Tips for Washing Cat Bedding

Updated December 31, 2019
Cat sitting in its cat bed

Washing your cat's bedding is a necessary part of feline ownership, especially if you have a heavy shedding cat, a hairless breed with oily skin residue or a cat with health problems. Knowing how to clean their bedding properly is important for your cat's health as many products on the market are toxic to pets.

Cleaning Cat Bedding

When getting ready to clean a cat's bed or bedding materials for the first time, start out by checking the manufacturer's label for care instructions. Some items may be machine washable while others will require cleaning by hand. Note that if you have any blankets or sheets that your cat likes to lie on, you can follow the same steps below.

Removing Cat Hair

One of the best ways to keep excessive accumulations of cat hair off of a cat's bedding is regular brushing and grooming. No matter how often you groom though, expect that at least some amount of hair will still be stuck to their beds.

  1. Before throwing a bed into the washer or hand washing it, remove as much of the hair as you can before the fabric gets wet. Hair can clog your drain pipes in your washer as well as the dryer vents so reducing the amount in the machines helps keep them in working order.
  2. Give the bed or bedding a good shake, preferably outside where you won't mind the hair falling out onto the ground. You can also hang it on a clothes dryer or over a railing and hit it gently with a broom handle or large spoon to loosen the hair's hold on to the fabric.
  3. You can use a sticky lint remover, pieces of masking, duct or packing tape, a pet grooming mitt or a roller made specifically for removing pet hair.
  4. A pricier option is a handheld vacuum with an attachment designed for pet hair which can make life much easier if you have multiple shedding pets. You can also use a regular size vacuum with a brush or crevice tool attachment.
  5. Pet care expert Morgan Weber from Lucky Pup Adventures says, "You can also put the bedding in the dryer for about 10 to 15 minutes with a low or no-heat air-dry setting. This will fluff it up and remove hair." Use the dryer balls or a pet safe dryer sheet to help remove the hair and make sure the dryer lint catcher is cleaned before you start. Stop the cycle about halfway through and clean the lint trap again and be sure to clean it when you're done.
  6. Once you've removed as much hair as you can, you can place products like Furzappers in your laundry to help pull hair off during the wash cycle. Furzappers can also be used in the dryer as well as products like reusable dryer balls that help pull hair away from fabric and also keep your dryer vent from clogging.

The Wash and Dry Cycle

There are a few steps to observe to keep your cat bedding in the best shape possible after going through the washer and dryer. You should ensure first that both the cover and mattress are machine washer safe as the covers are usually but not always the mattresses.

Kitten in tent style cat bed
  1. You should also remove any dirt, debris, food waste or vomit from the bedding before putting in the washer to increase the chance it will come out clean and from clogging your pipes.
  2. If your cat bed has a cover, remove that and place in the washer with the inside mattress. Do not wash anything for your pets with your own clothes or bedding.
  3. If you are washing a "tent" type cat bed, pull the bed inside out as the majority of the hair will be on the inside of the bed.
  4. If the bed is soiled heavily from dirt, vomit, feces or urine, you may want to use the pre-soak cycle and use a stain remover before the final wash. Make sure the stain remover is pet safe, like Nature's Miracle Pet Stain Remover or Out! Pet Stain and Odor Remover.
  5. Make sure you use a cold water wash for the main cycle.
  6. When ready to wash, use a detergent that is pet-safe such as Alpha Tech Pet LaundraPet Detergent.
  7. You can also add fabric softener if it's safe for pets. Fabric softeners can help with removing pet hairs as the softened fabric will lead to the hair being pulled off by the water more easily.
  8. If you can't find a detergent specifically made for pets, use the mildest soap you can find that is free of dyes, scents or additives like Free Clear for Sensitive Skin All Liquid Laundry Detergent or Free and Clear Unscented Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent.
  9. If you have to use a detergent that is safe but not specifically made for pets, you can add into the wash with soap Nature's Miracle Laundry Boost which works with the regular soap to break down stains and odors like urine, vomit, blood and feces.
  10. If after the first wash you still see stains, pre-treat the stains again and wash one or more times until it is clean.
  11. Place the bedding in the dryer with some dryer balls to collect extra hair. You can also use dryer sheets if they are safe for pets like those made by Seventh Generation.
  12. Use a low heat setting on the dryer and run for another cycle if it's not fully dry. Make sure you clean the lint trap on the dryer before you start a cycle and after each cycle.
  13. You also have the option of hanging the bedding on a drying rack or outside on a clothesline which will take longer but minimize wear on the fabric.

Washing and Drying Bedding Without a Machine

Not all bedding is machine washable.

  1. If the mattress and cover are not safe for a washer, you can wash them in the sink, bath tub or a large bucket in some cold water and some detergent. Soak it and wash with your hands and rinse it carefully when you're done.
  2. Make sure if you're using a sink or tub to place a hair trap on the drain and clean this thoroughly when you're done to keep your pipes from getting clogged with pet hair.
  3. If it's been heavily soiled, you can rinse it by emptying out the washing water and filling it again with clean, cold water. Wring any extra water from the bedding.
  4. If the bedding is dryer safe, you can then place it in the dryer on low heat slow setting. Otherwise depending on the size, you can hang it on a clothesline, over a drying rack, over your shower or any place where it can sit for some time to dry. If you have to place it on a table or floor, place a towel or plastic sheet underneath.

Caution With Cleaning Products

Sometimes pet owners gravitate toward cleaners that have pleasant scents when washing their cat's bedding. This seems logical to help mask any unpleasant odors. Weber cautions that a cat has a much more sensitive sense of smell than we do and scented soaps can be make them avoid their bedding or even make them sick.

Two kittens in a cat bed
  • This is especially true for any scent cats normally avoid like citrus, lavender, eucalyptus and mint.
  • Do not use any essential oil products in the wash either as these can be toxic for cats as well.
  • Also avoid using any products that contain ammonia.
  • You are safest using a product that is either specifically made for pets or one that is dye and scent free for sensitive skin.

Caring for Your Plumbing and Appliances

Always make sure that you protect your plumbing from getting excess hair and debris when washing cat bedding.

  • You can use hair traps made for people over drains in sinks and tubs.
  • Always check lint traps on the dryer for hair before and after every cycle.
  • Run the washer again for a cycle without any clothes to help clean the machine and move along any hair or debris that is already in the pipes. You can add in a washing machine cleaner like Affresh.

Dealing With Urine Smell

Sometimes washing using regular soap does not get out the smell of urine, which can be quite potent with cats. Cat urine contains bacterium and mercaptans which give off a uniquely pungent smell. This can be exacerbated if the cat is an unneutered male or is sick with kidney disease.

Cat stretching in cat bed
  1. In this event, make sure you use an enzymatic clear specifically made for urine.
  2. You can also pre-soak the bedding in the cleaner for 30 minutes to an hour or use a product with oxygen bleach like OxyClean Odor Blaster or Arm & Hammer OxiClean Odor Blaster.
  3. Do not use chlorine bleach!
  4. After the pre-soak, air dry the bedding until it is fully dry and then wash as you normally would. Do not use a dryer for this step as it can keep the urine odor in the bedding.
  5. If the bedding still smells like urine, buy a black light flashlight which are available at most pet supply stores.
  6. Hold it over the bedding in the dark and look for stains that are there but not visible to the eye under normal light.
  7. Repeat the process and make sure you specifically coat these areas with the pre-soak treatment. You can do this under the black light, or mark the areas using some safety or sewing pins so you can find them under normal light conditions.

Natural Solutions

There are some natural products you can use when cleaning your bedding. Note however, while "natural" these items will not be as effective as an enzymatic cleaner made specifically for removing cat urine, vomit and feces odors and stains.

  • Half a cup of white vinegar can be used as a fabric softener when using a washing machine. You can also use it instead or laundry detergent in a solution of one part vinegar to three parts water.
  • Baking soda can also be safe and effective as a cleaning agent. You can mix it with some water to form a paste and use this to pretreat stains. Let them mix sit on the stain for about 30 minutes.

Consider a Veterinary Visit

If your cat is suffering from a disease that causes incontinence or just old age, soiling their bedding will be a normal occurrence. However, if your cat has no previous medical issues and suddenly begins vomiting, defecating or urinating on their bedding, a veterinary visit is warranted to make sure nothing is medically wrong. Often times a sudden onset of these symptoms is the first sign of a health problem, some of which may need immediate treatment.

Safely Cleaning Your Cat's Bedding

Cleaning your cat's bedding may seem like a simple process but it can lead to your cat getting sick if you use the wrong types of cleaners. Follow these steps and always use cat-appropriate products. Ensure as well that your appliances and plumbing stay as hair and cat debris free as possible by cleaning them before and after and using some easy prevention steps along the way.

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Tips for Washing Cat Bedding