So, you ran out of your dog’s regular shampoo or are sick of paying high prices to keep refilling it. You could make an inconvenient trip to the store, but instead, you’ve found yourself wondering whether or not you can just use dish soap to wash the dog.
Why pay extra for your dog’s soap? Soap is soap, right?
Well, not so fast. Keep reading, and we’ll explain why…
Is It Safe to Wash Your Dog With Dish Soap?
The quick answer is no, it’s not safe to wash your dog with dish soap.
Risius Family Veterinary Service, a vet clinic in Eldridge, Iowa, warns that “bathing in dish soap often leads to a skin infection.”
“Skin infections in pets can be very itchy and painful,” the vet clinic adds. “This may require a visit to your veterinarian for tests and possibly antibiotic treatment. So, the money you saved by using an inexpensive dish soap may end up costing you more in the end.”
It’s Common to See It Used for Dog Baths
According to Jan Reisen, writing for the American Kennel Club (AKC), dish soap is actually a common ingredient in many people’s homemade dog shampoos.
Although Reisen recommends not using human shampoo on dogs — the pH level of dogs’ skin is different from ours — she doesn’t outright reject using something like Dawn dish soap to wash a dog.
In fact, her own recipe for a “basic homemade dog shampoo” contains:
- 2 cups warm water
- ¼ cup dish soap
- ½ cup white vinegar
One Possible Problem With Dish Soap: Irritated, Dry Skin
Dish soap is made specifically to cut grease.
It’s what makes hand-washing dirty dishes easier. Think about all the TV commercials you see about Dawn being able to magically clean up all your dirty pots and pans.
Because of their grease-fighting capabilities, soaps like Dawn are also used to clean up birds that get caught in oil spills and pets that get sprayed by skunks. Put simply, dish soap is effective at eliminating oils.
Not all oils are bad, though. The natural oils on your dog’s skin, for example, are necessary and normal. They keep your dog’s skin hydrated and their fur smooth.
That means, when using dish soap as a dog shampoo, you could be repeatedly eliminating those healthy oils, which could cause severely dry and irritated skin.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for using Dawn on a dog,” says award-winning dog groomer Billy Rafferty. “The price to Fido’s skin, coat and eyes is way too high. While Dawn is cutting the grease from the salad dressing that spilled on your dog, it’s also stripping his coat of natural oils and drying out his skin.”
Rafferty adds that dish soap could accidentally find its way into an eye, causing irritation. “To make matters even worse,” he says, “Dawn or any dish soap is concentrated and forms a massive amount of lather, which is extremely difficult and tremendously time-consuming to rinse out thoroughly.”
How Often Can I Use Dish Soap to Wash My Dog?
Every dog is different, just like every human is different.
Simply take a walk down the shampoo aisle of your local grocery store and check out all the options. You’ll find hypoallergenic dog shampoos or shampoos formulated for oily hair, dry scalps, broken ends and so much more.
Dogs’ needs are no different — meaning that using soaps like Dawn on some dogs might be fine occasionally, but using it on others might not be.
If you try it but you start to see signs of dryness or irritation, it’s time to go back to an actual dog shampoo.
Don’t miss our related article, “Shampoo as Therapy for Your Dog’s Bad Skin.”
Is Dish Soap Toxic for Dogs?
You might be wondering if dish soap will hurt a dog’s eyes. As Rafferty pointed out, the answer is yes, it’s certainly possible.
In fact, Dawn itself recommends that you “rinse immediately and thoroughly with plenty of water” if you get dish soap in your eyes. If symptoms persist (you’ve probably felt the pain of soap in your eyes before), the company advises seeking medical help.
Even riskier is the chance of your dog ingesting dish soap. They might cry or whine if it gets in their eyes, but will you be able to tell if they swallow it?
Again, Dawn suggests taking immediate action if dish soap is swallowed by drinking water to dilute it. If any symptoms appear or continue, seek medical attention right away.
According to Medical News Today, symptoms of soap poisoning may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the lips, throat and tongue
- Severe stomach pain
- Gastrointestinal distress
That, of course, raises the big question: Is it really worth it to use dish soap when bathing your dog?
Reasons Some People Use Dish Soap on Dogs
Why might you be considering using dish soap in the first place? Most likely, it’s either because dish soap is cheaper than dog shampoo or it’s simply the most convenient option in the moment.
- Burt’s Bees Oatmeal Shampoo for Dogs costs less than many human shampoos. When we last checked, it was about $5.95 for a 16-ounce bottle.
- We priced out Dawn at $3.99 for a 19.4-ounce bottle — so, yes, it’s a little bit cheaper than the dog shampoo.
To be fair, homemade dog shampoo recipes usually include water for diluting the soap. That means a bottle of dish soap will likely last a lot longer than a bottle of store-bought dog shampoo.
Depending on how often you wash your dog, those few bucks saved on each purchase might add up to $15–20 over the course of a year.
Of course, it’s not just about how much the actual product costs — convenience is worth a lot, too.
If you buy your products in-store, you’ll likely never have to add anything extra to your shopping list if you bathe your dog with dish soap. Chances are, you’ll already have a bottle of dish soap sitting on your counter.
That means you can wash your dog anytime without realizing you’ve run out of shampoo or needing to go buy more.
If you shop online, on the other hand, buying dish soap and buying dog shampoo are one and the same. It’s as simple as adding each item to your cart and hitting the “Check Out” button.
Is Using Dish Soap Worth It?
Now that we’ve broken down the “how” and “why” behind using dish soap to bathe your dog, it’s time to decide whether it’s really worth it.
Let’s recap the pros and cons.
Pros of using dish soap to wash a dog:
- It’s cheap, with a single bottle typically costing $1–3.
- It’s convenient and usually already sitting on your kitchen counter.
Cons of using dish soap to wash a dog:
- Experts now advise against it.
- Dish soap could potentially irritate your dog’s skin because it’s made to eliminate grease and oils, which means your dog’s healthy skin oils could be washed away.
- It could cause harm if it gets in your dog’s eyes or if your dog swallows it.
In this adorable video, an 8-week-old puppy named Kenzi gets her first-ever bath:
Taking all the research and facts into consideration, yes, you technically can use dish soaps like Dawn or Palmolive to wash your dog. But we do not advise it.
The biggest risk is skin irritation. There’s also a chance of the dish soap irritating your dog’s eyes or stomach.
“The reason you shouldn’t [use dish soap] … is that it is bad for your dog’s skin and hair,” says Marco Lalau, co-owner of Bubbles Pet Spa in the Los Angeles area.
When in doubt, please consult your veterinarian for guidance.
Don’t miss our related article, “10 Things Your Dog Groomer Wishes You Knew.”
- “Fleas 201: The Dish Soap Myth.” Risius Family Veterinary Service. Nov. 16, 2015. https://risiusfamilyvet.com/fleas-201-the-dish-soap-myth/.
- Reisen, Jan. “Easy Homemade Dog Shampoo.” American Kennel Club. July 27, 2017. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/easy-natural-homemade-dog-shampoo/.
- Matousek, Jennifer L., DVM, et al. “Evaluation of the Effect of pH on In Vitro Growth of Malassezia pachydermatis.” Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research 67, no. 1 (January 2003): 56–59. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC227028/.
- “Skin: The Difference Between Canine Skin and Human Skin.” Vetwest Animal Hospitals. https://www.vetwest.com.au/pet-library/skin-the-difference-between-canine-and-human-skin.
- Shogren, Elizabeth. “Why Dawn Is the Bird Cleaner of Choice in Oil Spills.” NPR. June 22, 2010. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127999735.
- Rafferty, Billy, and Jill Cahr. Happy Dog: Caring for Your Dog’s Body, Mind and Spirit. Penguin. 2009. https://books.google.com/books?id=nT88Yu76JYkC&pg=PT305#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- Simon, John M., DVM, et al. What Your Dog Is Trying to Tell You: A Head-to-Tail Guide to Your Dog’s Symptoms and Their Solutions. Macmillan. 2000. https://books.google.com/books?id=ymH6IGtobWgC&pg=PA182#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- “Dish Soap Safety: FAQ.” Dawn Dish Soap. https://dawn-dish.com/en-us/dawn-faqs/dish-soap-safety.
- Barhum, Lana. “What to Do After Accidental Poisoning by a Soap Product.” Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318437.php.
- “What Makes a Quality Dog Shampoo?” Earthbath. May 17, 2011. https://earthbath.com/canine-health/what-makes-a-quality-dog-shampoo/.
- “Poisonous Household Products.” American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/poisonous-household-products.
- Lalau, Marco. “10 Best Dog Soaps to Wash Your Pet.” Bubbles Pet Spa. March 24, 2017. https://www.bubblespetspa.com/blog/10-best-dog-soaps/.