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This blog post was originally written and published in February 2017. It has been updated with new information and republished.
The other day a friend shared an article that warned people not to use dish detergent to bathe their dogs. I've heard of people using dish detergent as dog shampoo for a while. Dish detergent is an inexpensive, simple way to clean your dogs. They use Dawn to get the oil off the birds after an oil spill. Dawn is one of the ingredients in the DIY skunk smell remover we use on our dogs. I've even seen DIY dog shampoo with Dawn as an ingredient. And I've been told that Dawn is a great product if your dog has fleas.
So it's obviously safe, right?
Why Dish Detergent May Not be Safe for Dogs
The reason Dawn is used on birds after an oil spill is because they need to quickly remove the oil from their bodies so that they can then start treating the damage done to their skin. The reason Dawn is used in the skunk smell remover is that a skunk's spray has an oily consistency that clings to a dog's coat and skin – Dawn breaks it up, helping us to remove the majority of the spray quickly.
The common denominator is that dish detergent can be very harsh; it has to be to get the job done. And for some dogs, it may be too harsh for regular bathing. With regular use, you may see your dog's skin become irritated and dry.
If you've been using dish detergent, don't kick yourself for not knowing. I did a quick Google search and found two DIY recipes for dog shampoo, both recommending up to a 1/4 of dish detergent. If Google says it's safe, many of us don't question what we find. But maybe we should because we all know that not all dogs are the same.
After reading about using dish detergent, I began to believe that although it may be fine for some dogs, using dish detergent may not be a great idea for dogs with dry, irritated skin or dogs that should maintain a naturally oily coat.
So, instead of using it regularly, if I were to use dish detergent on my dogs, it would be for a particular reason – they ran into a skunk or they have fleas.
Natural, Organic Dog Shampoo
I'm a helicopter dog mom. I obsess way too much about my dogs, so it's not much of a surprise that their shampoo is all natural (yeah, really “all natural,” not the marketing “all natural”) and certified organic. I alternate between using a DIY dog shampoo and 4-Legger unscented dog shampoo, and Snook's Herbal Shampoo, all of which contain less than ten ingredients.
Before switching our dogs to raw, Rodrigo had very sensitive skin and developed skin rashes all the time, which inspired my transition to raw feeding. The antibiotics the veterinarian prescribed weren't working. The rash vanished quickly after switching him to raw dog food.
Because of my dogs' history of skin issues and everything I learned about dog shampoo when reviewing another brand, I became a bit careful about dog shampoos and decided to look for natural options. They are safe, non-toxic, and any fragrance is from natural sources instead of chemicals. I also prefer to buy shampoos that are free of parabens, sulfates, and other artificial ingredients that contributed to irritated skin.
- CLICK HERE for DIY recipes for dog shampoo and other products
- CLICK HERE to order 4-Legger Dog Shampoo for your dog
- CLICK HERE to order Snook's Herbal Shampoo for your dog
DIY Skunk Smell Removal (Deskunk) Dog Shampoo
If you live in an area where you might encounter a skunk, it's great to have the ingredients for a DIY de-skunking dog shampoo on hand. Unfortunately, you can't make this in advance and store it; the ingredients might explode over time.
- 1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 1 teaspoon Dawn dish detergent
I make this in a bucket and wash the dogs over and over again. It takes three to four shampoos (lather, rinse, repeat) to cut down the skunk smell so that you can tolerate your dog. After that, I bathe the dogs using a regular shampoo and then spray their coat with a skin conditioner (I like products by 4-Legger).
The skunk smell sticks around for about a month, but it's faint.
“Whatever I Do What I Want”
Bonus points to anyone who knows the source of that quote. Oh, I'm sorry, you can't read my mind? SouthPark.
As with many things about our dogs, there are always going to be people who visit this post and comment, “this is stupid, I've been bathing my dogs with dish detergent for years, and there's nothing wrong with his skin. Blah Blah Blah.” I'm okay with that because EVERY DOG IS DIFFERENT, and every dog owner will have a different experience.
And for those of you who are dealing with a killer flea infestation, Dawn dish detergent may be your only option. If this is the case, my recommendation is to limit the use and try and find a Dawn product that doesn't use Borax, which can be harsh on a dog's system (it is with my dogs).
Do you have other recommendations for what we should use to bathe our dogs that's safe? I'd love to hear your suggestions.
I wrote this post after reading the Weekly Tips from Jun the Groomer (shared by my friend, Katrina) and her advice made sense to me. I followed it up with more research that I found compelling and I'm sharing that with others.
Interested in Essential Oils for Dogs?
We have a house full of dogs and keeping the house clean is paramount and essential oils are helpful. Not only do they freshen the house, the fabric on the furniture, and rugs. I can make conditioners, shampoos, and other products for my dogs.