No need to start tearing out your carpet because you have a pet. You can keep carpeting looking and smelling great without causing harm to your furry friend. Here, experts offer tips on how to safely handle animal-related messes and stains.

Act fast when your pets makes a mess. One of the tricks to keeping your carpet clean is to address soiling right away, says Dr. Krista Magnifico, DVM, who has 10 years of veterinary experience along with three dogs, three cats and a pot-bellied pig. If you have a pet who’s marking a certain area, “the longer it takes for the area to be cleaned completely, the harder it will be to break the unwanted behavior.”

If your pet has an accident, wipe as much liquid as possible first, advises Jolie Kerr, author of the cleaning techniques book “My Boyfriend Barfed in my Handbag … and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha.” When it’s as dry as possible, apply one of these safe cleaning products:

  • Baking soda. Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, says most of the products sold to stop pee smells are actually baking soda with an added scent. “I would prefer that people use only baking soda. Pets’ noses are so much more sensitive than ours.” Baking soda doesn’t taste good to pets, she says, so the chances your pet will eat are lower. Kerr recommends sprinkling baking soda over the area, letting it sit for an hour and then vacuuming the area.
  • Third-Party certified products. Look for a trusted third-party certification on the product label. Some examples include GREENGUARD (the product is certified to be low-emitting), ECOLOGO® (the product is certified to have met a range of stringent environmental and health criteria), or the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Design for the Environment (DfE) logo on the product label. Each of these labels mean that the product has been extensively screened and tested. If the label is there, “You can be confident that each ingredient has been screened for potential adverse human or environmental health effects and that the product contains ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class,” says EPA press officer Jennifer Colaizzi.
  • Enzymatic products. If you are dealing with an area where a pet peed, pooped or vomited, Magnifico suggests enzymatic products, which you can find at pet supply stores. These carry enzymes that digest organic matter, leaving nothing behind. “Enzymatic products are generally safe, but don’t forget to check the label” for the DfE logo before using it, reminds Magnifico. 
  • Water-only options. There’s nothing like killing germs with steaming water, and you don’t have to worry about product labels. A shop vac doesn’t leave residue, reduces allergens and is an “inexpensive machine that cleans pretty well,” says Vogelsang, who believes agitation and suction can go a long way when cleaning carpet. But it’s important to suck all of the moisture out of the rug so you don’t end up with mold.

Stay away from these products, as they leave residues behind that can harm pets. “Cats and dogs will ingest pretty much anything that’s on their fur,” says Vogelsang.

  • Strongly scented cleaning products. “Our pets’ noses are much stronger than ours,” Magnifico says.
  • Products with ammonia or bleach. Bleach is dangerous to pets. “Bleach can be pretty caustic and the smell can linger,” says Vogelsang. Ammonia may tempt your pet to mark the area.
  • White vinegar. Even though it has great antibacterial properties, Magnifico recommends staying away from it. As with ammonia-based products, some pets might confuse its pungent smell with pee and mark the newly cleaned area.
  • Essential oils. “Some essential oils have toxic properties, especially when used in concentrations and ways not found in nature,” adds Colaizzi. “[Essential oils] are tenacious and stick to fur,” adds Vogelsang. This means pets could consume them when they groom themselves.

To prevent carpets from getting dirty in the first place, try these tips.

Dry your pet’s paws. After a trip outside, dry your pet’s paws before going inside. Keep a towel near the door, suggests Kerr.

Add rugs and carpet runners. If you have wall-to-wall carpet, consider adding rugs right outside and inside doors to your home to trap as much dirt as possible before your pet reaches the carpet.

Consider having a pet-free zone. If you don’t mind letting Skippy sleep in the living room, consider making your carpeted bedrooms pet-free zones.

Move the litter box. If you have a cat, it’s a good idea to put the litter box somewhere carpet-free, such as the kitchen or a bathroom. “It’s so much easier to clean any area that doesn’t have carpeting,” says Vogelsang,

Vacuum regularly. “People really underestimate the amount of dander a pet can produce. And if you have carpet you don’t necessarily see it,” says Vogelsang.

Companies offer a variety of vacuums specifically designed for pet owners, such as Dyson Animal, Miele Cat & Dog and Bissell PowerEdge Pet.

Daniela Caride is a freelance writer who has four cats and two dogs. She blogs about being a pet parent at Taildom.com and founded a nonprofit called Phinney's Friends.