For the most part, cats groom themselves, but sometimes they need a little help—if they’ve gotten into a mess, or if they have health problems, such as an injury, that makes grooming difficult. Kittens also sometimes need a little assistance keeping clean. Learning how to bathe your cat can even be beneficial behaviorally, since it acclimates your cat to be handled, preparing them for visits to the vet or groomer.
But for situations where you want to clean up a stinky cat quickly, or tamp down smells between proper bathtimes, a dry shampoo can be a great solution.
“They’re great temporarily for cleaning a soiled spot, if the animal stepped in something, or if an elderly cat has an accident between baths,” Whitney Bullock of The Charleston Cat Groomer told The Spruce Pets. “But they should never replace the actual use of soap and water.”
Our favorite waterless cat shampoo is WAHL Waterless No-Rinse Cat Shampoo, which has all-natural ingredients and a concentrated formula that can spiff up your cat with just one pump of foam. But there are other specialized cat shampoos that might work even better for your dirty cat.
WAHL Waterless No-Rinse Cat Shampoo
Applicator produces foaming lather that makes cleaning easy
Alcohol and paraben free
Oatmeal formula helps exfoliate and smooth damaged skin
Only available in one size and scent
Some found they needed more than one pump to get their cat clean; three or four sometimes
Best used between baths or in times when baths aren’t possible, this dry shampoo is made without parabens or alcohol while incorporating elements like moisturizing oatmeal extract and the fragrance of coconut lime verbena. Its softening, pH balanced formula helps to relieve irritated skin, too. WAHL’s dry shampoo also loosens up any dry flaking skin, dandruff, and loose fur for easy grooming.
The bottle comes with a distinctive foam applicator for easy pumping, and one pump is typically enough to fully bathe your cat. After pumping the foam into your hand, apply it evenly through your cat’s fur, then dry thoroughly with a towel. Brush the fur well. Once finished, it leaves your kitty with a clean, fresh coconut lime scent.
Price at time of publish: $8
Sizes: 7.1 fluid ounces | Scents: Coconut Lime Verbena
Burt’s Bees Natural Waterless Shampoo for Cats
Never tested on animals and cruelty free
Enhances shiny coats
Pairs well with brushing
Not safe for use around eyes
Only available in one scent and size
Made without sulfates, phthalates, petroleum, or any added dyes or synthetic fragrance, this shampoo is gentle to your kitty’s skin and a cinch to use. Burt’s Bees Dry Shampoo is made with honey to add a bit of luster to your cat’s coat, as well as apple for its skin nourishing and moisturizing properties.
To wash your cat with this waterless shampoo, you just spray it on their fur, then comb it through thoroughly. Kitty will be smelling fresh and relaxed until their next washing.
Price at time of publish: $5
Sizes: 10 ounces | Scents: Apple & Honey
Best for Hairballs/Shedding
FURminator deShedding Rinse-Free Foaming Shampoo for Cats
No parabens or chemical dyes
Pairs well with brushing
Available in a wide range of sizes
Not safe for kittens
Should be paired with brushing for maximum effectiveness
Can leave coat feeling a little greasy immediately after application
This dry shampoo helps prevent hairballs before they start by reducing shedding, and is especially effective in combination with brushing. The omega fatty acid and plant protein-rich formula also contains calendula, chamomile, aloe vera, and papaya extracts.
To use it, work foam into your cat’s coat, brush them down, then towel dry.
Price at time of publish: $10 (8-ounce)
Sizes: 8.5 ounces | Scents: None
Best for Fleas
Vet’s Best Waterless Shampoo for Cats
Targets fleas, eggs, and larvae
Naturally calming peppermint smell
Also effective against ticks
No water needed
Not suitable for use with young kittens
An effective flea remedy for cats, this convenient anti-flea foam is super easy to use on cats and kittens 12 weeks of age and older. This waterless flea and tick shampoo is safe when used as directed and requires no rinsing. Vet’s Best combines natural peppermint oil and eugenol—an oil derived from clove plants—for a plant-based formula that kills fleas, flea eggs, and flea larva.
As with any flea treatment, some cats can be sensitive to the chemicals contained in Vet’s Best, and so should be monitored closely during and after use. It’s also important to keep the shampoo away from
May cause sensitivity in cats and must be closely monitored during and after use. Keep product away from cat's eyes, nose, mouth and genitals. Read instructions carefully and follow directions closely. Keep away from human eyes as well and wash hands thoroughly after using.
Price at time of publish: $10
Sizes: 5 ounces | Scents: Peppermint
Earthbath Hypoallergenic Cat Grooming Foam
No sulfates, alcohol, dyes, phthalates, or parabens
Also helps control shedding
Includes organic ingredients
Can be used up to three times a week
Slightly less effective on extra thick fur
Only available in one size
Safe for sensitive cats (and kittens older than six weeks), Earthbath’s hypoallergenic dry grooming foam is formulated with organic aloe vera, vitamin E, colloidal oatmeal, purified water, and organic fair trade shea butter.
This top-rated, cruelty-free product is superb at eliminating dry skin, dirt, dander, and any lingering residues on cats’ coats without causing irritation. There’s no fragrance or added scent either. When ready to use, the foam just needs to be massaged into the cat’s fur, towel dried off, and left alone. Once thoroughly dry and brushed, your cat’s coat will look healthy and lustrous, and they’ll have less problematic shedding issues as well.
Price at time of publish: $10
Sizes: 4 fluid ounces | Scents: Fragrance-free
Our favorite dry cat shampoo is WAHL Waterless No-Rinse Cat Shampoo, with its all-natural, plant-derived ingredients, multiple uses, and ease of application (all it takes is one pump of foam). Our favorite spray is Burt’s Bees Natural Waterless Shampoo for Cats with its sulfate, petroleum, phthalate, and synthetic fragrance free formula and super simple application and washing process.
What to Look for in a Dry Cat Shampoo
Carefully reading the ingredients on the label is a must with dry cat shampoo, as with anything you’re applying to your cat—the obvious reason being because they’re almost certain to lick it off at some point.
While natural and organic ingredients are always preferred, Whitney Bullock of The Charleston Cat Groomer also advises shoppers to avoid anything with essential oils on the labels, and to make sure you’re purchasing only cat-safe products from reputable companies.
Additionally, no matter what ingredients you find on your label, be certain to avoid contact with your cat’s eyes, nose, mouth, and inside their ears—even if you know they’ll be licking themselves later. This will ensure you prevent irritation as much as possible, which can be painful for cats.
Some dry cat shampoos have specific uses while others are a general way to get your cat clean between regular baths.
Choose a specially designed shampoo if your cat has a specific need, or go with something more general if you just need to clean them up. You’ll find everything from sensitive skin shampoos to organic ones, different kinds for allergies, hairball remedy/de-shedding types, and more—in the form of sprays, powders, mousses, and more.
Some dry cat shampoos are designed to control fleas and ticks, consisting of pesticides. Use these cautiously, being extra careful not to get them in your cat’s eyes. Read labels to ensure your shampoo does not contain permethrin or pyrethins, too, as they’re both extremely toxic to cats. (Consider how close your cat gets to your dog before using it on them either – if your cat cuddles up against your dog, the pesticides can be easily transmitted between them.)
Waterless cat shampoo can be applied in a variety of ways. Some forms ask that it be sprayed on, applied with a cotton ball, or rubbed in with a clean, dry cloth, while others need to be manually massaged into the cat’s fur, like with mousses or powders. Read your label’s instructions to be sure how your shampoo is to be applied.
In addition, while most authorities on the subject agree that it’s best to use dry cat shampoos once a week or less, you may be able to get several uses out of a single bottle, depending upon its size.
How does waterless cat shampoo work?
You use waterless cat shampoos a lot like you’d use regular shampoos, but you don’t rinse with water. Quality dry cat shampoos can be applied, worked into the fur, and then brushed through (or whatever the instructions on the specific bottle specify) while the cat remains relaxed. Some must be applied with a cotton ball or a clean, absorbent cloth, while others ask that your cat be thoroughly brushed before applying.
A good product will absorb excess oils and eliminate odors in the process, leaving the cat fresh until their next full bath. Afterward, if they do lick themselves, they shouldn’t get distressed or sick.
How often can I use waterless shampoo on my cat?
Bullock says, “It depends on how the label reads. Every company uses different ingredients. Some cat products are safe enough to use daily. If you’re unsure, call the manufacturer. You always want to make sure cat products are safe in particular, because cats lick everything.”
Is waterless shampoo safe?
You’ll need to carefully read the ingredients on the label, and consult a veterinarian if you’re concerned about unfamiliar terms. Read the instructions carefully as well, making sure that each step is followed.
It’s also essential to only purchase shampoos formulated for cats.
Familiarizing with the ingredients in dry cat shampoos is the first priority, though, as Bullock stresses that, “It can leave a film on their coat, and they lick themselves a lot.”
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
This article was researched and written by KJ Callihan, a writer for The Spruce, a lifelong animal lover and pet owner who has worked in animal shelters, helped socialize animals for adoption, and fostered animals of various kinds. She enjoys spending hours researching the best pet products on the market and organizing them into their proper categories. For this story, Callihan also consulted Whitney Bullock, a Certified Feline Master Groomer with over 15 years of experience working with cats at The Charleston Cat Groomer.