Product Review: Fragrance-Free Dog Shampoo Bars

As a service dog partner with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error in finding a shampoo that I tolerate that also works well for my dogs. This is especially important because whenever I went anywhere, my service dog would go with me, and when we came home, we’d both need to bathe to get fragrance residues off our hair and skin.

The Bad Old Days

The only “all-natural” dog shampoo I found that was supposed to be safe for people with MCS (I bought it from a mail-order business that caters to people with MCS) turned out to be made up of numerous essential oils and reeked to high heaven. Even friends without MCS said it was like a perfume bomb. I can’t imagine someone with MCS using it safely.

I turned to the only other option I could think of — a gentle, fragrance-free human shampoo. This worked okay with Jersey. But when Gadget came along, I discovered that over time the shampoo dried out his coat, stimulating his body to secrete more oils to protect his skin. This led to a dog who had a dry AND oily coat, which caused him to smell very “doggy.” Eventually, I tried mixing fragrance-free human conditioner and shampoo, and that seemed to do the trick: his coat became softer and the oily secretions went away.

Even though these products were better than the toxic and/or fragranced dog shampoos on the market, I wondered how healthy it was for them to eat so much of it (because I gave out a lot of treats to make baths fun, so a lot of snorking treats out of the bath water took place). And sometimes my dogs have not liked the feel or smell of the products.

A Potential New Solution!

Then, a couple of months ago, I learned of fragrance-free dog shampoo bars made by a person with MCS! Barbara’s online store, Baltimore Soaps and More, sells four kinds of dog shampoo bars.

A line of 14 blocks of soap in a variety of colors.

Baltimore soaps and shampoo bars

Barbara was kind enough to send me samples of three of these (she’s out of stock of the fourth, see below), and I tried them out on Barnum.

They were

The first time I used one was to clean Barnum’s beard. Bouvier beards are nasty things. In fact, the Dutch nickname for Bouviers des Flandres is “Vuilbaard” which means “vile beard” or “dirty beard.” I used to use unscented baby wipes to try to clean his beard, but they didn’t work very well, and Barnum was uncooperative because he hated the smell.

The First Test: The Beard

So, to test out the new shampoo bars, I first let Barnum decide which soap he liked best. I held each one up to his nose, one at a time. The goat’s milk one was of no interest — he didn’t move away, but he didn’t move toward it. The oats and honey he moved toward a bit. But the shea butter one he sniffed it, then he moved in to sniff it again, and licked his lips. The clear winner! (Later, when I retested the soaps, he tried to gently take a bite of the shea butter soap.)

Two thick bars of a yellow soap with swirls on the top. The color of lemon meringue pie.

Sadie’s Choice Shampoo Bars

I discovered what worked best was to lather a rag or wash cloth with a bit of the soap and then massage it into his beard, and then once the nastiness had been removed, to rinse the rag free of soap to rinse his beard with. Barnum seemed comfortable and held still for all this, which he usually does not do when I go tugging at and mutchering his beard. The fact that he liked the smell seemed to make a big difference to him. Afterward, his kisses smelled much sweeter (without all that rotten food in his beard)!

The Real Test: The Bath!

I’ve cleaned his beard with Sadie’s Choice a couple of times since then, but the real test was for the total bath, which we did a few weeks ago.

Betsy helps me bathe Barnum. I wasn’t sure how the shampoo bar would go over with her since we’ve always used liquid shampoo before.

We wetted Barnum down with the shower sprayer as usual, and then she started rubbing the bar all over him. After a minute of lathering, Betsy said, “I like this soap much better than the shampoo.”

“Really?” I said. “Why?”

“With this you can hit the spots you need to hit with it,” she gestured to his hindquarters and tail, which she was soaping up. “I always felt like we were using more than we needed with the shampoo. We had to use so much. This is not as wasteful.”

I will add my own observations about the shampoo:

It had a pleasant smell, by which I means practically no smell, but what there was smelled clean and pleasant and not fragrance-y or chemical-y. Even fragrance-free shampoo has more of a smell than this did, to me.

Barnum seemed to like the smell and feel of it better, so he was very happy and cooperative (although the hot dog slices were a major factor, too).

It rinsed off much faster and easier than any other soap/shampoo/conditioner I’ve used on a dog before. It rinsed very clean and easy. I had not expected that.

In the time since that bath, Barnum’s coat has stayed in good condition. It didn’t get oily or smelly like used to happen when I used people shampoo, and it also is not dried out. It is crisp and soft, without a doggy smell, the way a bouv coat should be.

We give Baltimore Soaps and More doggy shampoo bars four paws up!

Barnum inside his crate, lying in "dead bug position," asleep with his head thrown back, all his legs in the air, just letting it all hang out! He is lying on a tan puffy dog bed inside the crate, and there is a red Kong against his butt.

Four Paws UP!

The Interview: Barbara, the Soap Maker

To round off this review, I thought it would be fun to interview Barbara about her soap-making business, her dog shampoo bars, what it’s like to run a small business when you live with MCS, and her life with dogs. Here it is!

Sharon: What gave you the idea to start a soap business? And how do you actually make these soaps and shampoo bars?

Barbara: I have always been a fan of wonderful bath soaps and looked forward to the thrill of opening a new bar. After being chemically injured in 2005 and developing multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), I quickly realized that my soap options were very limited and it made me a little depressed. I decided to start making my own soaps so that I wouldn’t be stuck with the same boring bars all of the time and figured that there must be other people out there who felt the same way I did!

Sharon: Why do you make soaps and shampoos without fragrances, essential oils, or chemicals?

Barbara: Fragrance oils are bad news for all involved since they are known endocrine disruptors, and the manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients. Tell everyone you know to avoid them! Although some people with MCS tolerate essential oils, if I used them in some of my soap batches, other batches would be cross contaminated due to residue left behind in the molds plus contamination from my hands and contamination during curing and storage. I’ve had soap-making supplies shipped to me where the entire package was fragrance contaminated and unusable so I recommend that people who have sensitivities only purchase soap from a seller who doesn’t use fragrances of any kind in their business or in their home.

Soap is a chemical reaction between fats/oils and lye (sodium hydroxide) that has been dissolved in water. Once the reaction takes place you are left with true soap (as opposed synthetic detergent bars like Dove or Irish Spring) and the lye is used up. Other than lye, no other chemicals are needed for soap making. I tell people that if you are purchasing soap and notice ingredients that aren’t something you would find in your kitchen then don’t buy it because it isn’t a truly natural product. On the same note, avoid buying soap from anyone who doesn’t fully disclose the ingredients on the label.

Sharon: Who is Sadie (of Sadie’s Choice) and why did you name a shampoo after her?

Barbara: I know we aren’t supposed to pick favorites amongst our furry friends but Sadie was THE BEST DOG EVER! Our family rescued her from a shelter four hours away from our home when she was already probably 12 years old, never spayed, infested with fleas, arthritic and had a lump growing on her leg that the shelter staff feared was cancer. I talk about Sadie on my website.

Sharon: Why do you choose the ingredients you do (honey, shea butter, goat’s milk) for dog shampoo?

Barbara: It seems like so many dogs are plagued with skin irritations and so my first goal was to make dog shampoo that didn’t contribute to the problem due to added fragrances. I have made four varieties of dog shampoo bars so far and three of them each have an ingredient known for being soothing for the skin – honey/oats, shea butter, and goat’s milk. I also make a coffee shampoo for dogs because coffee in soap is a natural deodorizer and our current dog had such a funk from her time as a stray that the other bars weren’t enough to remove the odor. The Doggie Deodorizer bar has been very popular which is why I’m currently out of stock! I’m also considering making a dog shampoo with tomato juice for… you guessed it…skunk encounters!

Sharon: I had never heard of dog shampoo bars before I came across your site. Why bars instead of liquids?

Barbara: The eco reasons for shampoo bars include that you aren’t paying for a product that is mostly water and you don’t have any plastic bottle waste. Also, I have found that shampoo bars do a better job of breaking through the oils on the dog’s coat in order to get that first lather going. Simply wet your dog and rub the bar across his/her coat and you will quickly develop a rich, shampoo like lather.

Sharon: What’s it like to run a business when you have MCS?

Barbara: Being a business owner with MCS means that, like with the rest of my life, I spend a lot of time making special requests of people such as not to handle my soap-making supply orders with fragrance on their hands and not to place my vendor spot near anyone selling scented products or running generators or cooking food on grills or gas-powered appliances. I also make all of my business decisions based on my own needs and that of my MCS customers which includes using brown kraft paper with black ink for labels and using mostly brown craft paper and shreds for packaging when shipping orders.

Sharon: Since you make dog shampoo, I’m assuming you have dogs! Can you tell me about them?

Barbara: Our family likes to rescue senior dogs and so we have a fairly high turnover rate. Our current companion is a Jack Russell who lost her way three years ago during a blizzard and had four failed adoptions plus a night in doggie jail before we made her part of our family. We are used to lab mixes and so having a Jack Russell has been quite a change for us. Lucy is a better mouser than our cats!

Sharon: Do your dogs have a favorite shampoo bar? Or do you find that certain bars work better on certain types of coats or breeds?

Barbara: Lucy sleeps on our bed and so I like to bathe her once a month. I find that having a removable shower head on a long hose is a must. She doesn’t seem to have a preference – all of my soaps leave her coat clean, soft and smelling sweet and neutral.

Sharon: I read a mention of rescue dogs on your site. Are you involved in rescue?

Barbara: Since I’m raising two sons my rescue work has been limited to adopting carefully selected dogs who needed homes. Someday I picture myself fostering dogs that need rehabilitation before they can be placed for adoption.

Sharon: I read on your site that you lost two dogs to cancer. Has that experience affected your business or other parts of your life?

Barbara: Our family has lost three dogs to cancer in the past 12 years. When we adopted Sadie, some of our friends and even the workers at the shelter asked us why we would put our older son (our second son hadn’t been born yet) through possibly losing a dog soon after adoption? In our minds, we felt that showing him that a dog deserves a good home no matter how few days she may have left was an important lesson in compassion. Sadie ended up living for two years and four months after her placement with us. She was a joy for each day we had her as part of our family.

Sharon: Can people use your dog shampoo bars? I’m kind of tempted to try out that honey and oats one on myself, just for fun! Is there any reason I shouldn’t?

Barbara: Sure you can, and I won’t tell anyone! My dog shampoo bars are made of the same type of ingredients as my human bars. I would recommend trying it out BEFORE it gets covered in dog hair though.

Sharon: Do people ever ask you for dog shampoos that contain flea or tick chemicals? If so, what do you tell them?

Barbara: No one has so far. At vendor events I have a banner above my booth that reads, “Perfume Free Natural Soap” and I tell everyone who approaches that I don’t use any perfumes, dyes, or essential oils in my bars. I have, however, had numerous people ask, “But then what do you SCENT them with?”

Two bars of soap that look like slices of chocolate orange cake: a half-orange slice on top of a white frosting-looking layer on top of an orange layer between two dark chocolate-colored layers.

Chocolate Orange Soap

Sharon: Do you have some sort of culinary background? Many soaps look good enough to eat. (It makes me hungry to look at them. I have to keep reminding myself that these are not food, they are soap. Which makes me similar to my second service dog, Gadget, who was fond of eating bars of olive oil soap.)

Barbara: Thanks for the compliment. I am an experienced cook and find a lot of inspiration for my soaps from the food world.

Sharon: Anything else you’d like to add?

Barbara: Make sure you store your natural soaps in a well draining soap dish and not in the path of the shower spray in order to prolong their life. Also, one thing folks may not know is that due to curing time it takes at least a month to make each bar of soap.

Sharon: Thank you for your time!

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who liked to eat soap, even if it didn’t look like food!), and Barnum, relatively clean SD/SDiT

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8 Responses to “Product Review: Fragrance-Free Dog Shampoo Bars”


  1. 1 kmtreat September 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    This is amazing. I am so glad that you found this product and that someone decided to make it. I don’t have animals but would surely buy it if I did.

  2. 3 Karyn September 4, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    I’d really love to try these using soap pockets so I can hold onto them but every single one has coconut oil in them grrrrrr
    I feel the same way about using the human shampoo with Thane. I add olive oil which helps but sometimes I add too much and it takes days for him to absorb the oil into his coat.
    Its frustrating that one ingredient has eliminated any potential to use any of the bars she makes- even the human ones sigh

    • 4 Sharon Wachsler September 4, 2012 at 8:07 pm

      Karyn,

      I wonder if you email Barbara and tell her which ingredients you tolerate if she might want to be interested in making one without coconut oil? I don’t know if she can, but it seems like it couldn’t hurt to ask. You are probably not the only one.

  3. 5 fridawrites September 4, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I just came across dog shampoo bars on Etsy yesterday, so I am grateful for the review. Less packaging/less waste is a great additional upside to no chemicals.

    EarthBath now has a fragrance free version (theirs is coconut based) that some people may be okay with. I do ok with the eucalyptus and some essential oils, but I have to go fragrance free on almost everything.

    I have major allergies but also had an incident of major pesticide exposure that I became very ill in my mid-teens. I don’t talk about it much, but it seems like a big contributor to my list of autoimmune illnesses. Just sharing since I intend to be a frequent reader!

    • 6 Sharon Wachsler September 4, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      Hi fridawrites.
      So glad for your comments and that you intend to be a frequent reader! Yes, a lot of people are learning that pesticide exposure can have long-term consequences that can be hard to predict.
      And I agree with you about the less packaging. It’s nice to have something that’s just a bit of paper to be recycled and no plastic or other waste.

  4. 7 Megan (@mirroredlens) September 4, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Sharon! While neither my parents nor I have MCS, their wire-fox terrier Chloe has terrible skin allergies, which are often exacerbated by bathing (and, I assume, the sulfates in most dog and human shampoos). As a result of your review, I’m going to get some of Barbara’s dog shampoo for them to try the next time I visit.

  5. 8 brilliantmindbrokenbody September 5, 2012 at 12:47 am

    We get both human and dog shampoo bars (and soap, for that matter) from Chagrin Valley and absolutely love them. I think I’d mentioned the dog one to you before, and how very easy it is to use. They do a variety of scents, some using essential oils, some not.

    My one and only complaint is that with really long hair (mine reaches the middle of my butt), it takes a lot more work to use a bar shampoo than it does to use a liquid SLS based shampoo. Sadly, that means I’m back to the more-chemical, more wasteful bottle for me. At least for my oh-so-sensitive Hudson, I have a good shampoo bar! Also, their soap is far, far better for my angry skin than any other body cleaning product I’ve ever tried.

    ~Kali


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