The Alarming Truth About Washing Guinea Pigs In Dish Soap

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There are a lot of people out there who have guinea pigs, and many of them know the struggle of trying to keep their pet clean. One of the most frequently asked questions in regards to guinea pigs is “Can I wash my guinea pig with dish soap?”

As a general rule, avoid washing guinea pigs with dish soap. Dish soap is occasionally used to clean guinea pig grease glands, but full body washes are discouraged. This is because the chemicals in dish soaps are harsh on sensitive guinea pig skin. 

Can You Wash Your Guinea Pig In Dish Soap

If you’re worried about keeping your piggie clean without harming their skin, then you’ve come to the right place. This blog post will discuss why dish soap should never be used on your guinea pig. You’ll also alternative products and methods exist for keeping your little friends clean and happy.

Why You Shouldn’t (Regularly) Use Dish Soap On Guinea Pigs

Can I wash my guinea pig with dish soap?

Dish soap is a great product, but it’s not the best to use on your piggie. Admittedly, it does an amazing job of cleaning grease off animals that have been caught in oil spills (remember those Dawn commercials?).

However, its stripping properties can actually cause dry, itchy skin in piggies. It can also ruin the quality of your pet’s coat when used for frequent bathing or washing.

That said, dish soap isn’t a complete “no-no”.

In fact, there are certain circumstances when dish soap is just the product that you need to scrub up your fur babies.

When And How To Use Dish Soap To (Infrequently) Wash Your Piggies

Can I wash my guinea pig with dish soap?

I analyzed 407 responses to understand what the average guinea pig owner used to clean their pets.

Specifically, I looked at brands of soaps and shampoos. I also looked at why people used the ones they did, as well as when and how they use them.

Using data that I sourced from the forums and Facebook groups, I uncovered some interesting findings.

Let’s dive in!

7.9% of the survey respondents said they use dish soap to clean their guinea pig. That’s 32 people.

When I examined the comments more closely, I found that most of the respondents only used dish soap under specific circumstances, which I’ll cover below.

But, before we dig in, let me be clear about something:

Ideally, dish soap should only be used if:

  • It’s heavily diluted with water
  • It’s scent-free.
  • You keep it from getting into your piggie’s eyes and ears (which could cause an upper respiratory infection).
  • You use a tiny, dime-sized amount.
  • It’s not going to be used as your main cleaner.

That said, let’s look at reason number one.

Stinky Grease Gland

All guinea pigs have a small gland that makes an oily substance that piggies smear around their enclosures to mark their territory.

It’s called the grease gland.

It is located near the bottom of their spine. Look for it where your guinea pig’s tail would be…if they had tails.

In piggies with a very active grease gland, the buildup of this secretion has a horrible smell.  In extreme cases, this can cause skin irritation and infection in a piggie if not cleaned.

Enter: Dish soap.

Since dish soap is so good at breaking up oils, it’s a good choice for cleaning oily grease gland buildup. 

Bum Bath Time

Due to being so low to the ground, piggies often come into contact with droppings and urine that can make their lower body really stinky and dirty.

A bum bath is a bathing technique that pet parents use to clean the feet and underbelly of their piggies (without getting their entire body wet).

A few respondents provided specific instructions for butt baths and how they incorporate dish soap. The steps for the bum bath are pretty simple:

  1. Fill a shallow bucket or bin with 1 or 2 inches of lukewarm water.
  2. Just squeeze a drop of your dish soap of choice into the water and swirl it around.
  3. Gently plop your piggie into the water. Then used a damp cloth to clean the feet, legs, and belly of their piggie.
  4. Dry your guinea pig thoroughly. Wa-lah! Bum Bath for the win.

Take a peek at the video below. Although the pet parent doesn’t use dish soap as a cleanser, this is a good example of a butt bath.

The Safest (Or At Least Okay) Guinea Pig Shampoos and Shampoo Alternatives

Can I wash my guinea pig with dish soap?

When it comes to guinea pigs, there are some factors to consider when choosing a shampoo (or alternative) for baths. Some questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Do you have a long haired, short-haired, or skinny pig?
  • How many guinea pigs do you own?
  • Are your guinea pigs particularly stinky with very active grease glands?
  • Which cleaning agents do you have easy access to?
  • Is budget one of your concerns?

Every pig is different and everyone’s situation is different. So, it’s important to think about what you have on hand, your resources, and the current condition of your guinea pig when deciding what to use.

The good news?

These days, there’s really no shortage of options when it comes to shampooing your pet piggie! And no need to use dish soap if you’d prefer not to.

There are a few, proven products on the market that meet this criteria. The options below are ones that I’ve found (and the survey respondents stated) stand out as being really good for guinea pigs (with proper use):

1. Gorgeous Guineas

Based in the United Kingdom, Gorgeous Guinea Shampoos are a popular choice for 11.3% of guinea pig pet owners in the survey.

Christine, one of the owners, has experience with human and animal aromatherapy. This knowledge is used to make the safest and high quality products for guinea pigs.

There are lot of shampoos available on the their website. One you should try is the Kind & Gentle Shampoo is formulated to be gentle on your furry burrito’s skin and fur, while providing excellent cleaning power. 

2. Castile Soap

Can I wash my guinea pig with dish soap?

In my survey, only one person said that they bathed their guinea pigs with castile soap (this is a link to a great product on Amazon).

I’m honestly surprised that I don’t hear about more people using castile soap for guinea pig bathing.

Let me tell you a little bit about this hidden treasure.

Castile soap is a great choice for anyone wanting to wash a guinea pig. It’s made of plant oils with healthy fats to keep your piggie’s skin and fur hydrated and moisturized. Free of harsh chemicals, it’s safe and gentle to use when diluted.

Castile soap gets bonus points for versatility!

It’s a multi-purpose household product and can replacing items such as human shampoo, toilet cleaner, dish and laundry detergent. More bang for your buck!

It is available in two forms: bar form and liquid form. But using the liquid form is most convenient when bathing piggies.

Generally, add a 1 or 1/2 tsp. of liquid castile in half a gallon of lukewarm water. Stir it gently and wait about 1 minute for the soap to mix in.

These aren’t precise measurements. When using castile soap on your guinea pig, you should test its dilution to find the best ratio of cleanser to water for your little friend.

Pros:

  • very gentle and safe when used appropriately
  • natural moisturizing properties; cleans very well
  • chemical free and fragrance free
  • budget and environmentally friendly
  • long shelf life

Cons: 

  • stripping properties can be strong when not diluted
  • no antifungal ingredients
  • pet owners will need to test how diluted the castile soap needs to be

3. Just Water

Many pet parents opt to use plain and simple water to bathe their guinea pigs. Water is a gentle cleanser for your furry friend and it doesn’t irritate the skin or dry it out like soaps do. It is the safest option for your guinea pig and does not even cost you anything extra. 

If you’re extra nervous about using any type of product to clean your fur babies, water is the way to go.

  1. Add an inch of lukewarm water to the sink (or bucket).
  2. Put your piggie in the water.
  3. Swish around their fur. Or wipe your fur baby down with a washcloth or flannel cloth. (Avoid the eyes and nose!)
  4. Dry thoroughly before putting back into the cage.
  5. All done!

Pros:

  • safe and gentle
  • no chemicals easy to find
  • fragrance-free and fits every budget
  • specially formulated for guinea pigs
  • paraben-free & phalates-free

Cons: 

  • hard water might cause flaky, dry skin
  • might not get your piggies clean if they’re extra grubby or have medical issues
  • used alone, it won’t be affective with an overactive grease gland

4. Unscented Baby Wipes

Can I wash my guinea pig with dish soap?

Some pet parents want to freshen up their stinky guinea pigs, but don’t want to fill up a tub or bucket for a full bath.

If that’s the case, then baby wipes are the perfect solution.

Water Wipes are unscented baby wipes are made with 99.9% purified water and a pinch of fruit extract. They don’t contain soap, alcohol or chemicals to dry out your piggie’s sensitive skin. They’re also hypoallergenic.

Check the price on Amazon here.

Pros:

  • no parabens, sulfates, or phthalates
  • mild and gentle
  • hypoallergenic

Cons: 

  • not environmentally friendly
  • might not work for all guinea pigs (e.g. long haired breeds, piggies with medical issues)
  • no antifungal ingredients

5. Anti Fungal Shampoo

Ringworm and fungal foot are common with guinea pigs, so many pet owners like to give preventative baths with shampoos that have antifungal ingredients.

When I examined the survey responses, I found that:

  • 130 out of 407 people used some form of antifungal shampoo to wash their piggies. That’s 25%!
  • Out of that 130 people who preferred using antifungal shampoos, 76.9% (100)of survey respondents used Head and Shoulders
  • 19% (25) used Davis Miconazole
  • .05% (5) used Nizoral Antifungal Shampoo

Head and Shoulders is the obvious favorite – likely because it’s more budget friendly and is more widely available.

But, Davis Miconazole shampoo is specially formulated for pets. Nizoral comes in dead last, but is still an effective shampoo.

Many responsible rescues typically use antifungal shampoo to treat guinea pigs with ringworm. The treatment usually requires weekly bathing (at least) over the course of several weeks.

If you’re someone who only bathes your guinea pigs 2 – 4 times a year, using an antifungal shampoo appropriately won’t harm your piggie. Plus, you’ll have the added peace of mind of knowing that you’re protecting your piggie from ringworm.

Pros:

  • pretreats and treats pesky fungal infections like ringworm
  • cleans very well
  • depending on the brand, relatively inexpensive
  • long shelf life

Cons: 

  • must be diluted by water
  • usually contains strong chemicals
  • very important to avoid eyes and ears, because the product will sting badly

6. Aveeno Soothing Oatmeal Bath 

Can I wash my guinea pig with dish soap?

Aveeno Soothing Oatmeal Bath is a good option if your guinea pig has skin irritation.

This bath is made with oatmeal extract and colloidal oats. They’ll help soothe your piggies skin if it’s itchy and dry.

Pros:

  • good for sensitive piggie skin
  • hypoallergenic
  • easy to find with a long shelf life
  • very gentle when diluted
  • free of harsh chemicals

Cons: 

  • doesn’t clean filthy piggies very well
  • might not work for all guinea pigs (e.g. long haired breeds, piggies with medical issues)
  • no antifungal ingredients

7. Shampoo for Other Small Pets

In the survey 10.8% (44 of 406) of the participants used some other form of small animal pet shampoo.

  • Out of those 44 respondents who used other pet shampoos, 31% (14) preferred Johnson. No, not Johnson and Johnson for babies, but Johnson for small animals. Check Price on Amazon
  • 11% (6) used Kaytee Squeaky Clean Critter. This was surprising to me because this shampoo has a very strong baby powder smell. I suppose that if you diluted it heavily with water, that might decrease the fragrance.
  • 54% (24) of people used miscellaneous brands of small pet shampoos

Pros:

  • cleans very well
  • easy to find
  • budget friendly

Cons: 

  • contains strong chemicals
  • fragrance is strong in some brands
  • shipping can be pricey if you don’t live in the U.K.
  • no antifungal ingredients in some of the shampoos

8. Unscented Baby Shampoo (Diluted)

Can I wash my guinea pig with dish soap?

Some baby shampoos are a good substitute for guinea pig wash.

Another finding from my survey was that 37.8% (or 154 people out of 406) of respondents said they bath their piggies with baby shampoo.

Out of 154 people who used baby shampoo for their piggies, two baby shampoo choices stood out as the most popular among the respondents. Aveeno and Johnson & Johnson.

The survey revealed the following:

  • 24% of respondents used Johnson & Johnson (usually the no-more tears version).
  • 14.3% of people use Aveeno products to bathe their little friends.
  • 1% (2) used Burt’s Bees Baby Shampoo & Wash (Tearless)

Steer towards the Aveeno or the Burt Bees Baby Shampoo. Both products do a good job protecting guinea pig skin. They’re hypoallergenic, paraben- and phthalate-free. They’re also steroid-free, and soap-free.

Pros:

  • not as harsh as adult shampoo
  • free of many harmful chemicals l
  • budget friendly
  • most are unscented or only have a very light scent
  • widely available with a long shelf life

Cons: 

  • no antifungal ingredients
  • needs to be diluted
  • no antifungal ingredients in some of the shampoos

9. Unscented Dish Soap (Heavily Diluted)

Dawn dish soap or Fairy (its the UK counterpart) are the favored options when to clean a guinea pig.

In order to have the best chance of detergent being safe for your pet, a high-quality soap without fragrance or unnecessary chemicals is best.

Also, make sure to dilute the it heavily in lukewarm water before applying it onto your guinea pig.

Pros:

  • inexpensive
  • easy to find
  • long shelf life

Cons: 

  • overlying drying to skin because of oil stripping properties
  • many harsh chemicals
  • needs to be heavily diluted
  • hard to find unscented varieties
  • no antifungal ingredients in some of the shampoos

7 Terrific Tips For Using Shampoos (Or Other Cleansers) On Guinea Pigs 

1. Don’t Use Too Much Product

If you are using a product, make sure to not overuse it. Apply in small amounts and gently lather your guinea pig with it. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Whatever cleaning agent you use on your piggy, you must rinse it off. If the piggie is scared and squirmy, then it might not be still enough for you to rinse the shampoo without hurting them or getting water or product into their eyes or ears.
  2. The more product you use on your piggy, the more likely it is to dry out its skin. If you are just using plain water or if you are using a special product for guinea pigs, then this will not be as much of a problem.

As you clean the problem areas, pour water on them. Never dunk your guinea pig as products claiming eye-friendly formulas might still irritate your guinea pig’s eyes. 

Avoid getting water in a guinea pig’s nose, too. That can cause an upper respiratory infection.

2. Avoid Harsh Chemicals When Possible

When it comes to caring for your guinea pig, one of the most important things you can do is avoiding chemicals in their cleaning products.

Similar to humans, your guinea pig has sensitive skin that reacts poorly to many products. The best way to take care of your guinea pig is with gentle products.

Or if you have to use stronger products, be sure to dilute them thoroughly.

3. Keep The Water Level Low

Cavies are naturally afraid of water, so bathing can be a stressful experience. If they do need one then it is important to make sure they are bathed correctly and as comfortably as possible.

They only need a small amount of water (about 1 to 2 inches) in something like a baby bath or washing-up bowl, shallow enough that it won’t cause them to fall. Using a washcloth or towel in the bottom can help to prevent slips.

4. Avoid Strong Perfumes and Fragrances

Guinea pigs have different metabolism and their small respiratory system is also much more fragile than our own. A fragrance-free shampoo is preferable over one loaded with perfume.

(And let’s be honest.  The piggies don’t care about those artificial smells.  That’s something that manufactuers shove into their products for the humans that buy them.)

If you use a cleaning agent with a heavy fragrance your fur baby’s nostrils will be clogged by the shampoo’s smell throughout the day.

This can irritate your piggie’s respiratory system, it’ll hurt their navigation skills. Their nose is the eyes,

Guinea pigs have poor eyesight. One of the ways they get around during the day (and at night) is by smell. If all they can smell is the perfume from their shampoo wash, they’re going to be in trouble.

5. Dilute Everything (And I Do Mean Everything)

There are very few products that can be used undiluted on guinea pigs. Most of them need to be diluted with water.  What’s okay for human skin can irritate piggie skin.  

6. Avoid Frequent Baths

For most guinea pigs, only bathing 2 to 3 times a year is enough (and some owners don’t even like to do that). Weekly or even monthly baths can actually dry out their skin and cause issues.

The main thing you want to keep in mind when considering giving your pig a bath is that they are self-cleaning animals so they don’t need it often. However, our little friends sometimes need our help staying clean. Some exceptions include:

  • Guinea pigs who are too chunky to keep themselves clean.
  • Long-haired piggies that need extra help with maintenance.
  • Guinea pigs that are suffering from ringworm or who need to be bathed for other medical reasons (as determined by a vet).
  • Piggies that get very dirty. (I heard about a woman who’s 6 or 7 year-old son threw up on her guinea pig. You’d better believe she gave her guinea pig a bath.)
  • Show piggies that require extra primping and prep for their coats.

As a pet parent, look at your piggie and your situation and decide if your guinea pig truly needs a bath.

7. Leave Those Essential Oils Alone

Essential oils in your piggie’s shampoo are a big no-no for the same reasons that artificial fragrances are discouraged. They can cause respiratory problems in your little friends, because they have such a strong sense of smell.

The one exception I can think of would be Gorgeous Guinea products. Christine, one of the owners, incorporates aromatherapy into her products. But, she’s an experienced specialist in that area. Hers

For the most part, avoid using the shampoos or cleansers on your piggie that include the following oils:

  • cedar oil
  • tea tree
  • clove
  • peppermint
  • eucalyptus

Before introducing new oils into your home, do some research to determine which ones are desirable for animals.

How To Properly Wash Your Guinea Pig

Can I wash my guinea pig with dish soap?

Guinea pigs try to keep themselves clean and are known to groom themselves perfectly.

If you clean their cages frequently, then the chances of your guinea pig stinking or getting dirty decrease significantly.

However, baths are needed at least once or twice a month. Follow these steps to properly bathe your guinea pig:

Prepare The Area For Piggie Bathing

Start by choosing a small compact area to wash your guinea pig. Bigger spaces might frighten them and allow opportunities to run away.

You can use your kitchen sink, a little empty shoe container, or a large bowl. 

Make sure that the room where the bathing will take place is warm, so your piggie doesn’t catch a cold.

Gather Your Cleaning Materials

Set aside use two towels per piggie. Use the first one to absorb most of the water. The second one to catch any stray drips and to help your piggie stay warm.

Use a small cup to use for pouring water on your fur baby when they need to be rinsed off. Use warm water that is gentle on their sensitive skin. Keep your unscented soap or shampoo close by.

Begin The Bathing

Avoid hot water.  Use warm water or lukewarm water to keep your fur baby comfortable.

After regulating the water for a safe temp and running the water (to 1 or 2 inches), add a few drops of shampoo to the water.  Then gently lower your pet into the water. Do the following: 

  • Use a cup or your hand to get your pet’s backside, rump, and belly wet. Avoid the face and ears.
  • Apply a pea-sized small amount of the shampoo to your hand and then gently apply it to the piggie. Use your second hand to support your pet while you wash it with the other.
  • Take care when rinsing your little friend. Be gentle and take your time to avoid hurting them.

Time To Dry

After the washing is done, gently dry your guinea pig with a dry towel.

Alternatively, you can use a blow dryer on warm air setting and low speed as well as the towel.

Release your little friend to her home cage once she’s completely dry.

Final Thoughts On Shampoos and Soaps For Guinea Pigs

To sum it up, dish soaps (undiluted) are not good for your guinea pig. They have super sensitive skin and using something as rough as dish soap regularly can severely dry out their skin by stripping for vital natural oils.

The best course of action would be to use a guinea pig shampoo.

However, there are other guinea pig shampoo alternatives (when used appropriately) that can be used on your piggie: including baby shampoos, small pet cleaners, plain water, antifungal shampoos and more that you can use to help get your piggie squeaky clean 

I hope this article was able to spread some awareness on the dos and don’ts of using dish soap on guinea pigs.

Best wishes to you and your furry little friends!

Caring for a Guinea Pig. (n.d.). PIJAC. https://pijac.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/guineapig3Col030216.pdf

Cronkleton, E. (n.d.). Is Castile soap the miracle cleaning and beauty product you need? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/castile-soap

Dermatophytosis in the Guinea pig. (2021, April 30). Veterinary Practice | The UK’s leading monthly veterinary publication. https://veterinary-practice.com/article/dermatophytosis-in-the-guinea-pig

DiLonardo, M. J. (2017, September 25). Can an oatmeal bath soothe your itchy skin? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/eczema/colloidal-oatmeal-baths

DVM, S. L. (2015). The Guinea pig handbook. Barron’s Educational Series.

Frothingham, S. (n.d.). Oatmeal bath for eczema. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/oatmeal-bath-for-eczema

Kester, S. (n.d.). Hard water hair: Treating damage, prevention, and more. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/hard-water-hair-damage-treatment

Ringworm infection in Guinea pigs. (2010, July 22). PetMD. https://www.petmd.com/exotic/conditions/skin/c_ex_gp_ringworm_infection

Shampoos. (n.d.). Gorgeous Guineas – Aromatherapy skincare products for guinea pigs. https://shop.gorgeousguineas.com/shampoos-1-c.asp

What do I need to know about my Guinea pigs’ health? (n.d.). RSPCA Knowledgebase – Let Australia’s most trusted animal welfare charity help you answer the big questions. https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-do-i-need-to-know-about-my-guinea-pigs-health/#signs-of-a-potential-problem

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