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How Do You Clean A Cat Carrier [The Definitive Guide]

Cats are notorious for being obsessive about cleanliness, as well as being incredibly independent. So, a small carrier is understandably going to cause quite a bit of stress. However, there are ways you can train your cat to at least accept the carrier and make the process much more pleasant with cleaning. But how do you do so? Here is what you need to do. 

So, how do you clean a cat carrier? To clean a cat carrier, you will first need to put on some gloves. Remove any items such as bedding, any hair, or any leftover food. From there, scrub/brush carrier with the cat-safe cleaning solution – be sure to remove any urine/feces stains. Then, wash off with clean water and let the carrier air dry.   

Of course, the exact steps you take and the products you use will depend on the type of carrier you have.

But more on that in a further section.

Either way, you should ideally clean your cat carrier after every use.

A dirty cat carrier is very likely to carry the scent of your last visit to the vet or any ‘accidents’ that may have happened on the journey. 

Not nice. 

And you must be careful when choosing your disinfect, as many of our standard household products are toxic to cats.

And strong cleaning smells can make your cat even more reluctant to go in and may even make your cat ill.

So, you must ensure the carrier is rinsed thoroughly after cleaning.

This will all help to reduce the stress that is placed on your cat.

So you are going to want to do a good job.

Let us now take a closer look at precisely how to clean a carrier.

It’s going to benefit both you and your cat, so be sure to keep reading!

What Can I Use To Clean A Cat Carrier?

There is a wide variety of cat carriers on the market, so your choice of cleaning equipment will depend on which one you choose. 

Here is the lowdown of the types of carriers available.

We will then look at the solutions to use on each:

Cardboard Carriers

You will often receive one of these when you adopt a cat from a shelter, but they are not designed for long-term use. 

Cardboard can easily be ripped up by your cat and will become very flimsy if it gets wet. 

So, once you have the cat home, it’s best to invest in a sturdier carrier and perhaps use your cardboard one as a fun hideout for your kitty!

Hard-sided Carriers 

These carriers are often favored for their ease of use and are very simple to clean.  

Generally made of plastic, these carriers are sturdy and allow your cat plenty of room to turn around and lay down.  

The downside to these is that they tend to be quite bulky, so they can be hard to store when not in use.  

They also may feel fairly heavy compared to other options. 

Soft-sided Carriers 

These carriers come in a variety of styles and flexible materials such as polyester, microfiber, and nylon. 

The big benefit to these carriers is that they are easier to maneuver into tight spaces and easier to store.  

Nervous cats may also find them more comforting than hard-shell carriers.  

The downside is that the material can be damaged by a cats’ claws and teeth, and they do not provide as much protection as harder carriers.  

Strollers and Backpacks

Yes, you can actually buy a pram for your cat!  

They are ideal if your vet surgery is within walking distance, however, they will need to be folded down when put into a car, so they are not the best choice for everyone. 

Cat backpack carriers come in a range of styles which make carrying your cat very easy.  

However, do be very careful with the ones that have window areas on the front (so your cat can see out).  

In hot weather, these see-through sections can absorb heat and make the carrier too hot, which may be detrimental to your cats’ welfare.  

Whichever style you choose, you will need to ensure that it is big enough for your cat to sit in comfortably without feeling too constricted.  

Saying that you should also make sure it is not too large, which may make your cat feel unsafe.  

Ideally, you should try to find a carrier that comes apart, as it makes cleaning so much easier!  

However, you should refrain from clipping the sections back in place when your cat is in the carrier, as this can cause a lot of stress for your kitty.  

As mentioned above, hard-sided cat carriers are the simplest to clean, but there is quite a lot of controversy when it comes to which cleaning products to use.  

A quick google search will show that bleach appears to be the most common disinfect for cat carriers as it is effective at removing odors.

However, bleach is a very strong chemical that is actually toxic to cats, so you must always dilute it in water before use and rinse the carrier thoroughly afterward.  

The general consensus is that you should dilute to a ratio of 1 part bleach to 32 parts water (roughly a gallon container of water with one cup of bleach added). 

But please do be careful with this method and avoid altogether if you are unsure of the measurements.  

Other substances that are toxic to cats include oven cleaners, dishwasher tablets, and laundry detergents.  

Signs of toxic exposure in cats can consist of vomiting, collapse, lethargy, loss of appetite, foaming at the mouth, ulcers on the paws and inside of the mouth, or constantly rubbing the face and mouth with their paws.  

If you suspect your cat has come into contact with a toxic substance, you MUST contact a vet immediately.  

Luckily there are numerous safe cleaning product options available if you are willing to put in the research, including safe pet detergents, cleaning sprays, and stain removers.  

There are also a number of home remedies that you can use; 1 part vinegar, 1 part water, mixed with 10-20 drops of lemon juice works wonders.  

However, be sure not to use too much lemon as cats hate the smell of citrus!  

You can also mix white vinegar, hot water, and baking soda together. 

Finally, some people claim that a standard Listerine mouthwash mixed with vinegar or water works well at removing stains and odors. 

Whichever option you choose, it is essential that you rinse the carrier thoroughly after cleaning to remove any chemical residue or odor that may be unappealing to your cat.  

Soft-sided carriers can be cleaned with hot water and a safe soap or cleaning product, scrubbed, and then left to dry.  

Some soft carriers can also be machine washed but do make sure you use a detergent that is safe for cats. 

Why You Need To Regularly Clean A Cat Carrier 

You need to regularly clean a cat carrier to reduce any stress in your cat, ensure that your cat is willing to enter and stay in the carrier and minimize any risk of illness or infection that a dirty carrier can cause.

Cats have over 200 million receptors in their nose, which makes their sense of smell more than 14 times stronger than ours!  

This is the reason they can still find the spot they peed on, even if the area or item has been washed.  

So any scent that we can smell will often be very overpowering to a cat, which is why it is extremely important to clean cat carriers regularly and rinse off any chemicals thoroughly.  

A few potentially offensive odors to cats include citrus, cleaning agents, carpet fresheners, perfumes, and scented litter.  

So don’t think you will be able to mask a subtle chemical odor on a cat carrier with an air freshener, as this will most likely cause your cat to avoid it further!  

A cat’s incredible sense of smell can be attributed to a little-known organ called the Jacobson’s Organ.  

You may have noticed your own cat smelling something with his mouth open, which is actually the process he uses in order to get the full scent via this unique organ.  

Smell is a cat’s most essential sense and is used to alert them to food, water, the gender and age of other cats, and even the presence of danger.  

Therefore, strong, unfamiliar scents are usually interpreted as a warning to stay away from the source, which includes their own urine smells from previous traumatic situations (such as being taken to the vet).

Aside from the need to remove unwelcome odors from the cat carrier, regular cleaning is also important because cats can pick up infections from a dirty cat carrier, many of which can be passed to humans.  

Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

These occur when bacteria travel up the urethra, where it then grows and reproduces.  

This is more common in elderly cats or cats that are stressed for a long period of time.  

Symptoms may include blood present in the urine, vocalizations during urination, or an increased frequency in urination.  

Other bladder problems such as inflammation are common in cats that are forced to hold their bladder for long periods of time; for instance, if they are confined in a dirty cat carrier on a long journey.

Prevent Parasites 

These can easily be caught through old cat feces and can affect people too.  

Perhaps the most well-known of these is Toxoplasmosis gondii, which is a single-celled parasite that causes flu-like symptoms in humans but may not show any signs in cats.  

Other parasites you need to watch out for include ringworm, hookworm, and roundworm. 

Prevent Stress

Although not an infection, stress can actually make your cat physically ill.  

Being forced into a dirty cat carrier may cause your cat to vomit or develop diarrhea.  

In extreme cases, stress may even compromise your cats’ immune system, which could make them more vulnerable to other infections.

How To Clean A Cat Carrier

Before you decide to clean any carrier, you must make sure your cat is not in the same room, as the strong odors will more than likely stress him out.  

Saying that it is just as important not to immediately store the cat carrier away once it has been washed, only to bring it out moments before the next vet visit.  

You will want to help your cat make a positive association with the carrier and not just see it as the terrifying box that takes him to the scary place!  

You can do this by simply leaving the carrier out in a room for your cat to see on a permanent basis. 

If this is not possible, then you must bring the carrier out a few days before the dreaded vet appointment.  

It may be easiest to clean your cat carrier outside to avoid making a mess in your home.  

You will need a suitable cleaning product diluted in warm water, a bin bag, cloth, and some sort of brush to remove the more stubborn stains.  

It is also advisable to wear gloves, especially if you have a weakened immune system or you are pregnant – just to be on the safe side.  

First off, you will want to remove all items from the carrier, such as bedding, water bowls, food bowls, and any soiled litter.  

You should then check for and remove any remaining signs of cat hair and food debris using either a brush or a cloth to empty it all into the bin bag.  

Once all that is done, you can start focusing on the real clean!  

Whether you have a soft-sided or a hard-sided carrier, you should start by focusing on any urine or feces stains that you see.  

Once you have removed these, you should wash the entire carrier with the same cleaning product before hosing the whole thing with clean water.  

You must ensure you rinse the carrier thoroughly and make sure you do not leave any chemical residue behind.  

Then just leave it outside to dry naturally, although there is no harm in using a towel (one that you don’t use for anything else) or paper towel sheets to help speed the process up a bit.  

You can also clean any bowls or carrier accessories in the same cleaning product or by using a mild soap and water but ensure these are rinsed off thoroughly as well.  

Towels, or other pieces of bedding for the carrier, can often be machine washed; however, do make sure any detergents and fabric softeners you use are safe for cats.  

Once this is all done, you can use a Feliway spray or similar product to entice your cat to reinvestigate the carrier.

This will also help them begin to build up a positive association with it after their, likely traumatic, vet experience.  

Appealing scents like catnip or valerian root also work well. 


Cleaning a cat carrier is not too tricky once you know how. 

And hopefully, now you do.

The only downside is that it is a little time-consuming.

It is recommended that you clean your cats’ carrier after every use, after all.  

Not only to remove scent; but also to remove any former accidents such as poop.

Unfortunately, cats do poop in their carrier from time to time.

And regular cleaning; well not only will it prevent bacteria buildup, but it will also make your cat far more likely to want to enter their carrier next time.

And make the whole process less stressful for them.

It’s very much worth your time.

So do it properly, and reap the rewards.

Related Questions

Can You Reuse A Cat Carrier?

It is possible to reuse a cat carrier, if it has been designed with a material suitable for multiple uses. Typically, cardboard boxes are temporary and should only be used once. Cat carriers made from plastics and harder materials can be reused so long as they are sufficiently and safely cleaned before and after each use.

Transporting your cat or need to keep them in the carrier? Then my other guides may be of interest: