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Can I Wash My Cat with Just Water? Everything You Need to Know!

Jordyn Alger

By Jordyn Alger

Persian cat bathing

Washing a cat can be a tricky process, and it can be tempting to rinse your cat with water and hope that it is good enough. But is it? Does washing your cat with only water replace a full bath with feline shampoo? The answer is no; it doesn’t, you should use shampoo too.

If you want to improve the health of your cat’s skin and coat, remove dandruff and loose hair, and wash out accumulated oils from its fur, you will need shampoo. But if your cat just got a little mess on its fur and you want to rinse it off, water may be enough. However, in most cases, shampoo will be needed to clean your cat thoroughly. Keep reading below for more tips on properly bathing your cat.

When Do Cats Need to Be Bathed?

Cats don’t need to be bathed frequently. Typically, cats groom themselves with their tongues, removing loose hair and debris.

Still, there are times when cats need baths. If your cat has made a mess, it may not be able to clean itself entirely. In such an instance, you will need to bathe your cat. Some examples of when it is appropriate to bathe your cat include:

  • Your cat has gotten into something difficult to remove from the fur, such as sticky syrup
  • Your cat is infested with ticks or fleas and needs to be bathed in medicated shampoo
  • Your cat vomited or defecated on itself

Some people wonder if it is safe to bathe cats at all. If you are hesitant to bathe your cat because of this, rest assured that bathing your cat now and then is safe. It can help clean up its skin and coat and remove loose hairs, which may prevent the production of hairballs.1

What Do You Need to Give Your Cat a Bath?

cat bath
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

Before filling up the tub and getting your cat in the water, you will want to ensure that you have everything you need to give your cat a proper bath. There are few things worse than getting your cat wet only to realize that you don’t have what you need to bathe it.

Here is a checklist of items that you will need:
  • Feline shampoo
  • A pitcher or ladle for rinsing
  • Rubber gloves (these can help protect from scratching)
  • A gentle washcloth to clean your cat’s face
  • Cotton balls to clean your cat’s ears
  • A towel

Whether you bathe your cat in a bathtub or a sink is up to you. Some people find the bathtub easier, as it gives you more room to work, while others find the sink easier because you don’t need to kneel.

Keeping your pet's skin and coat clean and healthy is very important, but finding a great shampoo can be harder than the actual grooming! We love our Hepper Pet Shampoos because they makes grooming so much easier. These pH-balanced formulas are made with natural ingredients like oatmeal, cucumber, and aloe. They are free of phthalates, sulfates, and soaps and very gentle on your pet's skin. Now you just need to decide which formula is best for your fur baby! Here’s a quick guide to help you choose the right option for your pet’s next bath!

Hepper Oatmeal pet shampoo
Hepper Colloidal Oatmeal Pet Shampoo

Hepper Waterless No Rinse Pet Shampoo
Natural cucumber & aloe scent
Natural cucumber & aloe scent:
Natural cucumber & aloe scent:
Safe for cats & dogs
Safe for cats & dogs:
Safe for cats & dogs:
Rinsing required
Rinsing required:
Rinsing required:
Free of harsh chemicals & nasty ingredients
Free of harsh chemicals & nasty ingredients:
Free of harsh chemicals & nasty ingredients:
Lathers easily
Lathers easily:
Lathers easily:


Preparing Your Cat for a Bath

Before bathing your cat, there are a few steps you need to take in preparation.

1. Trim Your Cat’s Nails

During bath time, your cat may grow understandably upset. It may lash out and scratch you by accident, so in addition to wearing rubber gloves and long sleeves, it can help to trim its nails beforehand.

cat having nails trimmed
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

2. Don’t Forget to Brush

Brushing your cat’s fur before bathing can help remove clumps of hair to keep them from going down your drain.

3. Offer Some Traction

The bottom of a tub or sink is sleek and slippery. If your cat cannot find traction and stand on its own legs, it may panic even more, making the bathing process difficult. By placing a towel or mat at the bottom of the tub, your cat can find its footing much easier.

cat looking scared and hating bath time
Image Credit: JSep, Shutterstock

4. Find the Right Timing

If your cat is full of energy or agitated, it is probably not the right time for a bath. Try to time baths when your cat is calm.

How to Bathe Your Cat

Bathing your cat can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. If you follow these steps, it can make your experience much smoother.

1. Introduce Your Cat to Water

Bathing will be much easier if you can introduce your cat to water over several days or weeks. First, get your cat used to the tub. Give it treats while it is in the tub because if it can create positive associations with the tub early on, the cat will be less hesitant to be in it during bath time. Later, try dipping your cat’s toes into the water, taking it out, and giving him a treat.

2. Place Your Cat in the Water

Gradually lower your cat into the water, petting it soothingly and talking in a calm voice. Do your best to keep your pet calm.

bathing cat
Image Credit: ilmarinfoto, Shutterstock

3. Wet Your Cat’s Fur

With your pitcher or ladle, gently pour water over your cat. Avoid the face, as this will startle your cat.

4. Lather in the Shampoo

Once your cat’s fur is wet, start lathering in the shampoo. Follow the instructions on the shampoo to determine how long you should keep the suds on its coat. Once you are done, rinse the shampoo away entirely.

Do not use human or canine shampoo for your cat. Cats require shampoo that is pH-balanced for them. If you use a shampoo that is not appropriate for them, it can cause serious issues for their skin.

Girl washes cat in the bath
Image Credit: Olleg, Shutterstock

5. Clean the Face

You will want to be extra gentle here because most cats do not enjoy their faces being touched. The soft washcloth can be used to gingerly wipe your cat’s face, and the cotton balls can be used to clean the outside of its ears.

Drying Your Cat

cat bath
Image Credit: KDdesignphoto, Shutterstock

Finally, bath time is over! Your cat may want to get out and run, but you’ll need to dry it off first. Towels are the best way to dry off cats, as most cats do not like the sound of a hairdryer. Plus, hairdryers can be too hot for cats, so if you do use one, make sure to use it on a lower, cooler setting.

After the Bath

Once your cat is clean and dry, be sure to take time to recognize how brave it’s been. Give it lots of treats, praise, and affection for all its effort. Positively reinforcing bath time can also help to make the next bath time a less harrowing experience. If your cat trusts that there will be rewards after the bath, it may begin to associate bath time with the experience after rather than the scariness of the water.


Many people say that cats and water do not mix, and perhaps that is true to some extent. However, bathing your cat in water is necessary from time to time. Helping your cat grow accustomed to bath time is the best way to make the entire process smoother. Your cat may never entirely love water or bath time, but it can learn to be patient and accept the temporary discomfort if there are rewards involved at the end.

Featured Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

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