time before it needs to be changed. Bonus, because it has not clay content it doesn't stick to the cats' paws, so the house is cleaner too, since they aren't tracking it around.
posted by Miko at 9:34 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

My mom had a problem with one of her cats peeing in an unapproved place. It caused a lot of stress for her, and was eventually resolved - after trying all different sorts of advice - by giving the cat to a friend, where it could be the lord of its own castle and not have to deal with other cats.

Now she's paranoid about the smell of cat urine. When I visited a while ago I brought my own cats, and one of them peed on the floor by the litter box. Months have passed since then, and each time I go back with my cats, she constantly asks me to check the floor because she can smell cat urine again. There's never anything there.

It could be that your mother is smelling it because she expects to smell it.

However, speaking as someone who has cats - that smell can hang around and you do get used to it. When I come back to my apartment after being gone for a while, even if everything is clean I notice the smell when I come to the room where I keep the box. I really doubt the smell is strong enough to cling to your clothing unless you're keeping the litter box and your clothing really close to each other, but do you have a non-cat-owning friend who you can ask to put your mind at ease?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:54 PM on March 18, 2012

she'll make comments like "is the bathroom usable?"

Oh, WOW. That is way out-of-line, passive-aggressive bullshit. The cat is just one more needle she's using to pick at your anxiety scab. Double-check with a friend's nose if you want, but you're probably going to be better off not reacting / disengaging when this topic comes up. You may even have to go so far as a snotty refusal of entry to your house. Why give her ammo?

Unless you're a total Pigpen.
But it doesn't sound like you are.
posted by mimi at 5:45 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are scooping two times a day and changing out the litter every other day, I think you're waaaaay out on the super-clean end of cat owners. I think you're doing a better job than me and every other cat owner I know, so I'd agree that you might want to see if a friend can do a sniff-test for a second opinion, as it's unlikely that your mother caught anything other than a passing draft.
posted by lillygog at 5:45 AM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

If your genuinely worried about cat smell I'd assess any soft surfaces in your apartment (rugs/carpet) the cat(s) is likely 'spraying' on. Cats also spray vertical on walls / furniture / doors. Spraying is not urinating and so how clean your litter box is is irrelevant. Also the smell is stronger than normal cat urine due to protein content.

I'd probably throw out any rugs and arrange a steam cleaner for carpet - they can tell you which carpet areas the cat(s) are frequenting. From there you can use the bicarb/peroxide/vinegar solution on the carpet area / walls / furniture & try retrain the cats to spray elsewhere?

FWIW, I lived with a friend + their cat live in my house for a couple years. Never went in that room until they moved out recently. The cat smell is so bad now that it cant be removed - I knew it smelled strange but didn't know what it was til a cleaner told me. I never use that room anymore, and won't be able to until carpets replaced. I tried to remove the smell using every trick in the book but nope - totally changed my mind about getting a cat myself.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:20 AM on March 19, 2012

relationship - It's good but I do have anxiety when she visits only around the topic of cleaning - she'll make comments like "is the bathroom usable?" like she expects to find a hazard area. I do think she was telling me about the poop smells out of concern though, not malice.

Comments like those--or kvetching that a plastic bag you gave her smells like poop (so unlikely as to be impossible)--are not the type of comments you get out of kindness or concern. In fact, when visiting someone else's house, it's never polite to comment on their housekeeping (or move furniture without asking--THANKS MOM). That you think this is reasonable reflects a serious lack of boundaries on your mother's part, because she's probably doing this all the time.

If you are really anxious about the smell, I'd deal with it in private. However, for the human side of this question, in the future don't go on a cleaning spree while your mother is there. This rewards her snotty, rude comments and demonstrates that she still has power over you. Give her a non-response. "Thanks for the advice," and then do nothing. I almost guarantee that she'll back off when she realizes you don't react.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:58 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe your cat farted near her. Mine certainly take sadistic glee in taking a massive dump right when we have friends over, and then wafting the stench into the living room as they walk by.

A lot of the other comments she made (e.g. plastic bag smelled of cat) sound like she's being over-sensitive to find things to critique you about.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:53 PM on March 19, 2012

I'd be careful what purifier you get. Consumer Reports said all but a few they tested actually made air quality worse. It might remove some of the cat hair and other allergens but they put back other harmful gasses into the air and most don't even remove the allergens.
posted by no bueno at 4:31 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I scoop about 2x day and replace the litter every other day. I don't have carpet.

Oh good grief, there's nofuckingway your house smells like catbox. Ask some friends to give your house a sniff so that you can more confidently tell your mom (in a nice way) that she's crazy.

If she persists, give her something ostensibly from your apt, wait for her to tell you that it smells like litterbox, and point out that it's never even seen the inside of your home. Moms can be awfully fixated and weird around their adult children sometimes.
posted by desuetude at 11:25 PM on March 20, 2012

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