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Oh, the Odor! Artificial Grass and Pets.

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

It's a beautiful day in sunny California. At least, that's what my new neighbors from Arizona and Texas say. For us native Californians, it's HOT. Unbearably hot.

But I'm armed with my SPF 50 PA+++ (broad spectrum sunblock), and my big hat even has a convenient hole for my ponytail. :) I'm all set for my next landscape design consultation!

I park my car along the curb in front of a lovely home with a bright green artificial lawn. I get out and grab my gear from the trunk of my car. Product samples, a bag full of measuring tapes, and a clipboard folder loaded with graph paper. I step out of the street and into the driveway...and reel back in horror.

The smell has hit me.

It's the powerful smell of urine, also known as pet pee.

Nothing brings the smell of urine out of an artificial grass installation like a hot summer day.

It’s not just an odor. It’s actually the liquid being vaporized out of the honeycomb Zeolite structures and released back into the atmosphere. In other words, you’re not just smelling the urine. It’s surrounding you in the air. It’s touching your skin. You’re breathing it in. Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

This is why, although I was originally trained to design pet installations using Zeolite, I now prefer vinyl-coated infills like Durafill, Envirofill, and Camofill. The cost is almost double what you will pay for standard silica infill, and a little more than the Zeolite, but you get total non-absorption of liquid waste versus limited and tricky absorption.

Zeolite absorbs moisture, but only up to its saturation point (maximum capacity). At that point, if the area outside of the zeolite becomes dry and heated, the zeolite will release the moisture.

This principle of moisture moving to balance the humidity of an area is one that you may have come across before.

If you open a window and run your humidifier on a dry, dusty day, the moisture in your home will be sucked out to balance the dryness outside. If you run a humidifier capable of treating a small room with the door open, the moisture will be spread across your entire home. This principle helps you determine what size humidifier to get in your space.

Have you ever hung up a wet towel and woken up to find it practically crunchy? Dry weather will draw the moisture out of everything in an area, including your skin. This is the primary reason why dermatologists and estheticians encourage good hydration and use of moisturizing creams and lotions. The products attempt to counteract the constant pull of moisture from our skin.

The same principle is at work in your pet area.

In zeolite, you have a little stone-like phenomenon that likes to absorb moisture and hold onto it. If the surrounding atmosphere is in need of moisture, the zeolite gladly surrenders the moisture back. When the moisture in question is your pet’s pee, this is not a happy exchange for the average homeowner.

With zeolite, the odor-causing ammonia is technically still on-site (in your yard), trapped within the zeolite structure. Once zeolite has reached its maximum capacity, it will not absorb any more liquid. All excess liquid goes to the backing and must find its way out of the area.

The only way to discharge the zeolite and empty it for further use is by heavy rainfall. I have heard of a sodium solution designed to replicate the effect of rainwater, but haven't found any for sale in the retail market. The only products out there seem to be enzyme cleaners, do help get rid of odor-causing bacteria, but may not penetrate into the zeolite itself. In addition, the rainwater/sodium flushes out the zeolite pores, but doesn’t transport the bacteria any further than the liquid travels. The rainfall must be heavy enough to wash the released bacteria out of the area. The grading in your yard must also be appropriate for moving the water out of the area.

To summarize: you have wash the ammonia out of the zeolite using special ionized water, and then wash it away, or it will stink where it stands. And you can't do this with water from your garden hose.

So, if you want to avoid greeting guests to your beautiful home with a noxious odor, what should you do?

There are three things to consider:

1. How you plan your artificial grass installation. Where you put it, how it’s installed, and what products you use. A pet installation is a whole different ballgame from the regular, run-of-the-mill aesthetic installation (green, looks like grass, done). The base material and grading are also important.

2. How you as the pet owner,** approach the usage of your artificial grass when it comes to your pet’s bathroom needs. Your pet doesn’t need two, five, or even eight bathrooms. Choose one spot to be your pet’s bathroom - ideally the area that is furthest from sight and from the entertainment area. Leash train your pet and train them to use that one restroom area. This will cut down on your odor issues far better than any product or invention possibly could.

3. How you maintain your installation. Claims of little or no maintenance go out the window when there is waste elimination going on in an area. You will not only need to clean the artificial grass, you’ll have to know the proper way of going about it. Resist the urge to spray down the area every time your pet uses it. This only serves to saturate the zeolite, rendering it unable to absorb the urine. It also spreads around the urine, not necessarily flushing it out in the direction of your drainage, and widening the odor area.

If you're in the Southern California area, and considering artificial grass for your backyard, send me an email or give me a call to book an in-site consultation. Let's talk about your needs and get your landscape set up right! 626-879-7070, or

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