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Accidents Happen

Posted: Nov. 10, 2008

Savvy retailers stock their shelves with stain- and odor-control products—and know how to use them.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Pets are dirty business, and they give pet specialty stores that sell stain- and odor-control products an opportunity to clean up.

It’s not a pleasant topic, but one for which retailers should prepare, especially when customers come to them for advice on how to mop up a urine stain, sop up vomit or wipe out foul smells.

According to the American Pet Products Assn. in Greenwich, Conn., one-third of pet owners questioned in its 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey planned to purchase an odor neutralizer in a six-month period, and more than 25 percent complained that cleaning up after their pet is a drawback to pet ownership.

The segment has skyrocketed.

pet accident
Courtesy of Tom Kimball/BowTie Inc.
There are more products than ever before that relieve pet-related odor—which has always been an issue—as well as specific products to aid in the cleanup, from walking a dog to cleaning a cat’s litter box, according to the survey’s executive summary.

Manufacturers have concocted mixes of enzymes and bacteria to target specific stains. They’ve developed hydrogen peroxide-based cleaners to quickly clean surface spots and formulated products safe for the environment. They’ve even discovered alternative formulas, such as absorbent crystals and ionized, alkaline water, to battle problems. (See “Beyond Bacteria,” at left.)

Sandie Wheeler, owner of Pets Gone Healthy in Marlborough, Mass., tends to stick with all-natural products in her store. She says of the many stain- and odor-control products, some work better than others.

“They all have their niche about what they claim, so I scrutinize what I bring in,” she says.

Though some products in the segment push technology boundaries, the majority of pet cleanup formulas utilize bacteria- or enzyme-based ingredients. Here’s what retailers—and their customers—need to know.

Hungry Bacteria

Beyond Bacteria
Enzyme- and bacteria-based stain and odor removers aren’t the only products pet owners can use. If space allows them on your shelves, consider these other cleaners, too:

  • Oxy-based cleaners: Oxy cleaners, made with stabilized hydrogen, break down the bond between the organic matter and the surface. They work well on surface stains, but they don’t eliminate the matter like an enzyme will. Jackie Resillez, brand manager of stain, odor and training aids for United Pet Group’s companion animal division in Islandia, N.Y., recommends using them on nonorganic stains, such as candle wax or nail polish.
  • Orange oil-based cleaners: Orange oil products contain limonene, a natural solvent that breaks down urine molecules and destroys them, says Bill Tufts, owner of Orange TKO Industries in Las Vegas, adding that the products also act as repellents so the pet doesn’t return to remark the spot.    
  • Zeolite: A clay mineral used to trap, absorb and eliminate odors, zeolite crystals can be used on wet or dry odor problems, says Barry Reifman, president and chief executive officer of OdorZOut in Phoenix.
  • Alkaline, ionized water: Claiming to have the same pH as bleach, ionized, alkaline water penetrates deeper into stains and dissolves them more readily, says John D’Ornellas, vice president of sales and marketing for pH 12.6 in Downey, Calif.
Most stain and odor cleanup products marketed for pets use technology centered on beneficial bacteria, enzymes or a combination of both to fight accidents.

Essentially, the bacteria in these products produce certain types of enzymes, or protein molecules, that break down biodegradable matter into a food source for the bacteria, says Mike Robert, West Coast regional manager for Natural Chemistry Inc. in Monrovia, Calif.

“Enzymes are complex protein molecules that promote the rapid progress of nearly every chemical reaction essential to life,” he says. “In nature, enzymes decompose organic material by breaking it down to its original components, such as carbon dioxide and water.”

Many types of enzymes exist, but for pet cleanup products, manufacturers focus on bacteria that produce enzymes that tackle specific types of biodegradable matter. Some enzymes prefer urine. Some like lipids. Others work with plant-based stains.

“They’re all proprietary blends,” says John Latta, president of Paramount Chemical Specialties Inc. in Redmond, Wash. “There are different enzymes that work better on urine, and some enzymes work better on food-borne stains. Bacteria produce enzymes that are designed to break down anything biodegradable, and that’s what Mother Nature uses to break down everything.”

Enzyme Education
In general, companies include two key enzymes in their products, says Jackie Resillez, brand manager of stain, odor and training aids for United Pet Group’s companion animal division in Islandia, N.Y.

“You’ll find proteases and amylases are two of the leading enzymes being infused into the formulas, or bacteria that produce these two,” she says. “Proteases break down the proteins and amylases enzymes break down starches. They both will work on the vomit, urine, feces and blood.”

Depending on the manufacturer’s blend, certain formulas also contain lipases, which break down fats; cellulases, which break down plant matter; and urases, which break down urea, Resillez says. They also contain surfactants, which are soaps used to lift off surface stains; solvents, such as ethanol or alcohol, which hold the mixture in suspension; and fragrance.

The keys to success with these products, says Shelley Gunton, president of Castor and Pollux in Clackamas, Ore., are to not mix the product with another cleaner, and to completely saturate the stain—all the way down through the carpet or deep into the upholstery—and keep it moist for 12 to 24 hours by using a damp cloth or plastic bag.

“You should allow the stain remover to sit on the carpet or the stain and remain damp,” she says. “Enzymes stay active by being in a damp environment. As soon as it dries out, you lose the effectiveness of the stain remover. By keeping it damp, you’re allowing more time for those enzymes to work through the fiber of your carpet.”

Patience is crucial, too.

“You have to be a little patient if you have a serious stain problem,” Gunton says. “Chances are it’s not going to disappear with the first application of almost any product. It may take several applications and a little patience to really remove that stain effectively.”

Not Many Pet Vacs Here
Pet owners have become a target of vacuum cleaner manufacturers. Specially designed to suck up pet hair from carpet, floors and upholstery, these super-powered vacuums help dog and cat owners battle the never-ending fight against flying fur.

Surprisingly, not many pet specialty retailers are stocking them in their stores. Citing lack of floor space and little demand from consumers, they’re leaving sales to the Home Depots and Sears of the marketplace.

“My store is so small that when I expand, I’d like to include them, but not now,” says Sandie Wheeler, owner of Pets Gone Healthy in Marlborough, Mass. “But I’m thinking about it for the future.”

Resillez recommends getting dirty when training employees about cleaning products.

“Test the different formulas,” she says. “Definitely sample the products and see what they’re like because the best thing is having the first-hand knowledge of how it works. It makes a huge difference.”

Gunton reminds retailers to read products’ labels.

“All stain removers are not created equally and certainly do not operate the same way,” she says. “The last thing you want to do when a customer has a problem at home is make their problem worse.”

Michael Levy, owner of Pet Food Express, a retail chain based in San Leandro, Calif., trains his staff to do more than sell a cleaning product. He encourages them to find out why the pet caused the stain in the first place.

“We want to drill down and find out exactly what the problem is, and can we help by going further into it,” he says. “Is it just a standard cleaning up? Is there a housebreaking problem? Is there an incontinence problem? Why do they need that? Quite often, you discover details and you can make other suggestions.” <HOME>

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