The Science Behind the Scent: Looking for the Best Pet Odor Eliminator for Carpet

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TL;DR: The Thornell Cat Odor-Off series is our pick for the best pet odor eliminator for carpet. Their dog series works great as well.

In this article, we will be looking at these pet odor eliminators that works great on carpets:

Pet odor explained: Looking at the science behind the scent

Pet feces, urine, vomit, and wet coat are usually the source of malodor in your home. We’ll be looking at some facts behind the bad smell. We’ll also be looking at how malodor can be a sign of illness.

While animals, like humans, naturally secrete oils which will cause some smell to develop. But if you’ve noticed your pet is developing an almost too offensive smell,  you should probably have it checked out by a vet. 

So let’s jump into what science is telling us about these smelly subjects.

Why is cat poop smellier than dog poop?

Dog feces just smell less off-putting than cat feces, in general. According to a study by Dr Masao Miyazaki of Iwate University in Japan, there are multiple odor-causing components present in cat feces that makes them smelly. But these components are also found in other animal feces.

They’ve teased out and identified the chemical “3-mercapto-3-methyl-1-butanol (MMB), which is a derivative of felinine, a sulfur-containing amino acid found in cat urine”. This is the compound that’s unique in cats. It is not found in dog feces.

The research also found that the concentration of MMB in male cats feces is higher than the concentration in female cats.

Facts about pet urine: Why some pets have worse smelling urine than others

According to Joe Schwarcz of McGill University, “[u]rine is a concentrate of metabolic waste and is comprised of urea, creatine, uric acid, various detoxified substances, sodium chloride and other electrolytes.”

The compounds in urine decompose in two stages. Fresh urine usually doesn’t smell too bad. But after awhile, the bacteria decomposes the urea and gives off the smell of ammonia.

“The second stage of the decomposition process emits mercaptans, compounds which also give skunk spray its nasty smell.” Dogs have more diluted urine than cats, so the cat urine smell is stronger. 

Some common factors that make your pet’s urine smell even worse are kidney function and hormones.

Older pets tend to have worse smelling urine because their kidneys are losing some of their efficiency. Intact male cats also have worse smelling urine than females or neutered males, because of the presence of steroids in their urine. 

Why do wet dogs smell worse?

Why do pets, especially dogs, smell worse when they are wet? And why does the dog smell bad right after showering? The musty smell comes from the excretion of yeast and bacteria that’s living on the dog coat.

When the coat gets wet, the water breaks down the chemical bonds of these compounds, releasing the musty molecules into the air. And according to PetMeds, the number of these excreted compounds increases in number when the coat is wet.

Also, the moisture actually changes the compounds chemically, causing them to smell even worse. Benzaldehyde, for example, is naturally present in the coat, is 30 times more malodorous when the coat is wet. 

Another thing to consider is the humidity in the air. Humidity means that there’s more water molecules in the air. And the water molecules around your pet are encapsulating the odor-causing compounds.

When there’s a higher concentration of more water molecules, more of these compounds will be able to travel “into your nasal cavity to assault your olfactory receptor neurons”. Heat can have compounding effects on this situation. So a wet dog in warm and humid weather is just bad news for your nose. 

The dangers of being too smelly

Humans secrete natural oils, or sebum, in most parts of our bodies. But areas like the face and scalp have higher concentration of the secretion. In dogs, the natural oils are only secreted in their paw pads. This is where most of the ‘dog smell’ comes from. This happens in all dogs, even healthy ones. 

Pets can smell now and then, but a healthy pet should not be too smelly. If you think your pet is smelling too offensive, then a trip to the vet may be in order.

According to PetMeds, “Pet odor is most often caused by bacteria and yeast metabolizing secretions, especially skin oils.” Places that are moist and not exposed to much air flow and light are usually where you’ll normally find the highest concentration of bacteria and yeast. These are places like “mouth, ears, skin folds, and under the tail”.

Although these bacteria and yeast will be present in healthy pets as well, the concentration is usually minimum on healthy skin. When your pet is ill or old, the skin becomes less healthy allowing a more conducive breeding ground for yeast and bacteria. 

Now that we’ve looked at the science behind the scent, let’s discuss solutions. How can we eliminate pet odor, any and all types of odor, on carpets effectively. We looked at spray-on-solutions, carpet powders and carpet cleaner solutions. 

Thornell Cat Odor-Off 

Best pet odor eliminator for carpet – heavy duty for cats

The Thornell brand focuses on pet odor both in home setting as well as professional settings. They have a range of products for eliminating pet odor from the floor surface, to cages and kennels, and even laundry.

What’s unique about their formulation is that it’s not an enzyme-based product. The formula is developed with a “complex blends that work through counteraction, absorption, molecular bonding, inhibitors and residual actions.” To get rid of cat odor on carpet, use the Thornell Cat Odor-Off formula. It targets the odor of cat urine, tomcat spray, feces and more.

The Thornell Cat Odor-Off is a series of 3 types of application: concentrate, soaker and spray.

The Thornell Cat Odor-Off Concentrate is the most economical option. Measure out the concentrate using their built-in measuring chamber, dilute 0.5oz/14.8ml of solution to 16oz/473ml of water. You can put the diluted solution in a spray bottle or pour it straight on the carpet spot.

But if the diluting process is too tedious, we recommend getting the Thornell Cat Odor-Off Soaker option. This formula works wonders on carpet and rugs. To use, pull on the applicator tip, squeeze the formula onto the problem spot on the carpet. Completely saturating the spot is key.

Pet carpet stains are like icebergs, what you see on the surface is really just the tip of it. The stain usually penetrates deep into the carpet fibers. After saturating the carpet spot, let it air dry. If you want it to dry faster, increase the air flow by using fans. If the malodor still lingers, reapply the solution. 

This formula is safe for pets, even if it’s applied directly on the pet. It should be safe for the pet to be around once the solution has been applied. You don’t need to wait for it to dry.

While the formula doesn’t mask the pet odor, the solution does leave a scent. Some people might find the scent off-putting, but cleaning solution scent is so objective that everyone should probably test it out themselves. 

Pros: Available in different application options, economical, really works on cat odor

Cons: Scent might be off-putting

Angry Orange Citrus Pet Odor Eliminator Pet Spray 

Best pet odor eliminator for carpet – ready-to-use spray

The Angry Orange Citrus Pet Odor Eliminator Pet Spray is a ready-to-use spray that works on most floor types: carpet, tiles, hardwood, ceramic.

The spray bottle is well made, and doesn’t have much leakage issue. The mist is fine and disperse out nicely. You don’t need to mix or dilute the formula with water. It uses orange oil as the odor eliminating ingredient. You do get a lingering scent of orange after use.

While the formula is safe for pets and kids, cats definitely won’t be enjoying the citrusy scent. This will reduce repeat occurrence at the same spot. 

We do recommend testing a small amount away from your pet’s favorite areas in the house. Some pets can be sensitive to the orange oil ingredient. It would be off-putting for your pet if you would try it straight on their bedding or favorite chair in the house.

The formula is also great for musty dog smell, especially when the weather is wet and yucky, and the dogs have been outdoors. Use it in between baths, the fresh citrus scent will freshen up the room. 

This spray formula is only recommended for spot treatment, applied directly to the spot. It is not to be used in a carpet cleaner. The formula contains oil, which is not a recommended ingredient to be used in the clean water tank and can damage the carpet cleaner.

As with any treatment you would like to use on your carpet, always test it in a small inconspicuous area. Because it contains orange oil, be careful when using it on a very light colored carpet or rug.

The formula is quite potent, so a little goes a long way. Start by applying a small amount to the pet stain spot. Let it sit and air dry. If needed, blot the spot dry with a towel. 

Pros: Easy to use, bottle is well made, strong scent to deter repeat occurrence

Cons: Citrus scent can be overpowering, spray can leave oily traces between

NonScents Carpet Odor Eliminator

Best pet odor eliminator for carpet – carpet powder

The brand NonScents focuses on eliminating odor in homes, particularly households with pets. The product line has a heavy focus on pets and pet odors. They have dedicated products for very specific purposes. This usually makes for a good start.

This carpet powder can be used on all types of carpets, low or high pile, wool or nylon or jute. The active ingredient to fight the malodor “is a form of biodegradable organic chlorine, derived from amino acids and table salt.” There’s no harmful residue left behind that’s unsafe for pets and children. 

The NonScents Carpet Odor Eliminator granules absorb malodor. While the granules are rather small, like tiny pallets, they are not dust. They’re not easily disturbed and float around in the air. They can be picked up by the vacuum cleaner.

The formula is also fragrance free. Unlike many formulas that introduce a new scent into the environment, to either freshen up the place or to mask the scent, this formula doesn’t. You don’t even get a whiff of the ‘fresh smelling’ scent. It gets rids of urine odor, even old cat urine which is one of the hardest to rid off.

It also takes care of musty dog smell that comes from a wet and damp environment. And it also does a great job with slobber, vomit and feces. 

To use, sprinkle a generous amount of the carpet power on. Use a towel or brush to spread the power out evenly. You don’t need to scrub or work the powder into the carpet.

Let it sit for at least 4 hours, overnight is even better. This wait time will allow the granules to lock onto the particles that’s causing the smell. Finish up with a good thorough vacuum session to pick up all the carpet power. If needed, you can repeat this process until the odor is completely gone. 

Pros: No fragrance in formula

Cons: Pricey, wait time is long

Arm & Hammer Pet Fresh Carpet Odor Eliminator

Best pet odor eliminator for carpet – budget carpet powder

Most of us are familiar with the Arm & Hammer brand of baking soda. Baking soda has a multitude of uses, from cleaning to baking to personal hygiene.

According to the University of Wisconsin Madison, baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, makes for a great cleaning agency because it is mildly alkaline. It causes grease and dirt to dissolve in water easily so they can be removed easily.

Aside from that, baking soda also has the ability to “eliminate, reduce or change odors.” It does not mask or cover the smell, but neutralize it.

Most malodor comes from a strong acid or a strong base. “Baking Soda reacts with acids, neutralizing them and releasing carbon dioxide”. That’s why you’ll see bubbles forming when you’re deodorizing with baking soda, that’s the carbon dioxide.

The Arm & Hammer Pet Fresh Carpet Odor Eliminator works like a typical carpet powder. To use, you’ll sprinkle a generous amount on the carpet. Let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how bad the malodor is. Finish up with vacuuming the carpet. Use a vacuum with strong suction capabilities so that all the granules can be removed completely.

The manufacturer caution against using it on wet or damp carpet. If the carpet has some fresh pet urine or vomit on it, dab away the towel and let it dry before applying this carpet powder. It really does get rid of pet odor on the carpet and rugs.

Unlike the NonScents Carpet Odor Eliminator, this formula does contain fragrance. It uses fragrance to introduce a fresh scent into the environment. The scent can linger on for days after you vacuum it up. Some may find the scent to be overpowering.

As always, test the carpet powder in a small hidden spot to check for color fastness. Go through the small process described above to make sure the powder works well with your carpet or rug.

Pros: Cost effective

Cons: Strong fragranced, does not work on wet/ damp carpet

Hoover Pet Plus Carpet Cleaner and Upholstery Solution 

Best pet odor eliminator for carpet – carpet cleaner

Not all the pet odor control solutions you find on the market can be used in carpet cleaners. Some of the formulations are not suitable (e.g. oil-based) and can damage the machine. So always make sure you’re using the correct type of solution to fill your carpet cleaner water tank.

The Hoover Pet Plus Carpet Cleaner and Upholstery Solution is an enzyme-based formula and it is an excellent choice for that. It is formulated for pet mess on carpets and upholstery, to get rid of pet odors especially. It is safe for pets and children, but do allow for the carpet to fully dry. 

Before you start, you should always test for colorfastness on a small hidden spot on the carpet. To use, always start with vacuuming. Unless you’re spot cleaning a particular nasty wet mess on the carpet, in which case you’ll need to scoop up the mess as much as you can.

Give the carpet detergent a good shake. Measure out 5oz/148ml of detergent for 1 gallon/3.8 liters of hot water. Pour the detergent and hot water into your carpet cleaner, and get cleaning. The 50oz/1478ml bottle will only have 10 gallons of soapy water.

Like most carpet shampoos, this formula contains fragrance. However, it’s nothing too strong or overpowering. It is a ‘fresh scent’, and usually goes away within a few days. Increase airflow in the space to help speed up the process.

It works great on pet urine odor, from puppy accidents to marking behaviors. This formula can be used on upholstery as well. If your carpet cleaner has a smaller above-the-ground nozzle for upholstery, you can use it to clean the sides of your upholstered furniture that’s been marked by male dogs or sprayed by male cats. It also works great on removing vomit and poop smell from the carpets. 

Pros: Fragranced but still pleasant

Cons: Pricey

The Thornell Cat Odor-Off (and Thornell Dog Odor-Off) are our picks for the best pet odor eliminator for carpet. The formulas are developed with very specific purposes, and they absolutely work.

The solutions are available in different options: concentrate, ready-to-spray and soaker.

Although the concentrate option is the most economical, the soaker may be the best application for pet mess spots on carpets. Using the applicator tip to squeeze the formula onto the spot to saturate it. You don’t need to rinse out the solution. But you’ll need to let it air dry. Dab off excess solution if necessary.

The formula is very safe, even if it gets on your pet. You can allow the pet to be in the area while you’re waiting for the spot to air dry.

Although the formula does not use fragrance to mask the pet odor, the formula does leave behind a scent. It is not a typical ‘fresh scent’ that most carpet shampoos have. Some people may find the smell off-putting. But if you’re able to tolerate the scent, then this formula will really wow you.