How To: Wash A Cat For Cheap

Admittedly, this is a very advanced money saving tip. Only the very seriously broke, or very seriously frugal try to wash their own cat. Some of you might say, “You don’t need to wash a cat.” Hey, maybe you don’t, but there are people out there making a living washing cats. For example, perhaps your cat is covered in motor oil and you don’t want the cat to lick the motor oil. Or maybe the cat has fleas. Ah-ha! See, there are reasons to wash a cat. Also, there are dry shampoos for cats. That’s less interesting, but we thought we’d mention it. Now, on to the cat washing!

If you want your cat washed, and you don’t want to pay for it, here’s how to wash a cat.

1) Use warm water, but not hot water.
2) Don’t use dog shampoo or people shampoo. Use cat shampoo.
3) Put a rubber mat or a towel in the tub to protect the cat.
4) Dilute the cat shampoo in water.
5) Put the cat into the water…sloooooowlyyy. You might want to ask a friend to help hold the cat.
6) Let the cat get used to being wet, then use a cup to pour the shampoo water on the cat.
7) Rub cat.
8) Rinse cat.
9) Dry cat with a towel, then leave her alone to recover. This cat may not like you for awhile.
10) A poster on DIY site Curbly suggests that you can train a cat to take baths if you start when they are young. That’s his cat in the photo, so apparently he’s not a liar.

There! You’ve washed a cat! —MEGHANN MARCO


Edit Your Comment

  1. spin_sycle says:

    let the jokes begin

  2. 11) Proceed directly to ER.

  3. bambino says:

    You don’t have to wash a cat? Since when?

  4. Antediluvian says:

    Washing cats is very entertaining, plus they look wicked funny when they’re wet and as they dry off. Sort of a rat/hedgehog combination (their fur sticks out in little points as it dries).

    I have a different technique (and Martha Stewart yet another: hers is 3 buckets of warm water, one w/ soap, two to rinse, dunk + bathe cat in 1, then rinse in subsequent ones — never tried it).

    I use my kitchen sink, warm water, baby shampoo (they can’t spell so it’s okay). The kitchen sink is good because it’s got a spray nozzle. Otherwise it’s similar to the posted suggestions. Finally, it’s important to wash the timidest cat first, because she’ll scream in horror and attract the others (to rescue her?) who will get wise to your evil plans.

    I hold their front paws together, behind their “elbows” — as if you were holding someone’s upper arms together. This prevents them from escaping or clawing you.

    Be certain to remove all the soap — they’ll lick themselves afterwards and you don’t want them ingesting stuff they shouldn’t. Also, do not use conditioning shampoo or any product that leaves residue behind.

    Don’t use a hairdryer on them unless they’re used to it and you know how they’ll react. Instead towel dry them as much as you can.

    And yes, teaching them about baths while young is the easiest way to wash them while they’re older.

  5. josh1701 says:

    According to this ASPCA web site, “Most cats stay relatively clean and rarely need a bath, but you should brush or comb your cat regularly. Frequent brushing helps keep your cat’s coat clean, reduces the amount of shedding and cuts down on the incidence of hairballs.”

    I’ve had a few cats, and I’ve never given any of them a bath. Not to say that a cat won’t ever need a bath, but if it does you’ll want to take it to your veterinarian. It’ll cost you but it’s better than losing your cat as a friend!

  6. Dustbunny says:

    I’m ur tub, plotting my revenge.

  7. VA_White says:

    We bathe our cat. She doesn’t *like* it but she doesn’t freak out, either. We started when she was a kitten because she has bad allergies and her fur got all gross because her skin was flaking and she was pulling her fur out. Her vet recommended new food and baths with medication in the water to soothe her itching. Now we bathe her whenever she seems to need it.

    The other cat in our house gets a bath at the same time because when you wash the smell off of one and not the other, they freak out.

  8. “Not to say that a cat won’t ever need a bath, but if it does you’ll want to take it to your veterinarian. “

    Not even my vet will bathe my big cat. They put him in a kitty straightjacket and three people hold him down all wearing raptor gloves. And that’s before they get to the shots.

  9. c-side says:

    I developed an allergy to my cat, about 8 years after we started living together. A combination of allergy meds and washing my cat 1-2 times/month really helped check my allergy to his dander (the proteins in the cat’s saliva,which, in turn, show up on the fur and skin after the cat lick-bathes itself). It’s a much more humane option than coating your cat’s fur in anti-allergen lotions which the cat will then ingest and likely find distasteful, or even disturbing to its system. Plus, it’s true…they’re hilariously alien-looking when wet! I found the kitchen sink/spray hose combo to be easiest on everyone involved.

  10. eeebee says:

    We had to bathe our geriatric cat every 2-3 weeks because he got too old to groom himself. He would get pretty gross without a bath. He died last weekend though, so we don’t have to do it anymore. He was almost 19.

  11. acambras says:

    Sorry to hear about your cat, eeebee.

    My cat used to have a flea problem, so baths were called for. The vet suggested a couple of things: Run the water and then turn it off before getting the cat and putting her in (the running water sometimes freaks them out). Also, be very calm and speak in a soothing voice. I’m not sure if this works, but it can’t be any worse than, “OH NO YOU DON’T! COME BACK HERE!!!” My boyfriend sometimes gives the cat a bath, but I think this is his antifeline sadistic streak coming out.

    Another cool thing my vet did:
    Just before giving her a shot, he’d have me or his helper slide the cat down the length of the table. He’d deftly give her the shot while she was sliding. He says that the pads of cats’ paws are so sensitive that the sliding distracts them long enough to administer the shot.

    He is an awesome vet — I wish I hadn’t moved (If anyone reading this happens to live in the Baton Rouge area, his name is Bernard Mistretta).

  12. Anonymously says:

    I’ve heard that if you put a mess screen in the bottom of the basin, they’ll dig their claws into that instead of you.

  13. gwai lo says:

    I used to work at a pet store, and once we got in a shipment of cat washing bags. Basically a mesh bag, similar to a lingere bag, that you were supposed to put the cat in, tie up, and then proceed with washing.
    There was a cartoon diagram on the package of a cat tied up in the bag One of the stockers who had trouble reading english asked me with the most horrified look on his face if it was a bag for killing cats.
    We never stocked them on sales floor, though, I mean it just screamed lawsuit. Needless to say the product was pulled by corporate in under a month.

  14. acambras says:

    @gwai lo —

    That is hilarious. I wonder how the hell anyone was ever able to stuff the cat into the bag?

  15. raindog says:

    I brush all three of our cats regularly, have never washed them, and someone at the vet compliments their coats every time we’re there. And none of the three seems afraid of shots at all, but one of them gets so freaked out when she gets her nails trimmed that the vet has started refusing to trim them.

    Last time, they had me scruff her and then hold her paws while two assistants tried to trim them, but she was spitting and drooling and everyone was afraid of biting. I don’t know whether she would react so violently if we tried to bathe her, but I’ve gotta think blood would be spilled.

  16. Pilam69 says:

    My vet requires my cat to be sedated for treatment. And yet, we started bathing him when he was a kitten, about once every 3rd month or so, and he’s put up with it ever since. I’m not going to say he likes it, but he does tolerate it and he doesn’t claw our eyes out. He will go sit in a corner for a few hours after while he tries to salvage some dignity.

    My wife has allergies and the bathing helps keep his dander down so she doesn’t have allergy attcks all the time. It helps, so we keep doing it.

    Use care though, water in their ears can really cause problems, so be careful.

  17. AcilletaM says:

    Not to say that a cat won’t ever need a bath, but if it does you’ll want to take it to your veterinarian.

    I think josh1701’s point isn’t to have the vet do the washing, it’s that a cat that doesn’t/won’t groom itself normally may actually be sick. It’s one of the signs to look for if you think your cat is ill.

  18. this post is an all-time low for the consumerist…more totenkompf t-shirts please

  19. NeonGen says:

    A Tip: use rubber dish-washing gloves. Cats will scratch.

  20. kcskater says:

    My cat is fat and can’t certain necessary areas. She requires bathing every so often. Maybe she’s just lazy, who knows.

  21. josh1701 says:

    AcilletaM, you raise an excellent point, if a cat isn’t cleaning itself it may be a sign that something is wrong with the cat.

    (Although it wasn’t my point originally, I still recommend taking a cat to a veterinarian to be bathed because their staff has the experience and equipment to bathe a cat safely.)

  22. formergr says:

    Okay the bag thing is hilarious. I think it would actually be easier to get a cat into a bathtub (MUCH bigger target) than it would be to get one into a bag.

    When she was a kitten I bathed my cat because of an allergic relative. She didn’t like it but put up with it. I then waited too long I think, and now it’s impossible. I stopped trying because I was afraid she’d hurt herself the way she was straining and pulling so hard to get away.

    It’s too bad, because I *loved* how soft and nice-smelling her fur was after a bath (not that she smells now, and I brush regularly, it’s just not the same). What’s weird is that she’s a total mush at the vet. Let’s them give her shots and clean her teeth without a peep or a struggle.

  23. hoosier45678 says:

    I thought this was going to be the power-wash I read about on craigslist recently:

    1. Thoroughly clean the toilet.

    2. Add the required amount of shampoo to the toilet water, and have both lids lifted.

    3. Obtain the cat and soothe him while you carry him towards the bathroom.

    4. In one smooth movement, put the cat in the toilet and close both lids (you may need to stand on the lid so that he cannot escape).

    CAUTION: Do not get any part of your body too close to the edge, as his paws will be reaching out for any purchase they can find.

    5. Flush the toilet three or four times. This provides a ‘power wash and rinse’ which I have found to be quite effective.

    6. Have someone open the door to the outside and ensure that there are no people between the toilet and the outside door.

    7. Stand behind the toilet as far as you can, and quickly lift both lids.

    8. The now-clean cat will rocket out of the toilet, and run outside where he will dry himself.

  24. Antediluvian says:

    I’d like to share my philosophy of dealing with small animals:
    I’m bigger than you.

    If you just remember this and impart it to the critter you’re working with (or on), you should do fine.

    Examples: Get back in the sink, I’m bigger than you. You’re getting your mouth examined, I’m bigger than you. I’m bigger than you, so you will hold still while I check that lump. Swallow this pill, I’m bigger than you.

    It kinda falls apart when working on large dogs or livestock, but works great for yippy (sp?) dogs and all cats, fish, etc.

    A firm (very firm) hand and quick reflexes are vital. Don’t hurt the animal (no beatings!), but be strong and resolute. If you’re lax, you actually could cause an injury (think wet soapy cat running away to a drafty place or an animal w/ an IV needle stuck into it hiding under furniture and breaking the needle off inside).

    It’s not mean, it’s just common sense — arms placed over body parts so they can’t flail or bite, thumbs firmly holding the jaws so they can’t close on your fingers, being mindful of their ability to squirm, etc.

    Since it was touched on, I also recommend clipping your cat’s nails (claws) regularly, whether they need it or not (it gets them used to it). Front and rear, using a proper pet nail (claw) cutter, and of course, not so short that you draw blood. Get them used to you touching their feet and pads, spreading their toes, etc. I find having them sit on their butts on my lap like a small child is the easiest way to do all their nails. Ours like us playing w/ their feet.

    Oh, and wrapping the critters in a large towel and exposing a leg at a time can work for some people too. I still prefer the baby-on-lap method of restraint.

  25. formergr says:

    Excellent suggestions, Antideluvian. I cut my cats claws regularly even though she’s no fan of it. My preferred method is to let her sit on the carpet, and then sort of pin her down (gently of course) with my chest and stomach. This serves two purposes: 1)keeps both my hands free to hold a paw firmly with the left so she can’t rip away while I’m clipping with the right, and 2)because my stomach/pelvis is over her tush she can’t back away from me, the cat’s preferred method of getting away when forward egress is already blocked.

    It looks and sounds weird, but I did it on a friend’s cat as well and it worked perfectly.

  26. Antediluvian says:

    formergr– I’m a fan of whatever works for the owner and the pet. We regularly sit our cats on our laps like small children (the cats, and possibly us), and will often straddle them in manner I think is similar to what you describe above, just for fun, while they’re lounging about on the floor.

    Of course, I also like to sneak up an touch them on the ear w/ static electricity. I learned that one from Schoolhouse Rock’s Electricity:
    Electricity at rest is called static electricity.
    Like in the winter, wearing a heavy coat,
    You get a shock off the doorknob.
    Or you scrape across a carpet
    And sneak up on your very best friend,
    And zap ’em on the ear with a shock of-
    Electricity, Electricity

    It’s fun to watch them jump.

  27. alicetheowl says:

    My fat cat had a diarrhea issue a couple of months ago, and we had to spot-clean him before he sat on something. The talking soothingly seems to be a major component of it, and he definitely hated the soaping-up and rinsing the worst. He also strongly objected to being dried with a towel, and preferred to lick himself dry.

  28. I’m surprised that this has not yet been mentioned, but the way to do it if you really object to being shredded is this:

    1. Find 2 old pairs of socks

    2. Cut the toe end of the socks off (about 3 inches)

    You can probably tell where I’m going with this

    3. Put sock on kitty’s paw, snug it with some tape (DON’T READ THIS AS TAPE IT TO THE CAT) Give the “Sock” a band of tape near the top.

    4. Watch out for kitty’s teeth.

    Its important to note that if kitty sinks its venomous fangs into you, chances are good that you will get a nasty infection very quickly. If kitty bites you, proceed to the hospital and don’t pass go.

  29. sr105 says:

    1. Cats have a higher body temperature than humans, so make sure the “warm” water is actually a little hot from your perspective. I used to notice my cats shivering and I thought it was because they were scared. It turned out to be that the water was not warm for them.

    2. Someone mentioned this, but again, turn off the water before bringing the cat in. The roar of the tap can freak them out. Use a plastic cup and a bucket of clean water for rinsing.

  30. wait ’til the cat’s asleep (it’ll be about 5 minutes from now), then quickly bind the legs with cable ties. with the pointy ends secure, dip the sucker. works with cats and lobsters.

    but i like the toilet method, too.

  31. mantari says:

    So… where does the CHEAP part come in? This just looks like regular instructions for washing your cat?

  32. healthdog says:

    Now can someone explain to me why dogs adore the ocean yet skitter away like Bambi on ice in the tub?

    Thank you, guys, for only being horrified when I trim your nails. Damn you for deliberately peeing on the couch after that one vet visit. Like you really needed your balls anyway.

  33. TedOnion says:
  34. FLConsumer says:

    Two possible ways to wash a cat:

    1) Let a monkey do it —

    2) Throw the cat in a washing machine —

  35. @hoosier45678: I swear, I only did it because the cat was crazy and covered in ick and I had no choice. But yes, you can wash a cat in the toilet. If you do, you’ll want to tape-record the nifty otherworldly sounds you’ve discovered….

  36. JanetCarol says:

    I know this is old, But just in case someone is still using it.
    Put your cat in a mesh laundry sack and close it up.
    This way you can still wash them and they can still see everything, but the chances of you getting scratched or bitten is less. It’s also convenient for taking them to the vet. Vets can give them a shot while they are still in it.