Cleaning Cat Vomit off Carpets: Carpet Cleaning Tips

Clean up That Cat Hairball Without Leaving Carpet Stains

Cat lying on the carpet

We all love and care for our cats despite their annoying penchant for vomiting on a regular basis. As with most things in modern society, spew removal is not as simple as one might first suspect. The results of my personal research indicate that there are three broad categories of cat vomit and spew that you, as a cat owner, ultimately will have to contend with:

  • the traditional cat hairball
  • the near-instantaneous upchuck of kibble just eaten (this will be designated a "kibble ball")
  • the ever-disgusting, viscous mixture of partially digested food and digestive juices that comes up several hours after a hearty meal.

Each of these spew-types represents a different level of challenge in the attempt to destroy all evidence of the incident. We shall start with the easiest, the common hairball.

A cat hairball can be easily distinguished from other forms of spew. It is a compact, moist but not sloppy, torpedo-shaped object that closely mirrors the color of your cat's fur. Due to their benign composition, hairballs can be dealt with immediately (preferable) or at a later date (non-optimum) with little risk of damage to the defiled object (which for this article we will assume is your carpet).

Hairballs can be dealt with using a simple two-step process:

  1. Remove it gently from the scene of the accident.
    • Hairballs can be plucked, scooped or even rolled effectively from the rug using a variety of techniques and then disposed of. I prefer plastic spoons and knives that I get from fast food restaurants gratis. It is best to plan ahead and acquire these in anticipation of the need. The utensils can then be disposed of or recycled, in line with one's environmental beliefs. Stiff paper (higher quality junk mail) or cardboard (cereal box tops) are perfectly good alternatives. The primary goal in hairball removal is to not exert any downward force on the hairball, thereby driving any moist content further into the rug. Never attempt to run your vacuum over a hairball for this reason
  2. Perform a simple dabbing-type cleanup of the area with a clean damp cloth or sponge. Using only water is the best approach. Avoid foot traffic until dry.
    • Hairballs generally leave little trace on your rug once removed. A simple water clean up with a damp rag or sponge should suffice. Soap and water or a commercial rug cleaner can be used if necessary but these tend to attract dirt later on. Try to get away with just water if you can. I have used Resolve and Folex with good results when a stronger cleaner was needed. Read and follow the instructions on the bottles as these may lead to worse staining than the original cat spew.

Kibbleballs are somewhat more troublesome to deal with. The kibbleball results when a cat meal is ingested and then, in short order, "digested" into a pile on the floor. Depending upon your cat's peculiarities, there may well be multiple (though rarely more than three) piles to contend with.

Many of the removal techniques that work on a hairball work just as well on a kibble ball as the true kibble ball is only slightly moist and has good shape retention characteristics.

  1. The recommended approach for cleaning it up is to leave it in place until dry. It can then be removed using the scoop technique already described for hairball removal. Once the bulk of the solid material has been removed, the spot can be vacuumed to remove any remaining small particles.
  2. Following the removal of the dried matter, finish the cleaning process following the two-step process for hairballs (see above).

A few words of warning: cat food with high concentrations of food coloring may lead to carpet stains if the kibble ball is left to dry. Second, unless you live alone, there may be pressure from your co-habitants to remove the kibble ball before it has completely dried. Avoid this at all costs as wet kibble ball removal will likely lead to smearing on the carpet. In the event of smearing, follow the procedure outlined below for the toughest of cat spew stains.

Most annoying for cat owners is what I will refer to as the spew "puddle". This consists of a two-phase (solid/liquid) viscous combination of partially digested food and digestive juices. For cats with access to the outdoors, this is often accompanied by grass or other plant matter ingested by your pet.

Due to its fluid nature, the puddle should be attacked as soon as discovered as there is an increased likelihood of carpet stains. The severity of any staining is dependent upon the type of carpet involved. Less expensive and older carpets (like mine) may have been dyed at the factory to achieve their final color. Thus the dye is on the surface of the rug fibers and is more likely to be affected by corrosive spew. Higher-end and newer carpets have the color impregnated into the rug fibers, thus providing more stain resistance.

The technique below is commonly used for cleaning anything that spills onto carpet - not just cat vomit - and it only takes a few minutes.  Get rid of carpet stains with these carpet cleaning tips I like to call the puddle process. The following puddle process has worked well for fifteen years on a cheap, light colored, Berber carpet:

  1. Immediately scrape or spoon up as much of the puddle (solid and liquid) as possible. Avoid surface scrubbing as this will only drive the spew deeper into the carpet. All solids should be removed.
  2. With a rag or slightly moist sponge, soak up as much of the remaining moisture as possible use a dabbing scrubbing allowed.
  3. Once most of the liquid has been removed, begin a repetitive process of dabbing water on the spot with a wet sponge/cloth and then dabbing with a dry cloth or sponge to remove the water. The drying cloth/sponge will become damp, so be prepared to wring it out periodically. The goal is to get the spot fairly wet (but not excessively soppy) to flush the area and then dab away most of the water. Repeat two or three times as necessary.
  4. At this point all traces of the incident may have disappeared and, following a final dab drying with a dry cloth, you are done. Avoid walking on the spot until it has air-dried.
  5. If a stain is still visible, it's time for a commercial cleaner. There are many choices, so simply follow the directions on the bottle. Try to stay with the dabbing process and only resort to scrubbing when a vigorous shampooing is the necessary last resort.
  6. Once done, check your cat to see if there are any signs of illness that require attention or if this was your routine healthy cat spew that we have all come to dread.


Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles: