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Our top picks for products and practices that keep your house clean and tidy when you have a pet

Nicole Clausing  – March 12, 2019 | Updated April 22, 2019

“Dogs have owners; cats have staff,” goes the saying. But the reality is that it can seem like a full-time job staying on top of housekeeping when you are the guardian of either. Just for starters, there’s all that pet hair to be removed. There’s mud, litter, and hairballs, not to mention the damage claws both feline and canine can inflict on floors and furniture. And we haven’t even touched on the unpleasant reality that your little fur baby may not always smell as sweet as it looks. But not to worry; there are steps you can take to keep your home looking good, smelling good, and generally fit for human habitation. Read on for some of our favorite products and strategies for keeping a clean home with pets.

Removing Pet Hair

Most pet owners find that the hardest cosmetic issue to keep on top of is hair removal. Even if you manage to color-coordinate your furniture, clothing, and pet menagerie, there’s always going to be that guest who wears white pants to visit you and Inky and Shadow. The easiest pet hair remover? A lint roller. Keep one handy so that when your guests are ready to leave, they can swipe away fur they picked up from your couch. For a more effective pet hair remover, splurge on a Dyson pet vacuum, which picks up an impressive amount of hair and dander.

Courtesy of Dyson

Speaking of dander, think of your allergic guests when tidying up. Being subjected to possible hives, sneezing, and asthma can make the idea of visiting your house unappealing, no matter how cute your pets may be. Prevent guest meltdowns by deep cleaning, remembering that it’s not just the fur you can see that causes problems, but nearly invisible dander and saliva, too. Vacuum the rugs and couches before guests arrive.

The other problem with loose hair, at least for your cat, is hairballs. Minimize this frankly revolting occurrence by brushing your cat regularly, even if it’s short-haired. Removing loose hairs from the coat is good for your cat (who won’t swallow that fur while self-grooming) and good for the look of your furniture, too. Our favorite cat comb is the Furminator. Most cats seem to like it—if yours likes being caressed, it will probably put up with Furminating—and we have yet to find a model that collects fur as efficiently.

Litter Box Remedies & Floor-Saving Strategies

Another cat-specific issue: kitty litter everywhere. Cats can’t help kicking litter out of the box or tracking grains around the house. Consider putting a small rubber mat in front of the box to trap scatter.

Both cats and dogs can also make a mess of their food and water. One way to keep a literal lid on it is by storing dry food in a container. We like this one because it’s hard for even a hungry animal to get the top off. OXO products work well for smaller amounts of food. Other tricks include putting food and water bowls on a plastic mat with a raised edge, which tends to keep messes from soiling the whole room, and using heavy ceramic pet bowls, which can deter animals with the infuriating compulsion to overturn their own dishes.

Courtesy of Dexas

Most dog owners have had the frustrating experience of their pets leaving muddy footprints all over the house. This problem can be minimized with a little foresight. First, consider a pair of boots for your dog. Though mostly designed to protect your pet’s feet from rocks or hot pavement, they work wonders on rainy days, too. Second, consider keeping a stack of old towels near the door that can be used to wipe down your wet pet before he or she gets too far into the house. Our current favorite mud solution is this paw-washing gizmo. Complete with a tiny agitator, it’s like a portable car wash for dirty feet and works like a charm on pets that will stand for it. For dirt situations that have gotten out of hand (paw?), we like using a Rug Doctor, which lifts a near-miraculous layer of grime off carpets and upholstery.

Another cosmetic issue pet owners struggle with is scratch marks. Both cat and dog owners can head off trouble by keeping claws well trimmed (a quintessential pet grooming task). This can be a DIY project if you invest in a decent pair of nail clippers. Nail trimmers meant for people will work on small pets, but think about a pet-specific pair which will trim your pet’s claw more cleanly and safely. To minimize cat damage, scratching posts are an obvious solution. Encourage them to use them and not your furniture by putting double-sided tape on pieces that they like to scratch. It’s true that tape doesn’t look good either, but you shouldn’t have to leave it there long before the cat loses interest in that spot.

Fighting Odor

Looking good is only half the housekeeping battle, of course. It’s also important to keep odors under control. An obvious place to start is with your stinky pet itself. While cats normally keep themselves clean, your dog will almost certainly need a shampoo now and then. It’s important to keep the things pets lie on clean, too. Pick an easily washed pet bed or crate, for starters. If your pet sleeps on your bed, try to put a blanket or towel down at their favorite spot—you’ll find that easier to wash than your own quilt or duvet. Consider washing pet items separately from your own laundry and adding a little eucalyptus oil to the load—it’s a natural supplemental odor-fighting tool and fleas seem to dislike the smell, as well.

Courtesy of Orivs

Couches get stinky, too. If you’re in the market for a new one, think about one finished in leather, which tends to absorb odor less, or an easily spot-cleaned microfiber. Slipcovers are a good option, too. We particularly love the furniture protectors from Orvis, which easily slip off the couch and into the laundry hamper. And if all else fails, there’s always Febreze, which we find really does help neutralize odors.

Successful Waste Management

Cats may not need bathing, but their litter boxes need deodorizing. A good rule of thumb is that the number of boxes in the house should equal the number of cats you have, plus one. Scoop each one out daily. Don’t just keep adding more litter—that’s cheating and your cat and your nose will both tell you so. If the box itself still smells, it may be time to dump out all the litter and start over. A layer of micro crystals can help, too. In fact, some cat guardians use this product in place of conventional litter, but not all kitties like the way it feels under their paws, so start with just a few scoops on top of their usual litter and see how that goes.

Once you’ve scooped out the box, there’s always the indelicate question of what to do with gifts your cat left behind. Leaving it in a garbage can is smelly; composting isn’t the safest option (composting doesn’t produce enough heat to reliably kill bacteria and parasites), and even litter marketed as flushable is hard on older plumbing and incompatible with septic systems. So where do you put it? A great tool is the Litter Genie, which seals up litter clumps, along with their stink, in a plastic bag that only has to be changed about once a week. If you’re uncomfortable with plastic, adapters are available that will let you use any kind of bag.

Dealing with the litter box is one thing; accidents are another. Even if your pet is well housebroken, keeping pee pads around, if only at night, is a good pre-emptive step toward keeping the house smelling good. And if Spot does leave a spot on the rug or couch, Nature’s Miracle is one of our favorite cleaning products. Simple Green and Biokleen Bac-Out are others that strike a good balance between being tough on stains and good for the earth. And if you need to go nuclear on a mess, good old Clorox does the job and sterilizes as well.

Real Talk about Toys

Pet toys are likely so ubiquitous in your home that you’ve probably stopped seeing them but—there’s no kind way to say this—they can get gross, managing to be both an eyesore and a low-grade biohazard at the same time.

At the very least, corral those mangled chew-toys and beheaded catnip mice in a toy box. Your kids probably have one, and your fur babies should, too. Your friends and family would probably also appreciate it if you gave your toys a cleaning once in a while. Most rubber and plastic toys are dishwasher safe, and many soft toys can go in the laundry. It doesn’t hurt to purchase toys with washability in mind, or at least durability. Hard rubber and Nylabone products stand up well to chewers, sustaining fewer unsettling tooth marks and absorbing less disgusting slobber—always a good thing, because with toys, as with your pets, and in fact your housekeeping generally, neatness counts.