Get your dog clean the easy way with this dog soap recipe. I’ll show you how to make a homemade dog shampoo soap bar, and how we use it to clean our pup.
Several years ago, I started formulating a soap for bathing our dog. Despite my love of making my own bar and liquid soaps for general cleaning and bathing, I don’t use soap for my hair. In fact, I’ve been working on making a general, non-soap shampoo, and I’ll share my recipe for that soon.
On the other hand, I do love using a bar soap to bathe our dog!
Before I share my recipe for making a homemade dog shampoo (soap) bar, I’d like to share some of my reasonings, and talk about some of the myths or general beliefs people have about shampoos and soaps for both people and dogs.
Is the pH of soap good for hair?
Soap is always on the alkaline side, with a pH above 7. In fact, more often than not, the pH of soap is above 9. While I have already talked about how soap’s high pH doesn’t generally concern me when using soap for bathing, I don’t like the idea of using soap on my hair!
I have always read that our hair doesn’t react well to having an alkaline cleanser, leaving the cuticles of the hair standing and leaving hair dull looking. It can also contribute to mechanical friction between hairs leading to damage.
I was even more inclined to believe what I’ve read after trying out various “no poo” methods of cleaning my hair. I tried everything from vinegar rinses to rinsing my hair with a mixture of water and sodium bicarbonate (aka. baking soda).
Vinegar left my hair shiny, but feeling greasy and gross, and things didn’t get better with time. Baking soda, on the other hand, left my hair feeling ever worse. I ended up with hair that felt like straw and looked dull and brittle!
When fabricating “shampoo” soap bars, the soaps are normally highly superfatted to help combat some of the shortcomings of soap for hair, and help prevent some of the damage that it can cause. Even when made in that manner, I don’t think soap is ideal for making shampoo.
If I feel that soap can be damaging to hair, why would I use it on my dog’s hair?
First, let’s talk pH.
A dog’s skin is more alkaline than human skin. Their skin is said to have a pH above 7, on the alkaline side, whereas ours has a pH on the acidic side (in the 5.5 range).
It is normally said that human shampoos have a lower pH than those formulated for dogs, which should fall in a more neutral range. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons that people are often told not to use their own shampoos on their dogs.
So, you’d think that my answer is going to be that a dog’s more alkaline pH will better tolerate soap’s higher pH…
In practice, though, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. It’s a bit of a myth that dog shampoos have a higher pH than those made for humans, and it is really more dependent upon the shampoo itself. (The last link will bring you to a study conducted by Barbara Bird, CMG, in which the pH of 60 pet shampoos were compared with 45 human shampoos. She showed a huge, overlapping range of pH value for both types of shampoos.) For a more complete version of the article, where you can see a list of the different shampoos studied, check page 12 of this PDF where the study of the pH of pet and human shampoos begins.
Barbara’s conclusion was that concerns about the pH of dog shampoos is more driven by profit than by by any real science showing the pH value to be important. (That’s sort of the way I feel about pH balanced “soaps” for human skin.)
She believed that the main reason for choosing a shampoo made for dogs rather than one for humans is that human shampoos are formulated for using several times a week or even daily. Dogs, on the other hand, are normally bathed much less often, and are probably much dirtier at the time they are bathed and will require a more cleansing shampoo.
In the end, after all of my research, I couldn’t find any reason NOT to formulate a dog soap bar, so I decided to make one. (Simple as that!) You don’t want to use this or any shampoo very often on dogs because it will dry out their skin. Period.
Plus, since then, when my dog has had bouts of eczema “hot spots” on her skin, her vet has told me that the best thing to do in those areas is to clean those areas with a bar (lye processed) soap several times a day until the problem areas dry up. He didn’t seem concerned about using regular soap on a dog.
All of that said, I must reiterate that you should only be using this, just like with dog shampoos, occasionally. You shouldn’t normally bathe a dog more than once a month, at the very most! We usually bathe our dog less often than that. If a dog needs to be cleaned more often than that, because of something particular that happened one day, I’d recommend a good thorough rinsing, or a rinse with some conditioner instead, if you can get away with that. I choose to only wash with soap or shampoo more often as a last resort (or in localized areas where I’m actually trying to dry out problem areas of skin as prescribed by the vet).
In the end, I tried making my first dog soap mostly as an experiment, knowing that many people swear by using soaps on their dogs. I, too, was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it!
Bar soap vs. Liquid soap on dogs
Being used to using liquid shampoos, I was sure that I would prefer a liquid soap for washing my dog.
I was wrong!
One of the things I tried was dissolving the pieces that I had cut off the soap to square it up into some water, and I started out by using that.
The problem? It took a heck of a lot of dissolved soap to get any lather. I was using a lot of soap and it still didn’t feel like I was getting my dog very clean.
It wasn’t a commentary on the quality of the soap. I’ve always had a similar feeling when using dog shampoos on my dog. I end up using quite a large portion of the bottle to cover all of the fur, and it’s hard to control where it all goes. If it’s liquidy, it runs all over the place and a lot is lost. If it’s thick, it’s hard to spread all over the body.
Using a bar soap is a whole other game. I purposefully made large bars of soap so that I could easily grip onto them when I wash my dog. We start out by wetting down all of her fur before proceeding to rub the bars of soap all over her coat.
I was surprised by how quickly everything lathers up, and by how easy it is to cover her entire coat with soap quickly. With a bottle of shampoo, I’m constantly trying to hold my dog in place, while trying to pour the shampoo either into my other hand or directly onto her fur. Then, trying to spread it all around is just as tricky. Using a bar of soap is so much easier to fully clean your dog!
Using a conditioner on your dog for a shiny coat
While I haven’t noticed my dog’s hair being dull after washing his hair with the soap, I like the idea of following up the soap with a bit of conditioner.
Just like with dog shampoos, there are plenty of dog conditioners on the market. I studied the ingredients of a few of them, and I honestly didn’t see much of a difference in the ingredients used. Once again, my intuition tells me that a lot of the difference is really just marketing hype.
What I would say is that it’s probably best to use a lightweight type conditioner on your dog, and one with mild ingredients, in case not all of the conditioner gets rinsed away.
That’s why I use the same lightweight DIY hair conditioner that I make for myself. It’s light enough to use as a leave in conditioner, so if any is left behind, it isn’t a problem. It uses mild ingredients, so there’s nothing that will bother my dog’s skin. In fact, I believe it’s quite nourishing. The pH was around 6 last time I checked, so it is close enough to neutral to not bother a dog’s skin, if pH is even an issue, but not alkaline, so it leaves the hair nice and shiny.
I really love using the conditioner because it helps me get out matts and tangles in my dog’s hair, all while leaving it feeling nice and soft.
Are essential oils bad for dogs?
Not all essential oils are safe for dogs, but I chose a mixture of insect repelling essential oils for this soap that are said to be safe for dogs. (As with essential oils for people, essential oils on dogs should be used diluted as it is in this soap.) I chose these particular oils to help leave behind a scent that will help keep some insects away. That’s also one of the reasons I chose neem oil for this soap.
If you don’t have all of the oils I used on hand, you can leave some out and exchange them for a combination of some of the others. Or, if you prefer, you can just leave the essential oils out altogether.
In any case, the neem oil also leaves behind a scent that will help ward of unwanted insects.
Neem oil benefits in soap
Neem oil in soap is antibacterial, antifungal, and has insecticidal properties. It’s an ideal ingredient for a soap for dogs because it can help clear up their skin conditions all while mildly keeping insects away.
Homemade Dog Shampoo Soap
- 200 g olive oil
- 150 g coconut oil 76º
- 50 g neem oil
- 75 g rapeseed oil See notes below about possible substitutions.
- 25 g castor oil
- 190 g distilled water
- 70 g lye
- 3 g lavender essential oil
- 3 g citronella essential oil
- 3 g thyme essential oil
- 3 g peppermint essential oil
- 3 g eucalyptus essential oil
- Put on safety goggles and gloves before working with lye. This is just a safety precaution because lye is caustic and can burn your skin.
- Weigh out the lye and water in glass, ceramic, or heavy plastic bowls.
- Add the lye to the bowl of water (and not the other way around!) in a fully ventilated area. (I usually do this step outside.)
- Mix together well the lye and water until the lye has fully dissolved. You will notice that it heats up and gets more opaque first and then it will cool down and get clearer. Leave the mixture to sit in an area where it won’t be disturbed by anybody or any animals.
- Weigh out all of the main oils (olive oil, coconut oil, neem oil, rapeseed oil, and castor oil- not the essential oils) on a kitchen scale. I find it easier to tare a large bowl and then add each oil to it, taring again between additions.
- Add the lye solution to the oil solution and gently mix together.
- Continue mixing the ingredients with an immersion blender until you reach trace. Trace is the point of making soap when the saponification process has begun. It is when the mixture gets more opaque and thicker, looking like an emulsified sauce.
- At trace, you can now add essential oils. You can either weight them out and add them, or add some and take a whiff to see how strong the fragrance is.
- Fully incorporate the essential oils into the soap mixture.
- Pour the mixture into molds. I like to use silicone loaf pans, but you can also use milk cartons, plastic containers, or, of course, soap molds. 🙂
- Cover and insulate the soap with a towel, and set it aside where it can stay undisturbed for a day or two to harden up.
- Check on the soap occasionally, and unfold it when it appears hard enough to easily unfold without breaking.
- Cut the soap into bars. For this particular use, I like to make big, chunky bars of soap that are easy to hold onto when washing our dog. They’ve worked really well for us so far!
- I stamped a paw pattern into my soap, while it was still somewhat soft, using the plastic caps of items I found around the house. You can decorate your soap with soap stamps or rubber stamps or something else like I did at this point.
- Set the soap aside for a few weeks to dry and harden up more. While the saponification process will have completed within a couple of days and you can technically use it then, the soap will harden and improve with drying time, meaning it will also last you longer when using it.
- You are now ready to give your dog a bath! Have fun, and try not to get too wet! 🙂
How to use the homemade dog shampoo bar soap
This is how we normally bathe our dog with this soap. My husband likes to hook up our homemade solar water heater to the hose so that we can use warm water outside. 🙂
- Brush your dog to allow for easier wetting of all of his or her fur.
- Fully wet your dog’s fur with water.
- Use the bar of soap to work up a lather all over your dog’s fur. You can optionally comb through the fur again to make sure all areas are well covered with soap.
- Rinse all of the soap from your dog’s fur.
- Now you can use some conditioner to help make brushing easier and help remove any tangles. It will also leave your dog’s fur soft and shiny.
- Comb through the fur with the conditioner in place.
- Rinse out the conditioner.
- Let your dog shake off the extra water. You can once again comb through the fur as it dries to help remove any loose fur and have your dog looking his or her best.
Enjoy your nice, clean, soft dog!
Hello, I just made this soap and it is still very soft after 1 week of curing. I usually use water at 28% and noticed yours is 38% on the soap calculator. Is there a reason for this? I did use canola oil instead of rapeseed as whenever I googled rapeseed, canola came up. I am in Australia and rapeseed isn’t common here. I am not sure if that would cause this amount of softness though.
The aroma is amazing, beautiful blends. I omitted thyme and eucalyptus and the result is still lovely.
Thank you for sharing 🙂
Tracy Ariza, DDS
Hmmmm- It’s been a while since I’ve made this recipe, but I will be making it again soon as I’m finally running out. I don’t remember having issues with softness, but I was able to press the pawprint design into the bars days after making it, so it probably was somewhat soft at first. By the time the cure period was done, though, I think it had hardened up quite a bit. The soap I have left from that first batch is quite hard. Soaps that have a lot of olive oil like this one tend to be softer at first, but harden up with time.
as for the water content, I just went with the default water amount on the Soapcalc lye calculator at the time. I’d have to take a closer look to see the amount and if there is a typo if that doesn’t sound right.
The canola oil should be fine to use. Their saponification values are similar and it’s not used in a huge amount anyway. I had bought the oil here in Spain (aceite de colza) to make a copycat recipe of the activated charcoal soap. It’s not something normally sold here either. The translation given was rapeseed oil, but I’ve always wondered if it’s actually rapeseed or canola oil.
I totally did not see this nor receive a notification you had replied!! Better late than never I guess!
The bars did harden up over time. I am down to last one after the first batch and am about to make another couple of batches. I think the heat here in Australia caused them to soften when left outside. Saying that, it does not impact the effectiveness of the soap, still lovely and lathers up nicely.
I’ll keep using canola. It is derived from the same plant as rapeseed but has a lower content of erucic acids 🙂 Also, it doesn’t break the bank and is easy to find here!
Tracy Ariza, DDS
So glad to hear that! 🙂
Hello! Thx so much for this recipe. Can this recipe be doubled? I tried to make a double batch but my soap came out crumbly. Not sure what I did wrong. Any recommendations?
Tracy Ariza, DDS
Yes, it shouldn’t be a problem to double the recipe.
I’m not sure why it would be crumbly. This recipe shouldn’t be crumbly and quick to get hard at all.
Are you sure you used the right weight of lye, the right lye, and the right oils…
Crumbly sounds like too much of a hard fat like coconut oil- or maybe too much lye (not sure if that would lead to crumbly, but I can’t figure out what your issue was!)
Hello, Tracy! My soaps from your recipe (only change is use of sweet almond oil instead of avocado) look really ugly in colour, comparing toyours. Do you have any idea why? They are greenish, like a grass that lied too long in water. Is there a good, natural way to make the bars look even more white/light than yours? Kind regards.
Tracy Ariza, DDS
In soap recipes, you can’t really just change out oils. Different oils have different properties and each oil uses a different amount of lye. That means that if you change out an oil, your resulting soap could be either lye-heavy or have excess fats, depending on which oils were switched for which. (This can be determined with a lye calculator.)
I have a post that better details which oils have which properties in soap. Coconut generally makes the whitest bars, but if you use too much, it can be drying. I also have a post that explains what a lye calculator is and how to use it.
I’m not sure why it would be green, though. Even when I use extra virgin olive oil, a very green oil, my resulting soap tends to be golden colored.
Thank you for your quick answe, Tracy! And thank you for the links, will use t hem deffinitely. I’ve also used extra virgin olive oil (does it help by the way? I mean — is there a real difference for dog when using pomace instead of extra virgin?), maybe that is the real cause. Will try with another olive oil.
Tracy Ariza, DDS
Actually, pomace may also change the amount of lye used. I usually buy a lighter olive oil for soaps (but not pomace), just because it’s also cheaper and I don’t really notice much of a difference in soap. The color of the oils can change the coloring of the soap, though.
I forgot that I had tried this recipe several ways and had also given other options in the notes. I have been wanting to update this post soon too (and always remake when I update). I’m slowly going through and fixing up all of the posts on the blog (adding new FAQs when possible, etc.).
And I am sorry about changing oils misinformation. I meant that I’ve changed rapeseed for sweet almond oil, not avocado oil for sweet almond oil. So it is just like in the Notes 🙂
Do you have percentages of the oils?
Hi Mam… I saw your ingredients and can I add foam booster, degreaser? Ty
Tracy Ariza, DDS
This is a soap-based cleanser. It already provides a good lather. I’m not sure what sort of foam booster or degreaser you want to use, but I think most are used with other (non-soap) surfactants. I don’t think it’s necessary in this case anyway.
Can I also use this on my cat?
Tracy Ariza, DDS
I haven’t researched the oils in this soap for use with cats. I know there is a longer list of oils that you should avoid with cats. You could use the soap base itself, and use similar oils- but make sure to check which essential oils should be avoided with cats before adding them in.
With soap, the essential oils aren’t really in contact with the animals in the same way as they would be in a lotion or something like that- so, it’s likely that the oils wouldn’t be problematic anyway. That said, I think it’s always best to err on the side of caution. (The essential oils are there mostly for scent and pest control.)
Hola! Excelente receta, gracias! Quisiera hacerte una pregunta. En muchos lugares recomienda aloe vera y avena (en forma de harina, creo) para los jabones para perro. Incluso he consultado con veterinarios y todos dicen que esos dos ingredientes son beneficiosos para los perros. Se pueden incorporar esos ingredientes a tu receta? Muchas gracias!
Tracy Ariza, DDS
La avena es muy fácil de añadirle a los jabones. Se puede añadir después de haber llegado a la fase de “traza” (trace), cuando se empieza a espesarse. Hay quien prefiere usar avena coloidal que es una avena más fina que se dispersa mejor en las cosméticas, pero también se puede usar avena normal.
También puedes añadirle aloe en ese momento. Con el aloe, es mejor rebajar la canitdad de agua del jabón si vas a echarle aloe.
can i use anise extract or oil in soap recipe for dogs? if yes then how much amount is appropriate to be used?
and how do i increase or adjust the pH of the soap bar to 7 or above to keep it alkaline .
Tracy Ariza, DDS
Soap will always be alkaline, It can never be neutral or acidic. (That’s one of the problems with using it as a shampoo for humans.)
I’m not sure about the anise oil. This article calls its safety for dogs into question.
In a soap, it probably wouldn’t be too bad, but I’d probably avoid it. If you really want to use it, keep the amount very small!
Can I incorporate oatmeal to the recipe? If yes, how and how much can I incorporate?
Tracy Ariza, DDS
Yes, you can add oatmeal to soaps. I’d add it once the soap reaches trace. Blend it in with the essential oils. A lot of people prefer grinding it up finely or using colloidal oatmeal so that they don’t have oatmeal flakes coming off when using the soap. (It could be especially messy when using on fur.)
I’d probably try with only about a tablespoon and see how it works. (You could go up or down slightly from there.)