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5 Types of pet-safe cleaning products and how they work

Approx. 7 minutes read

Living with furry or purry companions is the cat’s pyjamas, but it’s not all fun and games. It takes a lot of work to keep your home clean and tidy – and cleaning up after pets is just as necessary as cleaning up after yourself or your human children. There’s the daily scooping of litterboxes or poop-scooping your yard, wiping up pet food messes after the dog’s breakfast, brushing fur off the furniture, and mopping up muddy paw prints.

Nothing like a bit of bleach and an ammonia-based household cleaner to sanitise your home, right?

Oof! No.

Let’s take a look at why general household cleaners are a big no-no when it comes to pets, and then go in-depth into the best pet-safe cleaning products and how they actually work.

Cleaning products to avoid when you have pets

Our pawsome pets can bring all sorts of [reasons to clean] into the house – from shed fur, muddy paw prints, slobber, pollen and dust, to an array of bugs and bacteria. That’s why it’s necessary to sweep, mop and vacuum after your pets… then to spray, wipe, sanitise, rinse and repeat! But before you whip out the thick bleach or alcohol- or ammonia-based cleaners, it’s time to have a reality check on which cleaners are safe and not safe to use around our pets.

Avoid ammonia

Plenty of household cleaning products contain ammonia. Not only is ammonia toxic when ingested by pets, but it’s also one of the compounds found in pets’ pee. If you clean up a pee puddle with an ammonia-based cleaner, it signals to your pet that it’s okay to pee there again!

Signs that your pet may have come too close to ammonia:

  • eye and skin irritation
  • nasal irritation and burning
  • burning in the mouth and throat

If you use a drain cleaner that contains ammonia, keep your pets far away from exposed drains, or rather safely cover drains to prevent pets’ exposure to these toxic substances.

Avoid bleach

Bleach, chlorine, sodium hypochlorite – all these names refer to bleach in various concentrations. No matter which name it’s given, it’s very toxic to pets because it’s so strong – too strong to even be inhaled without consequences. Bleach is used as a germ-killing, sanitising solution in most homes, but if you have pets, there are other ways of neutralising bacteria to achieve the same cleanliness in your home… without putting your pet’s health at risk. Read on.

Avoid isopropyl alcohol

Since the advent of Covid-19, isopropyl alcohol has become a household staple in the form of hand sanitiser and other surface sanitisers. If you see the words ‘rubbing alcohol’ on the label, then you know isopropyl alcohol is the active ingredient.

Avoid hydrogen peroxide

While not as strong as bleach, hydrogen peroxide falls into the same family of cleaning properties and is considered ‘colour-safe’ when used as a cleaning agent. If your pets were to ingest it, it can cause stomach upset and vomiting.

Avoid formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is an ingredient in many detergents and household cleaners, but the cleaning products may have a different name for formaldehyde in the ingredients list. Other names for formaldehyde may be aldehyde, formalin, formalith, formic aldehyde, formol, FYDE, methylene glycol, methyl aldehyde, methanal, methylene oxide, oxymethylene, etc. It is a known carcinogen and equally as dangerous to humans as it is to pets.

Avoid phthalates

Found in air fresheners and room sprays, linen sprays and carpet cleaners, phthalates may be listed as such on the container or they may be hiding under the ingredient ‘fragrance’. If you must use products containing air fresheners and fragrances, make sure your pets are out of the room and ventilate the rooms in which these products are used.

There are many more cleaning product ingredients that are toxic to pets, but these are the main culprits. So, now that you know what not to use, which are the best pet-safe cleaning products that you should use?

Pet-safe cleaning products for your house

If you’re looking for pet-safe cleaning products that won’t negatively affect your pets’ health, perhaps the best question to ask would be What disinfectants do vets use? Since a variety of healthy and sick pets move through your veterinarian’s clinic and waiting rooms day in and day out, the vet practice will have consistent cleaning protocols and will need to use pet-safe cleaning products that won’t harm pets who are exposed to them. When looking for cleaning products that are safe to use on pet messes, always look for the following features:

  • bio-enzymatic
  • anti-bacterial
  • non-toxic
  • odour-neutralising
  • stain-removing

But what do these features mean? Let’s explain by describing how they work in five types of pet-safe cleaning products.

1. Surface disinfectants

Surface disinfectants are used to clean things like tables and chairs, feeding stations, the areas where your pets sleep, sinks, pet crates, and even your pets’ grooming tools. Dirty kennels and cat travel crates? These are no problem for a surface disinfectant. Some surface disinfectants even contain insecticides to kill parasites, keeping ticks and fleas away from your pet’s spaces.

What is the safest surface cleaner for pets? One that’s specifically designed to kill bad bacteria with organic enzymes. Usually pet-friendly surface cleaners are marked as safe for pets because of this enzymatic feature. So how does a pet-friendly surface disinfectant work? If the product contains the word enzymatic, then it goes to work by destroying the ‘bad bacteria’ causing the odours and messes, with the use of natural enzymes. These good – or non-pathogenic – bacteria and enzymes target pathogenic organisms like fungi spores, viruses, and bacteria, eliminating them and neutralising the surface you are cleaning.

Some surface disinfectants will also be biodegradable, making them safer and more environmentally friendly than regular home cleaning products.

2. Odour neutralisers

Air fresheners typically contain strong chemicals and fragrances to mask bad odours. These ingredients are toxic to pets and they don’t tackle the problem of what’s causing the odour. Using a regular air freshener around your cat’s litterbox, for instance, won’t hide the cat pee or poop odour, it will just make it smell like your cat has ‘buried her treasure’ in a pine forest!

On the other paw, pet odour neutralisers don’t just mask bad smells, they use non-pathogenic bacteria to kill bad, odour-causing bacteria and the odour at its source. Remove the bad bacteria and the odours go away! Odour neutralisers intended for surfaces and upholstery can still irritate pets’ respiratory systems, so it’s still a good idea to remove your pet while using them. However, you do not have to rinse the products off surfaces – they are still effective and safe when dried.

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3. Carpet cleaners and fabric deodorisers

All pet owners have accepted that their pets put the ‘fur’ in furniture, but things can become problematic when they leave more than just hair lying around. Pet stains from marking or puking on carpets and upholstery aren’t so simple to clean up, and unless it’s done quickly and properly, there will always be a lingering odour.

Pawtunately, that’s where pet-friendly carpet cleaner saves the day… and your carpets. Similar to odour neutralisers and surface disinfectants, these carpet cleaners contain bio-enzymes that break down bad bacteria and tackle the source of the problem instead of simply masking it. Fabric deodorisers work in the same way, so you can remove pet smells from blankets and bedding in between spring cleaning and thorough washes.

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4. Hard floor cleaners

In a pet household, hard flooring is much easier to clean than carpets, but that doesn’t mean a simple ammonia cleaner or bleach should be used on hard floors. It’s the dirt and organic matter (i.e. pee, poop, puke and… er… other) that still needs to be tackled and neutralised with a solution that is safe for your pets – both during and after cleaning. When using a hard floor cleaner, first remove as much of the offending substance as possible before spraying or pouring the hard floor cleaner on and mopping it up. Always follow the instructions on the container.

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5. Stain removers

Nothing says Patches was here quite like a nice brown or yellow stain. Simply neutralising the odour is not enough – you’ll want to do some stain removal as well! Regular stain removal products may carry the risk of discolouring your couch, carpet, fabrics and other surfaces, but with an enzymatic pet stain remover that directly targets the organic matter, it’s safe to use on most surfaces. (Still, perform a colour test on a small, out-of-sight area of the surface you wish to de-stain. And don’t forget to read the instructions on the product you choose.)

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A note on ‘natural’ cleaning products and your pets

In the name of ‘greening’, we have to mention that just because a product is labelled as ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s safe for pets. Just look at this list of poisonous plants – they’re pretty natural, but that doesn’t mean your furry or purry friends can take a nibble or should even be around them. Even cyanide is natural, yet it’s deadly if it’s consumed!

That being said, vinegar and bicarb make excellent cleaning products, but they can cause harm to your pets if licked or swallowed. Also, they may clean surfaces quite effectively, but they don’t have that anti-bacterial enzymatic action of for-purpose household cleaners, which kill germs naturally.

Essential oils are another ingredient in natural cleaning products that are dangerous for pets. If you used essential oils in any cleaning products, skincare or diffusers, be sure to keep them out of reach of your pets! 

Don’t forget to clean up outside

Keeping your pet-friendly household clean with the right pet-friendly products is just one aspect of sharing your home with your furry friends. However, cleaning your yard if you have pets is also important. Dog poop contains a number of pathogens and it also attracts flies and other insects. Establish a daily routine in which you scoop your cat’s litterbox and your dog’s poop from the yard – it’s healthier that way… for them and for you!

For more information on spring cleaning when you have pets, check out these articles:

5 Types of pet-safe cleaning products and how they work

Spring cleaning when you have pets

Put away the warm winter woolies and throw open the doors and windows! Let the fresh air in and spring-clean your home of all the accumulated winter clutter. This will also make your pets’ spaces cleaner and healthier – a great way to ring in the new season. Here’s how to spring-clean for pets:

Read More »
5 Types of pet-safe cleaning products and how they work

Spring cleaning tips for cat lovers

Get out those mops and put on your rubber gloves, because spring is here and it’s time to clean house! Many pet owners are getting ready to tackle their to-do lists and spice up their home. As you make plans to sweep and dust, consider including a few activities to make the next few weeks easier on you and your cat.

Read More »
5 Types of pet-safe cleaning products and how they work

Spring cleaning tips for dog owners

We all love a beautiful clean home and there is no better feeling than climbing into a lovely clean bed. So why not do the same for your dog? Your dog would love being clean and believe it or not, so would you. Here are a few quick tips on spring cleaning your dog’s goodies:

Read More »

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