It seems the world has gone Oxi-crazy since the OxiClean infomercials of the early 2000’s. We use hydrogen peroxide in the cleaning & restoration industry to brighten, sanitize and eliminate stains, but just how effective are oxidizers at eliminating pet urine odors? While oxidizers eliminate urine odors instantly, they are actually counter-productive as they interrupt the nitrogen cycle which continues soon after the oxidation is over.
Oxidizers remove the appearance of organic stains while having antimicrobial effects. While oxidizers quickly eliminate urine odors, many professional cleaners may not fully understand what is occurring and why they are providing a short-term solution to a long-term problem. One of the greatest misconceptions in our industry is that oxidizers eliminate pet urine odors permanently, but the nitrogen cycle teaches us otherwise.
Understanding the Nitrogen Cycle
Our ecosystem has an interesting way of renewing life-giving nutrients and nitrogen is one of the most abundant. All forms of life require nitrogen as it is one of the building blocks of our existence. Nitrogen helps create amino acids that ultimately result in DNA, critical for life and reproduction. The nitrogen cycle involves how nitrogen converts from solid, liquid and gaseous forms as it cycles through our environment. Lightening, rain, decaying waste and microbes all play an important role in the Nitrogen Cycle and pet urine within carpet is no exception.
When it comes to applying oxidizers to pet urine contamination, the result is instant. The odor disappears immediately but with the wrong intentions. Pet urine contains many sources of nitrogen including creatinine, urea and uric acid (uric salt). Special ammonyfying bacteria populate the nitrogen-rich waste to break down the nitrogen into its gaseous form of ammonia. This stage within the nitrogen cycle is known as ammonification. The resulting ammonia gas is lighter than air and becomes an unpleasant nuisance within a home as it wafts through the air.
Winning the Battle, but Losing the War
Oxidizers eliminate bacteria on-contact, particularly the ammonifying bacteria that were there converting the nitrogen to ammonia. While the urine odor may be gone, eliminating the bacteria is winning the battle, but losing the war. Because oxidizers, and other non-bacterial cleaners, cannot remove nitrogen, the area will eventually repopulate with ammonifying bacteria until the nitrogen is successfully converted to ammonia – no exceptions. Oddly enough the ammonifying bacteria were there helping to rid the area of nitrogen, just not fast enough for the customer’s sense of smell!
Another concern with using oxidizers is that they do not effectively remove the uric salt. Uric salt, a waste product of pet urine, is a desiccant that absorbs moisture while providing live-giving water for bacterial growth. Once the hydrogen peroxide loses an oxygen it turns into water. The sodium and nitrogen content of uric salt along with atmospheric moisture creates the perfect environment for the ammonyfing bacteria to return. This kick-starts the nitrogen cycle and the production of ammonia soon follows.
Permanent Pet Urine Odor Removal
Is complete urine odor removal achievable? The only way to remove urine odor permanently is to replace the carpet, pad and either seal or replace the sub-floor beneath. This however is usually unnecessary as there are products such as Ur-OUT that can eliminate significant amounts of urine odor by using the nitrogen cycle to its advantage.
Next to fully replacing the floor, the only effective way to eliminate the nitrogen is to speed up the ammonification process by adding more bacteria, not taking them away from oxidizers! Ur-OUT creates enzymes on-contact to fully digest the available nitrogen. This allows the nitrogen to quickly pass to its gaseous form of ammonia, which delivers a more permanent solution next to full replacement.
How Oxidizing Urine Odors Changed Both Cleaners’ and Customer’s Expectations
Notice I mentioned previously that enzymes offer a more permanent solution. Next to completely replacing the floor, no cleaning solution can offer complete pet urine odor removal. While it is possible that it may occur, it is likely a low possibility. Pet urine can seep deep into fibers, wood and concrete sub-floors where one or two service visits just cannot reach all the contaminated areas.
Because oxidizers work so fast at eliminating urine odor, the industry as a whole has grown more confident in offering urine odor removal services. However, as long as the nitrogen remains, the nitrogen cycle will continue and the ammonia smell will return. Even if we as professional cleaners offer a quality, spore-form bacterial digestant while applying it perfectly, we should still approach pet urine with far more humility. We should not only be focusing on mitigating the odor significantly, but educationg our customers on why full odor removal is likely impossible in the long run. While complete urine odor may occur, pet urine that has permeated hardwood or concrete sub-flooring is far more troublesome than most may realize in the long run.
No New Floor, No Odor Guarantee
Informing our customers that the only way to achieve complete urine odor removal is to replace the carpet, pad and sub-floor beneath. This is the key to delivering realistic expectations and ensuring we are not fully liable if remaining odors. While some customers may consider replacing the floor, it is best to inform them that treating the odor first justifies the cost even if it is a failure. I estimate treating pet urine is only 5% of the replacement cost of new carpet and pad, so odor treatment is well worth the attempt, and that excludes replacing and/or sealing the sub-floor!
When a customer understands that replacing the floor is the only way to eliminate the urine odor, it recasts our role as professional mitigator and not odor eliminator. By no means are we attempting to flee liability, but there are handful of solid reasons to never guarantee complete urine odor removal. I have experienced countless conversations where I had to remind customers of our disclaimer that complete floor replacement is the only way to meet their expectations if they want a 100% urine odor removal guarantee.
Good, Cheap, Fast – Pick Two
I have heard many professional cleaners say that they do not have time for enzymes to work, and that they have oxidized urine jobs for years without any call-backs. This repeated phrase is a near battle cry within industry forums likely because oxidizers deliver such instant results. However, after the oxidizing effect dissipates the nitrogen cycle will continue, and with it more odors and the possibility of negative press.
It is important to realize that our customers are the opposite of us cleaners. We are typically the DIY type; they are not. When the odor return, many will call on your competitors without your knowing. I know this first-hand as it is exactly how I started my carpet cleaning business years ago. Most of our customers are loyal to results and value only. They have to be as they are not the DIY type. Unfortunately gauging results by lack of call-backs is not a successful strategy to measure results or success. Calling those customers a month or two after the service is. Do I have any takers?
Using oxidizers, or any other non-bacterial deodorant, to remediate urine odors is a Cheap, Fast service as the title suggests. Cheap, Fast yields low customer retention and the potential of gaining a bad reputation. It is crucial for professional cleaners to educate the customer on the nitrogen cycle and how complete urine odor removal may not occur. Explaining the nitrogen cycle sets realistic expectations, gains brand trust and gives you more credibility as an expert even if an odor remains!
Customers must realize that if they do not want to spend thousands of dollars for new carpet, pad and sub-floor, the next best thing is a quality spore-form enzymatic cleaner applied correctly to the carpet and pad. And it may even require more than one, two or even three visits! This is not your fault. The fault is with the person who decided to allow the pets in the home, the home buyer who failed to get a Urine Mapping Test prior to purchasing, or the landlord who allowed pets with every single tenant.
Rethinking Our Role When Treating Urine Odors
Pet urine is so pervasive that it may require additional applications on separate appointments. As mentioned, this is not the professional cleaners fault, as urine can seep deep into textiles, hardwood floors and concrete. And who knows how many times a pet has piddled in one location. It does become the cleaners fault if he or she does not educate the customer on the uric salt cycle and/or the nitrogen cycle.
Many cleaning professionals feel pressured to deliver what the customer wants – no urine odors. While this is achievable using oxidizers, it is only a short term fix with possibility of tarnishing your brand in the long run. Applying a quality spore-form product, such as Ur-OUT, delivers long-term results.
Becoming the expert by educating the customer of the uric salt cycle and/or the nitrogen cycle is a way to successfully grow the odor remediation arm of your carpet cleaning business and your reputation. Oddly enough, taking on the role of reducing the urine odors instead of guaranteeing full removal delivers a better customer experience.