Dog being bathed with text 'Why not to shampoo your dog with dish detergent'

Is It OK To Bath Your Dog With Dish Detergent?

Many Pet Parents Think Dish Detergent Is OK For Shampooing A Dog: Here Are Some Safer And Healthier Alternatives

Many pet parents use dish detergent to wash their dogs, and you can find many DIY dog shampoo ‘recipes’ that list it as an ingredient. Indeed, some vets used to recommend using dish detergent for flea control. However, bathing your dog in dish detergent presents potential health risks, so if there’s a way to resolve a problem that doesn’t present a risk for my dogs, I’d rather take the safer route.

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I’ve heard pet parents argue that they have used dish detergent to wash themselves when they had nothing else to hand. If you really have no other option, this gets you out of dodge and leaves you clean.

However, it raises 2 points: 1) it’s not in fact good for humans to wash or shampoo themselves with dish detergent, and 2) what’s good for a human is not necessarily good for a dog.

I recently moved house and in my new house there’s no dish washer, so I’m now washing the dirty dishes by hand. After just a couple of days, my hands were terribly dried out and felt like sandpaper. Consistent use of dish detergent to clean your dog will do the same thing, but much faster.

I am now wearing gloves to wash the dishes, in order to protect my hands.

A study was done on humans to measure the moisture lost through the skin after their hands had been in water with dish-washing detergent. The study showed that in around 3/4 of the volunteers, moisture loss increased by more than 25%.

They also observed visible damage to the skin (erythema, scaling, fissures) and volunteers reported additional symptoms (itching, dryness, smarting).

This led the researchers to conclude that:

regular exposure to low concentrations of detergents as used for dish-washing is capable of inducing skin lesions in a substantial proportion of individuals.


Using dish detergent / washing up liquid to clean the dog will not only suck moisture from his skin, but it will also strip away the natural oils present in his coat that should be keeping it healthy.

image of a dog in the bath with text Why not to use dish detergent to bath your dog


The pH level of our skin is between 4.7 and 5.75, whereas the natural pH of a dog’s skin is between 5.5 to 7.2, making it much more alkaline than human skin.

Alkaline cleaning products like dish soap typically have a pH level of around 8-9. This difference in pH values means that using dish detergent to wash your dog will end up drying out your dog’s skin and fur.

If, for whatever reason, you do use dish detergent – such as Dawn (in the USA) or Fairy Liquid (in the UK) – make sure you rinse your dog thoroughly so that there is no residue left on him that might further irritate his skin.

Also, avoid using a highly perfumed variety of detergent as this is even more likely to cause a rash or irritation.


Some people use dish detergent like Dawn / Fairy Liquid as an emergency flea shampoo if they are in a pinch. Dawn for washing dogs may be an effective flea killer, it’s not great for your dog.

However, many flea shampoos and chemical flea treatments are bad for your dog too – potentially fatal, in fact – not to mention how they are poisoning our rivers.

Here are lots of healthier and safer ways to control fleas, including using a natural shampoo for dogs and adding essential oils to it.

I really recommend this book on using essential oils. I’ve made several formulas from it for my dogs, including shampoo, and flea and tick control. It’s clearly written and very thorough.

image of a dog in the bath with text Why not to use your shampoo to bath your dog


As we’ve already seen, a dog’s skin has a pH value between 5.5 to 7.2, making it much more alkaline than human skin (between 4.7 and 5.75).

Shampoos formulated for human hair are around 4.5-5.5, making them much more acidic, and ultimately very irritating to a dog’s coat and skin.

So, the kind of shampoo you use on your dog should be much more neutral in pH than a typical shampoo for humans.

Over time, acidic shampoos will strip away the protective qualities in your dog’s skin and fur, washing away essential oil and resulting in dry, irritated skin and a dull coat. Conclusion: don’t use human shampoo on your dog.

Baby shampoo generally aims to be pH ‘neutral’, with a pH value of 7, so if you have baby shampoo this may be kinder on the coat and skin of your dog than your adult shampoo is.


The Blue Cross For Pets suggests that washing up liquid or even Swarfega could be used to remove small areas of substances like paint or tar from a dogs coat, noting that first you should try to clip it out of their fur.

And whilst it is true that dish detergent is often used to clean seabirds that get covered in oil, this does not mean that it’s good for the bird: what it does imply is that being covered in oil is worse for the bird than being cleaned with something aggressive that may potentially lead to a skin rash or irritation.

So, if your dog is unfortunate enough to lay in something nasty, of course it’s imperative to get it cleaned off before your dog licks it clean himself – you don’t want him poisoning himself either. Just try to use as little detergent as necessary and be sure to wash it out thoroughly afterwards.


For an emergency clean-up, dish detergent might play a role in quickly removing oily or greasy fur stains, but as a regular replacement for dog shampoo, dish detergent is NOT a good product to use on dogs.

The ingredients in dish soap are too harsh for dogs’ skin and given that there are so many safer options, why risk hurting your dog?

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As always, this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but rather, to help you make informed decisions to improve your dog’s health and wellbeing. Please, always seek your vet’s opinion, especially in the case of your dog being ill. 


Kein et al. The influence of daily dish-washing with synthetic detergent on human skin. 1992. British Journal of Dermatology. 127: 131-137.

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