Remove Cat Urine Odor from Wood Floors

Kitten looking at camera
Johner Images/Getty Images

Cat urine: it is an unmistakable, pungent smell that, upon one whiff, reduces rental prices for apartments and repulses even the most loving cat-lovers.

While it is no simple task to remove the smell of cat urine from wood flooring, it can be done.

For Non-Porous Surfaces, The Fix Is Easy

For any kind of liquid-impermeable surface, such as vinyl plank flooring, tile, or laminate, you can use ordinary cleaning products like 409. Better yet, use a product specifically designed for cat urine, such as Brampton Stain + Odor Remover.

But that's too easy. The problem is when you have a porous surface, such as solid or engineered wood flooring whose protective surface has begun to wear down.  

For Porous Wood Surfaces, Sanding Is Your Best Option

With this type of severe problem, you need to call out the heavy artillery: floor sanding.

As long as these are solid hardwood floors, you can deeply sand them down with a drum sander or disk sander.

For engineered wood floors, only light sanding with a disk sander is possible, as the top wood veneer is too thin to allow for deep sanding.

Why Site-Finished Flooring Is Your Friend

Pre-finished wood floors--that is, the type of wood flooring most often sold today--will be more affected by cat urine than site-finished. Pre-finished floors' planks are individually stained and sealed in a factory.  After installation in your home, seams remain which may allow for the urine to permeate. 

Site-finished floors are raw, unfinished wood floors that are first installed in your home and then stained and sealed. The benefit is that sealant has permeated and filled in the seams, preventing the urine from entering.

How To Do It

  1. Before you take any drastic measures, try cleaning the hardwood floor with a cat urine odor removal product. If the wood floor has a nice, solid finish, with no seams between the boards, there is no reason why these products will not work.
  2. If your floor has "gappy" seams or a poor finish, you may have to sand. The cat urine odor will have sunk down into the seams and/or porous surface. Determine if your floorboards have enough thickness left for another sanding. Pulling up a threshold is a good way to see how much (if any) floor has been sanding down. If the flooring has been sanded at or just above the tongue-and-groove, it is too thin to sand.
  3. For minimal sanding, rent a vibrating floor sander or floor disk sander. If you need deeper sanding, rent a drum sander.
  4. For sanding close to baseboards and trim, rent an edge sander. Or you may choose to buy a random-orbiting sander.
  5. Be sure to remove quarter-round with a flat pry bar before sanding. Baseboards usually do not have to be removed, and in fact damage may result if you try to remove baseboards.
  1. It is easy to cause irreparable damage to your floor with a drum sander so be careful. Never let any sander rest in place while running; always keep them moving. Always start with coarser sandpaper, working down to finer grits.
  2. Thoroughly clean the floor with a broom, followed up by two thorough damp mops.
  3. While this step may seem evident, keep your cat well away from the project site, preferably out of the house entirely. If the cat urinates on bare, unfinished wood, the opened pores will allow the urine to permeate deeply.
  4. Lay down the finish. Shellac, varnish, and lacquer are rarely used on wood floors anymore. Instead, look for a water-based urethane finish, which is easy to apply and fairly odor-free.
  5. Finally, ban cats from your house!

Tips:

  1. Don't sand until you have tried everything else to remove the cat urine odor.
  2. That said, floor sanding is a surprisingly easy DIY project.
  3. Be sure to contain dust with plastic sheeting taped to doors, windows, and other avenues where dust might escape.