Is Dry Shampoo Safe for Dogs? 5 Things to Avoid

by K Marie Alto February 17, 2022 17 min read

Dog getting sprayed with dry dog shampoo by toe beans

According to dog grooming experts and vets, you should bathe your dog once every 3-5 weeks. The question is how do you manage the stinkiness in between? Some parents use dry dog shampoo. But is dry shampoo safe for dogs?

Dogs 🐕 can get really stinky. Sometimes it's dirt and grime, sometimes it's something they rolled in 💩, and sometimes it's simply natural.

On one hand, bathing 🚿 your fur baby is critically important to keep their odors controlled, their skin clean, their fur healthy, and both of you happy.

And on the other, a healthy pup with a short, smooth coat, and no skin issues should not be bathed often.

In this post I answer the question: Is dry shampoo safe for dogs? From how often to use them to potentially dangerous ingredients to what dry shampoos to avoid. This section comes with a bonus info graphic that will make you think twice before you buy the first dry shampoo 🛁 that you run into: 10 dog shampoo claims every pet parent should question. 

The "read further" section all the way at the bottom is for pet parents seeking to deepen their knowledge 🤓 on dog fur care. I have written extensively 📚 about this topic. Alternatively, feel free to stop by my blog. Spoiler alert: it is loaded with useful resources. 

Bathing too frequently can lead to dry skin, dull fur, and all sorts of other problems. Nobody wants that!

What happens when your pup is due for a bath, but you need to buy some extra time?  You want something to help keep your fur baby clean and cut back on strange dog odors, but what? Where do you turn?

Enter Dry Shampoo for Dogs

One of the most widely recommended products on the market is dry shampoo. It comes in dozens of different varieties, with wildly different compositions. What are they, though?

Dry dog shampoo woman holding her nose by toe beans

Normal shampoo is a kind of soap. The soap breaks down oils and grime, making it easy for water to wash it away. The shampoo might have additional ingredients to moisturize skin and hair/fur to help protect it, or it might require you to use a conditioner or another product after the fact.

Dry shampoo doesn't seem like the same kind of product, right? How can a spray or powder have the same sort of effect on oil?

Dog Dry Shampoo Session

Dry dog shampoos are made out of alcohol-based or starch-based ingredients. When sprinkled or sprayed onto the coat and brushed in, the shampoo absorbs the oils and grime that has accumulated since the last washing.

It's important to note that dry dog shampoos don't break down oils or dirt; they simply absorb them. It's sort of like spreading cat litter on an oil spill or using baking soda to clean up spilled wine.

The dry powdery ingredient absorbs oil, and dirt comes with it. As a result, dry shampoo,  reduces shine and makes fur look and feel cleaner, and since it traps dirt, old oil, and bacteria, it reduces odors as well.

Typically, dry shampoo is applied, let sit for a few minutes to do its work, and then brushed or combed out. It doesn't need to be washed away with water – and actually shouldn't be, otherwise you’d just use regular shampoo.

Dog Rope Toys made in the USA by Toe Beans

Is dry shampoo effective? In short, yes! It's not actually shampoo, though, and doesn't work in the same way, so you can’t expect the same results as a bath.  It will however help remove some of that oil and dirt and freshen up your pup in between baths.

As you may imagine, not all dry shampoos are created equally.  While they can be used effectively and safely, there are a few caveats. Here are a few things you should consider when using dry dog shampoos. We prefer the powder to the foam version of dry dog shampoos.

Avoid Long-Term Exclusive Use

The number one mistake people make with dry shampoo – and this applies to people using it on themselves and to pet parents using it on their fur babies – is using it too often for too long.

The truth is dry shampoo can only do so much. As I mentioned earlier, it absorbs oil and traps dirt, which can partially be removed when you brush your fur baby's fur, but it doesn't break down the remaining oil, fully kill bacteria, or clean the skin.

Giving Dog a Bath

In other words, your fur baby will still need occasional baths with plain old water and real shampoo. There's no way around it. Nothing short of a soap can truly cleanse the skin and fur.

"According to Dr. Bergfeld (Doctor of Dermatology), dry shampoos not only build up a residue in your hair that can make your scalp feel and appear sandy and grainy, but the products also may dry out your hair, making it brittle or fragile. If the hair is dry and there no added moisturizing substance, the hair fiber will fracture, and you'll have a headful of broken hair, she says." – Cleveland Clinic.

While Bergfeld's advice is for humans, the same guidance applies to dogs.

Dog with Paw up and Organic Dog Paw Balms Vegan by Momma Knows Best

Sustained use of dry shampoo without a bath can also cause a number of problems, including:

  • Build-up of absorbent and dry powder, which can dry out skin and fur, leading to a dull coat.
  • Clogging of pores and sebaceous glands, which can inhibit sebum production and cause skin issues.
  • Over-absorption of sebum, which removes the skin's natural barrier against infection, which in turn can cause rashes and skin infections.
  • In extreme cases, over-use of dry shampoo can even lead to developing contact dermatitis.

Again, though, it's worth mentioning that dry shampoo isn't inherently dangerous. All of these side effects come from over-use. In human terms, imagine if you never took a shower and just used deodorant every day instead.

You might be able to stave off problems for a few weeks, but eventually, you might start to develop some health and skin problems. The same goes for your fur baby. Dry shampoo shouldn't be used as a replacement for the occasional bath. 

How Often Should You Bathe Your Dog? 3-min Video

Avoid Using Too Much Dry Shampoo

The second thing to do is avoid using too much dry shampoo - specifically, too much at once. A little goes a long way, and you can always apply a little more if the first application wasn’t sufficient.

Spraying Dry Shampoo

The problem here is closely related to the previous issue. Applying too much dry shampoo will absorb too much oil and moisture from the skin and hair of your fur baby's coat. This leaves your poor pooch with no natural barrier against environmental contamination, bacterial infection, and damage. Not to mention their coat will be dull and dry, possibly brittle, and can be prone to shedding.

"The truth is, some oiliness is actually helpful for your dog's fur, just like in your own skin and hair. The sebaceous glands produce this oiliness, as a way to keep the skin healthy and moisturized, as well as acting as the skin's first line of defense in fighting bacteria. So in a way, oily is healthy! But as the sebum builds up, that can turn into a greasy coat and a stinky one at that." – Natural Paws.

Dry shampoo is best used as a spot treatment for dirt and grime, and can be used as an occasional deodorizer, but it's not meant to be a total-body solution or a replacement for bathing and grooming.

If you use too much dry shampoo, you're likely going to strip too much oil from your fur baby's skin. At best, they'll have dry and itchy skin for a few days after the fact. In extreme cases, it can lead to rashes and skin infections. Always be careful with how much dry shampoo you apply to your fur baby!

CBD oil for dogs' holistic wellness by Momma Knows Best

On the plus side, if you accidentally apply too much dry shampoo to your fur baby, it's not hard to get rid of. Just give their coat a thorough brushing to remove the excess ASAP.

Regardless of whether you use too much or too little dry shampoo, it's always a good idea to make sure dry dog shampoo applications are combined with frequent brushing sessions. This will ensure that situations such as clogged pores or accumulation of dry shampoo in certain areas do not occur.

Always make sure to use a natural dog bristle brush, which unlike synthetic brushes, given their natural composition, do a much better job at distributing your dog’s natural oils throughout the fur thus keeping a healthy and great looking coat while helping to maintain their fur's natural beauty.

Dog Bristle Brush by toe beans

Avoid Potentially Dangerous Dry Shampoo Ingredients

There are dozens if not hundreds of dry shampoos on the market. Some of them are just branded corn starch, some of them are a mixture of natural and healthy (USDA certified organic) ingredients, and some are packed with synthetic chemicals and nasty compounds.

It's that third group you need to watch out for. There are a bunch of different ingredients you should avoid for the health of your fur baby. These include:

  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • FD&C, and other artificial colors
  • Any artificial fragrance
  • Ammonium Lauryl Ether Sulfate
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine
  • Cocamine DEA
  • Ethyl or Methyl Paraben
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

 Exposed to Dangerous Ingredients

Most of these ingredients are either known to be carcinogens or are frequently contaminated with other carcinogens because the regulations governing them (especially in pet products) are extremely lax or nonexistent.

Some of these chemicals can also cause developmental disorders, reproductive disorders, endocrine disorders, and neurotoxicity.

Important to note here is the prevalence of "natural" dry dog shampoos made in Asia or made in the USA with imported or globally sourced ingredients. We highly advise pet parents to avoid at all costs these types of products and favor, if at all possible, USDA certified organic options.

If you buy your dog shampoo products on the largest US eCommerce site, odds are those products are manufactured in Asia. Don't believe us? keep on reading.

Dog Paw caring kit by toe beans

There are several ways in which you can find out if your pet products are made in Asia and the manufacturer is falsely claiming made in the USA or some smart  variation of this phrase.

One simple way is by running what we like to call the 3liv3v3 test (replace the "3" symbol for the letter "a" and the "v" for a "b" when looking up this website).

For those of you not familiar with this website, it is basically where 90% + of products come from on the largest eCommerce site in the USA. Go on 3liv3v3 and run a search for pet shampoo or dog shampoo.

You will be surprised to find many of the most popular commercially available pet products there. Perhaps even the one you are using right now. The horrifying thing is that many of these brands label their products as "handcrafted in the USA" or even "made in the USA"

We are sure you already avoid those for yourself so, why not do it for your dog as well. 

Avoid Dry Shampoos that "Stop" or "Prevent" Oil

Many dry shampoos are aimed at absorbing oil and carrying away dirt, bacteria, grime, and odor-causing compounds with it. Some of them apply an artificial fragrance for further deodorization, though you should avoid those for the reasons mentioned above.

Some dry shampoos, though, claim that they can prevent your fur baby's coat from getting oily in the first place. Avoid these at all costs. Why?

Well, here's the thing: they work.

Dog After Dry Shampoo

As mentioned above, natural skin oils are essential to skin and fur health. More importantly, though, is the question of how they work.

Typically, if a dry shampoo is preventing oil, what it's actually doing is clogging the sebaceous glands and pores. These clogs can cause skin irritation and develop into tiny infections (think pimples) that can grow into larger infections.

You don't want to prevent oil from being produced or distributed throughout your fur baby's skin and coat. That oil is protective, moisturizing, and important for your pup's overall health.

Dog books by toe beans_Parenting

And of course, any dry shampoo that promotes a "benefit" so detrimental to the health of your fur baby may also be dangerous in other ways as well, such as providing bad instructions or  bad ingredients.

Avoid Dry Shampoos that Don't List Ingredients

The final concern you should keep in mind is any dry shampoo that doesn't list what exactly is inside the bottle. The problem is there are relatively few regulations on pet products compared to their human counterparts, so in some instances, companies may not be required to list the ingredients in their products.

Applying Dry Shampoo

Similarly, also avoid vague explanations of ingredients that don’t tell you if the ingredient is naturally or synthetically derived.  These explanations are in most cases intentionally left vague for reasons they do not want you to know. Here are some common examples:  

  • "Mild cleansing agents" (Okay, which ones and how are they defining mild?)
  • "Moisturizing agents" (Again, which ones?)
  • "Coconut-based surfactants" (This can be anything from naturally extracted coconut to cocamidopropyl betaine, which is also naturally derived from coconut and then mixed with synthetic chemicals, which can remain in the final product.)
  • "Preservatives". Which ones? This could be anything from formaldehyde to Methylisothiazolinone to Methylchloroisothiazolinone to sodium benzoate. Definitely not something you want to apply on your dog.
  • "Proprietary blend of...". I know, it sounds fancy and appealing right? However, this is perhaps one of the most dangerous descriptions of ingredients you will encounter. I guess one exception would be if the product is USDA certified organic as the USDA only approves non-toxic and safe ingredients.

An always potentially life-threatening ingredient is "fragrance". Almost every pet product that is dermally  absorbed will list this highly dangerous ingredient.  We highly advise pet parents to always think of the word fragrance in pet products as a proxy for poisonous. 

 

Styptic powder USDA certified organic free of harsh chemicals by Momma Knows Best

 

Some very cleaver manufacturers will even try to distract unsuspecting pet parents by adding some "safe-inspiring" words in front. For example you will see something like "natural berry fragrance".

Don't be fooled, fragrance is fragrance, period. Here are a few things you should know about fragrance in pet products:

For starters, did you know that the FDA does not require a brand to disclose what's in a fragrance? This is a very dangerous proposition.

On the one hand, customers are left in the dark about what exactly is in the ingredient and, on the other hand, it provides enough incentives for unscrupulous sellers (specially those overseas whose products have flooded the US market) to increase their profits by using cheap and unsafe methods to make their products more enticing to unsuspecting pet parents by adding dangerous fragrances.

Fragrance mixes have long been known to produce dermatitis, respiratory distress, allergies as well as potential effects on the reproductive system.

Additionally, fragrances hide phthalates. Which have been known to be toxic. According to the FDA,

"...the regulations do not require the listing of the individual fragrance ingredients; therefore, the consumer will not be able to determine from the ingredient declaration if phthalates are present in a fragrance"

So, according to the FDA, it is evident that we should all avoid any type of fragrance in our products.

Even if the product promotes health benefits or claims to be all-natural, which today is the norm, if they don't clearly disclose what's in it, don't use it. It's simply not worth the risk. Organ damage occurs over time.

Here is a word-for-word statement I found in the ingredients section of a label of a very popular deodorizing liquid pet shampoo sold on the largest eCommerce platform in the USA:

"The remaining 1% of ingredients are proprietary and essential for the integrity and quality of our products: odor neutralizer, vitamin E, fragrance, preservative."

There are a few things that are worthy of noting about this product label's secrecy.

First, while 1% of ingredients may sound like not much at all, what makes this dangerous is what you do not know about that 1%. Do you know how much poison do you actually need to cause organ damage to your dog? Exactly! Would you take a drink if I told you it only contained 1% poison? I'm guessing you would not.

Online Pet Supplies Store by Toe Beans

Second, the statement in quotes above is written in the smallest font size used in the entire bottle. Something most middle-age pet parents or older would not be able to read without reading glasses. Does this tell you something? I hope it does.

Third, very prominently on the front of the bottle is some sort of a "quality seal" that states "made with naturally derived ingredients".While not a blunt lie, the question is "was the product made only with naturally derived ingredients"? or, also with naturally derived ingredients?

Further, naturally derived is still something you want to stay away from. What you really want is natural ingredients and not naturally derived ingredients. See the play on the words here? It may sound like just semantics but it is not. It has potentially harmful implications for the long term health of your dog. This is a very despicable yet cleaver and effective claim that will most likely distract you from further investigating about the product's ingredients. 

And fourth, the manufacturer did a great job disclosing on the front that the product is paraben free. But what about phthalates? Evidently, they cannot claim that as they are surely hidden inside the fragrance.

If you are wondering what product is this, all I can tell you is that the brand name suggests something "tropical" and like I said, it is one of the most popular deodorizing shampoos sold on the largest eCommerce marketplace in the USA.

The bottom line is : Stay away from products that list fragrance as an ingredient.

You maybe wondering then, is there anything safe out there that may help with dog odors? Well, your safest alternative will always be products that use essential oils instead of fragrance. I wrote an entire blog post dedicated to essential oils for pets.

You should also watch out for certain marketing buzzwords and most importantly, avoid taking them at face value. Some of these words include: "vet approved" "vet recommended" "vet's choice" amongst others.

Pet Blog by Toe Beans

When unsubstantiated, these words are in most cases used to distract the buyer from assessing what is really important about the product: determining whether or not the product may pose a health risk for your dog. 

Always ask before you buy. If the answer you get from the manufacturer does not seem very transparent, move on.

10 Dog Shampoo Claims Every Pet Parent Should Question

How to Buy Dog Shampoo by Toe Beans

Should You Use Dry Shampoo on Your Dog?

After all the dangerous ingredients (and pitfalls) we listed along with the things we recommend you avoid, I’m sure you’re thinking, why should I even bother? 

The truth is there are dry shampoos out there that do have natural, safe ingredients, you just have to do your research.

Also, we are right now working through the stringent USDA organic certification approval process for our own Momma Knows Best dry shampoo, so stay tuned.

Provided you combine the use of a safe dry dog shampoo with regular bathing and brushing, here are some reasons why dog dry shampoo may be good for your pup, and of course for you as well 😊.

First, dry shampoo is a great way to help keep your fur baby smelling much better in between scheduled baths, which means more fresh snuggles.

Second, it can help reduce the frequency of baths, which can be time-saving while also a great thing for your pup’s skin and fur health.

Third, given its leave-on nature, some dry dog shampoos may also help keep insects, and undesirable hosts off.

And, last but not least, it will also help keep your home from smelling, well stinky.

Brushing Dog

When you look at the options available, look for a USDA-certified organic dry shampoo meant for pets.  A certified USDA organic shampoo is required to have a clear listing of ingredients. USDA organic products are in fact regulated by the USDA. This should provide you with a strong sense of assurance that there are no toxic ingredients in these products.

And, unlike non-USDA certified organic dry dog shampoo alternatives, their ingredients have been certified to have been either produced or grown with no prohibited substances or dangerous toxic chemicals that may harm your dog, yourself, or your family.

Further, every ingredient that goes into USDA certified organic pet products as well as their suppliers must be approved by the USDA. These products can only be manufactured in USDA inspected facilities and manufacturers must pass regular inspections and audits.

Think of this for a minute. In the current unregulated pet industry when presented with a dry dog shampoo made who knows where (perhaps in the USA) with who knows what ingredients and, one with the USDA certified organic seal, I think the choice is clear. Would you agree? Yes, you may spend a little more but how much does peace of mind cost?

We know this process very well as all our products under our trademarked Momma Knows Best Organics are USDA certified organic.

With so many options available it can certainly be daunting to narrow down your options. A good rule of thumb is to opt for powder dry dog shampoos and stay away from sprays, gels and foams.

Dogs naturally magazine analyzed the ingredients of eight of the top selling dry (waterless) dog grooming products in the market today. As you can see from the chart below, the ingredients in red have links to known health issues. Additionally, products for which they couldn’t find the list of ingredients are also in red.  

As shown in the chart, among foams, sprays, aerosols and powders, only one product (in powder form) contains known and safe ingredients. In general dry dog shampoos in powder form with a clear list of ingredients will be your safest choice. 

One thing that is evident in the chart below is the extent to which the sellers of these products very skillfully apply the art of deception in pet product labeling by utilizing fancy terms that effectively elicit feelings of trust in most pet parents.

Terms such as "proprietary blend", "mild cleansing agents", "moisturizing agents", "fragrance", etc are strategically used to avoid disclosing the actual names of harmful ingredients. These types of product labeling tactics pose a real threat to our fur babies.

Dry dog shampoo toxic ingredients

How to Use Dry Shampoo on Your Dog

As with any new product that you try on your dog, always make sure to keep an eye on your fur baby after the first use. Just like with us humans, even safe ingredients can cause irritation on a pup with sensitive skin, so start with a small amount and see how your pup responds.  Always remember to keep the dry shampoo away from your pup’s face so s/he doesn’t inhale the powder. 

Spot testing is recommended when using it for the first time. Apply a small amount (not larger than the size of a dime on your hand) right at the end of the rib cage and within hind-paw reach. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. If your pup begins scratching or the skin turns red, discontinue use. Otherwise, wait for at least 24 hours before doing a first full application.

Apply along the spine while gently spreading to the sides with your fingers. Let it sit for a few minutes and brush the powder through the entire body always avoiding your pup's face. As discussed above, a natural bristle brush will always do a better job with distribution.

Using dry shampoo may be very beneficial in helping maintain your dog’s fur and skin health. It can certainly be a great addition to your pup’s grooming routine, so long as you use it properly and make sure you're getting a product with clean, organic ingredients. It's a great, effective way to help keep that dog smell down in between baths, so give it a try and see how you and your fur baby like it.

Read Further

Now let's turn to you, our pup parent readers! Have you ever used dry shampoo on your furry friend before? If so, what were your thoughts, how did it work? If not, would you ever consider giving it a go now? Be sure to leave all your thoughts and stories in the comments section down below! We'd love to know what you think about the topic!

As they say, sharing is caring 😊. If you found this article informative, will you share it? Did you know that sharing is just one click away on every post on our blog? Simply click on any social media icon located around this post. 

Did you enjoy this guide?  You can check out many more dog and cat care guides here.

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 30K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).


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