Most cats are good at keeping themselves clean, but sometimes, your furry friend might need a little help, especially if they’ve investigated something particularly dirty or got oil in their coat.
Of course, the best and safest option is a shampoo that’s been specifically designed for cats. Sometimes, we don’t have what we need at home, and that’s fine. The good news is that you’ve probably got something at home that you can use as a stand-in.
We’ve put together a list of household items that you can use in place of regular cat shampoo. Whether you prefer a simple straight shampoo replacement or are looking for a DIY recipe for either standard or dry shampoo, we’ve got plenty of options!
Instead, we recommend one of the alternatives below.
The 8 Alternatives to Cat Shampoo & Cat Bathing Guide
1. Baby shampoo
Unlike shampoo for adults, baby shampoo has a much gentler formula, which makes it suitable for use on your cat’s delicate skin. Look for a “no tears” label and avoid fragrances. You can use a small amount of baby shampoo to bathe your cat as you would normally. But, only use in case of emergency, as you want to avoid using baby shampoo regularly on your cat.
If you don’t have a baby or a young kid, you’re not likely to have this in the house.
Most of us have seen that Dawn dish soap is used at rescue centers to effectively strip oil from wildlife affected by pollution. That means it’s also going to do a great job of cleaning your cat’s coat if they’ve ended up covered in sticky or oily residue.
Dawn is okay to use on your cat, but it’s best to mix ¼ cup of Dawn with ½ cup of apple cider vinegar and 2 cups of water to make a blend that can be lathered over your cat’s coat before rinsing well. We don’t recommend using other brands of dish soap, as their safety hasn’t been established.
3. Castile soap
Made using olive oil, Castile soap is a safe and effective stand-in cat shampoo. It’s gentle and naturally hydrating, so it can be a good choice for cats with dry skin.
Make sure the Castile soap is 100% pure without added ingredients. Rinse your cat’s coat extremely well to remove all traces of the soap to make sure their skin doesn’t get irritated by residue.
4. Baking soda
If you don’t want to have to get your cat wet and their fur simply needs freshening up, baking soda can do a great job of deodorizing odors and stripping away some of the dirt. If you don’t know how to wash a cat, simply sprinkle the baking soda over your cat’s coat, making sure to avoid their face. Rub it into the base of the coat with your fingers and massage it well. Let it set for a few minutes before brushing out, then remove as much as possible using a dry towel.
If your dark cat is left looking a little lighter, don’t worry, it can happen, but will go away. But you want to make sure to remove as much baking soda as possible to avoid your cat ingesting large amounts of it by licking it up. Some cats may be allergic to it so keep a close eye on your kitty if you do use this method, and be sure to contact a vet if you notice your cat is itchy, has red or swollen skin, is vomiting, has diarrhea, or looks lethargic.
5. Baby wipes and Pet wipes
Many of us have baby wipes at home. But baby wipes can contain a variety of ingredients, we recommend using only Water wipes; these ones are safe to use on cats. Another good alternative is the use of Pet Wipes, specifically formulated with pet-safe ingredients. These can be used to spot-clean your cat and remove small stains or areas where your cat has managed to work something yucky into their coat.
If using wipes, use only the recommended type to make sure they don’t contain fragrances that could irritate your cat’s delicate skin.
6. Oatmeal DIY shampoo
This simple recipe creates an effective and gentle oatmeal shampoo that can help soothe irritated skin. Simply mix 1 cup of ground oatmeal with ½ cup of baking soda and 4 cups of water. Pour this mixture over your cat’s fur before using your fingers to massage it through their fur and down to their skin. Leave for up to 5 minutes before rinsing clean with plenty of warm water.
This uses a fair bit of baking soda, which you may need to buy if you’re not a regular baker.
For more DIY inspiration check out these cool projects:
Dry shampoo is convenient, effective, and easy to use, but only if you pick the right product! Hepper's No-Rinse Pet Shampoo is made with soothing natural ingredients like cucumber and aloe vera. It smells great, cleans well, and won't cause irritation. You'll love the fresh, clean scent and your pet will enjoy the moisturizing, pH-balanced formula.
At Excited Cats, we’ve admired Hepper for many years and decided to take a controlling ownership interest so that we could benefit from the outstanding designs of this cool cat company!
If you use cornstarch regularly in cooking, then you have the perfect dry cat shampoo alternative! This can be sprinkled over your cat’s coat before using your fingers to work it through their fur. Brush it out, and your cat will look and smell cleaner!
Cornstarch won’t remove sticky or oily residue.
8. DIY dry shampoo
If your cat desperately needs a clean, but you can’t bear the thought of bathing them, then this DIY dry shampoo recipe is the answer! Mix ½ cup of finely ground oatmeal with ½ cup of cornmeal and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sprinkle this mixture all over your cat, being careful to avoid their face. Rub the mixture in, and leave for 5 minutes before brushing out.
This won’t remove stubborn stains or oily and sticky residue.
Wrapping it up
If you have the choice, then using a commercial brand of cat shampoo is always going to be your best bet. But that’s not something you’re always going to have on hand. Most cats don’t need to have a bath often, anyway, as they do a great job of keeping themselves clean most of the time.
But if you know how to wash a cat for an emergency cleaning session, rest assured that any of the alternatives we’ve listed above will do a great job of freshening up your feline friend.
If you’ve used any of these shampoo alternatives on your cat or have a tried-and-tested DIY shampoo recipe of your own, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.