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Homemade Pet Shampoo

Guest post from Jacey of The Balanced Wife

I’m new to the world of pet ownership, and the expenses can add up quickly! So that’s why I was happy to discover one way for budget-conscious dog lovers to cut costs: make your own dog shampoo.

I have a golden retriever, and his fur, though beautiful, collects a significant amount of dirt. Dog shampoo costs $7-12 in stores, and the cheaper ones have more chemicals and potentially skin irritating ingredients.

You can make your own more natural shampoo in ten minutes with supplies you probably already have on hand.

Homemade Pet Shampoo

  • 1 cup liquid dish soap
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup glycerin
  • 4 cups water

Why apple cider vinegar?

My husband raised his eyebrows when I dumped in the vinegar, wondering if our dog would smell worse after the bath. In fact, once his fur is dry, apple cider vinegar deodorizes and shines his coat. It also repels fleas.

All lathered up.

Soap is an essential ingredient for obvious reasons. It helps loosen dirt and oil when you scrub. The more natural the soap, the better.

I use Seventh Generation Natural Dish Liquid Soap. On Amazon, it’s about the same price as Dawn, and other more chemically-laden products, especially if you have Amazon Prime or take advantage of the Free Super Saver shipping option. I already had this soap, and you can certainly use whatever you have on hand to avoid an extra expense.

Some online sources say you can skip the glycerin. The purpose of glycerin is to moisturize your dog’s skin naturally. I bought some because I knew this recipe would yield much more than a bottle of dog shampoo, so I still spent less even when splurging for the glycerin. (It was about $5 for 4 ounces at Whole Foods.)

The extra mile

For extra luxury and a sweet smell, try adding a couple drops of rosemary, lavender or other essential oil. Or, you can boil a few fresh rosemary stems. Let the water cool, and pour it over your pup for a fresh scent after bathing.

I’ve given our dog, Jack, three baths so far and we have quite a bit more shampoo left. One quick batch will help you keep your dog clean for months!

Jacey Verdicchio loves good books and deep conversations. You can find her on her blog, The Balanced Wife, where she pursues exceptional living and often falls short. She lives with her husband, Michael, and dog, Jack, in Charleston, SC.

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  • Deb says:

    I love this post! Your entire website is awesome, too. I think I even bought an ebook from you a loooong time ago….

    I have a question, tho. I have some glycerin that is over 10 years old. It’s doesn’t smell bad or is discolored, but do you think it’s still OK? Where is the best place to buy more?

    I’d like to post this on my website in a section I’m starting of all the MYO (Make Your Own) recipes! Thanks!

    • Jacey says:

      Thanks for commenting, Deb!

      I’m not sure about the shelf life of glycerin. I bought glycerin at Whole Foods. You can also find it on Amazon, but the price was a little better at Whole Foods.

      Good luck, and great idea for the MYO section on your site!

  • Whitney says:

    Dishwashing liquid strips topical medications, such as Frontline Plus. Dishwashing liquid has been used to bathe animals who have received the wrong dose of topical medication or who have had a reaction to topical medication (Several generic or big box store medications cause reactions and do NOT have guarantee–unlike products purchased at a licensed veterinary hospital). You seen the Dawn ads where they bathe the duckling in Dawn when it’s covered in oil? If it strips oil, it can strip the topicals you apply to protect your pet.

    Keep that in mind when opting for homemade shampoos.

    I have worked in a veterinary hospital for 5 years.

    • Jacey says:

      Thanks for the warning, Whitney. Our dog takes his orally, so I didn’t consider the possibility of stripping topicals. Thanks!

    • Sarah says:

      I usually give my dog his bath right before applying his flea medication. They don’t need baths that often anyways! 🙂

    • karri says:

      thank you. I too work for a veterinarian also and this has become a big problem. People strip the topical off then claim the product doesn’t work. thanks for bring it up!

  • bizzyb says:

    I just use the lavender scented baby shampoo. It’s inexpensive and makes for a good smelling doggie.

  • thar says:

    I have an uncommon breed for which bathing is not recommended (appropriately, as it’s not really needed for the breed). But ooooh, how I would have been able to use this for our Labs in the past. Never considered homemade. Thanks for sharing.

    • Veronica says:

      My dog gets a bath a few times a year, and I had actually started noticing that the all-natural dog shampoo we used was making him itchy and giving him dandruff. I switched to Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo and it works great on him!

  • Carla says:

    My daughter rescued two kittens from a farm who were covered and I mean totally covered with fleas. I had no other solution,at least that I knew,than to bathe them with the Dawn dish liquid. It took a lot of time and effort, but it helped tremendously. I read the post about washing off Frontline and things like that, and that is excellent advice to consider.My daughter brought these cats home at night and the next day we had a trip to the vet, but the flea problem was really not bad at all, although there were ear mites, so Dawn does not help with everything, but it could have been a life-saver to at least one of our tiny, tiny kittens, who was too young to have even been taken from his mom. There was no mama cat in the picture.

    I am impressed with making your own dog shampoo and love sweet/ clean smelling dogs! 🙂

    • Jacey says:

      Wow, those kittens are lucky to have you!

      Let me know if you try making your own some time. You’re right, there’s something so comforting about snuggling a freshly washed pup!

    • Hannah says:

      For our shelter kitty who had fleas at first, we were told by the vet to bathe her, wait 2-3 days, and then apply the flea meds. This has worked over the course of several month and now she’s almost clear… excited to use this more natural recipe after we finish our bottle of flea shampoo as I think the chemicals are kind of irritating to her.

  • Kate says:

    I agree with the baby shampoo option. It’s really gentle, and won’t strip their coats of natural oils.

  • jen says:

    hi, i always use my cheap ‘human’ shampoo on my dogs; if it can clean my scalp it can clean theirs too. expensive ‘dog shampoo’ is just a successful marketing scam.

  • SandyH says:

    I am a professional dog groomer, and while I can’t comment on homemade pet shampoo because I’ve never used it, I will say that with store bought shampoos you should DILUTE THEM before use. If they are too thick, you can’t work them into the coat well, or rinse easily; and it is so much less expensive per use when diluted. I would start at a cup of shampoo to a half cup of water, or even 50/50 (actually test a smaller amount than a cup, to avoid wasting if its wrong ). Human shampoo can and should be diluted too.

  • Young_in_TX says:

    Our vet said to use 50% baby shampoo diluted with 50% water. Always worked for us.

  • JOYce says:

    This link could be helpful to some folks deciding yay or nay on human vs. dog shampoos including varied ingredients to include if mixing rather than purchasing commercial…

    Or search google: dog skin ph

  • pattianne pascual says:

    Thank you so much for the post,but please don’t mix soap and vinegar! it took one misinformed person to post mixing vinegar (an acid) with soap (a base),and everyone without questioning it,re-posted these recipes.basic chemistry will show you that they cancel each other out.i am so glad you used the natural dish soap (should be diluted).but leave the vinegar out and use it 1/2 vinegar,1/2 water to rinse the pet with,followed by a clear water rinse.this is true of any natural or Castile soap.if you use a castile bar soap on your own hair,you will notice it feels greasy or stiff after you rinse the soap out.if you then rinse with 1/2 water 1/2 apple cider vinegar,it immediately cuts the soap film left on the hair and you end up with squeaky clean,soft hair!
    It’s a symbiotic reaction.soap then vinegar.mixing soap and vinegar creates film and blobs.

    • Debbie says:

      Very good advice! However, (most) dish “soap” isn’t soap at all. It’s detergent, so it shouldn’t have the same reaction with vinegar that true soap has. That said, I would not use traditional dish soap (detergent) or human shampoo or even baby shampoo on dogs. In fact, I wouldn’t most baby shampoos on babies. These products are in no way regulated, labels can be totally inaccurate, and most of these products contain lots of nasty chemicals that are toxic to all over time, but for some with respiratory or skin sensitivities, immediately. Please check your products and individual ingredients on Skin Deep or Chemical Of The Day websites. Don’t take manufacturers’ word for it. There is no regulation unless a product is certified organic. Products with “natural” on the label means squat! Even worse, products with “organic” in the title of the product, but that aren’t truly organic.

      Someone above posted that they had used a natural pet shampoo on their dog and their dog got dandruff. This is because likely that natural shampoo was a true soap (castile soap) and if you have hard water as lots of people do (which is why detergent was invented), it will create soap scum on the dog’s skin (or your scalp) and the soap scum flakes offf as dandruff! This is where the vinegar rinse comes in handy to remove soap scum. You must rinse a ton with water between the natural/castile/true soap and the vinegar rinse or you will have an even worse mess on your hands such as pattianne has stated above.

      I like this recipe and would use castile soap instead only because 7th Gen is a detergent, and like pattianne stated not mix it with the ACV but use it as a rinse after. I never thought to add glycerin but I think this is a great idea, especially in winter when dogs can suffer from dry skin too!

      I don’t bathe my dogs often, maybe 4-5 times a year as they really don’t need it. They are inside dogs, no fleas, and don’t roll in mud. I think it depends on the dog’s lifestyle, if they have fleas, long fur, or skin issues such as a yeast infection which our latest adoptee had for a few months and is now cured without antibiotics or steroids!

  • kaiserol says:

    I’ve read that lavender can help repel ticks, fleas and mosquitoes. May be worth adding if that’s true!

  • Nicole says:

    This is a fine idea but PLEASE use a natural soap like castile or at the very least a natural brand formulated dish or hand soap. Commercial dish detergents are just that – detergents – which penetrate skin deeply stripping away the skin’s vital properties and leaving behind a wasteland of chemical residue. Repeated use can permanently effect skin health. The hair is left lifeless while the skin is extremely damaged, and remember that anything that touches skin is absorbed into the body, so all the unspeakably dangerous chemicals in that innocent-looking Dawn or Joy are ending up inside your dog. Our animals are inadvertently exposed to enough chemicals by living in our human world, let’s not add any more. Use a natural soap for this recipe and save your dog’s health while saving money.

    • Rachel says:

      Castille soap alone is plenty. I use only Castille on my little guy. Every so often, I then follow up with a cream rinse of an all natural and organic conditioner. I’ve seen this dish soap, vinegar recipe before and it’s entirely too strong. A frugal method, sure… But not ideal. Baby shampoo would be okay if you used a sulfate free brand. Sulfates are bad news bears for tender skin.

  • Donna DaBillo says:

    you can also get an excellent natural dish soap from, it comes in 5 scents, lemon, aloe and green tea, grapefruit, lavander and orange citrus for $4.99.

    • Vanessa says:

      Please don’t use dish soap on your dog – its a lot harsher then you need. Like other posters have mentioned baby shampoo is a MUCH better solution to use if you feel the need to really make your own.

      Honestly though? Most GOOD dog shampoos will tell you to dilute them for best results. Ofter its 4:1 (one part shampoo to 4 parts water) to sometimes 16:1. Bio-groom for example you can get for $7-10 a bottle at your local pet store. For best results you need to dilute it to with 16 parts water. All I need is a cheap color application bottle from my local supply store ($1 roughly) + $10 bottle of shampoo. I have 192 oz of Shampoo for $11, assuming you have a huge dog you will need MAYBE 3 oz of solution per wash. So say 64 uses per bottle or $.16 a wash. This is enough shampoo to last at least a year if you wash once a week and have one dog. I have two dogs, one bottle lasts me over two years.

      Your dog is clean… on the cheap and their skin isn’t suffering because you are stripping all the major oils off. Dog shampoo isn’t overly expensive if you are smart about it.. and your dog’s skin will thank you.

      • DeAnna says:

        I only wash my dogs and cats when they get dirty, and my babies never smell and get compliments on their gorgeous coats. I have 2 shorthair cats, one long hair, three hounds and one miniature schnauzer: the schnozz gets groomed every six weeks but other than that my kiddos haven’t been bathed with soap in over two years. I wash their faces with baby wipes occasionally, and will wipe their bodies down with baby wipes every so often. They get great food and brushings, and stay in the house most of the time so stench isn’t an issue. (other than the doggy smell they get after playing outside all day-and that dissipates) If they decide to go swimming in the lake, they do get washed with warm water and oatmeal. The long haired cat has this weird fascination for showering with me in the mornings so she does get warm water on her coat daily, but she’s special. 😉 There’s really no reason to use soap on a dog, provided you brush them regularly. I can’t imagine that even a weekly bath would be good for their skin; they have different skin that we do and it is much more sensitive.

  • MaryAnnHT says:

    Great ideas for dog shampoos, but if you are planning on bathing your cat please DO NOT add any essential oils (lavendar or any other kind) to their shampoo—essential oils are toxic to cats (not to dogs) and even tiny amounts can be dangerous/lethal.

    • Debbie says:

      Thanks for bringing this up. So many people are DIYing these days and don’t do enough research before they “do.” Even though something is “natural” does not make it safe for one and all.

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