Can you use human shampoo on a dog? 6 safe alternatives

English cocker spaniel dog getting washed with shampoo, soap and water in a bathtub
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can you use human shampoo on a dog? If your canine companion is in desperate need of a bath after a particularly muddy walk and you don’t have any doggy shampoo on hand, you may be tempted to crack open your own shampoo bottle thinking it won’t do any harm.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking all shampoos are created equal, especially when you have a stinky canine emergency on your hands, but it’s vital that you stick to the best dog shampoo and avoid lathering your pup up with products designed for humans. 

Because dogs have more sensitive skin than we do and their pH balance is different, using a formula that hasn’t been made with them in mind can lead to all sorts of skin-related issues and leave your precious pet more vulnerable to parasites, viruses and bacteria. 

That’s why a good dog shampoo should always be your number one choice when bathing your dog. Specifically formulated to suit the coat and skin of your fur friend, dog shampoos come in a range of different types to suit the needs of every breed. 

Below, we reveal our favorite DIY dog shampoo alternatives for those times when you’re in a pinch and reveal how often you should bathe your dog. Check out our guide to the best dog conditioner or keep reading to find out everything you need to know to make bath times a safe experience for your canine companion. 

Can you use human shampoo on a dog?

Human shampoo is unlikely to cause harm to your dog if you've accidently applied it one-off, but it's important to note that it's not a long-term solution. 

This is because a dog's skin is made up of several delicate layers that can be damaged by chemicals that have a different acidity level. Dogs have different pH levels to humans, meaning human shampoo is far too harsh for your pup.

While human skin typically has a pH balance of between 5.5 and 5.6, it's normal for your canine friend to have a normal pH balance of between 6.2 and 7.4; typically more neutral than acidic.

Using human shampoo on dogs can disrupt the outer layer of skin called the acid mantle that protects their body from nasty organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and yeasts. 

homemade dog shampoo

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Can you use baby shampoo on dogs?

Can you use baby shampoo on dogs? Though using human shampoo for dogs is generally considered a no-no, when used in moderation, baby shampoo can be a safe way to bathe your dog. Baby shampoos are typically much gentler than adult shampoo; opt for one that is unscented and clear without any added colors or fragrances. 

If you choose to use baby shampoo, it's important to consider the frequency of bathing in addition to the ingredients. If you wash your dog more frequently than average, it's best to avoid any human shampoo at all, including baby shampoo.

For infrequent bathing, however, baby shampoo on a dog with healthy skin and coat is generally considered okay. Keep in mind, however, that any canines who require special attention due to fleas, allergies, or skin conditions will not be suitable for this method. Consult your vet for the best options for your dog.

What can I use if I don't have dog shampoo? 6 DIY dog shampoo alternatives

Whether you've forgotten a few essential pet supplies or fancy trying out an all-natural solution, there are a few DIY dog shampoo alternatives you can try.

Whilst they may not replace a good home shampoo session in your bath, these homemade solutions can work well for an instant freshen-up. 

why do dogs hate baths

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1. Pet wipes

Wipes are growing in popularity in the pet world thanks to their convenience and ease of use. Especially if your dog hates baths and only has light dirt or dust on its coat, a pet wipe will remove any surface dirt without resorting to a trip to the bathtub. They're particularly handy for wiping down small areas, such as muddy paws, but are not effective for providing a deep cleanse. 

2. Castile soap

Castile soap is typically free of chemicals and provides a good pH balance on your dog's skin. It can work on canines with sensitive skin and contains no fragrances that could potentially cause irritation.

Some pet owners create their own homemade dog shampoo using Castile soap and other common ingredients found around the home. 

3. Baking soda

Another common ingredient found in homemade dog shampoo is baking soda. It can applied direct into your dog’s coat, but it can be dry, so you may look to mix it with oatmeal and water. Simply mix one cup of oatmeal with half a cup of baking soda and warm, not boiling, water. 

4. Vinegar and water

For a light clean-up, you can combine water and vinegar together for a handy spritz. Combine equal parts of either white vinegar or ACV plus filtered or distilled water into a spray bottle and shake to blend. 

5. Cornstarch

A handy substitution for dry dog shampoo is cornstarch, which is commonly found in most kitchen cupboards. Shake it over their coats to freshen up your pooch and work the powder into their fur for best results. You can pull out any excess powder with a grooming comb or brush.

6. Baby shampoo

While not ideal, using baby shampoo on your dog one-off is unlikely to do any harm to your pet. This is because it's considered to be gentler than other human shampoos due to containing fewer ingredients and minimal perfumes. Therefore, it can be used in emergency but shouldn't be used repeatedly. 

Small dog wet in bathtub

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Can I use Dawn dish soap to wash my dog?

Dawn dish soap is frequently cited as a way to kill fleas on pets, which might be why you're wondering whether it can act like a shampoo too. First of, it's important to note that although brands of dish soap can kill fleas by causing them to drown, it's not an effective solution overall as fleas from the environment can quickly take their place. It's best to have a chat with your veterinarian about a product which will get the problem under control much more quickly instead. 

In general, dish soap is pretty harsh on our fur friend's skin so it's not a suitable replacement for a good dog shampoo on a regular basis.

How often should you wash your dog?

How often should I bathe my dog is a question you may have found yourself asking on more than one occasion. Let's face it, dogs get pretty smelly so it can be tempting to bathe your dog on a frequent basis but doing so can actually dry out their skin or even cause skin disorders. Bathing too regularly can also interfere with any existing skin and worming treatments your dog is using.

Unless your dog has recently rolled in poop or splashed around in muddy water, you only need to bathe a dog once a month or even every two-three months, particularly if they're short-haired. And speaking of poop, check out our guide to 'why do dogs roll in poop?' for more on that rather gross topic!

Ashleigh Gibbs
Digital Editor

Ashleigh is Digital Editor on PetsRadar. With over 8 years of experience in print and digital media, she has acted as an editorial lead on a variety of projects, with animal themes a keen interest. As an avid animal lover, you can often find Ashleigh checking out the newest trends in animal care or looking at cute cat videos on TikTok.