Mopping the floor

While my sense of smell isn’t anything like a dog’s, it is perhaps more keen than many other people’s — and that’s both good and bad. On the bad side, I can’t abide strong, offensive odors (including those that come from sharing my life with pets). On the good side, my nose helps me with my work, since identifying smells is one of a veterinarian’s best diagnostic tools

I don’t own my own veterinary practice anymore, but I still love to work as a veterinarian when I’m not being one in the media. The two practices where I work when I can (North Idaho Animal Hospital and Lakewood Animal Hospital) are as dedicated as I am to what I call a “smell neutral” environment: fresh, clean hospitals that smell neither like pet odors nor like cleaning products.

Make Your Home "Smell Neutral"

It probably won’t surprise you that my wife and I work hard to make sure our home is also “smell neutral.” Over the years, I’ve picked up a lot of tricks and cleaned up a lot of messes, and since I know pet mess in general is the top complaint of pet lovers, I want to share the secrets of a smell-conscious veterinarian. While products may vary — I am always on the lookout for better, more effective and faster ways to “keep it clean” — the steps to an odor-free home when you live with pets remain the same.

How many times have you looked at an open house or vacant apartment and knew that pet lovers lived there before you dropped in? Even though the place may be empty, the carpets carefully vacuumed and free of pet hair, the smell lingers — and nothing you can spray in the air will override it for long. But I’ve also been in homes where you can’t tell pets were in the family. The difference in many cases is time. When a pet makes a mess, time is not on your side. Don’t neglect the daily duties: When your cat uses the box or your dog goes in the yard, scoop and toss right away.

Simple Tips to Keep It Clean

Assemble your supplies. You’ll always want to have an enzymatic cleaner on hand. Buy a large bottle if you have a very young pet — or an old one — because accidents happen. The enzymes in these cleaners attack the components of pet waste, neutralizing odors along the way (but be sure to follow the instructions to avoid any damage to rugs or carpets). You’ll also want bleach (dilute one half cup of bleach to a gallon of water; it’s a fantastic disinfectant) to clean up wet messes, and baby wipes to wipe down your pet. Since pet odors start with pets themselves, make sure you have pet shampoo, both regular and no-water varieties (your veterinarian can recommend a good one). Save battered towels for pet duty, and have other regular cleaning tools on hand. I like those designed with pet mess in mind, such as Swiffer-type floor cleaners, and vacuums and spot-scrubbers, such as those made by Bissell.

Get into a clean routine. Regular cleaning, especially of areas where your pet likes to spend most of his time, will keep smells from building up and digging in. Wash pet bedding often (weekly is ideal), and sweep, Swiffer or vacuum a couple of times a week or more. Bathing your dog weekly — yes, I said weekly — with a shampoo formulated for pets will not only keep him cleaner and better smelling but it may also help with some skin problems. Keeping long-haired pets cut short will lessen the volume of shed fur and provide less refuge for odors. For in-between clean, swipe your pet with a baby wipe. (Bonus: This may help your own allergies too.) And don’t forget to make time for a regular deep cleaning. Hire someone or rent power equipment, but get in there deep and get it truly clean.

Don’t wait for mess to dig in. The longer a pet mess sits, the more difficult it will be to completely eradicate the smell. Get on it immediately: Pick up what you can, blot off the liquid elements, then get the enzymatic cleaner working. If you can’t clean right away, spray water to keep the problem area moist. Since you want the enzymatic cleaner to have its best chance, apply as directed (always, always read directions!), and then keep the area moist longer by covering carpet with plastic wrap and putting a heavy book over the spot. Make a schedule for routine, preventive cleaning to help prevent the buildup of mess and odors.

Getting Past the Smell of Cleaners

With the right tools and the right cleaning products, the pet smells you’re waging war on will soon be waving the white flag of surrender (until next time, that is). Now, how to get rid of the smell of cleaners? Rinse, rinse and rinse some more. Water takes everything away, both the remains of the mess and the products that vanquished it. Run your rags through the washer and toss one-use products, such as electrostatic wipes, in the trash. What’s that smell? Nothing!

In our family, we wouldn’t trade our pets for a clean home no matter how much you gave us. But fortunately, using the tricks of the veterinary trade, we don’t have to. And you don’t either.

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