When it comes to cat-friendly cleaning, it’s best to follow the directions when sanitizing your space so nobody gets hurt.

By Brendan Howard
August 24, 2020
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There's something wonderful about a newly clean kitchen, bathroom, or dining room floor. Everything shines, the world smells good, and any chemical smells are a signal to your nose that you got a deep clean. But for cats, the household cleaners you know and love—including Lysol—can carry risks if not used properly.

But that doesn’t you mean you have to forgo a squeaky-clean home or give up your favorite cleaning solution. It just means finding cat-safe household cleaners that can help reduce the risk of toxic reactions, poisonings, and other cleaner-related health problems in your cat.

Can Household Cleaners Like Lysol Hurt Cats?

Not if you follow the directions and keep cats away from surfaces that are wet with cleaners, says Ahna Brutlag, DVM, a veterinarian and board-certified veterinary toxicologist who works with the Pet Poison Helpline to answer questions about toxic substances.

"Most ready-to-use household cleaners are safe to use around cats," Brutlag says. "The biggest dangers are when cats get exposed to cleaners while they're still wet." 

As for specific brand names, such as Lysol or Clorox, it’s probably less important to worry about the name of a product and more important to read the label and follow the directions for cleaning.

If a label advises that you dilute the cleaner with water (e.g. Pine-Sol, Fabuloso, or good old fashioned bleach), follow the directions for the right proportion of water to cleaner. Allow the cleaner to fully dry before a cat re-enters a cleaned room or walks or lies on the surfaces, Brutlag advises.

Some vets have advised against using cleaners with phenols, which are contained in some formulations of Lysol, coal-tar cleaners, and other products like essential oils. Cats have difficulty metabolizing phenols in their kidneys if they're absorbed or ingested. But as long as cat owners are careful about following directions on the label, cleaning away from cats, and letting surfaces dry before cats return to a room, there shouldn’t be a need to worry.

Cationic surfactants, which are found in some cleaning agents and are used as antimicrobials in some disinfectant products, can also pose a problem to your cat if eaten. "They're common in liquid hand soaps, sanitizers and some household cleaners," Brutlag says. "If cats ingest them while they're wet, they can get quite sick."

Picking a Cat-Safe Household Cleaner

Cleaners you use around the home can contain a variety of acidic, irritating or toxic chemicals, according to Lisa Wismer, DVM, MS, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian and senior director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

But even caustic or bad-smelling household cleaners, like bleach, can be safe to use as a sanitizer on surfaces as long as cats aren't around at the time.

"Cleaning your pet’s cage or toys with a properly diluted bleach solution, followed by a thorough rinsing and airing out, isn't expected to cause harm," Wismer says.

Follow the labels on your cleaning product, she says, and keep pets out of a room as you clean.

How to Protect Cats From Household Cleaners

Keep cats safe from potentially harmful cleaning agents with these helpful tips.

  1. Keep containers out of cats' reach. While a cat won't usually open a household cleaner or package of dishwasher soap tablets, open containers and spills are always possible. Keep these things put away.
  2. Don't spray or splash household cleaners around cats. Cats can be exposed to harmful chemicals from household cleaners from chemicals on their fur (if they groom themselves), on their skin, in their mouth, or in their nose. Avoid the risk by using sprays away from cats. 
  3. Follow the directions. Dilute products according to the label, so they're safer for pets and people in the home. Don't be tempted to overdo it. Research has shown that well-meaning folks sometimes employ a “more is better” approach, thinking the more cleaning agents they use, the cleaner it gets. But some household cleaners can become concentrated with improper use and rinsing, meaning the extra spraying, washing, wiping, and mopping can actually present a danger to both humans and animals.  
  4. Get help if your cat eats or drinks household cleaner. Check the product against the database maintained by Pet Poison Helpline or ASPCA Animal Poison Control. Brutlag says cats can show a range of signs, from drooling, difficulty breathing, or vomiting all the way to painful chemical burns in the mouth, esophagus and stomach. Call your veterinarian if your cat is showing signs of poisoning or has been exposed to a potentially toxic cleaner.

Remember: There's no real problem with household cleaners as long as cat owners are careful about following directions on the label. Try to keep cats in another room as you clean, and let surfaces dry before your feline friend returns to a room. She’ll be safe from the negative effects of walking on wet chemicals, and you’ll be satisfied with a freshly cleaned space.