RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—When I was growing up, we always had a couple of outdoorsy dogs, way too many cats, and a wide array of barnyard birds…and my mother was, as I am now myself, a casual housekeeper and a proponent of letting kids be kids and pets be pets. We all loved her for it, but it didn't make for a tidy or well-behaved crew.
Now that it's winter time, even the most conscientious of housekeepers will inevitably come nose-to-nose with wet-dog smell or a pet "accident" resulting from an unwilling dog walker who really doesn't want to go for a walk in 18 inches of snow. Luckily, you can remove pet urine and odors without spending a lot of money or resorting to toxic cleaning products—which don't work any better than safe ones anyway.
Dealing with Four-Legged BO
To paraphrase an old saw, pets should be seen and not smelt. Keep litter boxes tidy (I, gasp, resorted to an electric scooping box when I had an elderly puss who could no longer go outside, and it made a huge difference) and bathe dogs as needed with a mild, unscented shampoo, and your pets should be reasonably inconspicuous to the nose. Consult your vet about extremely malodorous animals, as the smell may be a sign of an infection or other condition. Food allergies can affect a pet's body odor: Try switching to a low-allergy natural pet food for a few weeks to see if the BO improves.
Skip commercial air fresheners. They are full of toxic chemicals you don't want to breathe, and they just cover up odors without getting at the root of the problem. Set out small dishes of white vinegar or baking soda to absorb odors near smelly litter boxes or pet beds, and if you feel the need to add fragrance, make your own air freshener by mixing 20 to 30 drops of your favorite essential oil(s) into one cup of vodka. Use a spray bottle to mist it into the air or onto funky-smelling objects (though not the animals themselves).
Accidents Will Happen
The first line of defense against pet accidents is your choice of floor covering: Forget the wall-to-wall carpeting. It's high-maintenance stuff anyway, and most of it is made of synthetic materials with dubious off-gassing tendencies. Dust mites love it, and it makes cleaning up pet accidents (and people spills) 100 times more difficult. If you want rugs on your floors, stick with natural-fiber area rugs that you can either take outside and beat clean or hose off, or toss into the washing machine and line-dry.
If you have wall-to-wall carpets, or any type of floor that has unsealed cracks or porous surface, you have to be extra diligent about getting accidents blotted up ASAP so that nothing gets a chance to soak in, which complicates your clean-up task many times over.