Sometimes I vacillate between thinking that dogs are best kept as close to their natural state as possible – the way they would be if they still lived in the wild – and marveling over the ways we have now of enhancing their lives with all the products and services that are available to us now. Sometimes, the two perspectives actually come together, with things like homemade dog shampoo.
Okay, so now you’re scratching your head, thinking, “I don’t get it.” So let me explain. The ancestors of our domestic dogs would most certainly not have had baths. If they encountered something that made them uncomfortably dirty, they would most likely have jumped in a lake or taken a swim in a river or rolled about on the ground until whatever was causing the discomfort ended up being removed.
Today, we bathe our dogs. We either do it ourselves or take them to a groomer. There are plenty of dog shampoos on the market, but some of them are loaded with chemicals, and not even all that friendly to your dog’s sensitive skin. If you want to “meet in the middle,” so to speak, between letting your dog live as he would have in the wild, and allowing him to benefit from the loving care that you can offer by means of a proper bath, one way of doing that is by making your own dog shampoo from natural ingredients.
Does Your Dog Really Need a Bath?
Going back to the idea of how dogs would have lived if we had never domesticated them, I think it’s worth pointing out again that our dogs’ ancestors would not have been bathed. In fact, I question the need much of the time to bathe our modern day dogs.
My friend Neila, who has more Rottweilers than anybody I know (usually at least 5 in her household, and sometimes as many as 7), never bathes her dogs. She never brushes them, either, asserting that the petting that they receive keeps their coats shiny and clean. Given that her dogs always have beautiful coats, I really can’t argue with her.
Of course, a Rottweiler is fairly short-coated, and Neila’s dogs don’t typically come into contact with things that might lead to excessive dirt or offensive smell. If your dog rolls in mud, though, or comes off on the losing end of an encounter with a skunk, it would be hard to argue that a bath isn’t warranted.
If your dog does need a bath, what type of shampoo should you use?
Can I Use Human Shampoo on My Dog?
Well, of course, you can, but should you?
No, you shouldn’t. This is because a dog’s pH balance is different from that of a human. What is pH? It’s a scale that defines how water-based or acidic a solution is. The lower the pH number for a solution, the more acidic that solution is. For a human being, skin is healthiest at a pH level of anywhere between 4.5 and 6.5. For a dog, the range is between 6 and 8.5. A soap that is very acidic can cause skin irritation in your dog, so when you’re choosing a dog shampoo, you should look for something that has a pH level of 7 or lower.
Generally speaking, human shampoos are not good for dogs.
It’s not just about pH levels, either. Some of the ingredients that humans find very pleasing in their shampoos can cause a great deal of discomfort of dogs. One of these ingredients is polyethylene glycol or PEG. It’s commonly used in shampoos and cosmetic products, and it’s great for oily hair in humans because it works to remove natural oils from the skin. That’s not so great for dogs, who need a fair bit of oil in order to have a healthy coat.
Another ingredient in human shampoo is sodium lauryl sulfate, which is a detergent. Will it give your dog a clean coat? Yes, it indisputably will. But it also dries out the skin and had been linked to serious skin irritations as well as diarrhea and even eye damage.
In short, avoid human products when bathing your dog. They’re meant for humans, not for canines, whose skin is very different from ours.
It’s worth mentioning here that even some commercially available dog shampoos aren’t all that much more dog-friendly than human shampoos. They’re just too acidic! If you want to be sure that you’re using a properly balanced shampoo, then you won’t go wrong with homemade dog shampoo using the right mix of ingredients.
What are the Ingredients in a pH Balanced Homemade Dog Shampoo?
Here are some of the most common ingredients used in making homemade dog shampoo, along with their pH balance:
- Baking soda, pH 8.3 (alkaline)
- Lemon juice, pH 2.0 (acidic)
- Vinegar, pH 2.2 (acidic)
To these ingredients, water is added, and water has a perfect pH balance of 7.0, which is neither alkaline nor acidic.
The key here, when making homemade dog shampoo, is to balance the alkaline and acidic substances. If you go a bit overboard on the alkaline substances, that won’t be a problem, but if you use too much of an acidic compound, it will irritate your dog’s skin.
What is the Best Homemade Dog Shampoo for My Dog?
Essentially, there is no best or worst homemade dog shampoo. The type of shampoo that you want to make and use will depend largely on how dirty your dog is. With that in mind, here are some homemade dog shampoo recipes that will stand you in good stead for just about every level of dirt.
1. Deep Cleaning Homemade Dog Shampoo
This is a great recipe for homemade dog shampoo if your dog hasn’t had a bath in quite a long time, or has gotten into something really dirty.
- 2 cups of liquid dish soap
- 2 cups of apple cider vinegar
- 4 cups of water
- 4 ounces of vegetable glycerin
Mix together and shake well.
Make sure to rinse well after using this homemade dog shampoo, as soap residue can be irritating to the skin.
2. Doggie Bath Soap
This one requires a bit of work. You need to take a bar of Castile soap (unscented) and shred it up using a knife or a cheese grater. Mix it up in 4 cups of hot water, and stir until it’s dissolved. Then add a cup of apple cider vinegar, and pour it into a bottle. If you don’t use it immediately, you’ll need to shake it up each time as the soap flakes will tend to settle toward the bottom of the bottle.
3. Rosemary Conditioner
Most of us don’t shampoo our hair without following up with a conditioner, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t give our dogs the same treatment. To make this conditioner, take a couple of tablespoons of fresh rosemary (you can buy it in the produce section of your supermarket) and add it to about a quart of boiling water. Remove from heat, and allow it to cool. Once it’s lukewarm, pour it over your dog’s coat for instant silkiness.
4. Homemade Water-less Dog Shampoo
Sometimes, you just don’t have time to give your dog a bath. Or your dog might be recovering from surgery, and unable to be properly bathed. If you can’t do a “wet” bath, then take about half a cup of baking soda, and sprinkle it over your dog, avoiding his face area – you don’t want him to breathe in baking soda or get it in his eyes. Rub the baking soda into his coat, and then brush it out.
This won’t get your dog perfectly clean, but it will reduce odors.
5. Homemade Dog Shampoo to Repel Fleas
I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never had a flea problem with my dogs. I’m not sure why that should be – after all, I live in the country, so you’d think fleas would be all over the place. Somehow, though, they never seem to bother Janice and Leroy.
If fleas ever did bother my best buddies, though, I’d try this recipe, which uses essential oils.
To make a DIY dog shampoo using essential oils to combat fleas, use the deep cleaning dog shampoo recipe that I offered above, and add a few drops of lavender oil, peppermint oil, rosemary oil or eucalyptus oil. Any of these are natural flea repellents.
A word of caution here, though – don’t EVER use essential oils on a dog if the skin is broken, or if the dog has an immune-deficiency disorder. Essential oils are also not advisable if your dog is a “licker.” Ingesting essential oils can be harmful.
6. Homemade Dog Shampoo Soap Bar
If you have a bit of time and ambition, you can also make bar soap to use as homemade dog shampoo.
Take 2/3 cup of olive oil, 2/3 cup of coconut oil, 2/3 cup of sunflower oil and ¾ cup of distilled water. Mix it all together.
Now, put the whole mixture onto the stove and heat it gently. Don’t let it boil. Then add a ¼ cup of lye (you can buy it at a hardware store or pharmacy) and stir until the mixture reaches a consistency something like a pudding. Then add 1/8 cup of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. You can also add a few drops of essential oils if you like. Blend well, and then pour the mixture into molds – muffin cups will do nicely.
24 hours later, take the soap out of the molds and allow it to dry in a clean, dry place for 3-4 weeks.
To use the soap bars, get your dog good and wet. Lather the soap bars in your hands and scrub the lather all over your dog. If your dog is willing to stand still, let the lather sit for about 10 minutes, and then rinse. If your dog is exceptionally dirty, you can repeat the process.
If you like, you can also make liquid soap out of this bar soap. Just take a cheese grater, and using the large side, grate the soap. Put the shavings in a bottle, and fill the bottle with hot water. Let it cool for a bit, and maybe even leave it for a few days to allow the soap shavings to soften. Once it’s all dissolved, it’s ready to use as a liquid homemade dog shampoo.
If you don’t know about the importance of “going green,” then all I can say is that you must have been living in a cave for the past decade or so. We’re screwing up our planet, and we have to stop doing that! So please, when you bathe your dog, try to behave in a way that is environmentally friendly. Follow these guidelines:
1. Don’t Over-Use Water
Okay, I admit that I’m guilty of doing this. Leroy just loves being hosed down, and he likes to “play” with water, too – biting at it when I turn the hose on him, running under it and chasing it. He gets so much pleasure out of playing with water, and I just can’t bring myself to stop him. Hey, I want dogs to have fun! But if your dog isn’t as enthusiastic about water as my Leroy, I would encourage you to shut the water off after you lather up, and use it sparingly when rinsing.
2. Ease Back on the Soap
Before you wash your dog, rinse him. Much of the time a rinse is all your dog needs anyway! Then, a single lathering and a rinse should be enough to get the job done on even the dirtiest dog. With a single soaping and rinse, you’ll get your dog clean, won’t risk drying out his skin, and you’ll conserve water as well.
3. Use a Towel
When you take your dog to a groomer, chances are that he or she will use a blow dryer to finish up the job. They do it because it gets the job done quickly, and then they can move on to the next dog. The reality is that your dog can just as easily “air dry,” and air drying might even be better for your dog’s skin. So if you don’t have to blow dry, don’t use up the electricity you need to operate a blow dryer. Just use a towel.
4. Do It at Home
Actually, you can forego the groomer entirely. Most of the time, taking your dog to a groomer means that you are consuming more electricity by virtue of using a grooming facility. Groomers also typically use products that are less environmentally friendly than the ones you might make at home.
Unless you use a groomer that adheres to green practices, chances are your groomer will use more energy, waste more water, and use more toxic cleansers than you might use at home.
And of course, another benefit of bathing your dog at home is that you are creating bonding time. It’s just you and your dog, not some stranger. Your dog wants to spend time with you, and if you’re looking after grooming and bathing, that means cuddles and snuggles that belong to YOU and your dog.
These are just a few ways to “go green” that can benefit you and your dog.
The Final Word
Homemade dog shampoo is a great alternative to commercial products. With homemade dog shampoo, you know what you’re using. Most homemade dog shampoos don’t take a lot of time to make, and with a few simple household ingredients, you can make a dog shampoo that will save you money and be safe for your best buddy.