Pet blue over back-to-school? A guide to natural stain and odor removers

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By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

Getting back to the back-to-school routine may be a pain for parents and students, but the family members most upset with the change may be the dog and cat.

All that attention and time and playing and going outside whenever he or she liked is yanked away and your pet may be lonely and stressed by the change.

Their solution? Pee on the carpet or poop on the fancy rug. The unspoken message: That’ll show you not to leave me alone.

Now you’re searching for a stain- and odor-removing cleaner with safe, natural ingredients that pose no chemical threat to pets or people. Whether in the store or online, you’ll find many cleaners labeled “natural” or “eco-friendly” or “green.” But don’t always believe what you read.

Manufacturers don’t have to list all ingredients on the labels of their products, so “natural” may not mean much. The ingredients don’t have to be listed in order of content. If the ingredient list is thin, or uses broad terms such as “non-toxic” or “biodegradable,” think twice. It might really be biodegradable, or non-toxic, but maybe not.

Watch out for anything with a warning term – irritant, danger, caution – and also for “fragrance” on the label. Be aware, too, that Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) is a prominent ingredient in some best sellers. Ingesting, inhaling or skin contact with it can cause anything from irritation to nervous system damage.

Most of the green-labeled stain/odor removers tout some form of natural enzymes as the key green ingredient that breaks down bacteria in a smelly stain. Corn-based ethanol shows up on many of the most popular products’ labels and has its detractors. “Plant-based cleansers” may or may not be OK. “It does not make a difference to toxicity whether they are plant-derived surfactants or not,” said Dr. Fiona Fisher, a veterinarian for

Essential oils are more eco-friendly than synthetic fragrances, but can still be irritating (ever get citrus oil in your eye?).

Based on all this, and a careful reading of labels, here are our picks for the most eco-friendly pet stain cleaners:

Biokleen Bac-Out Stain and Odor Eliminator is on numerous “natural” product websites. They tout their live enzyme cultures and lime peel extract cleaning power. The company says Bac-Out contains NO artificial fragrance, colors, preservatives, phosphate, chlorine, ammonia, petroleum solvents, alcohol, glycol Ehter, SLS and more The company received a Best of Green award from Treehugger this year.

The Halo pet-product line is co-owned by celebrity Ellen DeGeneres.

Halo HolistiClean Super Stain and Odor Remover lists its ingredients: water, natural enzymes, natural oil fragrance “that will break down complex organic compounds until only water and carbon dioxide remain.” The Halo pet product line is co-owned by celebrity Ellen DeGeneres, and received the EPA’s “Designed for the Environment” label, according to their website.

PureAyre has a lengthy explanation of why their food-grade enzymes are superior to competitors’ enzyme-based ingredients. Its ingredients list: Distilled water, food grade NZ enzyme technology, natural mind, food grad preservative (potassium sorbate).

Flying Basset Organic Stain and Odor Eliminator: The makers tout Fly Basset’s plant-based enzymes, that it’s biodegradable and non-toxic. Its ingredients list: water, isopropyl alcohol, natural enzymes, cinnamon oil, lemongrass oil.

Only Natural Pet Stain & Odor Solution lists its attributes (hypoallergenic, no parabens or preservatives, no sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate, no phosphates or enzymes) and its ingredients include purified water, non-pathogenic bacteria cultures, coconut-derived surfactant, essential oils and organic aloe vera.

Still looking? Many popular brands of pet stain/odor removers have environmentally admirable ingredients, but they sacrifice some of their purity by including ingredients like alcohol.

These include:

Nature’s Miracle, a top seller among pet-stain removers, comes in all sizes and an array of products, and the ingredients listed are simple and few: water, “nature’s enzymes,” isopropyl alcohol, natural citrus scent. The product’s label says it is non-toxic, non-caustic and non-acid, but the inclusion of rubbing alcohol tells us you’d still want to handle it with care.

Simple Solutions is another big-seller. Its ingredients list: purified water, non-pathogenic bacteria, denatured ethanol (which is denatured alcohol), mild detergent and fragrance.

Simple Green is also popular, but not so simple. Its ingredients: purified water, sodium lauryl sulfate (a surfactant), astyrene/acrylic copolymer, fragrance, sodium saccharin, mixed non-pathogenic bacillus.

Earth Friendly is popular on the big-box pet store shelves. Its listed ingredients: water, enzymes, alcohol “derived from corn,” biodegradable surfactant “derived from coconut” and lemon oil.

Or you can opt for the old-school approach: Put a dab of liquid detergent in water to remove the stain, mix 1/3 cup white vinegar with 2/3 cup water, pour that onto the offending spot and then use towels (you can use paper towels but that’s not very Earth-friendly) to soak up as much of the liquid as possible.

Be pro-active and ease your pet into the back-to-school routine to reduce their stress, Dr. Fisher suggests. Your cat might feel better if you confine it to a small space for a while, like an office or utility room, to give it more confidence about its environment.

For the dog: “Help him to feel more confident and independent . . . by ignoring his attention-seeking behaviors (head butting to be stroked) and praising him when he is playing on his own,” she said. Don’t make a big deal about leaving and provide some new chew toys.

If there’s still time, get your pets used to spending longer periods of time alone before school starts.

“Pheromones such as the D.A.P. diffuser,” can decrease stress in dogs or cats, Fisher added. Some natural pet websites offer calming herbs, flower essences, homeopathic ingredients and vitamins, as well.

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