Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Is Hand Soap Toxic to Cats & Is It Effective for Cleaning? (Vet-Reviewed)

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

By Kerry-Ann Kerr

hand soap in the bathroom

Vet approved

Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Your cat has poked his nose into something he shouldn’t; now, he’s filthy, and it’s a job too big for him to tackle alone. You’re hoping you can give him a quick wipe with some hand soap. It’s gentle on our hands, so it should be okay, right? Unfortunately, not all the time.

Some hand soap contains chemicals designed to break down grease and dirt, and we don’t think of it as being harmful as we don’t lick ourselves clean as cats do. Though you can use hand soap on your cat in an emergency, it’s best to use soap formulated specifically for cats. To learn more about hand soaps and cats, read on.

hepper single cat paw divider


Signs of Harmful Soap Ingestion

Despite your vigilance to wash him with his products and keep everything harmful out of reach, your cat might still stumble on something harmful he can’t resist tasting. It is unlikely that a cat will ingest hand soap but accidents happen, and it’s important to know what to look out for. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the common signs of harmful soap ingestion are:

  • Drooling
  • Burns in the mouth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Loss or lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing

If your cat experiences any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately.

sleeping cat drool slobber
Photo Credit: kwanza, Shutterstock

How Should I Clean My Cat?

Cats rarely need to be bathed because they are such proficient groomers and quite picky about their coats. There will be times when you will need to give your cat a helping hand, like if he is particularly dirty, greasy, or has gotten into something that could potentially harm him if he licked it clean.

Always opt for a shampoo or soap designed specifically for cats. You should be able to get these from your local pet store unless your cat has skin problems, in which case, ask for advice from your veterinarian.

It’s an Emergency!

If you are in an emergency and can’t get to a cat shampoo or soap for whatever reason, you can use a bit of Dawn dish soap. This should immediately be followed up with a thorough rinse afterward. Of course, shampoo made especially for cats is a better choice. Dawn can dry out your cat’s skin, making them feel uncomfortable and itchy.

Dawn dish soap can also be used if you’re cleaning a particularly oily spill on your cat’s fur, as it is especially effective at removing grease and oil. Again, it is not advisable to use dish soap on cats, but Dawn dish soap has been cleared for use on animals, making it useful in an emergency.

Rinse and Repeat

Always make sure to wash your cat thoroughly afterward. Not only can soaps be dangerous when ingested, but cats also have different pH levels than humans, so our products can cause skin problems for them. In a worst-case scenario, if you were to use human products on your cat regularly, it could lead to loss of fur and bald spots, dry coat and itchy, flaky skin, and even skin infections.

wet cat in the bathtub having shower
Photo Credit: Vladeep, Shutterstock

hepper single cat paw divider



So, while hand soap could be toxic to cats if they ingest it, you can use it if you’re in desperate need. Just make sure to wash it off thoroughly to ensure none is left on his skin to irritate or on his fur to potentially cause him health issues if he licks it clean.

If you can, stick to soaps specifically designed for cats, and if you ever need guidance, contact your vet, or utilize resources online like Pet MD and Pet Poison Helpline to help answer any questions you may have.

Featured Image Credit: karpovkottt, Shutterstock

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

Authored by

Kerry-Ann lives in Scotland and wishes her garden was bigger so she could have her very own Highland cow but thinks her dogs probably wouldn’t like that idea very much. She has a La Chon called Harry who was poorly with a liver shunt when he was a puppy. It wasn't likely he would make it into adulthood, which was difficult to comprehend, but he beat the odds and is a healthy old man now. She also has a Pug called Maddie...Read more

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database