Senses of Living® Décor

March 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


Growing up, I was surrounded by dogs and/or cats (and assorted other animals). They are just a natural part of my home; I can no more imagine my life without animal companions than I can imagine life without air and water. The only period of my life when I did not have pets living with me was the four years I was an undergraduate, and maybe the first month of graduate school. Since then, I've had up to four cats residing with me (and assorted other animals), and it has been necessary to deal with their shed hair.

As a child and teenager, I truly don't remember any special efforts by my mother (or father) to tackle pet hair (and at one point, we had three dogs and five cats that made our house their home … we lived on an acreage in rural Missouri, and the beasties spent a good bit of time outside). Maybe this was one of those magical things that mothers take care of without children ever realizing or properly appreciating. I know I certainly didn't realize any special effort was made to manage pet hair, and consequently, I didn't give my mother the appreciation she deserved.

So, I left home shockingly deficient in my ability to manage pet hair, and for an animal lover, this was a woeful oversight. I have learned much of the following the hard way (and often the funny way), by trial and lots of errors.

Before explaining what I do to manage pet fur, let me provide two anecdotes about what NOT to do. One day when I was living in Ann Arbor, I looked out my living room window to see my new, slightly-screwy neighbor carrying a skillet as she followed Shala (the wonder kitty) around the yard. I went outside onto the balcony and asked her if I could help her. Crazy Neighbor: "Is this your cat?" Bret: "Yes, that's Shala. What are you doing with the skillet?" Crazy Neighbor: "I burned some meat, and thought she might like it. How do you handle her hair?" Bret: "No, Shala doesn't need any burned meat, and I find that a good coat of shellac works well to control the hair." Crazy Neighbor didn't speak to me again until the day I moved out of the building, when she saw me putting Shala (the wonder kitty) in a carrying case in the back of my car (along with Freya and Bastet in their own carriers), and asked, "Oh, you're moving? Are you taking your cat with you?" Yes, Crazy Neighbor, I am. Anyway, at least Crazy Neighbor was correctly horrified by my suggestion that shellac was appropriate to control cat hair.

Camouflage isn't the best tool, either. I've told this anecdote before, but I'm still so incredulous (and it's been 18 years!), I have to tell it again. I knew someone who was, to put it politely, fastidious. Every hair on his head was slicked into place, and his home was immaculate. Imagine my surprise when he told me he was going to adopt two cats the next day. I looked at him like he had 3 heads, and asked something like, "Why would you want to adopt cats when you are so concerned about everything being so fussy and prissy" (yes, I think I did use that language; I was a brash academic in those days). He replied, "I'm adopting cats that will match the furniture, so their hair won't show." I didn't have the heart to point out that cats do not sit on specific pieces of furniture, or that not all of his furniture was the same color. In fact, I didn't have the heart to continue dealing with this unfortunate freakazoid, so I never met the poor cats he brought into his home.

Now, let's freshen your décor! Let's approach the problem systematically.


I always begin by getting the "heavy stuff" first. Vacuuming is one of the easiest ways, if (and this is a big IF) you are careful to not let the exhaust rearrange the hair (and dust and dirt) on the floor before it can be vacuumed. I have explained elsewhere that I use a small "can vac" that I can actually hold in one hand and carry around my home, directly the exhaust air upward rather than down at the floor. Now, realize that vacuuming is about the only way to clean carpeting, and sometimes that isn't possible, so you'll have to invest in professional cleaning (see below); I truly dislike carpeting. But back to vacuuming: Run the vacuum hose over as many surfaces as possible to pull up as much stray hair as possible. Once you get the bulk of the hair sucked up, you can concentrate on minor areas.

Rugs and Throws

I'm a big believer in using rugs and fabric throws to bring color into a room easily. The fabric throws will also protect furniture from pet damage. I have beautiful (and easy to clean) hardwood floors throughout most of my home, so I only have a few rugs, and those rugs are orientals. You can vacuum them until you are blue (or red) in the face, and get up a good bit of hair, but the only way to "really" get pet hair off of oriental rugs is to rub against the nap with a damp sponge. I honestly only do this when I have company visiting. It is hideously time consuming, and sometimes painful for one's hands, arms, knees and back … but when it is done, the rugs look fantastic! I use just hot soapy water and a simple sponge, gradually disengaging the hair from the nap of the rug, and then collecting the hair and tossing it in the trash. It's easy, if annoying.

If you have smaller rugs, take them outside and shake them out. You won't get all of the hair out, but you'll rid yourself of a lot of it. Some rugs can even be tossed into the laundry. Check the materials, and see if you can save yourself some effort.

Not all throws are made equally. Some are washable, and some aren't. I have most of my living room chairs covered with polyester sari fabric (bought as remnants for pennies) to contribute to the tropical feel. I can easily brush the hair off, or just grab the fabric and toss it in with some of my dirty laundry. However, I also have throws that are wool and silk, so I have to do a lot of manual labor to clean them. See the discussion below regarding Professional Cleaning for other alternatives!


Perhaps the only "lesson" about pet hair I took from home involves laundry. I was taught two things: to divide clothing by color, and to use dryer sheets. Well, I tweak all advice that I receive. First, I abandoned the dryer sheets, thinking they were some materialistic and earth-unfriendly affectation, only to discover that they really do work to reduce static, and thus allow pet hair to be sucked into the filter. Secondly, I wear a range of colors that don't really bleed, so they don't need to be divided by color (specific disclosure: I wear very few reds, and no oranges, so color bleeding isn't a problem). So, I tend to sort my laundry by how much pet hair they have been exposed to. Socks, jeans and t-shirts are treated as heavy pet hair laundry, while towels, washrags, and baking cooling towels are low/no hair laundry. I've used this system since the late 1980s with great success, and little/no cross contamination from pet hair.

Of course, business apparel usually requires some special care. Most business wear is on the dark side, and tends to show pet hair very clearly. For years, I used masking tape reversed around my hand to clean my business wear. Then, I was given a handy lint brush that saved on natural resources and did an effective job (and it was compact, and so has become part of my business travel arsenal). Finally, for thorough hair removal, I use the currently popular lint rollers that are available from a number of manufacturers. Yes, these do use natural resources, as one removes and discards sheets of adhesive paper. Still, the adhesive keeps the hair from "re-infecting" clothes, and it removes debris that the lint brush won't, so cleaning is so much more thorough.

Additionally, another technique exists for getting up pet hair. It's not original with me, and I don't use it, but I have tested it; since it works, I'll share. "Rubber" (latex) gloves will actually dislodge hair on fabric surfaces. I have several pillows and cushions that are difficult to clean, so I decided to test the latex glove approach. I just put the gloves on my hands, and started rubbing them over the pillow. Sure enough, the hair starts to "ball up," and when it accumulates in a pile of a certain size, it is easy to just pick up the hair and toss it in the trash. If this sounds like something that would make your life easier and better, by all means try it. When I tried it, though, I had to follow up with either the vacuum cleaner or the lint roller, just to be thorough.

Hairballs and Yark

So far, I've only discussed "external" hair problems. We need to also consider "internal" hair problems, particularly when they become "external." Yes, I'm talking about hairballs and other types of yark (if you don't know this word, use your imagination). Usually, the mess can be easily wiped up with a rag or paper towel [note: when I'm with clients, I have to use paper towels to wash my hands; I reuse these paper towels and bring them home to clean up messes like this, so please don't attack any perceived lack of environmental sensitivity]. Sometimes it becomes dried, and then I use a spray bottle with water to soften the mess before cleaning.

With my hardwood floors, it would be ideal if the kitties decided to heave right on the wood. I think there must be some sort of misplaced conscientiousness in their "need" to toss their cookies "on" something. It seems that my above-mentioned oriental rugs are the primary targets. Not to be disgusting, but sometimes the rugs absorb moisture, and sometimes everything dries out before I have a chance to clean. In those situations, it is necessary to moisten the mess in order to clean it. Sometimes it is necessary to actually scrub. A sponge will work, or a cloth, or sometimes I use an old toothbrush to scrub and dislodge anything that might need to be dislodged. After a while, I resort to professional cleaning (see below).


Grooming your pets is simply a requirement; it's non-negotiable. Grooming is good for you and good for your pets. First, it will reduce or even eliminate hairballs. Secondly, pets "usually" love to be brushed, which relaxes them. Thirdly, when you take the time to brush your pets, you will automatically calm down, and your blood pressure will decrease (side note: my two Persians, whom I adopted when they were almost 4 years old, had not been regularly groomed during their kittenhood, and they HATE being brushed, so I have to hire professionals; they do love massage, however). If you still aren't convinced about the need for brushing your pets, try empathy! What if YOU didn't brush or comb your hair? It would be tangled, itchy, dirty, and just plain uncomfortable. Sure, wild animals deal with it, but why should your beloved pets? Put yourself in their place!

Professional Cleaners/Dry Cleaners/Green Cleaners

Prevention never works completely. Sometimes, I just break down and take my rugs, my wool/silk throws and my business suits/slacks/shirts to the dry cleaner. If you are able, use a green cleaner to help the planet. Sure, I could invest lots of my own time to clean these rugs, throws and everything else thoroughly, but time is one of the most valuable and rare commodities (notice that I have completely avoided the topic of "steam cleaning," whether hiring someone, or doing it yourself by renting a machine; it's just outside the realm of my experience, but everyone I know who has rented a machine and done it themselves has positive things to say about the experience; it's good if you have carpeting). If there is any management technique I have learned that is applicable here, it is delegation! And I choose to delegate thorough cleaning to someone else.

That leaves me with more time to spend with my pets. Studies have shown that more time spent petting your pets will reduce stress, and with less stress, blood pressure lowers, and health improves. Studies have shown that children reared with pets have fewer diseases and allergies as they grow up, so if you have both pets and children, spend more time with both. When children are encouraged to care for pets, they learn responsibility, compassion, respect, empathy, and sympathy.

That's a pretty huge payoff for a few problems with pet hair, don't you think? Please let me know what you do think by contacting me at 773.508.9208 or email me. I'd love to hear how pets in your household have more than compensated for the extra invested effort.