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Best dog shampoos

Testing out our six best shampoos for pups.

While your dog may not love baths, they’re necessary to keep a clean, sweet-smelling pup. The best dog shampoos make bath time easier and more pleasant, so we evaluated top products to help simplify your decision.

We reviewed products on safety, ease of use, and effectiveness. While we typically steer clear of shampoos with artificially-added fragrances, we like when shampoos contain natural fragrances like lavender. Here are the best dog shampoos for the next time your pup is soiled and stinky.

Dog shampoos we love

Our top pick

This all-natural shampoo cleans gently while getting the job done. We like how Natural Dog Company contains oatmeal to soothe irritated skin. It is easy to use and has a light, pleasant lavender smell that’s not overwhelming.

  • Smell. The bottle says this shampoo has a mango scent, but our product reviewer picked up soft notes of lavender and chamomile.
  • Ingredients. Aloe vera and oatmeal provide the cleaning power. Chamomile, manuka honey, and argan oil nourish the coat and give a mild fragrance.
  • Application. Natural Dog produces a moderate lather and rinses easily with no residue.
  • Effectiveness. Our dogs were clean, soft, and smelling like sweet lavender after using this product.
  • Packaging. The bottle was well-made and we liked the cute label.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Alleyne recommends Natural Dog Company Sensitive Skin Shampoo, especially for the colloidal oatmeal. This ingredient helps dogs with itchy skin, perfect for canines who suffer from allergies or other skin irritations.

Our best-smelling pick

Earthbath Oatmeal & Aloe Shampoo alleviates your pet’s dry skin with a vitamin-rich formula.

  • Smell. The light vanilla and almond fragrances are botanically derived.
  • Ingredients. This shampoo features a rich blend of oatmeal, aloe, vitamins, and plant-derived cleaners. We don’t prefer the preservatives, but we like how the product treats our dogs’ skin.
  • Application. Smooth a moderate amount of lather onto your dog’s skin.
  • Effectiveness.  Earthbath cleaned our dog’s skin really well.  The only negative thing we noted was there were some flakes on our dog’s skin after use.
  • Packaging. Earthbath comes in a 16-ounce bottle that’s easy to pour and reclose.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Alleyne says the colloidal oatmeal and aloe vera in the shampoo especially helps pets who suffer from dry skin. He also said he hasn’t noticed any adverse reactions from using the product, which leads him to believe the ingredients are probably safe.

Best cleaning power

We like how 4-Legger Organic Oatmeal Dog Shampoo uses organic ingredients that can help dogs with sensitive skin. There are no harsh chemicals and the lavender scent comes from essential oils.

  • Smell. This shampoo smells fairly strongly of lavender while bathing, but the scent seems to calm down once the pups are dry.
  • Ingredients. 4-Legger features non-processed USDA organic oatmilk, which is much closer to the natural form of oats than processed colloidal oatmeal. This shampoo uses a glycerin base to clean your pup, which is like traditional castile soap.
  • Application. We recommend using a moderate lather for best results. Some customers on Amazon note that 4-Legger is a little bit more watery than most shampoos, but that’s because it’s more akin to castile soap.
  • Effectiveness. Our four-legged friends were squeaky clean after being bathed with this shampoo.
  • Packaging. This shampoo comes in a 16-ounce bottle that’s easy to open, pour, and reclose for next time.

What our vet thinks

Lavender can have therapeutic effects, but some dogs — and people — may be sensitive to lavender, so this would be something to consider. Dr. Alleyne recommends 4-Legger because it contains organic ingredients that nurture dry skin.

Our waterless pick

Vet’s Best Waterless Dog Bath would be a good thing to keep in the car for when water may not be available. Or, alternatively, this shampoo would work for a sick or picky dog who might not be able to get in the tub.  We were not a huge fan of the smell, and it wouldn’t completely clean a dog who’s thoroughly soiled, but we like the convenience.

  • Smell. Vet’s Best contains natural fragrance. We didn’t prefer this smell, but it’s better than stinky pup.
  • Ingredients. This waterless shampoo is powered by Neem oil, micronized oatmeal, aloe vera, Allantoin, and Vitamins B and E. Vet’s Best uses plant-based ingredients.
  • Application. Simply dispense some of the foamy solution in your hand and rub your dog down with it. No rinsing required.
  • Effectiveness. This product is only meant to give a quick clean or extend the time between baths. It isn’t a substitute for a good old-fashioned bath, so it was good for what it is.
  • Packaging. This product was sealed around the cap and well packaged.  It comes in a 5-ounce pump dispenser like hair mousse. It is easy to use — just pop the top off, dispense the foam, and close.

What our vet thinks

Like our product reviewer, Dr. Alleyne values the convenience of this product. He suggests using Vet’s Best for quick, convenient cleans or for pups who refuse to get in the tub.

Best lather

We like how this all-natural product left our dogs (and kids!) smelling fresh. Buddy Wash is safe for use in dogs and humans. The coconut shampoo base is a little bit of a mystery; we wish the ingredient listing wasn’t so vague.

  • Smell. Buddy Wash has a pleasant lavender and mint smell that’s similar to salon products for humans.
  • Ingredients.  Coconut shampoo base is listed as the first ingredient. Aloe vera gel comes next, followed by a blend of herbal essences and extracts. This shampoo also contains wheat protein, which is used as a natural deodorizing agent, and vitamins E and C.
  • Application. This shampoo was the thickest of them all. It formed a rich and creamy lather in our hands and was easy to use.
  • Effectiveness. Our product reviewer used Buddy Wash on her dogs and her daughter. It proved equally effective on hair and fur, cleaning without stripping natural oils and leaving a pleasant, plant-powered scent.
  • Packaging. Buddy Wash comes in a 16-ounce bottle that’s easy to squirt. The purple label was simple and easy to read.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Alleyne appreciates the all-natural approach, but there’s more to be learned about the ingredients. We don’t know exactly what’s in the coconut base, so he’s hesitant about recommending this product for certain. He also notes that oat and aloe, a common pair in dog shampoos, is missing from this choice. Oat and aloe are moisturizing agents that especially aid in relieving dry skin. Some dogs also may be sensitive to lavender and tea tree oil, two ingredients that are in this shampoo.

Our unscented pick

Pure and Natural Pet Hypoallergenic Organic Shampoo left our dogs’ fur feeling soft and clean. We think it is a great choice for dogs who suffer from allergies and for pet parents who prefer a fresh neutral smell over any distinct fragrance.

  • Smell. This shampoo had absolutely no smell.
  • Ingredients. Organic aloe water, castile soap, and glycerin are the main components. Pure and Natural also contains organic calendula oil, organic jojoba oil, organic oatmeal extract, and xanthan gum. We like how the ingredients are organic and safe, and don’t interfere with topical flea and tick treatments.
  • Application. Because of the castile soap and glycerin, this shampoo isn’t supposed to form a lather. Pure and Natural has a watery consistency that’s closer to simple syrup than regular shampoo. All you have to do is pour some in your hands and rub into your pup’s coat.
  • Effectiveness. This shampoo really did the trick with our dogs. They were soft and smelling clean for days after bathing with no residue or flaking skin.
  • Packaging.  Pure and Natural comes in a 16-ounce bottle that’s easy to use.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Alleyne likes how Pure and Natural doesn’t interfere with flea and tick treatments. He also appreciates that it’s an all-natural choice. His only concern is that since it’s unscented, it may not be the best option for the really stinky dogs.

Our research process

Why you should trust our reviews

  • Dr. Dwight Alleyne helped us formulate this list — Dr. Alleyne gave us his professional opinion on each of these products. He preferred shampoos that were all-natural, nourished dry skin, and didn’t contain ingredients that could be irritants.
  • We ordered and paid for these products — At betterpet, we want to help you pick the best products for your fur baby. In order to give you unbiased feedback, we pay for the products ourselves so we aren’t under pressure to give a positive review.
  • We sent them off with our product researcher to test in the field. After buying the products that seem to be the best on the market, we send them off to our product review expert, Sara Ondrako, to use on her dogs and to test against our criteria.

How we picked

Our product reviewer tests Vet’s Best Waterless Dog Shampoo on her pup, Handy Hound.

Our product reviewer tests Vet’s Best Waterless Dog Shampoo on her pup, Handy Hound.

We scoured the internet for the best dog shampoos and consulted our vet, Dr. Alleyne. He helped us narrow down our list before we made our final selections and sent them off to our product reviewer, Sara. After trying out each shampoo on Sara’s dogs, Sara and Dr. Alleyne helped us choose the best ones for each of the categories above. Learn more about each of the criteria we graded these shampoos against below.

At first glance

Here’s our top products compared by overall price, amount, and price per ounce.

Shampoos ranked according to price per ounce, lowest to highest

Product Price* Amount Price per ounce
Buddy Wash $10.59 16 ounces $0.66
Pure and Natural Pet $14.22 16 ounces $0.89
4-Legger $15.18 16 ounces $0.95
Natural Dog Company $16.10 12 ounces $1.34
Vet’s Best $7.12 5 ounces $1.42
Earthbath $26.46 16 ounces $1.65

*price at the time of our review

How we tested these products

Our team collaborated with Dr. Alleyne and Sara to determine the criteria for our shampoo tests and reviews. For shampoos, we chose these five criteria to test against:

  • Smell. We smelled the shampoos to see if they had a pleasant scent, and checked whether the fragrance was naturally-derived.  After their baths, pups underwent the sniff test to see if they still smelled fresh, or if our canines had quickly morphed back into stinky creatures.
  • Ingredients. With the help of our veterinarian and product reviewer, we evaluated the ingredients list to make sure all the products were safe. We also noted if any of our dogs had irritated skin or any other adverse reactions after using the shampoos.
  • Application. Our product reviewer commented on how easily the shampoos lathered up, or if a lather was necessary for that type of shampoo.
  • Effectiveness. We evaluated this category based on how our dogs smelled and how clean they were after bathing. We also kept in mind that not all products are meant for the same purpose. For example, dry shampoos aren’t meant to clean heavily soiled dogs, but are meant for a touch-up between baths or when a traditional bath isn’t an option.
  • Packaging. Our product reviewer noticed how the shampoos were packaged and labeled.  She also noted how easy the packaging was to use.

How to choose the right shampoo for your pup

Always look for dog shampoos that don’t have any sulfates or added fragrance. The best shampoo for your dog is going to depend on several individual factors such as age, skin condition, and even how often they need to be bathed.

The importance of dog-safe shampoo

It might be tempting, but don’t get in the habit of using human shampoo on your dog. One bath with a tearless baby soap (or even Old Spice) probably won’t immediately agitate your dog’s skin. But over time, it’ll dry out their coat.

If you have to use human shampoo for an emergency (like when your mom calls and says she’s coming over in an hour), use the least fragrant soap you have. And definitely don’t use bar soap — they’re usually much too potent.

Dog skin has a different pH than human skin. Human skin hovers around 5.5 on the pH scale, which is slightly acidic. Thus, human shampoo is often acidic and filled with surfactants — a type of chemical that bonds dirt and oil from our skin with water. This is what creates the lather we all know and love.

Dog skin, in contrast, falls around 7.5 on the pH scale, which is far more alkaline or basic. They also have only a handful of layers of skin, whereas humans have seven to ten. Used consistently (and often), the acidity in human shampoo can break down a dog’s skin mantle and make it vulnerable to bacteria and parasites.

Ingredients in dog shampoos 

There are shampoos on the market made with ingredients that may be harmful to pets, and certain chemicals and cleaning agents can cause irritation to skin and coat.

Grooming products for animals aren’t as closely regulated or tested as nutritional products like dog foods and treats. Basically, companies don’t have to tell you what they put into their products, nor are they put through any kind of testing for safety.

Types of ingredients to stay away from

When shopping for the best dog shampoos, consider our picks above or take note of these items to watch out for when reading a bottle’s ingredients.

Fragrances

You may find the word “fragrance” in an ingredients list on a bottle of shampoo. That sounds like one ingredient, right? Wrong. According to the FDA, fragrances can be made up of many ingredients to achieve a desired scent. These combinations can be kept secret, and the FDA isn’t allowed to force a company to disclose what the fragrance contains. This creates a grey area and a fair amount of uncertainty about what exactly is in the product, harmful or not.

Mineral oil

It’s unclear if mineral oils alone have the potential to be carcinogenic, but some studies suggest that it depends on how purified or contaminated the oil is. Generally, unless prescribed by your vet for specific skin conditions or other medical concerns, you should avoid this ingredient. Mineral oil can be especially bad for dogs, so as a best practice, steer clear of this potential pore clogger.

Sulfates

While proven to be safe in small quantities for humans, these surfactants can irritate the skin of animals. The two most common sulfates found in shampoos are sodium lauryl and sodium laureth. Pro tip: If you see “sulfate” in combination with another word, that’s a sulfate too!

Phthalates

This group of chemicals found in plastics, food, and hygiene products are suspected to be hormone disruptors. Some are even banned for commercial use. Phthalates are still used in human products and are said to be safe. But, an experimental study in animals found phthalate exposure to be especially disruptive to the development of the male reproductive system.

Formaldehyde

Although “formaldehyde” isn’t stamped on the bottle, chemicals that slowly release the preservative can show up on ingredient lists. Look for DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, all of which can be pretty harmful.

Studies have shown formaldehyde to be toxic to animals, especially when inhaled. While it’s deemed safe for humans in small doses, there’s no regulation that prohibits a company from using it (or a chemical that contains it) in a dog shampoo.. These “formaldehyde releasers” often prevent mold and bacterial growth. How much is released over time is unknown, especially in dog products.

What else pet parents should consider

Now that you know which ingredients to avoid, things get a little easier. It’s time to nail down the facts about your pup that no one knows better than you. Use the following considerations to refine your search for the best shampoo:

Age. Humans have soaps for different life stages, and dogs do, too. A puppy’s sensitive skin can be easily irritated by the ingredients and concentrations found in adult dog shampoo. It’s important to make sure you have the right product for your dog’s age.

Coat type. Your dog’s breed will determine the type of coat they have. Labrador retrievers have short fur with an undercoat that sheds. Yorkshire terriers have long hair that will grow out and may need a conditioner or detangler. Even if you don’t know what breed your dog is, observing and brushing your dog’s coat will tell you everything you need to know.

Skin type. Dogs can also have varying skin types depending on their breed. Some breeds are prone to dry and itchy skin, while others can be more oily. Choosing the wrong shampoo can exacerbate your pup’s current skin problems.

Medical conditions. If your dog has been diagnosed with a skin condition, your veterinarian may have prescribed a medicated shampoo to help relieve the issue. It’s best to follow your vet’s recommendations when it comes to washing. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from more than just dry or oily skin, make an appointment to get them checked out.

The basics of bathing your dog

Bathing your dog can be a challenge, so being prepared is your best bet for success. Below are our vet-approved tips to help make bath time less stressful for both you and your pup.

Gather all of your products and tools — Do this long before you even say the word “bath” to your pup. The last thing you want is a wet dog running through the house because you forgot to grab something before you got them in the tub. If you’re filling the tub, do so before your dog’s even in the room. The loud noise of the faucet running can cause your dog anxiety.

Try a no-slip mat — Paws that slip on the wet tub floor can be stressful. A mat or damp towel under your dog’s feet can give them better footing. A few treats might also be in order to create a positive atmosphere.

Don’t forget a brush! — Brushing your dog’s coat out beforehand will remove loose hair and dirt while evenly distributing oil onto the hair strands, making lathering up a little easier. Brush after towel drying or while blow-drying with a canine-specific dryer to prevent tangles and give your dog’s coat a smooth and shiny appearance.

Give praise and treats — End bath time with a lot of praise and play to let your doggie know taking a bath isn’t so bad. Hopefully, they’ll look forward to it next time!

Frequently asked questions

Does your pup need a dog shampoo?

Keeping your pup clean is part of a good hygiene practice and can keep their fur from becoming matted. Your dog can definitely benefit from a canine-specific shampoo because human shampoo can dry out their skin and contain harmful ingredients.

What’s the best shampoo for dogs?

Always use a shampoo made for dogs when bathing your pup. Human shampoo is more acidic than dog shampoo and can dry out their skin with long term use, especially if it’s sulfate-based. The best shampoo for your dog, however, can depend on a variety of factors such as age, coat, and allergies or special needs.

What are the worst shampoos to use on dogs?

Some shampoos can contain toxic ingredients. This is especially true of human shampoo, as they can contain formaldehyde and an abundance of artificial fragrance chemicals. Even in dog shampoos, we prefer to steer completely clear of any shampoos with “fragrance” in the label because companies aren’t required to disclose the full list of chemicals and shampoos usually don’t go through testing for safety.

Which dog shampoo do vets use?

For long-term use, Dr. Alleyne recommends finding a dog shampoo that contains oatmeal and aloe. These ingredients are gentle enough for regular use, and they are nourishing to the skin and coat. He suggests avoiding heavily fragranced shampoos because they can cause problems with sensitive dogs and dry out skin over time.

Which dog shampoo is the safest?

Shop for shampoos that are meant specifically for dogs, and don’t contain potentially harmful ingredients such as sulfates, fragrances, or formaldehyde. Colloidal oatmeal and aloe vera can be helpful for itchy skin, and all-natural or organic ingredients are a plus.

Can I use shampoo for humans on my dog?

Human shampoo is more acidic than dog shampoo and can dry out their skin with long term use. It’s OK to use human shampoo occasionally if dog shampoo isn’t available (as long as it doesn’t contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs!), but we don’t recommend using it on your pup often.

What’s the best-smelling shampoo for dogs?

Look for shampoos that use natural ingredients such as lavender or chamomile to provide scent. Always avoid shampoos that simply contain “fragrance” on the product label as that word can masquerade as an unknown chemical combination. One word of caution: Essential oils are often used as a natural fragrance, but some can be harmful to dogs. If you have questions about a specific oil, you can always ask your vet to make sure it’s safe.