No Dog Shampoo? 7 Safe Alternatives You Can Use Right Now

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safe alternatives to dog shampoo

It’s a beautiful spring day, and you decide to go hiking through the woods with your furbaby. Naturally, she finds a dead animal in the underbrush. Doing what comes naturally, your pooch rolls in the remains to mask her own scent. Eww!

When you return home, you remember you’re out of dog shampoo. Now what?

On occasion in practice, I would get a panicked call from one of my patient’s caretakers. Is there anything they can use to clean their furbaby when they don’t have dog shampoo? Fortunately, I was able to assure them that there are safe alternatives, and they probably already had the ingredients in their home.

In this article, we’ll talk about your dog’s skin and what characteristics you need to make a safe alternative to dog shampoo. Then I’ll go over a list of substances or recipes that you can use to clean your special pal when you don’t have dog shampoo in the cupboard.

Let’s get started.

Are There Safe Alternatives To Dog Shampoo?

two dogs with a shampoo on them

When you have to wash your dog right now, but you don’t have any dog shampoo handy, what can you do? Many times, rinsing with water is not sufficient to remove grime and odor. You may be tempted to reach for your hair products, but that’s usually not a healthy alternative for reasons that we will describe below. Fortunately, there are safe alternatives you can use or create in an emergency. 

The key to finding a dog-safe alternative for your dog is understanding that canine skin is not the same as human skin. 

  • The pH level of our skin is more acidic, around pH 5.5 – 6.5, while dog skin is more neutral, about pH 7.5 – 8. This difference matters because the skin has a protective barrier known as the acid mantle. Using products that upset the normal pH level of the barrier can leave your pooch more susceptible to invasion by bacteria, fungus, or other contaminants. So, it’s important to use substances that are pH balanced for your furbaby.
  • Canine skin is also more sensitive than our outer covering. Many of the ingredients you would normally find in our shampoo can be irritating to a dog’s skin. It’s important to avoid harsh detergents and chemicals that may damage your pooch’s epithelial layer or potentially cause cancer. Rather, you should use natural materials that soothe and protect the skin while gently cleaning the coat.

When you need to wash your furbaby immediately but are fresh out of dog shampoo, you can find some safe alternatives to use at bathtime. Whether you create a mixture or use a single substance, make sure it’s gentle and pH-balanced for canine skin. 

7 Safe Alternatives to Dog Shampoo

owner is giving an oatmeal bath to his brown dog

While we recommend that you use a dog shampoo that’s specially formulated for your pup’s skin and hair, we understand that it’s not always convenient or possible. In cases of emergency, or if your furbaby is too sensitive for commercial products there are some dog-safe alternatives that you can use.

Dish Soap Dog Wash

Dawn dish soap is well-known as a gentle cleanser. As a matter of fact, wildlife rescue teams commonly turn to this substance when they need to rehabilitate waterfowl that are victims of an oil spill. It effectively traps grease and dirt and removes them from feathers or hair. You can create a dog wash to gently clean your furbaby by mixing

  • ½ cup white vinegar 
  • ¼ cup Dawn 
  • 2 cups water.

Combine these ingredients in a spray bottle and mix them thoroughly. Then you can apply the spray mixture evenly to Fido’s damp coat. Rub in the solution and rinse your dog thoroughly to remove the dirt, grease, and shampoo.

This dog wash mixture is safe and effective when you have an emergency, but don’t use it continually. Washing your pooch with Dawn too often can strip the natural oils from his skin and make it more susceptible to irritation or infection.

Oatmeal Bath

Oatmeal is a helpful alternative if your dog is too sensitive for Dawn or other dish detergents. This plant-based substance contains natural chemicals that protect, moisturize, and soothe the skin while cleansing the coat. It also helps to balance the pH levels of the skin.

To make a gentle bath, grind 1 cup of raw oats to a fine powder. While you can use other forms of oats, we recommend using raw, rolled oats for your preparation. Add ½ cup of baking soda and dissolve this mixture in water. As with the Dawn Dog Wash mixture, pour the solution into a spray bottle for easy application. Evenly apply the mixture to your pal’s coat and massage it in. Rinse your dog thoroughly to remove the solution completely. 

If you don’t have a grinder, you can also put a cup of raw rolled oats in a nylon stocking and tie off the ends. Soak the filled sock in a tub of hot water that has enough liquid for your dog’s size. Allow the water to cool until it’s at room temperature and put our dog in the tub. Soak your pooch and allow him to lay in the tub for up to 10 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. 

Castile Soap

Castile soap is olive-based and contains natural ingredients. Because it’s free of harsh chemicals, it helps to balance the skin’s pH. It also effectively works as a gentle cleanser and skin moisturizer.  By mixing Castile soap with a few common household ingredients, you can make a dog-safe wash for your pooch. 

Mix together 

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons Castile soap
  • 2 tablespoons aloe gel
  • 2-3 drops of dog-safe essential oil*

*Always check with your veterinarian before using essential oils on your pooch. Some oils are safe, but others are toxic for dogs. In general, most lavender, orange, and lemon essential oils are dog-safe. Lavender oil is also a natural flea repellant.

Blend the ingredients and store the mixture in a glass jar or sprayer as essential oils can degrade plastic spray bottles. Use the solution to bathe your pooch as needed. If you don’t have all of the ingredients, you can use Castile soap and water to wash your dog.

Apple Cider Vinegar and Water

While acidic in nature, apple cider vinegar has enzymes that help to lightly clean the fur and soothe dry, itchy skin, provided that your pal’s skin is not cracked. If it is broken, the vinegar may sting. Vinegar provides a gentle cleaning and deodorizing if your dog isn’t that dirty. It can also be used as a regular spot cleaner to freshen up the coat.

The best way to prepare a vinegar wash is to dilute apple cider vinegar with equal parts of water. With a 1:1 dilution, the solution is less likely to sting your pooch, but it’s strong enough to gently cleanse and brighten the fur. Mix the solution thoroughly in a spray bottle and apply it evenly over the hair. Massage the coat lightly and rinse your pooch to remove dirt and residue.  

Dry Shampoo Alternatives

There may be times when you need to clean your dog quickly but don’t have time for a full bath. In those cases, one of these dry alternatives can help:

  • Baking soda is a common deodorizer for the fridge or carpet. It can also bind grease and dirt and freshen your dog’s coat when it gets dirty and stinky. Simply sprinkle the baking soda on the fur and use a brush to work it through the hair. Once it’s distributed, brush it out thoroughly to remove the powder and debris. Hint: mix some salt with the baking soda to improve the cleaning ability.
  • Corn starch powerfully absorbs oils and moisture. Fortunately, it’s readily available in most kitchens and easy to use.  Like baking soda, sprinkle it on your pooch and work it into the fur then brush out completely. The result should be a fresh and clean dog.

Baby or Facial Wipes

The ingredients in gentle baby and facial/makeup wipes are designed to be gentle and help remove grease and grime. If you need to quickly spot clean your pooch because she splashed through a puddle or rolled in something outside, you can reach for one of these wipes. Of course, you want to make sure the ingredient list on the package doesn’t include any harsh substances or strong fragrances as these can irritate Fido’s skin.

Baby Shampoo  

If you don’t have any dog shampoo handy, you may have baby shampoo. As long as the formula is gentle, scent and dye-free, it should be safe for your pooch as a one-time alternative. Because baby skin is more sensitive than adult humans, shampoo that’s specifically formulated for infants is not as likely to irritate your dog’s skin or strip away its natural oils. Natural and organic baby shampoos are the best. Remember, we don’t recommend using baby shampoo all the time, but it’s safe enough to use in an emergency.

The Final Woof

two terriers with a baby shampoo on them

If your furbaby requires immediate bathing and you’re out of dog shampoo, there’s no need to panic. There are dog-safe alternatives that you can use to clean your pooch in an emergency. Fortunately, you can find many of these options in your home. Items like dish soap, vinegar, Castile soap, and baking soda may be used alone or in combinations to make a safe cleaner for your pooch. These choices are acceptable for emergency use, but may not be ideal as a full-time replacement. Once you address the immediate need, consider finding a dog shampoo that’s formulated for your pup’s needs.

One key to helping you find dog-safe alternatives is understanding canine skin. Because pups have a different skin pH than humans, it’s best to avoid most human shampoos. You need to use materials that have a neutral pH to prevent disrupting your dog’s protective acid barrier. That’s why natural ingredients that aren’t irritating for your pooch are the best place to start. 

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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