What Can I Use Instead of Dog Shampoo?

Moisturizing shampoo, leave-in conditioner, extra-hold hair gel to tame flyaways — are you peeking inside the cabinet in your bathroom? Possibly. Or, you could just be walking down the aisle of the grooming section of your local pet store. More often than ever, pet care products are being marketed similarly to our own hygiene picks, but does your dog really need dog shampoo? And if not, what can you use instead?

Let's clean you up
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Do I need dog shampoo?

Technically, no. In a pinch, your dog can be wet down with water and washed with pretty much anything that will remove dirt, oil, and other residues from his coat. The important thing to consider, however, is whether or not an alternative cleanser is safe to use on your dog. According to Dog Groomer Magazine, most pet care products are designed with the alkaline pH level of your dog's skin and hair in mind. That said, a more acidic formula, such as those used to create the shampoo we use, will not necessarily irritate your dog's skin. Whether your dog can or cannot stand a more acidic formula will depend on his body.

So, what can I use?

If your dog has skin issues and you're worried about straying too from the norm, there are ways to start slow. Many human-grade and dog shampoos feature harsh detergents, like sodium laureth sulfate, among their main ingredients, which can lead to dryness on the skin or hair for some dogs. For a gentler approach, natural shampoos free of chemicals and artificial dyes and fragrances can work wonders on dogs with sensitive skin. PetMD recommends checking labels for organic moisturizers as well, like aloe vera or vitamin E. (Note that aloe vera gels are fine to use on your dog, but never apply aloe straight from the aloe leaf, as this could be harmful if the dog licks it. Pure aloe contains saponins, which can be toxic if ingested by the dog.)

A skin-soothing wash is great for routine maintenance, but what if your dogs needs a deep clean? Dawn dish soap is a good option for many reasons, namely, cutting through grease and dirt. Dawn is also used as a home-remedy flea treatment in mild cases and can be used as a de-skunker when mixed with hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, according to Chewy. Because dish soap gets super sudsy, it is recommended that you only use this in case of emergencies or infrequently, at most, as continued use can dry your dog's skin in no time at all.

DIY alternatives

Looking to use what you already have on hand? Not a problem! DIY recipes have worked for countless people and their pets for years, so if you can find a recipe that's good enough for your skin and hair, you should be able to whip something up that will work on your dog's coat, too. When concocting DIY shampoos, it's important to keep your dog's skin concerns in mind before you start creating formulas. The American Kennel Club has several great ideas for every skin type. Treating dryness? Simply mix water, nontoxic dish soap, apple cider vinegar, glycerin, and aloe vera gel in a spray bottle. Then, spray your dog's coat and rinse away with lukewarm water. Seeking something even simpler? Just start with a mixture of water, dish soap, and vinegar, rub it into your dog's skin, and rinse away once a light lather has formed.

Things to keep in mind

Unlike humans, dogs don't need to have their skin and hair cleaned all that often. Over-washing can strip your dog's skin of much-needed oils that naturally moisturize her coat, which can lead to dryness and irritation. If you just need to freshen up your dog, try gently massaging her skin and fur with lukewarm water. If you are using products to clean your dog, be they professional or DIY recipes, keep an eye out on her comfort level after bathing — if she seems to be itching more than usual, it may be time to switch to a gentler method that leaves more of her natural oils intact.