How to Banish Cat Pee Smell with Vinegar. Our Top Tips


For any cat owner, one of the worst parts about sharing your home with feline friends is the lingering odor that can emanate from the litter box. According to one survey, nearly half of cat owners cite odor as their top concern when it comes to cat litter boxes, as the ammonia smell can quickly permeate throughout the home and impact overall hygiene (source). While many owners become used to the smell over time, it’s still important to find effective solutions to neutralize cat urine odor and prevent it from accumulating.

Left untreated, the smell can become overpowering and negatively impact your quality of life at home. Fortunately, there are many simple, natural methods to tackle odor problems, including using vinegar, an effective odor neutralizer and cleaning agent. With the right techniques and consistent effort, you can successfully reduce unpleasant cat urine smells and keep your home fresh.

Causes of Cat Urine Odor

The strong odor associated with cat urine is primarily caused by the composition of the urine itself. Cat urine contains high levels of urea and ammonia, which give it a pungent smell. As the urine breaks down, the urea is converted into ammonia by the enzyme urease. This amplifies the ammonia odor and causes the strong smell we associate with cat pee (1).

Another contributing factor is a class of compounds called mercaptans. These are released during the later stages of urine decomposition and contain sulfur, which produces a foul, rotten smell reminiscent of skunk spray (2). The odor continues to strengthen the longer the urine sits before being cleaned up.

Certain factors can make the smell even worse: an all-meat diet, urinary tract infections, kidney disease, diabetes or advanced age. Neutering cats can reduce urine odor in males. But ultimately, the composition of cat urine leads to an unavoidable strong ammonia smell as it decomposes.

Vinegar as an Odor Neutralizer

Vinegar is an effective odor neutralizer because of its acetic acid content. When exposed to air, acetic acid oxidizes and neutralizes odor molecules. According to this source, the acetic acid molecules in vinegar bond with smelly compounds, changing their structure so they no longer smell. The vinegar doesn’t just mask odors, it actually destroys them at a molecular level.

One study found vinegar reduced odors by up to 95% after 24 hours of contact. The acetic acid reacts with amines in pet urine to form new odorless compounds, eliminating the urine smell. Vinegar can tackle all types of malodors, including smoke, mold, pets, sweat and more. It’s an inexpensive yet powerful odor remover.

Cleaning Protocol

Here are the step-by-step instructions for effectively using vinegar to clean and eliminate cat urine odors:

  1. Blot up as much of the urine as possible from the surface with paper towels or an absorbent cloth. You want to remove as much of the liquid before applying the vinegar solution.
  2. In a spray bottle, mix equal parts white vinegar and water (1:1 ratio). Apple cider vinegar can also be effective.
  3. Liberally spray the vinegar solution directly onto the soiled area, saturating the spot. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Use paper towels or a clean cloth to blot and soak up any remaining moisture and vinegar. You may need to apply more vinegar mixture and blot several times to fully lift the urine smell from the area.
  5. For extra cleaning power, make a paste with baking soda and water and gently rub it into the area after using the vinegar. Let it sit for 5 minutes before wiping clean.
  6. Allow the area to fully dry. Use a fan or open windows to help speed up drying time.
  7. If any faint urine odor still remains, repeat steps 2-6 until it is fully eliminated. The vinegar neutralizes the ammonia in cat urine that causes lingering odors.

Always test vinegar on a small, inconspicuous area first to check for colorfastness or damage to the surface. Avoid using vinegar solutions on stone surfaces.

Vinegar Concentration

When using vinegar for cleaning, it’s important to dilute it to the proper concentration for maximum effectiveness. According to NSF International, a 1:1 dilution of vinegar to water is ideal for most household cleaning purposes (Source). This creates a solution with around 5% acetic acid, which is strong enough to cut through grease and grime without being too abrasive.

For tougher cleaning jobs, a higher concentration of vinegar may be needed. Cleaning vinegar typically contains around 6% acidity, making it 20% stronger than white distilled vinegar (Source). When tackling cat urine odor, a 1:1 dilution of cleaning vinegar to water is recommended. The higher acidity helps break down urine proteins and enzymes, while the water dilutes it to a non-damaging level for surfaces.

It’s important not to use vinegar undiluted, as this can potentially damage some surfaces. Always test on a small inconspicuous area first when using a stronger vinegar solution. Start with a 1:1 ratio and adjust as needed for the particular surface and stain.

Application Methods

There are a few techniques you can use to apply vinegar to cat urine stains and odors:

  • Use a spray bottle filled with equal parts vinegar and water to evenly mist the soiled area. Allow it to soak in for 5-10 minutes before blotting with a clean cloth or paper towel. Repeat as needed for tough stains. The vinegar helps break down urine proteins while the water dilutes it for easier application (Source).
  • For carpet stains, lay a towel soaked in the vinegar solution over the spot and stand on it to press the liquid into the fibers. This forces the vinegar deeper into the carpet pad and backing where odors can linger. Leave it for 1-2 hours before blotting dry (Source).
  • Use an extractor machine designed for carpet cleaning to thoroughly rinse away the urine after vinegar application. This flushs out the dissolved urine crystals and prevents re-depositing in the carpet (Source).

Test vinegar on an inconspicuous spot first to check for potential discoloration or damage to delicate fabrics. Always blot or extract vinegar from carpets promptly to avoid excessive moisture.

Other Helpful Tips

In addition to vinegar, there are some other helpful ingredients and methods to eliminate cat urine odors:

Baking soda can help absorb odors when sprinkled liberally on the affected area. Let it sit for several hours before vacuuming up. The sodium bicarbonate reacts with the urine to form salt crystals that neutralize odors (

Enzymatic cleaners work to break down the uric acid in cat urine. Products like Nature’s Miracle contain protease enzymes that target the organic matter left behind. Using an enzymatic cleaner after vinegar can help remove any residual odors (

Improving air circulation with fans or open windows can help odors dissipate faster. Place bowls of baking soda around the room to absorb odors. Odor-eliminating candles, air purifiers, and dehumidifiers can also aid in odor removal.

Preventing Future Accidents

The best way to avoid cat urine odors in your home is to prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Here are some tips for litter box placement and cleaning that can help:

Place litter boxes in quiet, easily accessible areas of your home. Cats prefer privacy when using the litter box, so find spots that are out of high traffic areas but still easy for your cat to get to. Make sure there is one litter box per cat, plus an extra. Having multiple litter box options can help reduce accidents.

Keep litter boxes extremely clean. Scoop urine and feces out of litter boxes twice per day. Then do a full litter change and disinfect boxes once per week. Cats may begin avoiding dirty boxes, leading to accidents around your home.

Use clumping litter to make cleanup easier. Clumping types form solid clumps when wet, allowing you to scoop out just the soiled areas of litter. Replace with fresh litter as needed to prevent smells.

Look for litter box liners or pads that contain odors. These products have activated carbon or other ingredients that help trap urine odors and ammonia, keeping your litter box fresher between full cleanings.

Rule out medical causes if accidents persist. Issues like urinary tract infections or kidney disease can lead to inappropriate urination. See your veterinarian to make sure your cat is healthy.

When to Call a Professional

If you’ve tried vinegar and other odor removal techniques but the urine smell persists, it’s a sign of a larger issue that requires professional help. Cat urine can soak deep into carpets, pads, and subfloors over time, making it impossible to fully eliminate the odor through DIY methods. According to Rainbow Restores, indicators that you need a professional carpet cleaning service include:

  • The urine smell lingers no matter what you try at home
  • You see staining even after cleaning the area
  • The cat continues urinating in the same spots repeatedly
  • The urine has reached the carpet pad or subfloor underneath

In these cases, contact a professional carpet cleaner who specializes in pet odor removal. They have industrial-strength cleaners and tools like truck-mounted extraction units that reach deeper below the carpet surface to lift out urine and deodorize completely. This is especially important for old, set-in urine stains. Professionals also use pet odor counteractants and antimicrobials to neutralize stubborn smells at their source. After deep carpet cleaning, you’ll finally be rid of that pesky cat pee smell for good.


To recap, vinegar is an effective, natural solution for neutralizing and removing cat urine odor. The key is using the right concentration (50/50 water and vinegar is ideal) and thoroughly soaking the soiled areas to fully eliminate the smell. Blotting up excess liquid, following up with baking soda, and addressing the root cause by cleaning the litter box more often can help prevent future accidents. While vinegar does work wonders, for severe or persistent odors, calling in a professional carpet cleaner may be warranted. By taking quick action and using vinegar as soon as accidents occur, you can keep your home fresh and remove that unpleasant cat urine smell.

Scroll to Top