Please help me de-pet-ify my house!
May 23, 2021 10:37 AM   Subscribe

We just bought a house, and the previous tenant had a bulldog. I don’t see any obvious pet stains, but now that the place is emptied out, the first floor reeks of pet smell. How do I get the smell to go away?

The floors are tile (in the kitchen) and hardwood (in the rest of the house). So I’m not sure that spraying with vinegar, a common solution I saw in previous Asks, will be good for the wood, which we plan to keep. We haven’t moved in, so leaving the windows open for hours is tricky, unless that’s the only solution.

Are there products or methods you recommend that will remove pet smells completely?
posted by Liesl to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Mop all of the floors with diluted Oxyclean or Napisan and then flood the tiles with a Odoban per this thread where I asked the same question. You do need to open windows to vent the house though.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:54 AM on May 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sorry you are going through this!

If there are "new" floors anywhere, they may conceal a soiled subfloor. You may need to to some up-close sniffing. Sorry, again, about that suggestion!
posted by Glomar response at 11:10 AM on May 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Wash the walls.
posted by heathrowga at 11:16 AM on May 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Most likely the smell will be coming from marks left low on walls, where the urine has dribbled down and then wicked under the skirting boards. It will be in quite specific locations, so bulk cleaning of entire floors and/or walls is going to be mostly wasted effort.

First step is to vent the whole place really aggressively. Just exchange as much inside air with outside air as you can, as fast as you can, for as long as you can. Bathroom and kitchen range hood exhaust fans can help with this; close all the exterior doors and windows, open all the interior doors, turn on all the exhaust fans you have, then crack open the windows in the rooms furthest from the fans and make sure you can feel an incoming draught through each one. If you need to leave the house locked up, having the exhaust fans keep on running until you get back will have exchanged useful amounts of air even with all the windows closed - most houses aren't super well sealed.

Once you've shifted out enough of the smell that you can't immediately sense it as you walk from outside to inside, it's time to go sniffing around. You should fairly quickly be able to narrow down which rooms are affected and whereabouts in those rooms the smell is strongest. Leave Post-It notes stuck in places where you think the stink is strongest, then go outside for a ten minute breather to let your nose re-sensitize, then come back in and narrow down some more.

You will probably find, with close enough examination, that you will either actually be able to see the subtle marks that little puddles of drying urine have left behind on your flooring or smell for sure that a puddle has wicked under that bit of skirting right there. Give every one of those spots a thorough soaking with Nature's Miracle or some similar enzyme-based urine neutralizer (plain deodorants won't be any use, they'll just kill your nose for a while).
posted by flabdablet at 11:18 AM on May 23, 2021 [18 favorites]

If the kitchen range hood just pulls air through a filter and then exhausts it back into the kitchen, don't bother with it. Ceiling fans are similarly useless for air exchange; all they will do is mix the internal air up and obscure the locations of smells. The only fans worth using are those that establish negative pressure inside the whole building, so they will need to draw air from the room they're installed in and vent it to the outside. Bathroom exhaust fans usually do this.
posted by flabdablet at 11:26 AM on May 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you can run a vacuum without a carpet beater (but with a hepa filter), that might pull some of the smell out of the air.
posted by Comet Bug at 11:28 AM on May 23, 2021

Also, when you deploy the Nature's Miracle, apply about as much of it as you would estimate would come out of a dog in a single marking episode, then let it soak where it soaks and dry on its own. That way it will get time to wick to much the same places the urine has and track most of it down for you.
posted by flabdablet at 11:31 AM on May 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

+1 to odoban and giving the house a ton of air. Once you get your furniture in, you won't even notice the smell anymore, almost for sure. Empty houses smell a lot more weird and anxiety-inducing ways than houses with stuff in them.
posted by bbqturtle at 11:40 AM on May 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

The magic trick to discover urine stains that don't stand out visually is darkness + a UV light. They'll light up like a Christmas tree.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:24 PM on May 23, 2021 [17 favorites]

They might light up if the stink is not, as it so often is, emanating from the cracks and crevices where the bulk of the puddle wicked to in the hours between initial application and next morning wipe-up.

It's really hard to beat a systematic sniff test.
posted by flabdablet at 12:43 PM on May 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Skip Nature's Miracle- the formula has changed and it is garbage now. If you want an enzyme cleaner use Odormute. It has no perfume to cover the smell, you mix up and use it fresh. Keep in mind that the odor will stick around until every area has been penetrated and the area is completely dry afterward.

The best products I've found have been the Thornell line. The Cat Odor-Off is an absolute miracle for cat owners; try the Dog Odor-Off concentrate. It smells a bit like cedar and is gone after a day or two at most.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:49 PM on May 23, 2021 [11 favorites]

I should mention that you can try the Odormute enzyme cleaner and then the Thornell- the Thornell is not an enzyme and previous use of an enzyme cleaner is not a problem for it.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:52 PM on May 23, 2021

Best answer: Have you cleaned the floors at all yet? I can't tell from your question. Bulldogs have very strong "dog" smell and I also am not sure if you are smelling urine/feces as many others seem to be assuming or just "dog" smell.

If you haven't yet, thoroughly wash all the floors with flooring-appropriate cleaner. If this is not a urine issue, you don't need a urine-specific cleaner. And I'm not talking about mopping with a Swiffer, I mean a real "H&K" (Hands and Knees) job as Jolie Kerr would call it. While you are down there, wipe down the baseboards too. Anywhere that dog dander and fur and other detritus can collect is going to retain the stink.

Assuming there are no upholstered materials (including curtains) remaining in the house, the other culprits may even be the walls. Or blinds, if the windows have them. Personally I'd prefer repainting the walls but if you don't want to do that, you could try wiping them down with vinegar. Blinds I would take down and soak in the tub in an oxyclean solution, assuming they are plastic miniblinds, or you can manually wipe them down in place. If there are ceiling fans, clean the blades thoroughly. Forced air furnace? Swap out the filter. You might consider getting the ducts professionally cleaned too. (We didn't have a pet smell issue but I regret not getting our ducts cleaned before we moved in.)

It's very possible that extended time with windows open and the sun pouring in will do quite a bit of good, as will bringing in your own items that smell like you and your home.
posted by misskaz at 2:18 PM on May 23, 2021 [5 favorites]

Tip: you can track down urine stains with the help of a black light (ultraviolet). Inexpensive ultraviolet flashlights avail on amazon.
posted by artdrectr at 3:49 PM on May 23, 2021

It might be worth hiring a cleaning service for a one-time deep clean. Let a professional deal with it for you. No time like when the place is empty!
posted by fimbulvetr at 5:12 PM on May 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you are using a UV light, make the room as dark as possible. Many many things glow under a black light (including remnants of some cleansers) so don't freak out if you see a lot of fluorescence. Urine will look like pools on the floor or streams down the wall.

We like Odorxit as a urine neutralizer. The smell of the cleaner is less terrible than others. Peroxide will also remove odor but can damage surfaces but for really serious areas with persistent odor, the risk may be worth it.

I also love my steam mop combined with an oxidizing cleaner (like Bona) with the technique of spraying Bona just ahead of steaming. Again this cleaning mode isn't without risk to hardwood but it does seem to help with targeted high odor areas.
posted by countrymod at 6:49 PM on May 23, 2021

dog dander and fur and other detritus

Good point, and for a bulldog there will also be drool, particularly concentrated in places the dog spent much time lying down.
posted by flabdablet at 10:31 PM on May 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

After all that if you have time with the house still empty, gather many large shallow pans. Fill an inch or so with vinegar. Leave around the house, for several days. Kills a lot of smells and the vinegar smell clears out pretty quick.
posted by sammyo at 4:53 AM on May 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

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