This Is What Happens If You Wash Your Dog With Just Water

If you wash your dog with water:

  • Only some dirt and debris will come out of their coat
  • It won’t improve or get rid of the doggy smell
  • It does a good job getting mud out of their paws
  • It can soak out dried-in mud and debris
  • Lots of water is needed to get a good result

If you own a dog, you’re going to need to give it the occasional bath. When I bath my Bichon Frise, Freya, I sometimes feel as if I am going into battle. I have quite the list of items close at hand – shampoo, conditioner, towels, the shower spray…

But do you need the products? You probably found your way here because you want to know if it is okay to wash your dog using just water and nothing else. I got curious and decided to find out the answer. So, if you want to know what it is, don’t go anywhere else.

I’ve done the research, so you don’t need to. If you are thinking of washing your dog without any shampoo or conditioner, you can find out what is likely to happen right here.


Water Rinses Out Some Dirt and Debris but Not All of It

If your dog needs some attention after going for a walk or playing outside in the yard, then a bath might be the best option. Water does a great job of getting rid of a lot of debris that is still left in your pet’s coat. Sometimes, you may not be able to brush it out, and your dog’s fur might not look its usual color.

This is easy to tell on a white dog like my Bichon. There are times when I brush Freya’s legs, but they still look gray rather than white. That’s when I know more work is needed.

Here’s a tip I can share with you, though – keep a brush somewhere handy, so it is ready for you to use when you return from a walk with your dog. If your pooch has picked up dirt and debris, much of it can be brushed out before you even decide whether a bath is necessary.

Do this outside or in an enclosed indoor space as I do. This makes for an easier clean-up for you afterward.


A Partial Bath in Water Alone Can Work Well for Dirty Paws

White dogs immediately show the dirt – much like white cars. During the winter months, when it’s more likely to be cold and wet, Freya often returns from the morning walk with muddy paws and legs. I often think she could do with some fenders to stop all the spray coming up at her.

The thing is, bathing your dog – whether you do it with water alone or throw in some products to help things along – doesn’t typically need to be done more than once a month. Sure, if your pooch is dirty then yes, sometimes you don’t get a choice.

But if I bathed Freya every time that she got dirty during the winter, she would be in that tub daily. Sometimes twice daily. That wouldn’t do her skin or coat any good.

In these situations, I pop her in the tub when we get back from our walk. I use the shower spray to run some warm water, then direct the spray down her legs. I often massage each leg with the other hand, so I can help get rid of all the dirt she has brought home.

While water alone doesn’t get everything out, it gets rid of most of the muck and grime. A quick towel dry of her legs, and she’s ready to go again. I don’t worry about using shampoo – much less conditioner – in this instance.

Since a dog is most likely to get their paws and lower legs dirtier than anything else, this could be all you need to think about. Water alone is fine in this situation, as it should get rid of everything that has only just got onto your dog’s fur. It won’t have had a chance to work its way deeper into its coat.


Water Alone Doesn’t Improve Your Dog’s Smell

You know the smell I mean… that classic doggy smell you know and… er, love? Well, maybe not, otherwise you wouldn’t consider putting your pooch in the tub to start with.

So, it depends on why you want to bathe your dog. If you are doing it to rid their fur of lots of dirt and mud, then water alone may do the job. However, if your pooch is stinking out the house, you need more than just water.

It’s best to have some doggy shampoo and conditioner on hand, even if you don’t intend to use it all the time. Don’t be tempted not to bother and to use human shampoo instead. Your skin and hair are different to that of your dog, so shampoo that is safe for you may be harmful to your pet.

My nose is the best tool in helping me decide whether Freya can get away with a partial wash using just water, or whether a proper bath is needed. Sometimes, water alone just won’t do.

Knowing what you are aiming to achieve is vital. If your dog smells funny when it snuggles up next to you, it’s time to break out the tough stuff – not just the water.


Use Lots of Water if You Are Going to Bathe Your Dog

I have two techniques I use when bathing Freya:

  1. An empty tub with the shower hose running – this is ideal if she is smelly but not that dirty
  2. A tub filled with warm water that just covers her belly – ideal for those occasions when she has insisted on slowly walking through muddy puddles to see how they feel, and swimming in a boggy pond (that wasn’t a pleasant journey home in the car, I can tell you)

In both cases, I always test the temperature of the water before using it on Freya. It should be warm but not hot.

If she needs water in the tub, I still use the spray to soak the rest of her coat. With a double coat, it takes a while for the water to seep through to her skin.

Putting her in a tub of water means that dirty legs and paws get a soak before the shampoo comes out. Since Bichons are a small breed, her belly fur regularly gets caked in mud and dirt too. Walking around the local streets in the rain guarantees this – even if she has a waterproof coat on.

By the time I have soaked the rest of her coat in water, the shampooing process is faster and easier to complete. Lots of the dirt and mud has already come off, so half the job is already done.


Top tip: Even if water alone doesn’t do the job, it has a crucial role to play

You couldn’t use products alone to clean your dog if it is going in the bath. On some occasions, as we’ve seen, water is enough. But even if it isn’t, it plays the leading role, with shampoo and conditioner in supporting roles.


You Could Use Deodorizing Wipes Instead of Bathing in Water

Did you know you can buy wipes that are specially designed for pooches? I bought some of these for quick wipe-clean jobs when Freya has gotten dirty, but not dirty enough for a bath.

Make sure you buy wipes that are specifically for dogs. The packs look a lot like the ones intended for human use, but they are safe for use with dogs. The ones I buy are alcohol-free, unscented, and even compostable.

I find these are easier to use for on the spot cleaning with minimal work. You can massage your pooch’s coat with a wipe, for example, lifting out any dirt or stains that won’t simply brush out. They work way better than water for this task.

Some of the wipes you can buy are scented too. If you are looking to get rid of something your dog has rolled in that doesn’t smell too good, these wipes will do a much better job than plain water.

In fact, popping a pack in your bag or vehicle when you take your pooch out for a walk means you can always clean up your pooch wherever you are. That might mean you avoid a bath anyway.


Warm Water Could Help Soak Out Anything Crusty Dried into its Coat

If you have taken your dog for a long walk off the leash, it might have taken the opportunity to roll in something pleasant. Pleasant in your dog’s eyes, of course, not yours.

Yes, we have all been there.

In this situation, a wipe may not be good enough. When faced with this situation, put your dog in the tub and run the shower spray until it comes through warm. Not hot, remember – that’s important, as it could harm your dog.

Warm water should be enough to loosen anything horrible that has dried into its coat and cannot be brushed away.

You may still need to use a slicker brush or comb to get rid of anything problematic though, so make sure you have one close at hand.


You Could Use Dog Cologne Instead of Water if Your Dog is Smelly

We know now that washing a dog in plain water won’t rid you of that doggy smell. In fact, it might make it worse. Think of a wet smelly dog… not good.

Fortunately, the pet product market includes something called dog cologne. Yes, really. I use a professional grooming cologne for my Bichon, Freya, whenever she is less than fresh. She may not need a bath, but she does need freshening up.

So, I bought a spray that smells of baby powder. She isn’t keen on having it misted directly onto her coat, even though the bottle comes with a spray intended for this purpose. No matter – I just spray some onto my hands, rub them together, and then rub her coat with it. She smells great in seconds. No water needed.

It doesn’t replace the need for an occasional bath, but it can freshen her up when that’s all she needs.


Bottom Line? Water Alone Won’t Give You the Best Results

Water is better for loosening dirt and debris from your dog’s coat than it is for improving the aroma your dog carries around with it. So, bathing your dog in just water is fine in some instances but not in others.

Now you have lots of advice to follow, you know when to use water, when you don’t need to, and when you do need to resort to dog shampoo and conditioner to get the best results.


Writer: Allison Whitehead

Read my bio