Can I Use Dawn To Clean My Dog? (Answered and Explained)

Cleaning dogs is an unforgiving chore. While many dogs love water, this does not always translate to an enjoyment of baths. Cooperative or not, it is often a necessary task at inconvenient times. Without dog shampoo on hand, your dog’s surprise love affair with a muddy puddle may leave you scrambling for alternatives. Will dish soap work? Can I use Dawn to clean my dog?

Can I Use Dawn To Clean My Dog?

Yes, surprisingly, you can use Dawn to clean your dog. This common dish soap brand is considered a suitable alternative to dog shampoos. Just as it strips the grime and oil from your dirty dishes, Dawn will remove grease and dirt from your dog’s coat. 

Famously advertised for its use to clean motor oil from ducklings, Dawn has employed this image to market its product as a mild and effective detergent that is gentle on your hands. This is not just a marketing ploy either–Dawn dish soap is in fact commonly used to clean waterfowl and sea turtles.

While Procter & Gamble are unlikely to recommend the use of this product on your dog, many dog owners have nonetheless used the detergent on their pets, touting it as an effective and inexpensive alternative to regular dog shampoos.

This may come as a surprise to many, and you may still be hesitant to use Dawn on your pet. To address your concerns, we’ll go over why the detergent is safe to use and how you can use it effectively. We will also address why some people oppose using Dawn in this way.

Why Is Dawn Safe To Use On Dogs?

While it is entirely safe to use Dawn to clean your pet, it is still a detergent, and should not be consumed or used anywhere other than on your pet’s coat. Just as with regular soap, you should also take care to keep it out of your dog’s eyes, as it can cause irritation.

It is important to reiterate again that just because Dawn is safe to use on your dog’s coat, that does not mean it is non-toxic for them to eat.

Your dog’s skin is resilient and is designed to protect the body from infectious, damage, as well as toxic materials.

Because of this, substances like Dawn do not enter the animal’s bloodstream and are not digested, and so are unlikely to have a negative effect on your animal’s overall wellbeing.

However, this last point is debated, and we will discuss later why exactly that is. Regardless, the bottom line is that using Dawn on your pet will not cause them pain or bodily harm, and is generally considered safe when applied properly.

How Does Dawn Work?

As we alluded to above, Dawn is composed of chemical solvents. Its ingredients include, but are not limited to, sodium lauryl sulfate, lauramine oxide, and sodium chloride.

These chemicals form pin-shaped molecules. One end of the molecule binds to water, while the other end binds to oils. When soap is mixed with water and applied to an oily surface, these molecules help dislodge the oil from the surface, carrying it away with the water.

While you may assume these chemicals work differently on different surfaces, their mechanism of action is identical no matter the surface, whether used on plates or a dog’s coat. Both possess oils that soap binds to, and that it effectively removes.

For many owners, the mere mention of chemicals may set off red flags. This is understandable–however, the shampoo brands we use on our own bodies also contain much of the same ingredients as detergents like Dawn.

How Do I Use Dawn To Clean My Dog?

You may be wondering if there’s any special trick to using Dawn to clean your dog. However, using Dawn is much like using any other soap, although you will need to use far less of it.

A common method for applying detergent to a dog’s coat is by adding a small amount to greater quantities of water and vinegar, mixing the concoction until it forms a thick lather.

Apply the lather to your dog’s skin, massaging it into the animal’s coat to ensure it reaches the dirt and grime stuck between the layers of hair. Once thoroughly applied, rinse your dog with lukewarm water, making sure to wash out the lather completely.

Notably, many dog owners who use Dawn also claim it works well as a delouser, and that it can effectively remove fleas embedded in the coat.

Why Should I Not Use Dawn To Clean My Dog?

While most of the answers you’ll find online are in favor of using Dawn to clean your dog’s coat, there are also a decent number of responses that oppose using detergents in this way.

Dog taking a shower
Dog taking a shower | image by Aqua Mechanical via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Believe it or not, the main reason people will tell you not to use Dawn is the same reason many people will recommend it. As we mentioned early, Dawn will effectively strip the oils from a dog’s coat.

Those against it say that it does this almost too well, and that detergents strip away beneficial oils along with the unwanted grime. They’re not wrong–Dawn and other detergents will remove the oils that your dog naturally produces to keep its coat healthy.

Removing them may cause your dog’s skin to become dry and flakey, as well as make the hairs in its coat brittle. This can cause discomfort and irritation for some animals. However, it is also important to note that your dog will naturally produce more of these oils over time, restoring its coat to its original luster.

What If My Dog Eats Dawn?

As we’ve stated above, you should keep your dog from swallowing any brand of detergent. If small flecks of soap get in your dog’s mouth, this should not pose an issue, as minute quantities can be passed through your animal’s digestive system without causing harm.

That said, if your dog consumes Dawn or licks its coat before you’ve had the chance to wash off the lather, you should immediately rinse your dog’s mouth with water.

How you should respond will also depend on the amount consumed by your pet. If your dog has consumed only a small amount from licking its coat, washing its mouth and monitoring for abnormal behavior should suffice. Report to your vet if your dog attempts to vomit.

If the animal has consumed a significant amount of the detergent, call your vet immediately. The vet may instruct you to wait and see how your dog reacts, or they may ask that you come in to get your pet’s stomach pumped.

If unable to reach a vet, you can resort to using 3% hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting on your own. There are instructions online for how to do this safely.


As we’ve learned, Dawn can in fact be used to clean your dog. When applied correctly, the soap dislodges dirt from its coat. While not toxic to your animal when used externally, detergent can pose a risk to your pet’s health if consumed.

In a pinch, Dawn can do the trick. However, because Dawn can strip essential oils from your animal’s coat, it is best to use designated dog shampoos. If you’re concerned about the safety and wellbeing of your animal, always make sure to check and research the ingredients of a product  before use.

Just because Dawn is not toxic to use on dogs, that does not mean it is safe for them to eat. This is an important distinction.