Skip to main content

How to Bathe a Cat, Drama-Free

If your cats are anything like mine, they don't like water. Here's how I survive bath time without injury.

What's the smartest way to bathe a cat?

What's the smartest way to bathe a cat?

How to Bathe a Cat

All cat parents know the following equation:

aquaphobia + claws + teeth = injury.

But sometimes one simply needs to bathe a cat. If your cats are anything like mine, they don't like water, and they really don't like being forced into it. If you are anything like me, you also don't have a couple hundred bucks to pay someone else to wash the cat.

This article discusses various tips on what has, and has not, been successful for me, through the (terrorizing) process of trial and error. This method is completely drug-free, safe, and effective. Hopefully, I can save you, the reader, from any future injury and blood loss that may occur while attempting to bathe a cat.

What You'll Need to Bathe Your Cat Safely

Cat Shampoo

It is very important that you purchase shampoo specifically meant for cats. Cats are much more sensitive to products than us. Have you ever gotten soap in your eyes? It HURTS. Bear in mind that kitty will not be aware of the need to avoid soap suds in the eyes, and a painful stinging eye will only make the cat more nervous (nervous meaning scared and vengeful).

Your cat's skin is also much more sensitive than yours and may have an adverse reaction to all the chemicals. Cats, like dogs and other furry mammals, do not sweat. Their skin does not produce nearly as much oil as ours does, and it is prone to dry out if using a rough, oil-removing soap, such as human shampoo.

Also, cats' noses are much more sensitive than ours, and thus your kitty may not like your shampoo.

Cat shampoo is specifically catered to kitty's needs and is proven to be safe. I use Sergeant's Skip-Flea shampoo for cats, not only because it's safe for cats, but also because it safely kills unwanted (and possibly unknown) parasites that I do not want in my home. Cat shampoo is fairly expensive compared to human shampoo, but bear in mind you will likely not use it more than once or twice a year.

Leather Work Gloves

If your cat is anything like mine, water + cat = maniac. When fear overcomes a cat, those animal instincts kick in, and before you know it, you have a few new holes in your hand! Take some precautionary measures and invest in some thick leather gloves.

I'm talking work gloves; the kind of gloves that welders and mechanics use. You can find these at a hardware store, or purchase them from I have a pair of pigskin leather work gloves because pigskin leather is washable (thus safe to use in a kitty bath), and they also come cheap (so I don't have to feel too bad about ruining my gloves, if, and when, my cat finally figures out how to destroy them).

Kitty Nail Trimmer

If your cat is not de-clawed, I highly recommend you purchase a kitty nail trimmer. These are better than human nail clippers because human nail clippers tend to split the claw up the middle like brittle wood. Fingernails and claws are incredibly different; the most obvious difference is that fingernails are flat, and claws are tubular. Human nail clippers are designed for flat nails, and cat/dog nail clippers are designed for round nails. Have you ever split a nail before? It HURTS. Don't risk any pain to your cat, especially if you want to get anywhere within grabbing distance of them anytime soon. I recommend you trim your cat's nails the day before the bath, so they are not already mad at you when it comes time to bathe. If your cat is anything like mine, an angry cat is an unobtainable cat.

Small Basin

From experience, my cat freaks out way more when I try to place him in a huge bathtub than he does when I set him in a small plastic basin or sink. I personally use the kitchen sink. Small plastic washbasins work, as well. Buy two, as you will need a washbasin and a rinse basin. No matter the method, always know that it is much easier to get a cat in a dry basin than to get a cat in a wet basin. Cat first, water second.


If you don't have a spray hose for your sink, have a bucket of clean, warm water to rinse your kitty's fur with.

Towel You Don't Care About

Unless you want a wet cat dripping all over everything, I highly recommend you get a big (person-sized) towel to wrap your cat in after the bath. Have this ready, and unfolded, right next to the basin/sink before starting anything. You will be using this towel to quickly place your cat on, and wrap up snugly with no exposed limbs. Think of swaddling a baby; this is the same concept. Make sure it's a towel you don't care about, as angry wet cats are prone to ripping not only skin, but anything else you choose to put on them, towels included. The chances are, your cat will figure out how to escape from the towel within three minutes, even with you holding them. At least your kitty won't be soaking wet by then.

A Friend

Pretty self-explanatory, but an extra pair of hands is always handy (haha). Especially when it comes to locating a suspicious cat, or getting a wet cat into a towel.

Step-By-Step Guide to Bathing Your Cat

  1. Set up the bath area: Lay the towel down right next to the basin, get the gloves, get the soap, plug the drain, and everything. I even squirt a little shampoo in the basin.
  2. Wait 10 minutes: Chances are, your cat has become curious. They will probably wander off shortly after everything has been sniffed and rubbed. If you have done this before, you may need to wait longer, as cats are very good at remembering unpleasant experiences.
  3. Heat up the water: Turn on the sink and run the water until it gets warm, adjusting it to a warm-feeling temperature. When you found a pleasant temperature, make it slightly cooler, because kitty's skin is much more sensitive and thinner than ours.
  4. Turn the water off.
  5. Get gloves: Put on your thick leather work gloves; it's time.
  6. Get cat: Hold kitty firmly with two hands, one grasping the scruff, and the other under their belly. Slowly lower kitty into basin.
  7. Keep one hand firmly on the scruff at all times, else you will get a mess!
  8. Turn on water: SLOWLY turn on the water, at its lowest, trickling setting. It should already be at a comfortable temperature for kitty.
  9. Soak Cat: As the basin is filling up, use your free hand to gently splash water onto your cat, working it into its fur until it's fully saturated. This is a very important process as the outer layer of the fur repels water from penetrating the soft, down-like fur underneath. I have a long-haired cat, and I have yet to successfully get her out of a bath and not find at least one dry spot of fur on her.
  10. Lather: Just like your shampoo, work the soap into your kitty's fur by rubbing gently; I like to go in a circular motion with my thumbs.
  11. Drain basin: If you are using a sink, pull the drain. If you are using a plastic wash basin, slowly and carefully relocate your cat to the empty one.
  12. Rinse: Spray hoses on kitchen sinks are very handy and pretty self-explanatory. Be sure not to spray in kitty's eyes. If you are using a bucket of clean water, slowly pour (or scoop) water onto the cat, employing the same lathering motion as when soaping the fur. This takes a while, and it is nearly impossible to rid the fur of all soap. This is why cat shampoo is important, because it's not toxic for them if they end up licking it.
  13. Swaddle in Towel: Quickly relocate kitty to the already-unfolded towel, and swaddle him/her firmly in the towel until dampness soaks through (and it does, and it's and the towel will be soaking wet). Your kitty will likely be as stiff as a log until you let go.
  14. Place the kitty, in the towel, on the floor: Let your cat work his/her own way out of the not to cross paths with them for the next 48 hours.
  15. Clean up: As your cat is sulking, hiding, and grooming, this is a better time than ever to clean up the huge mess that probably occurred!
Wet cat, fresh out of a bath!

Wet cat, fresh out of a bath!

Reasons to Bathe Your Cat

Bathing may not always be necessary. Given the known fact that bathing a cat is not fun, safe, or enjoyable, avoiding a bath at all costs is a pretty obvious course of action. Both you and kitty will be a lot less stressed without a bath.

Health Reasons

Fleas, fleas, fleas. Ick: I cringe just thinking of the time my cats got fleas. It was awful. I gave them many baths and found many dead fleas in the sink. Gross, I know, but dead fleas are much more desirable than living ones. Even with flea regimens out there, bathing is still a great way to kill the vast majority of adult fleas living on your cat's body. A bath should be a priority at this point.

Re-administer it after every bath. The bath will just wash it off. Since flea regimens usually come in three steps every 30 days, I would bathe them every 30 days before re-administering the regimen. Also, make sure your kitty is relatively dry before administering it, too.

Sanitary Reasons

  • Skunks: Yuck. If your cat got hit by a skunk, be warned: This may take multiple baths to remove the smell. But put that first bath on the top of your priority list, before all the upholstered furniture in your home starts marinating in skunk smell...
  • Stinky butt: Have you ever had a cat that didn't groom his/her butt after using the litter box? I have. And let me tell you, nothing encourages a cat to lick its butt more than scrubbing its butt in a basin full of soap and suds. Does your cat smell BAD? Probably could use a bath.
  • Dirt isn't always dirty: Oftentimes, cats will roll around in dry, powdery dirt. This is a natural method of cleaning the oils out of their skin and fur and is pretty much the natural alternative powder bath (see "Bathing Alternatives" below). No need for a bath, just vacuum the carpet after they shake it off.

If Your Cat Refuses to Be Bathed

If the goal is to make your cat clean and pretty, then a full-fledged dunk in soapy water may not be necessary. Here are some alternatives I like to use.

Powder Bath

Sergeant's makes a flea powder bath which I use, and there are also many other pet-friendly powder bath products to choose from. A powder bath is very easy to do:

  • Just add powder to your hands, and begin working into kitty's fur.
  • Chances are, your cat will just think he/she is getting an awesome belly rub complete with pets, love, and attention.
  • Then, give your cat a brush to work the powder through their fur.
  • When finished, your cat will shake the powder off by walking, or you can pet them "backward" to remove the powder.
  • Whatever you use, make sure it's safe to eat. As cats groom themselves, ask yourself; would this be toxic if ingested?
  • I strongly encourage sticking to pet-only powders just to be safe, but if you use baby powder, do not use talc-based powder. Talc is a rock. Do you want your cat to eat rocks?

Rag Bath

A warm soapy rag with cat shampoo, followed by a warm soapy rag with just water to remove the soap, is a perfect cat-friendly bath. To a cat, a warm rag is reminiscent of mother's grooming tongue. Chances are, your cat will sit this one through with little protest. Wetting your cat with a rag is also easier than wetting your cat with a spray bottle because the spraying sound is reminiscent of a cat's "hisssssss..." Many flea regimens also come packaged similarly to baby wipes, too.

Is your cat relaxed? Mine is.

Is your cat relaxed? Mine is.

When to Bathe Your Cat

The most successful baths I have administered to cats have been when the cat has been relaxed to begin with. These are carefully thought out, planned-ahead moments throughout the day. Your cat will be most relaxed if one or more of the following scenarios are true.

  • Your cat is sleeping.
  • Your cat has eaten within the past two hours.
  • You have not annoyed your cat recently (see "Kitty Nail Trimmer" above).
  • There have been no new people or animals in the home, recently.
  • Your cat is not curious about the bath supplies you are setting up.
Beware of teeth and fangs.

Beware of teeth and fangs.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on June 26, 2014:

It sounds like your cat is quite a character. I was laughing all through this article. Your advice is very good, but your personal experience to justify your advice is soooo funny. At any rate, I like the way you are so considerate of your cat when you bathe it, rather than just dumping it in the water and forcing it all the way, come what may. I like how you explain the cat's sensitive skin, and its tubular nails. These are details that clueless cat owners may disregard. And the advice about the skunk and the furniture, lol!

kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on February 08, 2013:

Thanks! It sure is tough, but sometimes required. You can get it done at vets, but they charge a ton.

Stephanie from Canada on February 07, 2013:

DEFINITELY saving this one! Thank you so very much for sharing. Voted up, useful and I will share with my other cat friends.

kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on November 16, 2012:

Yeah, that's why I put them in the tub first, then add the water. I prefer the washcloth method, too, but it isn't really effective when they have fleas (eek). Thanks for the comment!

Stacie L on November 16, 2012:

I have washed my own cats over the years but never placed them into a tub of water. I usually used a wet washcloth to wipe them down. Unless a skunk sprayed them or the fell into a vat of tar,i don't think dunking a cat in water is a good idea.


kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on October 26, 2012:

Why thanks! I do manage to spell my name wrong, haha.

aykianink on October 26, 2012:

Very interesting hub. If I ever need advice on defusing a bomb, or talking down a hostage situation, I will come to you!

Heads up on the last image:

Beware of teeth and fangs.

Source: kathleekat

It doesn't say "kathleenkat" on the source.

I particularly enjoyed your mathematics:


and my favorite:



Jack Hazen from Blitzburgh area on October 24, 2012:

Yeah, he manages to drive me crazy. The bath went fairly well. But after he pouted for awhile, he stretched himself out on my box for the satellite dish as he likes to do. He covers the lights so I can't change the station. I especially don't like him doing this when he's wet. I mean, I don't mind all that much if he gets electrocuted, but he might blow up the box and I won't be able to watch sports.

kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on October 23, 2012:

Sounds like you have a very unusually easy to manage cat! Good luck with your bath!

Jack Hazen from Blitzburgh area on October 23, 2012:

Hey, well you pretty much covered the whole darn thing, and very well.

Reminded me I should give the cat a bath tomorrow. I don't have the energy to deal with it this late in the day. He gets a bath at least once a week, which is down from almost every day when we were attacked by the mutant ninja fleas in the hottest and most humid July we've seen lately in western PA.

He hates the bath as much as ever. I use the blue Dawn and fill up the sink and drop him in, but keep a very firm grip on him with both hands. First I have to catch him, though. Funny he can tell whether I'm running the water to do the dishes or give him the bath.

He whines all the while he is getting the bath, but doesn't fight all that much. That comes when it's time to get tried off. As soon as he is out of the water, he goes wild. So I mostly just let him go off and drip dry. He sulks for a couple hours and then comes back to see me.

kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on October 21, 2012:

Thanks! Every cat is different; but a find a thick, leather glove levels out the playing field. ;)

Stephanie from Binghamton on October 21, 2012:

Really enjoyed this post! My babies like to give me a run for my money when I try to give them a good scrubbin'! Very helpful and insightful. I'll have to try your suggestions. Definitely have my vote!

kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on October 21, 2012:

Best of luck! Gloves are highly recommended :)

glassvisage from Northern California on October 21, 2012:

This is great! Our family has never bathed cats before, I think because we were scared of the claws, and seeing these steps laid out gives me more confidence. It's definitely clear you've done this before and I appreciate learning from your experience. I think I know what to do now - wish me luck!

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on October 20, 2012:

My cat, sadly, is no more. He was a 16 year old, 20 pound black kitty. He was a challenge to bathe. You definitely have provided some tips that would make bath time much easier.

KDuBarry03 on October 20, 2012:

I'm so happy I can't be around cats because this sounds like a tedious job! Good luck to all you cat owners out there :)

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on October 19, 2012:

Well, they aren't fond of it, but they respond well to soothing talk and the big wrap around at the end...cuddle time!

kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on October 19, 2012:

Yes it is no easy feat! That is why I don't have any pictures of the process... Next time, perhaps I will find a friend to take some :)

Brian Schwarz from Washington, DC on October 19, 2012:

You are truly brave! I have always let my cats bathe themselves. But there was one time Ciggy got into a mess and I just decided to take him to a pro. Wish I would have seen this hub back then!

kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on October 19, 2012:

Thanks Denise (and all), good luck with your kittens and let me know how the baths go! When I first got my black kitty, he would willingly go into the shower and bath with me. When he grew up, he decided he hated water! More fur to dry and groom I guess.

kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on October 19, 2012:

Thanks; my cats are healthy, and i think for the most part, when used properly, the products I use are perfectly fine. The flea regiment, for example, is intended to be applied to a place on the back of the neck where cats can't reach while grooming. Powders need to be shaken off or brushed out, and are designed specifically to cling to insect exoskeleton. I WILL look into the alternatives you mentioned in the future, but for now, this is what I know about, have experience with, and thus am able to write about.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on October 19, 2012:

Congratulations on your HOTD award. Wonderful tips here. We were just recently adopted by some kittens and training them for the litter box required a few trips to the bathroom sink. Well written, and cute photos.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 19, 2012:

Unfortunately, the collars contain the same pesticides...they absorb into the skin--hence all the label warnings about washing your hands thoroughly after handling them.

Sadly, many vets are also uninformed on the matter, and some are unwitting promoters via discounts and kick-backs. The powder referenced in the article will work into the fur, and has a lasting effect.

Indoor-only kitties are at less risk for fleas and ticks, anyway, unless there is a dog bringing them in. But, the same toxicity holds true for dogs--the alternative treatment works for them, too.

kathleenkat (author) from Bellingham, WA on October 19, 2012:

Thanks, all for the comments!

DzyMsLizzy, I was not aware that the products I used could be harmful to cats. My vet said they are okay. I try not to use flea-specific products on them unless needed (when they have fleas). They are mostly indoor-only, and whenever I let them out I am sure to have a flea collar on them. It keeps the fleas from jumping on them, and I take it off when they aren't needing it. Lesson learned; I will not let them outside without that again!

Thanks Pages-by-Patty for telling me about the Dawn dishwash thing. I have always been afraid to try something not labeled as "cat" on my cats.

Rebecca O'Reilly from California on October 19, 2012:

Informative, funny but I don't think I will try to bath my cat. It is hard enough when I try to give my little dog a bath can only imagine.

Voted up, funny and useful. Great hub idea. Congrats on your HOTD.

Steve West from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on October 19, 2012:

Great work indeed. Congratulations on HOTD. I am looking forward to more great information. Read ya' later.

carolynkaye from USA on October 19, 2012:

Great Hub, kathleenkat. I'll have to use some of the tips on my cat I've never bathed. He's 4 now and I've still never given him a bath because he's so big and strong I'm afraid he'll freak out and I'll get scratched up. My other cat is pretty good about baths. Lots of good info here! :)

Marites Mabugat-Simbajon from Toronto, Ontario on October 19, 2012:

Funny and useful! Bathing cats might be an interesting topic for my friends who have more than a couple of 'em. Surely, they will find this very useful and I wonder if they ever give their cats a good bath. We do think that cats know how to clean themselves, but if they contract fleas from being outside, just like the dogs, for sure the cats would need some bathing too.

Sharing! Thank you, kathleenkat!

Evie Lopez from Sunny Florida on October 19, 2012:

Yikes! Bathing a cat sounds like a life-threatening ordeal. I've had cats in the past but I don't remember my cats being that bad, except for a few holes and scratches in my arms and hands, I came out of it alive (lol). I think I'll stick to puppy dogs from now on :)

Great tips! thanks for sharing!

Ann-Christin from UK on October 19, 2012:

Lots of good tips and advice:) It brought back memories of when I had to bathe my kitten when it got covered in oil . Once was enough I ended up as wet as the cat,I didn't have cat shampoo so used baby shampoo as that is gentle and non -stinging.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 19, 2012:

Very good safety points, vis-a-vis clipping the claws (NEVER de-claw a cat; it is inhumane), and having supplies ready first, etc. The first time I ever had to bathe a cat, I learned the hard way you should trim nails first.

However, you mention specific kinds of products, some by name, aimed at flea control, that you should never, ever use on any cat.

I implore you, PLEASE, if you love animals, eliminate these references and don't promote these horrible poisons. (I also wrote a Hub on safely keeping fleas and ticks off your pets.)

Here is a website where you can read all about the terrible harm that is done to our pets each year by applying these pesticides to our beloved companion animals:

That page is the one that directly references your mentions here, but it is a full website with the entire story, including their campaign with the EPA to get these poisonous products banned. The damage to animals ranges from mild sickness to neurological damage and even death.

Safe alternatives are given on the website.

Otherwise, great article, and congratulations on HOTD!

RTalloni on October 19, 2012:

Excellent tips. :) Definitely not a job for the timid. Even the brave should keep a phone handy for dialing 911 (just in case...).

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award--it really is a winner.

CZCZCZ from Oregon on October 19, 2012:

Great tips and suggestions for bathing and caring for our feline friends. Enjoyed reading through this hub, lots of good information.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on October 19, 2012:

Cats are so temperamental and bathing them is such a production. Your step-by-step guide is quite helpful, especially for people (like me) who opt out of bathing the cat due to the posibility of bodily harm.

Congratulations on receiving Hub of the Day!

Kalpana Iyer from India on October 19, 2012:

I don't have a cat but this was very interesting. When I saw that the title I knew I had to read it because I always used to wonder how cats who are mostly represented as having a hatred for water got cleaned and washed. Congrats on getting hub of the day! Well deserved.

Stephanie Marie Severson from Atlanta, GA on October 19, 2012:

Thanks for the great info. I have a cat and i have never bathed him. I always let my kids do it. I may give it a try after reading this hub.

blindbias from Baton Rouge on October 19, 2012:

Love the article. I never tried bathing my cats, mostly because they are indoor and don't have fleas and are very clean. But now I know how I would do that.

Pages-By-Patty from Midwest on October 19, 2012:

Bathing cats does take preparation and, naturally, has a trial and error period! This year fleas were all too plentiful. Having 9 personal cats in addition to litters of foster kittens, our home was like a "Kitty Wash" all summer.

I, too, would recommend the Dawn dish-washing liquid. You can't be too safe when it comes to what topical treatment is used on felines.

This is a good how-to reference to have in case you find yourself with a cat who is unable to groom himself or herself. They're such meticulous creatures that bathing does boost their mental state if they're sick, injured or paralyzed.

Congratulations of HOTD!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on October 19, 2012:

Congrats on HOTD. When I read Hubs like this, it makes me thankful I just have a very spoiled Schnauzer who also hates to take a bath. I have to be sneaky and not let her know what I'm about to do!

I had a friend once who tried to bathe her cat, and the cat bit into her hand so deep, she had to have help getting loose from the cat. My friend never bathed the cat again.

I voted this Hub UP.

Yvonne Spence from UK on October 19, 2012:

Our cats pick up fleas quite often because there are a lot of wooded areas near our house. One of our daughters decided to bath them to get rid of them. One tolerates baths well, the other less so, so these tips could come in handy for him.

Congrats on your hub of the day.

tlmcgaa70 from south dakota, usa on October 19, 2012:

i plan on wrting my own hub on how to bathe a cat because most i have read on the subject...well, lets say they leave much to be desired. your hub is the best one i found so far. i do however suggest using original blue dawn dishwashing detergent. it is safe for animals including cats and very young kittens plus it kills fleas on contact. congrats on HotD.