Continued from The Tale of CATastrophe #1, Part 1.
Part 2: The Plan of Attack
“I mean, we know there’s SOME pee in the vents, but I’m sure it’s not THAT BAD.”
These are the famous last words that precluded our opening our floor’s dining room heating vent in the pursuit of the Ammonia-So-Strong-It-Burned-Off-Half-Our-Nose-Hairs smell. I, as usual, turned out to be right. It’s wasn’t THAT BAD. It was so much worse that even though Clayton and I were looking at the urine pool sitting unassumingly in our heating vent, the visual sight didn’t register. Like looking at a murder scene filled with grisly bits and severed limbs and not being able to understand why you can’t find the body.
(And if you’ve stuck with me this long, Most Highly Respected Anonymous Reader, then I know you. *points finger* Don’t pretend you can’t relate to that analogy.)
Even though the stench was indeed unbearable and UNMISTAKABLE, and even though we could bang on the floor and watch serene little ripples form on the urine pool’s surface, both of us just started with dumb cow looks at it without really reacting. Like, if we watched it long enough, it might evaporate itself out before our eyes. Or do an interpretive dance of our cat’s rage. Something.
We couldn’t tell exactly how deep it was, but we could see that, at its deepest, it covered over half of the vent pipe. We had no idea how far down the pipe it went (i.e., exactly how backed up it was that we were able to see the pool in the first place, since the pipe slants downward at a fairly steep angle). We began to pray to the Urine Gods that there wasn’t a similarly foul-smelling stream puddling somewhere in our basement. The dark brown metal finish on the vent had started peeling off under the daily coats of ammonia so that the metal was a bit rusty in some spots and bright and shiny in others. The vent pipe itself had a thick coating of dried residue from where the daily deposits slid into the vent and down the pipe. The urine had sat for so long that it was no longer an identifiable yellow color—it was more of a stagnant, thick, bright orange/tan-yellow. So we stared at it and threw up a little in our mouths and endured the nerve damage to the lining of our nostrils as we inhaled the fumes (which honestly makes my nose tingle just at the memory of it), and tried our damnedest to come up with a logical solution.
Me: “I think we should just sell the house.”
Clayton: *black look*
Me: “No really. I don’t even know what cleans up pee on this scale. Do we have to notify the city of this? Is this legally a biohazard zone now? I think we should cut our losses and just sell it. We’ll blame it on the previous owners and say we never noticed the problem until we turned the heater on. Want to go practice our innocent faces in the mirror?”
Clayton: “I was thinking more of killing the cat.”
Me: “*snort* Killing her won’t do any good–the damage is already done. No, we definitely have to sell the house.”
Clayton: “Right, but killing her will not only keep her from doing it again, but it’ll also make me feel better. And right now, I could use a pick-me-up.”
Me: “I think you’re speaking out of anger right now—“
Clayton: “YOU THINK?”
Me: “—so I think we should decide what to do with Muse later—“
Clayton: “That’s easy: KILL HER.”
Me: “—and sell the house now.”
Clayton: “We’re not selling the house.”
Me: “*sullen glare*……….You are being uncharacteristically unreasonable right now.”
Despite Clayton’s resistance to my excellent, logical input, we finally form a plan:
(In hindsight, I think only one of us should’ve had a pen when we made this list.)
So we locked the cats in the bathroom to prevent further contamination while we cleaned, since we knew it would take more than one day to fix. An intensive scan of the basement storage areas confirmed there was no leakage. (Pretty sure I could’ve pressed that “sell the house” angle a lot more successfully if there had been.) After raiding the grocery store’s entire stock of rubber cleaning gloves and pet urine/smell/stain remover products, as well as most of the “natural” urine-removal suggestions I found online (white vinegar, lemons, baking soda), we began.
Part 3: The Cleanup
Donning enough glove/apron/mask equipment that we looked like a Couple’s Costume version of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (only without the lingerie), we began with the least traumatic vent, in one corner of our den under an end table. After some brief trial-and-error for which cleaning products were most successful against Flaky Pee Residue, Clayton discovered a mixture of white vinegar, Nature’s Miracle liquid cleaner, and Nature’s Miracle powdered cleaner made an effective cleaning paste that scoured as it cleaned. The carpet around the vent and the vent cover itself fared well under this scrubbing. But then our first snag hit almost immediately when we began cleanup on the inside of the pipe vent: even though the scrub brushes we bought did their job, they were too bulky to fit inside the tight room of the vent pipe. So we made a Plan B: toothbrushes.
Using the cleaning paste mixture and scrubbing with toothbrushes, we tackled different vents. Clayton agreed to tackle the shop vac cleanup when we got to that part because he’s an awesome husband. Also, as he pointed out, cat pee + wife’s uncontrollable vomiting into the urine pool while trying to clean it = a worse smell + splashage and he didn’t want to add “clean vomit-pee from walls” to the To Do list. I heart how thoughtful he is.
It took us 5 hours to scrub the vents and vent covers to the point that the smell was noticeably reduced. The main problem was that the vent pipe, not designed to withstand a regular flood of ammonia product, had begun to corrode just a bit and the pitting of the metal was difficult to get the toothbrush bristles into well enough to get the junk out. Clayton regularly suggested re-adding item 3.a. to the list. After scrubbing with the mixture, rinsing with vinegar, and scrubbing again, we ended with pouring a few ounces of the liquid Nature’s Miracle in each pipe and letting it sit for a while to work on what pee areas we missed farther down the pipe. We pointedly did not discuss what we’d do if that didn’t fix it.
Finally, it came time to tackle the bog of urine. Clayton decided to start with the worst vent on this one, figuring that even if it wasn’t 100% successful, he could at least make a dent in the wretchedness. So he took one of the shop vacs (for some reason we had 2 identical ones lying around) and got rowdy on the urine bog. For another 2 hours. I won’t go into detail what the smell was like once the urine pool was disturbed. Nor will I describe to you the consistency that the bottom layers had turned into after sitting for weeks. I will tell you that it was one of the more awful experiences of my life–if you ask Clayton, I imagine his answer would be a toss-up between this and his rib tattoo, but only because the rib tattoo involved needles piercing every nerve cluster along his side. I will also freely admit that I’m eternally grateful to my husband for taking that one for the team—I owe him for the rest of our marriage.
Over the course of those 2 hours, he ruined the first shop vac. Too much nasty, too much stank. (We tried for a week after to clean it and nothing we did came close to managing the smell.) He filled the first shop vac and half the second one with bog product.
Now, I don’t know EXACTLY how much nasty was down the one pipe, but I do know that the ruined shop vac was listed as “heavy duty” and that it held somewhere around 3-4 gallons. Now let me repeat the part where “he filled the first shop vac and half the second one.” I’ll let that digest for a moment so you can grasp the true horror of this situation.
Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
Part 4: The Aftermath
At the end of the marathon vent cleanup, it took us a couple of days to get up the courage to turn the heat on again to see. Because we’d gotten so good at lying to ourselves, we told ourselves that it was so the liquid Nature’s Miracle could more thoroughly get at the unreachable parts of the pipes and we believed us.
And the first time we turned on the heat, it was….well, a little better, but still pretty bad. So, the next day, we regloved, scrubbed, and Natures Miracled the vents. After that the smell was much, much better and we began to think that maybe we wouldn’t have to sell the house. Eventually, the smell cleared out, and we actually were able to have people come over again without having their retinas singed by the ammonia fumes.
The cat lived. Though Clayton will affirm that that is ANOTHER element that I owe him for the rest of our marriage for. And though Muse kept picking on Sorcha and peeing on our dirty laundry piles that we left in the floor (and on the bathmats in the bathrooms), she kept away from the vents and was on (what for her is) good behavior. For about several months. Until we got a couch for the basement. And then she committed CATastrophe #2. Which I’ll tell you about later.
Consider this Reason #2,597 why it’s dumb to own a cat.