"People are really, really sensitive about pets," says Don Aslett, owner of a cleaning businesses and author of "Pet Clean-up Made Easy." "One of the biggest reasons people will or won't buy a house is odor, believe it or not," says Aslett, who also operates the Museum of Clean in Pocatello, Idaho.
So how do you scrub all evidence of your pets from your home before you sell it, especially if you've lived there with them for a decade or more?
Step away from that can of Lysol. We've got some expert tips that really work.
Make your pet scarce
If at all possible, keep your animals out of the house whenever you're showing your home, the National Association of Realtors advises. There's nothing more off-putting for a homebuyer than opening the door to an aggressive or hyperactive dog. If the pet must be at home, put it away, and make sure the real-estate agent knows exactly where it is. Remember: Few buyers think your dog or cat is as charming as you do.
Go on a hair hunt
"The first thing that you want to get rid of is evidence of hair," says Julia Szabo, author of "Pretty Pet-Friendly: Easy Ways to Keep Spot's Digs Stylish & Spotless."
"You've got to get a really good machine to pick up stuff," Szabo says. She recommends Dyson's Animal or Bissell's Pet Hair Eraser. (Bissell also makes the Spot Bot Pet, a portable deep-cleaning machine that can remove pet stains from carpet and upholstery while the owner walks away.)
If you're going to "stage" your home using your own furniture, vacuuming alone doesn't always cut it. Szabo recommends checking out Sticky Sheets — big, adhesive sheets, like lint rollers, that pick up everything on sofas and chairs. "It's almost like you're Brazilian waxing the cracks in the furniture."
And don't forget to vacuum and launder your drapes. They can hold plenty of hair and smells.
Find trouble spots on the floor
Your floors are going to pose the biggest challenge to de-petting your home.
How do you know that you're locating all the trouble spots you need to address? Here's an advanced move: Buy a battery-powered ultraviolet (aka "black") light like the Stink-Free Stink Finder (about $18) or Bramton's Simple Solution Spot Spotter (about $12), Aslett says. Used in complete darkness, these lights will show everywhere that your pet has peed, sprayed or vomited. Mark the spots with masking tape so you can focus on them.
Of course, follow all directions, and test cleaners on a small, less-seen area first to test for colorfastness.
Tackle the carpeting
"If you have carpeting, such as wall-to-wall carpeting, that traps a lot of odor and a lot of hair," Szabo says. The padding beneath the carpet can often grab and hold odor and stains, too. Urine can even seep into the plywood or presswood subfloor and into places like the carpet tack strip (usually raw wood), cleaning guru Aslett says.
The bad news? For serious pet stains, even professional carpet cleaning won't do the trick. In fact, adding water (think carpet shampooing, or even a humid or rainy day) can simply "reactivate" the smells. Not what you want at an open house!
The good news? You can try to extract it all.
Aslett highly recommends applying a cleaning product that is a "bacteria/enzyme digester." These products literally enter the carpet or other problem area and break down the stains and smells. Don't expect instant gratification; often you have to apply them and leave them to dry for a day or two. Aslett suggests Simple Solution Stain and Odor Remover by Bramton or Urine Erase.
When the "stain" part of the pet stain is worse than any odor, bubbling oxygen cleaners are a particularly good choice, Aslett says. These use hydrogen peroxide to break down stains and odors. One product that our experts really love — Szabo has used it successfully both on hard and carpeted surfaces — is Get Serious! It not only removes the odor and stain, but also pulls out the pheromone that encourages pets to visit the spot again, she says.
Clean up your hardwoods
Some seemingly hard surfaces will absorb urine — flat- or matte-finish latex paint, unfinished wood, unsealed concrete and vinyl tile between the cracks. In these cases, where urine has been absorbed and can linger, use a chemical deodorizer and cleaner first, Aslett says. If the odor problem is quite serious, seal, varnish or repaint the surface afterward to help lock in any odors.
Another hardwood floors tip: Many animals don't love the smell of citrus, Szabo says, and they will avoid it. To clean her hardwood floors and the wooden legs of furniture nicely while also keeping her pets off of them, Szabo scrubs them with citrus after she's juiced lemons and oranges for drinks. She then wipes with a damp sponge to pick up any residue. "No amount of Murphy's Oil Soap got my floors as sparkling," she says. "It's labor intensive, I'm not going to lie. But even if you do just around the edges" — for instance, by a wall you've just painted — it should help "corral" your animals, she says.
Touch up the walls
If you've been in your house for a while, pay close attention to your walls: Animals sometimes like to spray them or rub up against them. The oils in their coats can discolor them over time and leave lasting odors. If the problem is subtle, trying wiping it clean. Aslett recommends a water-soluble deodorant such as Nilodor Surface Deodorizer.
If stains are stubborn, wash and then repaint with a non-VOC paint (one that doesn't off-gas), Szabo suggests. But if you've lived in the house for a long time, you might have to tear out and replace some drywall to get rid of the entrenched animal scent.
By Christopher Solomon of MSN Real Estate