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Ask a Clean Person: Get Rid of Your Cats, Seriously, They Are Revolting

I have a cleaning etiquette question! Say that you are a frequent cat-sitter. In addition to cat care, and respectful treatment of the apartment, and all that good stuff, say you want to improve the cat-owner’s (or the cat’s) living conditions? My question is: what is appropriate to clean and not clean?

I’m thinking fair game is things like scrubbing shower curtains, or kitchen cabinets, or certainly stoves. Or buying new litterboxes. But I also think that cleaning of the spaces of others can be intrusive or even hostile or insulting! How far can I go, to inspire delight without committing insult or bad feelings?

This is a really, really tricky one, because yes you do run the risk of being invasive and offending. And there is absolutely no way to give a definitive answer, because what one person finds intrusive and insulting another will find welcome and thoughtful. Hell, the same person might find the gesture insulting one day and welcome the next! People! They are so pesky, what with their moods and traits and differences and such.

Here’s what I’ve done in the past (where, granted, the catsitting was done in an already pretty clean home): Cleaned the bathroom and kitchen surfaces to gleaming, swept/mopped floors, cleaned out a refrigerator (not, like, a full deep clean but I’ve tossed things, wiped a grungy surface, put things back inside in an orderly fashion). My logic is this: In the course of staying there I dirtied the bathroom, used the kitchen and may have noticed spoiled items in the fridge. I also may have gone to the grocery store and while putting things away done a wee bit of reorganization. Right? All normal activities that justify a cleaning! (Also, if you’re staying in someone’s home you’re cleaning the bathroom and kitchen up before you leave, yes? Yes. OK good, just checking.)

Here’s what I’ve not done: Reorganized pantries and spice racks, utility closets, or under sink areas. That’s crossing a line I think that can’t really be justified with an “Oh so sorry — while I was here I spilled a whole pitcher of Crystal Light in the fridge and had to clean the whole damn thing out! I hope you didn’t think I was being a crazy clean freak!!!”-style fib.

But back to that point on the nature of the individual: The best advice I can give is to make a judgement call based on how much you know about the person whose home you’re in, whose cat you’re minding and proceed from there. That is so vague! I am sorry! But if the home belongs to your most high-strung friend, who is currently in Jamaica getting her groove back after an ugly divorce and 45-pound weight gain then maybe just leave things be? If it belongs to the most laid-back person you know, who is currently in Jamaica getting even more laid-back than usual then by all means BLEACH AWAY. BLEACH WITH IMPUNITY! Just don’t bleach the litterbox (we’ll get to that)!

But cripes, if the litterbox is growing fur or the shower curtain liner is covered in mildew and a week of having it potentially touch you in your Beulah is more than you can take, replace the damn thing. Just leave a little note, perhaps even one that contains a lie (DON’T LIE, LYING IS BAD, YOU LYING LIAR) like, “I noticed Fluffy’s box had a split along the side, so I replaced it!” or “I slipped in the shower and tore the liner clear off the rod — I bought you a new one, so sorry, I hope you weren’t attached!”

Jolie, cat pee on carpeting. Does anything actually ever get rid of the smell?

I do not allow living things other than myself — human, plant or animal — into my home as a general rule, so I consulted noted cat- and carpet-owner Choire Sicha for his thoughts on this rather common dilemma:

Cat pee on carpeting is pretty fucking bad.

I mean, I just scrub it like 80 times with a strong but organic soap. But! Synthetic carpets and real carpets are different animals. (Quite literally: carpets made of actual animal hair-based fibers clean differently — and they are alive and they breathe and they must be treated well. For real carpets, the answer is best addressed by a professional.) But most modern carpets are actually petroleum byproducts. And are therefore easier to clean — the stink doesn’t actually saturate the “fibers” which just need to be extensively washed, which is hard if the carpet is “installed” and you can’t force water through it. It’s usually best if you can pull it up from one side because of course a liquid will saturate any padding beneath the carpet or also remain on the floor. In lieu of forcing water and soap “through” the carpet, it’s just scrub and wet, dry, repeat, followed by a bonding carpet cleaner and vacuuming.



(Choire’s disdain of Febreze thrills me to my soul.)

I followed up to ask if he had a favorite brand of “strong but organic soap” and I got this:


Well I was a HUGE fan of those witches who made the what ya call it, you know who I mean, they had a broom on everything — oh, CALDREA! But didn’t they sell the company? To, I dunno, GE Westinghouse Kibbles and Bits or something? (Oh: SC Johnson. But you know, so what, I guess.)

Our household also prefers an original castile soap for nearly all forms of cleansing. LOL.

So OK! There’s one approach, any of you cat-having ladies have other suggestions for our friend with the pee-pee carpet? The only things I would add are 1. enzymatic cleaners and 2. carpet steamers. Oh and! Don’t use ammonia or ammonia-based products, as cats are attracted to the scent of pee-pee (LOL EW), which contains ammonia, and they’ll just piddle in the spot where you ammonia’d.

This one should be fairly simple, but I’m flummoxed.  What is a foolproof system for keeping a litterbox from smelling?  Extenuating circumstances — two elderly cats one of whom has a thyroid problem (being treated) that makes him pee a bit more than your average cat and the fact that I’m away for 36-48 hours a couple of times a month.  My roommate can feed the little guys but I don’t expect him to scoop the litter.  I did get some kind-of-exciting psychedelic blue “Tidy Step Crystals” that have helped keep the problem more under control, but even with daily scooping the smell goes instantly from non-existent to OH-MY-GOD-WHAT-KIND-OF-CRACKHOUSE-AM-I-LIVING-IN? levels of stench at some incredibly-difficult-to-pinpoint (ahead of the time) instant.  Please help.

Welllllllll. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your roommate is going to have to start scooping. If this is something that he is going to balk at because it wasn’t part of the living arrangement social contract you two worked out, then you’re going to have to find a way to make it worth his while. (Presumably living in a not-pee-pee-smelling home isn’t enough of an incentive.) Pay him in beer? Pick up the entire cable bill? Whatever, you talk to him and work it out.

Here are some other things you should try out, in addition to scooping every single day.

  1. Unless you have a cat who has stated his or her desire for low litter, the litter should fill half the box — more isn’t better, and the cats won’t like it. Less won’t be enough.
  2. Once a week, empty the box entirely and wash it with dish soap, preferably unscented. Cats have a much keener sense of smell than we do and might reject the box experience altogether if they encounter an unpleasant-to-them odor.
  3. Before refilling the box with fresh litter, sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda along the bottom of the box. The baking soda smell won’t offend the delicate olfactory sensibilities of your dear feline friends, and it will help with odor absorption. (Also I’m contractually obligated to mention baking soda at least once per column and I’m getting to the end of things here.)
  4. Keep the litterbox far away from any heat sources, as heat will heighten smells — as anyone who’s ever spent a summer in New York can attest.

A final word here about bleach: Do not use any bleach-based products when dealing with litterboxes, because, as I mentioned up-column, pee-pee is ammonia-ish, and as we’ve discussed before ammonia + bleach = A BIG NO-NO. (Also vinegar + bleach, also a no-no.) And won’t you think about poor Fluffy and her overly sensitive sense of smell? Right, eschew bleach. (The hippies are so happy right now. Bah.)

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you looking for a green alternative to the suggestions found here? Because we’ve got some! More importantly: Is anything you own dirty?


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