Techniques for taming pet fur tumbleweeds

Reader Jim sent us the following question:

OK, so I like your 30 minutes per day cleaning model…however, with a dog (big chocolate lab) that is constantly shedding, what tools, cleaning devises, ideas, etc., might I use to keep up with the seemingly endless dog-hair dust bunnies? Vacuuming works, but takes time to drag out the vacuum, and the broom just seems to move the hair around.

In my house, we call these gifts from our two cats “tumbleweeds.” I like your use of the word “bunnies,” though, since they do feel as if they are forever multiplying. I completely empathize with your situation and hope that I can help.

Here are a handful of strategies for dealing with pet fur tumbleweeds:

  1. Once a day, armed with a couple slightly damp paper towels, walk through your house and capture the worst offenders. If they’re large enough that you would see them and be stressed or embarrassed if a house guest were to immediately notice them, just scoop them up with the paper towel. This isn’t deep cleaning, this is just peace of mind. At most, this process should take you five minutes and is a great chore for a younger child.
  2. Bathe your pets regularly. When you bathe a pet, a good chunk of loose hair and dander goes down the drain with the water. Now, granted, this task is a bit more difficult with a cat. You have to start bathing the cat when it’s a kitten or you’ll never be able to give it a bath as an adult. We’ve been bathing our cats twice a month since they were first adopted from the shelter and now they just climb into the water. Use a pet-friendly shampoo (not human shampoo) and ask your vet for tips and breed-specific bathing frequency recommendations if you’re new to the pet-washing adventure.
  3. Keep a pet brush handy. When your pet curls up at your feet and wants some snuggles, give him a brush at least once a day. You’ll capture the fur before it can become a tumbleweed.
  4. Install reliable air filters in your heating/air conditioning system and replace them seasonally.
  5. If your pet routinely uses a bed, drape its bed with a fleece blanket. If there is a favorite spot where he likes to curl up, lay a fleece blanket in that location. Fleece blankets act like giant magnets for pet hair because of their inherent static nature. Roll up the blanket and throw it in the washer once a week, and for extra pull, dry it without a dryer sheet.
  6. Although you hate to do it, you should run the vacuum at least once a week. Don’t forget to vacuum under the couch, along baseboards, every stair, and closet floors where pet fur tumbleweeds like to hide.
  7. Feed your pet high-quality food. The healthier your pet’s diet, the healthier your pet and his coat. Talk to your vet about the best diet for your pet. Sometimes, switching to a healthier pet food will greatly reduce the amount your pet sheds.

Good luck! And, if ever in doubt about a technique, just ask your vet. He or she will be able to tell you if something is safe for your pet.

Photograph accompanying this post taken by Matt Niemi.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

41 Comments for “Techniques for taming pet fur tumbleweeds”

  1. posted by Amy on

    You need a Roomba!

  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Amy — I purposefully did not suggest a Roomba because they don’t get into corners and tight up against base boards where pet fur accumulates. Plus, if you have a pet with stiff hair, the Roomba isn’t very good at picking it up.

  3. posted by Nate on

    For two weeks now I’ve been using a microfiber rag attached to a Swiffer handle (it presses in place like a sheet would), and it’s fantastic! It grabs every bit of hair it hits, and I can just rinse it off in the sink – no waste. I’ve been doing this every morning while my coffee brews – it’s very quick – and the peace of mind is great. No more dog hair lurking in every corner, under every table, etc…

    If you’ve got the Swiffer handle already, do yourself a favor and try the microfiber rag. It’s awesome!

  4. posted by Ruthie on

    I came here to suggest Roomba too! My Roomba actually does an amazing job of cleaning along baseboards and into corners where pet hair accumulates. I also like that it cleans under my bed and under the couches… there’s a lot of dust under there! Room-ba! Room-ba! πŸ™‚

  5. posted by Tubin on

    Another vote for the Roomba. The way its brushes are oriented, it actually does a surprisingly good job of cleaning tight up against baseboards or furniture legs. And the gain in cleaning under all furniture more than makes up for the tiny little bit it doesn’t get in corners.

    I acquired mine after looking under my bed one day – the accumulated dust layer was horrifying. The Roomba can be run with a single button push, it returns itself to its charger, so the charger can be stored somewhere out of site (like under a piece of furniture). So there’s no clutter problem associated with adding the equipment.

  6. posted by rachael on

    I swear by the Swiffer Sweeper Vac- it does all the things the swiffer does AND has a little vacuum built in. It gets into corners and along the walls and works GREAT for quick pet hair clean up. We keep it constantly on the charger in the kitchen so it can be used at a moments notice.

  7. posted by kj on

    Another vote for the Roomba (mine’s a 500-series). Unlike my conventional vaccuum, it cleans under the bed. (daily, if I so choose) Honestly. How often would you do it by hand — Once every year?. The side brush also does a great job on the baseboards — getting much closer than my upright can without dragging out the hand nozzle.

    Basically, I run the roomba every day (albeit on a different level of the house each time), which works out to every 2-3 days on each of the floors. It really is a no-effort tool in the pet-hair battle.

  8. posted by Nat on

    We favor brushing the pets to get loose hair off before it hits the floor/couch/bed/etc. The ZoomGroom works really well for us as hair gets locked onto the brush w/o flying all over the place.

  9. posted by Julia on

    We have four cats, two dogs, and a LOT of fur, so I got a lightweight, rechargeable cordless vac and run around the house doing a quick (not thorough) pick-up every morning. Because it’s cordless and lightweight (think DustBuster on a stick), I can get through the entire house very quickly; I don’t have to do any lugging, and I don’t have to mess with a cord, unplugging and replugging as I go from room to room, floor to floor. I only need drag the “real” vacuum cleaner out a couple times a month!

  10. posted by trillwing on

    Another vote for Roomba. The edition I have claims to be especially good at picking up pet hair. I do a thorough upright vacuuming on the weekend, and then run Roomba mid-week. The only PITA thing about it is cleaning it out takes several minutes.

  11. posted by Amy J on

    yet another vote for Roomba – mine (the newest model) cleans in corners and along baseboards – it can even deal with the fringe on my rug. It has made a world of difference in the cat hair floating around my house and though you have to clean it out – it is sooooooo much easier than vaccuuming or sweeping or any of the alternatives – some of the best money we’ve ever spent

  12. posted by Jen on

    A big shout-out for the Furminator — the pet brush mentioned above. (It comes in different sizes; small is good for housecats.)

    Vacuumwise, the Dyson Animal D17, especially the turbine head, is also extremely helpful for cleaning throw rugs, upholstery, and other hard-to-reach places. It also comes with another attachment that allows you to roll under stuff — sofas, radiator covers, claw-foot tubs.

    I got the Dyson first, the Furminator second. If you’re on a budget, just get the Furminator, it does over 80% of the work up front.

    Bonus low-tech tip: sometimes donning rubber cleaning gloves (such as True Blues) and then running your hands over upholstered surfaces will get fur to release itself and stick to the gloves.

  13. posted by Aaisha on

    The roomba sounds fantastic, though I have always been skeptical. We had 2 or 3 cats at a time when growing up, and would use commercial breaks for each of the kids to quickly vacuum or sweep a different room in the house. One show later, the house is (relatively) clean. Hah, then again, with three kids doing the cleaning knowing the commercial will be finished any second, I can’t say how thorough the job was :p

  14. posted by Hilary on

    I rectangle of polar fleece used with a regular swiffer does a great job of picking up pet hair on wood floor … it also cleans up dust that the vacuum doesn’t even get. It’s not great for dirt so I still vacuum but it’s quick and easier than trying to vacuum more often. Get some polar fleece from the fabric store and cut about 8 rectangles to fit the swiffer (you may need more or less based on the size of your home and number of pets.) Drop them in the wash to clean.

    Also changing your pet food can help a great deal. One of my cats had acute on chronic kidney failure that made me take a serious look at nutrition (and how bad most mainstream pet foods are) – they now eat organic cat food. The vet thought my kitty would be dead within a week of bringing him home and he’s gotten better and been home for a little over 4 months now (requiring daily sub-q fluids but otherwise you wouldn’t know he has only 30% of his kidneys left. Plays, eats and sleeps just like his brother.)

    The plus side to the switch has been less shedding, whiter fur (no dyes in the food), and they are both healthier looking and more playful than before (his brother wasn’t sick at all – I had him tested because I was worried that the food had caused the kidney failure.) Sorry for the bit of a tangent. πŸ™‚

  15. posted by Amy on

    Another shout out for the Furminator.
    Treat the problem at the root πŸ˜‰

  16. posted by Janine on

    For pet hair that’s stuck to furniture, Sticky Sheets ( are pretty amazing. They’re just what they sound like–large (2 feet by 3 feet) sheets of clear adhesive tape that pick up pet hair really well. We have a cat who enjoys sleeping on a dog bed and it was covered (and I mean covered) with cat fur. Our Dyson couldn’t make a dent. Sticky Sheets cleaned took all that fur off that bed.

  17. posted by CJ on

    I personally use the standard Swiffer sweeper (slightly damp) to get the fuzziest of the bunnies, especially the ones that live under my living room furniture. However, we also get giant fuzzies on the bed, the furniture, our clothes, etc. and get rid of them with the FourPaws Magic Pet Hair Remover.

    Here’s my review:

    They works wonders and they’re better for the environment waste-wise than the sticky kinds.

  18. posted by Carrie on

    I had a pleasant surprise when I discovered that my new microsuede couch slipcovers were cat hair resistant. They are machine washable and dryable – I bought them because we have a toddler, and as you all know, toddlers are sticky. I washed the slipcovers yesterday – full size sofa and love seat and I had NO pet hair in the dryer lint trap. None.

  19. posted by lantzilla on

    Tick another for the Roomba. While Erin notes that it doesn’t do a sufficient job, it does however keep the volume in check. If it picks up 80% leaving you to only deal with 20%, you’re still playing a winning game. In addition, it picks up run-of-the-mill dust and crap, so it’s really a win-win. In my pet hair situation, most of the problem pet hair that my house accumulates is under the bed. This is exactly where the Roomba shines.

  20. posted by twosandalz on

    Here’s a vote for a little hand vac. My good friend keeps pet hair in check with one of these. She runs over problem spots (including furniture) in a couple rooms per day, and also vacuums weekly. The hand vac work is quick and not thorough, but is enough to keep the hair count low between vacuuming.

  21. posted by lala on

    i got a roomba for christmas. it’s the silver one (not top of the line), and it’s got this little side brush that extends beyond the round robot body that spins and gets the corners and along the baseboards. i love that it goes under my bed too. even though my dog seems to deal with it pretty well, i found that it’s great to turn it on in the morning and let it do it’s thing while we are out for our morning walk (25-30 mins). it picks up a lot, and i couldn’t be happier with it.

  22. posted by Anthrodiva on


    I am surprised no one voted for a Bissell sweeper:

    Lighter and smaller and much quieter than a vaccuum – it’s a pleasure to use daily “zoop zoop” picking up larger detritus, and a child can use it and have fun with it as well.

  23. posted by verily on

    I just vacuum. It does the trick and doesn’t bat a lash at all the combined pet hair from a lab and three cats.

    As for the couches, I gave up the battle. I just flip the cushions when guests come over. πŸ˜›

  24. posted by lana on

    I just gotta give props on the dog portrait. I saw it flickr a few months ago and fell in love. Excellent job, Matt.

    I’m also a fan of the Roomba. Not only does it perform better than expected, it seems to have helped all of our allergies too since I use it more often than our regular vacuum. My only complaint is that it’s seriously noisy (and it takes too long to dock itself when done), but overall the pluses outweigh the minuses.

    The microfiber mop is another great suggestion. It fits under low tables and things that the Roomba can’t get under.

  25. posted by Kathleen on

    My husband is an AC Tech and even the reliable filters may need to be changed more than seasonally. Make it a habit to look at your filter in your return at least monthly.

    Microfiber rags are amazing and reusable–a big plus over Swiffers. I wince at the thought of how popular microfiber upholstery has become. We’ve got chenille and it’s challenging enough. A quick swipe with a lint brush gets the worst of it.

  26. posted by dog houses on

    Well, I suggest Roomba too! I think that’s better cuz as compared to other vacuum, it cleans under the bed. πŸ˜‰

  27. posted by wiezy on

    I 100% agree with Rachel. The Swiffer Sweeper Vac hangs on my kitchen wall charging and is nothing like pulling out a big vac. I also use both sides of the Swiffer clothes to reduce waste.

  28. posted by Dr. Patty Khuly on

    OK, I’ll jump on the Roomba bandwagon myself. As a vet, I also recommend the Furminator pet brush–it gets out all the dense, flyaway undercoat most likely to bunch into dustbunnies. I talk about it so much on my blog you’d think this company would cough up some sponsorship $. Bathing helps immensely and fatty acid supplements and skin/thyroid checks are critical for those that lose huge hunks of fur. Great blog!

  29. posted by Caroline on

    Hi! I realize it’s kind of too late to comment on this, but I have a German Shepard mix, a rottweiler mix, and my boyfriend has a cat. I also recently purchased the FURminator (, and it’s freakin awesome. I filled up tons of grocery bags full of hair, and it made a noticeable difference in the furry tumbleweeds throughout my apartment. I use it about once every other week. A word of advice though, get the smallest size they make for dogs, the bigger one is just the same except wider and costs $30 more. Plus it’s easier to brush around their ears and necks.

  30. posted by Shelly on

    Get kitty a shave! I have a long haired calico kitty and once or twice a year she goes to a groomer (who will do cats) and she gets a “lion” cut. The lady is so good at it, she even puts cotton in kitty’s ears so the noise doesn’t bother her. Doing this, made a HUGE impact on the amount of kitty dander in my house and the added bonus was…no more hairballs for her! When her coat does grow back out, it’s really beautiful. Of course, I don’t have her trimmed during winter, but she’s a house cat anyway so it probably doesn’t matter.
    Consider doing this…I’m amazed at the LACK of hair around the house!

  31. posted by Jenny on

    I can heartily recommend Dyson, an English brand of vacuum cleaners. I adore mine. It’s a joy to use. Friends and family who raised an eyebrow at the initial investment have been converted (I’ve even taken it to friends’ houses for a demo!). Who would have thought I’d enjoy vacuuming?!
    Regarding pet fur, I have a few lint rollers around the house – I’m in Australia, and a good one here is called the Aussie Lint Roller (nice ‘n’ simple!).

    I’m concerned at the various suggestions here to bathe cats twice a month, shave them etc. Pets mean fur. Get over it. Cats have natural oils in their fur. Washing too often upsets the balance in their fur/skin.

    Love this site.


  32. posted by Tere on

    I put cut-to-size folded over cheesecloth in the heating/AC ducts and misted each of them with oil. This is replaced once a year. No restriction of airflow. I also got rid of all my carpeting; had laminate flooring put down, my place is much cleaner. Much easier to run the vacuum with only the floor brush attachment, I don’t bother to change attachments when I do the upholstered furniture. I can tell which piece of furniture my cats sleep on by the amount of hair gets stuck on the brush. Since my 3 cats sleep on my bed, I do the bed too. Surprising how much hair clings to the brush. Something else for many to think about. How often do you open your windows and allow fresh air to come in? I haven’t used my air conditioning at all this summer. I have an indoor/outdoor thermometer/hygrometer and let the combination temp and humidity level outdoors determine whether to run the window fan or close my place up and run a table fan. Opening your windows (but not during allergy season, of course) makes all the difference in the world.

  33. posted by Lisa on

    I as well am a Roomba fan. Bonus points if you can get your (small) pet to ride on it as it goes around the room. Efficient and entertaining!

  34. posted by Janet, The Organizing Genie on

    We have 2 cats and I highly recommend the Roomba too.

  35. posted by Victoria on

    HI was just reading your comments here, looking for a low tech way of regularly removing dog fur from an area rug, and have a tip.

    We have 4 furry dogs that we don’t get groomed (yes I know that would make it easier if we got them cut but that’s another story) – but I also live in Mexico where I don’t think I could easily find the vaccuums mentioned anyway(+ they’d be more expensive).

    Now, the tip: My son was visiting, and just by kicking along the rug with his athletic shoes on, he cleaned it better than the results from the 3 step-process of beating it/brushing it/vacuuming it with an industrial vac!

    I’m thinking it could make an excellent indoor work out for the legs, LOL… but made me wonder if there was some type of tool that would work this way. The rubber glove idea came the closest but I think it’d be easier to kick than rub…

  36. posted by Kate on

    I have an Austrailian Cattle Dog that blows out his undercoat twice a year. The Furminator is a lifesaver! I had the dog’s coat shaved down to an inch in spring 2008 (in prep for the summer months). I then used the Furminator to catch whatever grew out.

  37. posted by kbfenner on

    Have a German “Shedder” Dog and a Weimaraner. The Weim is only a problem a copuple of times a year, but the German Shedder…I bless the Furminator. It’s too expensive, but it really really saves me on vacuum bags. I never have to bathe my dog because she has a new coat every week, it seems, and the Furminator keeps 80% of it outside now. We get her brushed after every morning walk, unless she got wet.

    The Zoom Groom, or just a red rubber curry comb, works great on the Weim.

    We call them dust puppies, by the way.

  38. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    Suggestion – keep the pets outside – give them their own houses to fur up. If that’s not an option, get a poodle or one of those ugly hairless cats.

    Yes, I am half joking. But my DH is allergic to cat dander so my cat had to learn to live outside and only come inside on special occasions (like, we’re moving anyway, what does it matter if she walks through the house so long as we don’t accidentally box her). Into the bargain, we rent and most rental properties that allow pets only allow outside pets.

  39. posted by KateyW on

    I see this post was updated. Since I first saw it, we found something that works great for our cat hair. It’s called the ChomChom Roller, and you can get it from Amazon or or similar places. Unlilke sticky sheets or tape, you can use it over and over again and empty it out. It’s quicker than using a vacuum, and it gets fur off upholstery better than our handheld vac. I run it daily over the sofa and places on the rug where the cat sleeps. It just takes a minute and it works better than anything I’ve ever used.

  40. posted by Lynette on

    I have a chocolate lab also. I highly recommend not only the furminator brush but the shampoo and conditioner as well. It’s a little more expensive but if you follow the directions it really helps with the shedding! I also love my Braava…it is able to get into corners and its amazing (or scary?!) how much dirt it picks up!

  41. posted by Jenifer on

    ROOMBA! I’ve had mine for about five years now. My home has all hardwood floors and, at the time, I had three cats including a Siberian mix who had very long fine hair. I definitely recommend the iRobot brand as a user, but if you feel another brand will suit you better, go ahead.

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