5 Alternatives to Dog Shampoo That You Can Use to Wash Your Pup

by K Marie Alto November 11, 2021 8 min read

5 Alternatives to Dog Shampoo That You Can Use to Wash Your Pup

Dogs have a way of finding dirt, mud, and other less savory substances to roll around in, which means it's a simple fact of life that you need to give them a bath on a regular basis. Washing, drying, combing, or using a dog brush; it's just part of having a canine companion. After all, they can't exactly take a shower themselves, right?

What happens if it's time to wash your furry friend, only to find that you're out of shampoo? Or, maybe you're not a fan of using chemical-laden products and want to go with something more natural for your dog. Whatever the case may be, you want an alternative to dog shampoo. What can you pick up and use safely?

Avoid Human Shampoo

If you've run out of dog shampoo and need to wash your furry friend, you might reach for your own shampoo. Is it safe?

Well, yes and no. It depends entirely on what kind of shampoo you're using.

99% of the time, human shampoo is going to be bad for your dog. The reason is that it's tailored to a different pH level, and it tends to be harsher, stripping oils, dead skin, dirt, grime, sweat, and everything else out, often while leaving behind layers of moisturizer and chemical protections. This is fine for your own head, but when you lather up your pup, you're likely to find that they're left with dry, itchy skin.  

Avoid Human Shampoo

Soaps should generally be balanced for the pH level of the skin you're using them on. Too acidic and it can burn; too alkaline and it can corrode. Human skin is around 5-6 pH, leaning closer to the acidic side of the scale. As such, most human-designed soaps are around that same level. Dogs, meanwhile, have a skin pH of closer to 7, more alkaline than human skin, and smack dab in the middle of the pH scale. Soaps designed for people tend to be more acidic than a dog will enjoy.

There are some all-natural shampoos made for humans that can work just fine on dogs, but they're few and far between. You're better off putting something together using natural ingredients or just doing the best you can now and picking up a fresh bottle of shampoo tomorrow.

Option 1: Dish Soap

Wait, if human shampoo is too harsh for your dog, wouldn't dish soap be just as bad? After all, it's designed to cut through grease and food waste. Wouldn't that do just as much harm?

Holding Dish Soap

Again, it depends on the soap. The original formula for Dawn dish soap is perfectly safe for animals. So much so that Dawn is actually widely used to help clean up wildlife after oil spills and other disasters.

"[Susan Baba] says the reason Dawn is so good at cleaning birds without hurting them is that it was designed to erase grease from dishes without harming hands. The exact formula is a secret, but she says the key is balancing the surfactants -- the chemicals that cut the grease."

Of course, other brands of dish soap may be harsher on the skin, as can heavy-duty formulas. Stick with the original, if you can. You'll also want to dilute it, so it's not as concentrated. ¼ of a cup of Dawn mixed with ½ of a cup of white vinegar and 2 cups of water will make a great cleanser that is gentle enough and diluted enough to be safe for your four-legged friend's skin and fur.

Option 2: Castile Soap

Castile soap is a slightly harder-to-find kind of soap. It's named after the Castile region of Spain and is made primarily out of natural vegetable oils like avocado, coconut, olive, and hemp oils. This is in contrast to most other commercially available soaps, which either use animal fat as a base or, much more commonly, petroleum products.

Castile soap is one of the gentlest soaps available that still works at all. Natural oils make it very light on the skin, both for you and for your fur baby. It's closer to 9 on the pH scale, making it even more alkaline than your dog's skin, but the slight difference isn't all that much. Plus, since Castile soap is made of oils, it doesn't stripas many oils from your fur baby's skin, which leaves them more protected. It just binds to dirt, grime, and grease, lifting it away instead.

Castile Soap Bars

Finding Castile soap can be a little difficult for some people. However, you can make castile soap yourself, though since it uses lye, it can be dangerous to do without training and tools. We don't recommend trying to whip up soap in a pinch, either; it can take up to two weeks to harden into a bar before you can use it!

If you happen to keep Castile soap around, it's a good option. Likewise, if you can't find your usual dog shampoo and want to browse the human soaps section. It's a good eco-friendly option, at the very least.

Option 3: Oatmeal Deodorizer

Oatmeal is a common ingredient in both cooking recipes and bath treatments for irritated skin. Anyone who has a rash or a skin disorder like eczema knows that oatmeal can be a soothing and repairing choice. The same goes for your dog.

Oatmeal Deodorizer Option

Pick up some rolled oats or oatmeal, and pull out the baking soda, because this option requires you to run a bath ahead of time. You actually have two options.

  • Run hot water over a cup of oats directly into your bathtub or dog bath. The hot water pulls nutrients and powders out of the oats and infuses them into the bathwater. Let it cool to about room temperature – you don't want to overheat or scald your fur baby – and then use that bath to wash them. Let them soak for 5-10 minutes to help fully remove odors.
  • Make an oat shampoo. Mix a cup of ground oatmeal with half a cup of baking soda and four cups of water. Use this the same way you would any other shampoo.

Oats are soothing to the skin, and baking soda is a natural deodorizer. Combined, they can help lift away dirt and grime, kill off odor-causing bacteria, and clean your dog's coat. It might not do much against extremely potent stench, like a skunk spray, but it will work just fine for those everyday odors and dirt many fur babies get into.  

It might be worth paying some special attention to your fur baby's feet, too. Strange dog feet odors may be normal, but they may also be a sign of bacteria running wild, and you don't want to let that linger.  

Option 4: The Nuclear Deodorizer

This option is the one recommended by the Humane Society for de-skunking a dog. Skunk sprays are extremely potent, and they tend to linger, as a way for the skunk to warn off predators and teach them a lesson they won't soon forget.  

"Chemically, skunk spray contains as many as seven different volatile compounds (compounds that readily become gas) that are responsible for its repulsive smell. These compounds are thiols or thioacetates. Most thiols bind strongly and rapidly to skin proteins." – VCA Hospitals

It's made to linger, and that means it can be very difficult to get rid of. Luckily, as an organic compound, there are ways to break it down; you just need to be thorough.

The Nuclear Deodorizer

An over-the-counter de-skunking shampoo is usually the best option, but you can mix up this concoction at home:

  • A quart of hydrogen peroxide 3%
  • ¼ cup of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap.

Hydrogen peroxide is very good at breaking down organic compounds like skunk sprays and some of the other more noxious nastiness a dog can decide to roll around in. The dish soap helps break down and carry away compounds, and the baking soda is a deodorizer. Taken all together, it forms a fairly effective alternative to a store-bought shampoo.

There are a few warnings associated with this mixture, though.

  • It's caustic and irritating, so keep it away from your fur baby's eyes.
  • It's harsh, so be quick about using it, so it doesn't linger on the skin.
  • Don't leave it on too long. Hydrogen peroxide is a natural bleach and can remove color from your fur baby's coat.
  • Don't mix it up and store it; a chemical reaction between hydrogen peroxide and baking soda can build up pressure inside a bottle and cause it to explode unexpectedly. Only make it when you need to use it.

If it sounds dangerous, well, it is and it isn't. It's more dangerous than a typical soap or shampoo, but it's still pretty tame in the grand scheme of things. Use it cautiously, and you'll be fine.

Option 5: Corn Starch

Baking soda is one of the main go-to powdered deodorizers you see recommended everywhere, but it's not the only one you can use. Corn starch is also a good option. It's very good at binding to grease molecules and carrying them away, and grease is usually the main offender when it comes to lingering dirt and odors.  

Corn Starch Bowl

For this option, you'll want to start with a dry doggo. Shake out corn starch over their coat and work it in with your hands until your pup looks like they're trying to dress up as a ghost for Halloween. You can use a normal brush, but we'd recommend using either our natural boar bristle brush or pin brush to brush out any starch and dirt, and make sure you've gotten as close to full coverage as you can. Using the right tools for the job can make all the difference. 

Use Right Tools

This basically works as a dry shampoo. In fact, you want to avoid getting your fur baby wet during this process. Corn starch absorbs water and turns into a very difficult-to-handle gel. If you've ever tried to cook with the stuff, you know how much of a pain it can be to wash away.  

As such, corn starch is a good option when you need or want to keep your doggo dry, but if they're already wet or they need a bath, it's not a good option.

Additional Options

There are a lot of different mixtures of soaps, baking soda, and other ingredients out there. For the most part, they're all safe; it's only things like harsh human shampoo, hydrogen peroxide, and stronger chemicals that can cause damage and leave your poor fur baby with itchy and dry skin. There are, however, other choices as well.

Additional Alternative Options

One of the biggest options available to many pet parents (and human parents) is baby shampoo. Baby soaps and shampoos are made to be as gentle as possible, because babies are very fragile and have very sensitive skin and eyes. 

You also see vinegar on a lot of different homemade shampoo lists. Vinegar is fairly strongly acidic – a pH of 2.5 – which is why it's usually diluted before use. It's very good at killing off bacteria, though, making it a great component in any cleanser meant to get rid of odors caused by those pesky little microbes.

Another option, and one that's great to carry with you on walks and as part of your everyday kit, is wipes. Baby wipes and makeup wipes are small patches of cloth soaked in a gentle cleanser, so they're very portable and easy to use and discard. Just avoid the ones with artificial fragrances.

An alternative is to buy pet wipes. If you prefer this option, make sure to only use wipes that are safe for your fur baby. To learn more about dog wipes safety, read our blog posts on how to pick a safe pet wipe, and 5 toxic “natural” ingredients that may be irreversibly harming your fur baby.

Your Ideas

What do you think? As pet parents yourselves, you've probably tried all manner of alternatives. Do you avoid shampoo to be more environmentally conscious or to save money? Do you just run out and need a homemade alternative? And, above all, what do you use?

Dog After Bath

There are a ton of options; we've just presented five of the most common that we've seen.

We're always open to hearing your stories. Let us know in the comments what your favorite alternative to dog shampoo is, how you make and use it, and what you like best about it. Additionally, if you have any questions regarding today's topic, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact us!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 19K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).

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