Dog Tracks and Other Muddy Tales

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Last winter’s weather was wacky enough that we had at least a half-dozen freeze-snow-thaw cycles and mud seasons to go with them. I don’t mind dealing with the sticky gumbo once or twice in a fairly narrow time frame, but with anywhere from three to five dogs in the household, it was quite a chore to clean their dirty feet each time they wanted inside.
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Bissell's SpotBot
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Bissell's ProHeat CleanShot
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Dyson DC 16 Root 6
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Dirt Tamer Deluxe

Last winter’s weather was wacky enough that we had at least a half-dozen freeze-snow-thaw cycles and mud seasons to go with them. I don’t mind dealing with the sticky gumbo once or twice in a fairly narrow time frame, but with anywhere from three to five dogs in the household, it was quite a chore to clean their dirty feet each time they wanted inside.

Our first approach was an attempt to preempt the mess in most of the house. We put wood chips down on favorite dog trails leading to the back door. We layered the mudroom floor with old towels and newspaper, converting the space into a passive decontamination chamber. We thought that if our canine companions spent 10 or 15 minutes there on the way inside, the temporary flooring would absorb the worst of the mess. Some days it worked well, other days not so well. Most days, I found a few more inches of lace missing from the assorted footwear in the mudroom boot rack.

It’s hard to know whether any of the effort really helped because muddy dog prints showed up all over the house no matter what we tried. And Gus, our 50-something-pound border collie spent more than one afternoon sleeping on the sofa (clean feet and all) only to leave a nice brown shadow on the upholstery.

This is when we knew we needed to develop an offensive strategy … with the mud anyway.

Stage one of our battle included having a mop and plenty of Mister Clean handy to keep the mudroom and kitchen floors looking decent. There’s nothing as satisfying as a freshly mopped floor … that is until dry-footed country dogs traipse across it before it’s dry. It seems that in our part of the world, dry-footed dogs aren’t necessarily clean-footed dogs. You guessed it … the still-moist Mister Clean mixed with the dry dirt on their feet, leaving a trail so clear it was easy to follow right onto the living room carpet.

Since we were smart enough to invest in stain-release carpeting when we replaced it last year, at first we just let the paw-prints dry and went to work on them with our Dyson DC 17 Absolute Animal (about $549.99 at vacuum cleaner. The Animal worked pretty well … especially for footprints made with relatively dry dirt. We originally bought the device to keep our pet-filled house hair free … it works great on the thousands of Asian ladybeetles that invade each winter, too. As a vacuum, the Dyson is nothing short of phenomenal. It uses no disposable bags, is virtually impossible to clog and will pull the curtains from the rods if you aren’t careful. However, the Dyson was not designed to remove dirt that is really ground into the carpet … especially when it’s applied in the form of wet mud.

When I first read about Bissell’s SpotBot Pet (about $139.99 at, I chuckled a bit and dismissed it as another gadget aimed at capitalizing on the burgeoning pet market. But when the folks at Bissell wanted to send me one to evaluate, I thought, What the heck. Once it arrived, I brought it home and forgot about it until the day my boss was coming over for dinner, and I noticed five rather prominent pet prints on the dining room carpet.

The Dyson had dimmed the prints some, as had our attempt at removing them with a spray cleaner. But there they were nonetheless. In a last-minute stroke of genius, I remembered the SpotBot and quickly unpacked it, skimmed the instructions, loaded the fluids and set it to work. To my shock and delight, the thing worked beautifully. In fact, using the SpotBot was so satisfying that I searched the house for more footprints, and once I had removed them, I tackled that big brown shadow on the sofa. The SpotBot is nothing short of amazing in its ability to remove carpet stains of all kinds. In no time, I grew so accustomed to using it that I kept the SpotBot handy in the mudroom, right next to the boot rack.

Just a few short weeks after becoming a SpotBot evangelist, I learned that our No. 2 daughter was coming to the farm for a couple of days. Luckily, I remembered that Lucy, our West Highland Terrier, had lost her lunch in the spare bedroom a few days earlier. The carpet was clean, but the, ah, well, let’s just say there was a purplish stain left behind. So I gleefully brought the SpotBot upstairs, mixed the solutions and prepared it to go to work. But when I pushed the buttons, nothing happened. I tried every electrical outlet in the room … still nothing. So I sat on the floor feeling remorse for having somehow managed to break my new friend. As I reluctantly wound up the cord, I noticed that it had been chewed and nearly severed in two. Obviously, the dogs had mistaken it for a boot lace.

Long story short, I needed to run to town for supplies to fix the SpotBot’s cord, and when I asked my wife, Kate, if she wanted to come along, she suggested we stop and get a full-sized version, if it existed. A quick visit to Bissell’s Web site revealed that they had quite a lineup of pet-related cleaning machines. We settled on their ProHeat 2X CleanShot (about $329 at and headed to town to find one. Kate did a little calling on the way and discovered that we could get that machine at a local discount appliance store for quite a bit less than its Web price, so that’s where we went, after a quick stop at the hardware store for some cord-repair supplies.

Back at home an hour later, I assembled the ProHeat 2X CleanShot and put it to work … and work it did. This pet-dirt predator uses a combination of spinning brush, hot water and concentrated cleaning solutions to get the jump on deeply set stains. And that’s not all. It also uses a powerful vacuum to pull the soil-laden solvent back out of the carpet and side blowers to help dry it. Bissell’s cleaning solutions also renew the carpet’s Scotch Guard treatment and won’t void its warranty.

I went to work on the stain in the spare bedroom first, and the ProHeat worked so well that I proceeded to clean the other rooms upstairs and then moved to those on the main floor. I had the carpets looking lovely in no time.

I stopped for a cup of coffee before tackling the kitchen and mudroom floors with a mop, and, as luck would have it, the ProHeat’s user manual was sitting on the counter right in front of me. I picked up the manual and, while flipping through it, discovered that the machine was also capable of cleaning hard floors. Wow, I thought, and soon discovered the ProHeat 2X CleanShot not only does an excellent job of mopping, it leaves the floor almost completely dry after sucking up the dirty water and blowing warm air all around. The ProHeat is also equipped with a hose-attached Tough Stain Tool, which I used to clean some hard-to-reach areas in the mudroom (under the hot water heater, for example). What a cool tool.

No discussion of mud season mania would be complete without mentioning at least one more device, and that is the portable, battery-powered vacuum. No matter how carefully I vacuum (or sweep) before hitting the hard floors with the ProHeat, there’s always a bit of gravel left somewhere. Rather than go to the trouble of lugging the larger vacuum around to get at those bits and pieces, I reach for our trusty Dirt Tamer Deluxe ($49.99) cordless vac. The Dirt Tamer boasts one of the highest suction pressures around. It makes short work of the stray pieces of gravel and dry dirt clods, and it is also able to clean up the wet mess when I open the washing machine’s door before it has fully drained.

Our Dirt Tamer lives in the mudroom, so it isn’t much use when the pooches clean the dried clay balls from between their toes in our bedroom upstairs. So we keep a Dyson DC 16 Root 6 (about $149.99 at cordless handheld vacuum at the ready in that part of the house. The DC 16 has about 6 minutes of suction power and recharges about three times faster than most. Kate also says it is more stylish than some – stylish enough that its charging station is in plain view. I like this machine because it doesn’t seem to care whether it’s eating Asian ladybeetles, clay balls or dog hair.

I still don’t love mud season, but my anxiety about letting the dogs back into the house is waning with these five great machines on my team. The only way it could be better is to have a larger mudroom with a floor-sink for rinsing the dogs and a shower for those humans who can’t seem to avoid seasonal soil of all kinds. But that project is a topic for another day.

Grit Editor Oscar “Hank” Will has battled springtime mud on farms from Ohio to Osage County, Kansas. He’s currently planning the mother of all mudrooms and hopes to obtain construction approval from Homeland Security soon.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.

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