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5 Great Alternatives to Dog Shampoo (Vet-Approved Options)

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By Nicole Cosgrove

goldendoodle puppy getting bath in the sink

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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No one likes a smelly dog. So, what do you do when you find yourself with a filthy, stinky dog and no pet shampoo on hand?

Dog shampoo is specifically formulated to keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy and looking its best. If you’re in a tight spot with no other way to wash your dog, though, there are some household items that can be used instead.

Before you try to give your dog a DIY bath, make sure your chosen cleaner is safe to use on your pup.

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Can You Use Human Shampoo on Dogs?

If you find yourself with a dirty pup and no dog shampoo in the house, you might reach for a bottle of your own shampoo. But is using human shampoo on your dog’s coat a good idea?

Yes, human shampoo will remove dirt, grime, and odors from your dog’s skin and fur—it will also do a lot more. Human shampoo is, obviously, formulated for use on human skin and hair. Since we have different pH levels than our four-legged friends, the shampoos we use on ourselves aren’t suited to our dogs’ unique skin needs.

In fact, using human shampoo on your dog can lead to a range of mild-to-moderate issues. After bathing with human shampoo, you’ll very likely find your dog is experiencing dry, itchy, or otherwise irritated skin. This is because the ingredients in your human shampoo have stripped away the natural moisture barrier of your dog’s coat.

Dog taking a bubble bath in grooming salon
Image Credit: Masarik, Shutterstock

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5 Safe and Effective Alternatives to Dog Shampoo

Human shampoo is more or less off of the table, but there are many other possible alternatives you can try.

Of course, it’s almost always best to invest in a commercial dog shampoo for your pup’s grooming needs. While these alternatives can do the job in a pinch, they can also cause dry skin and other mild issues when used in excess.

Here are some household items you can use in place of dog shampoo:

1. Dish soap

macro shot of dish soap being squeezed onto green sponge
Image Credit: Jim Barber, Shutterstock

Your pooch wouldn’t be the first animal to bathe in Dawn dish soap. Just like this soap is used by wildlife rescue organizations to clean crude oil from waterfowl and other animals, it can also safely and effectively remove buildup and dirt from your dog’s coat. Just keep in mind that this should only be used occasionally as an emergency stop-gap and not as a go-to dog shampoo replacement.

Before you grab your bottle of dish soap from under the kitchen sink, make sure it’s free of fragrances and other harsh additives. While the original Dawn formula is safe and can make a good dog shampoo substitute, that doesn’t mean all dish soaps are okay to use on your pup.

You also shouldn’t use straight Dawn dish soap on your dog. Instead, you can create a simple mixture including:

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

Apply to your dog’s wet fur and lather gently. Avoid getting the mixture in their eyes, nose, or mouth.

2. Baking soda

baking soda
Image Credit: NatureFriend, Pixabay

Another great alternative to dog shampoo is baking soda. Not only does baking soda pull odors from your dog’s coat and leave them smelling fresh, but it can also wash away dirt and grime.

You can rub straight baking soda into your dog’s coat. Let it sit for 15 minutes and then remove any excess with a damp cloth. Please make sure your dog does not lick off the product.. You can also create a shampoo recipe with oatmeal:

  • 1 cup of raw, ground oatmeal
  • ½ cup of baking soda
  • 4 cups of water

3. Baby shampoo – The best human shampoo for dogs

baby shampoo
Image Credit: Monika Wisniewska, Shutterstock

While you can’t use regular human shampoo on your dog, you can use a specially formulated baby shampoo. Baby shampoo is the best human shampoo for dogs option because they are much gentler than their adult-oriented counterparts, making them less harsh on your pup’s skin and fur.

You can use baby shampoo just like you would traditional dog shampoo. However, it’s still best to use a commercial dog shampoo when possible. Regular use can dry your dog’s skin and lead to moderate irritation.

4. Corn starch

corn starch spilled from a teaspoon
Image Credit: Michelle Lee Photography, Shutterstock

If you’re in a pickle and a dry shampoo will do the trick, then baking soda isn’t your only option. Cornstarch can also be worked into your dog’s coat to wick away grease and absorb foul odors.

The best way to use cornstarch to freshen up your pooch is by shaking it over their entire coat. You can then work the powder into their fur, spreading it evenly throughout the coat, and pull out any excess with their normal grooming comb or brush.

While a homemade dry shampoo won’t replace a bath entirely, it can help prolong your dog’s freshness until you have access to proper dog shampoo.

5. Baby/makeup wipes

Image Credit: 简体中文, Pixabay

For those times when your dog has gotten into some mud or other mess, and you don’t have dog shampoo on hand, skin-safe wipes are an effective alternative. Baby wipes are the gentlest option, but facial wipes can also be used in an emergency.

If you’re not sure if using specific wipes will be safe, err on the side of caution. While most skin-safe wipes will work fine, those with strong fragrances or other harsh ingredients may do more harm than good.

If you find your dog enjoys being wiped down after rolling around the yard, you can invest in some dog-specific wipes for quick cleanups.

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Dog or puppy shampoo is always the best option for cleaning your dog, especially if they’ve spent the day in the mud or in your local lake. If you suddenly find yourself out of dog shampoo or need to bathe your pup away from home, rest assured that you’re not completely out of luck.

While human shampoo isn’t a safe alternative to dog shampoo, dish soap, baking soda, baby shampoo, cornstarch, and gentle wipes can freshen up your dog in a pinch.

So, what do you think? Have you used any of these household items to clean your dog in a pinch? Let us know how they worked in the comments below!

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Asbacon, Shutterstock

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