What are Stains?
Thinking Outside the Box

How Whitening Shampoos Work

There are several different types of whitening shampoos available for dogs these days. When I first started grooming about 15 years ago we basically had bluing shampoos and that is it. Bluing shampoos have their place as we will discuss, but there are other types that work just as well or better, depending on what you are trying to achieve.

Currently there are several different types of whitening shampoos on the market.

·        Bluing

·        Clarifying

·        Enzymatic

·        Bleaching

·        Dyeing

Bluing shampoos do not actually remove stains in most cases even though they do tend to be great cleansing shampoos. The reason they work is simple. Blue or purple colors add optical enhancers to the coat that the human eye perceives as white, making a dull coat appear more vibrant. The blue color also tends to hide mild yellowing that can occur from urine or licking stains, as well as from sun damage. Bluing shampoos, because of the sparkling color enhancers they contain, also make black coats shine and enhance many different colors.

For coats that are not stained heavily but need some enhancement to appear more vibrant, bluing shampoos are the best choice.

Some exhibitors use a bluing laundry additive. Mrs. Stuart’s bluing will make all white coats pop with intensity not possible by most blue shampoos. It is a very intense blue that actually penetrates the hair shaft. You have to be extremely careful using this product. You must bathe and condition the dog prior to its use, and try not to use it on damaged hair. If you do not have the dog completely wet before the application of the bluing the coat can have a blue color to it for a long time, as it will have to ear out or be bleached out. That is why I suggest bathing and conditioning first. You may have to condition again, but to prevent a dog from turning blue it I worth the extra work. This product used to be available in the laundry sections of stores but lately it has been available only online in my area.

Clarifying shampoos remove stains really well but again, they are harsh. The clarifying shampoos I have tested all registered at a PH of 9-10 which is high. The active ingredient in most clarifiers is Acetic Acid, which also helps strip out product buildup fast. A good clarifying shampoo should be used when staining is present or when a lot of hairspray or other styling aids are used routinely. The reason the PH is high is that it facilitates the opening of the hair cuticle and as a result the staining pigments can be removed easier and faster.

This makes perfect sense if you think about how hair colors work. If you have ever colored your hair, then you know you are not supposed to use a clarifying shampoo because it will remove the hair dye fast making the color last a much shorter time. If the color is too dark however your stylist may suggest you use a clarifier to remove some of the excess dye.

Since stains are essentially an unwanted dye job, clarifiers may be the best way to go for removing most stains. In my shop we use clarifiers to remove red clay, black dirt and other types of organic stains. We just make sure we condition the coats well after using the harsher shampoos.

Enzymatic shampoos, such as Ezy-Groom’s Crystal White use enzymes designed to "eat", or dissolve, proteins and this remove or diminish urine, blood, tear and saliva stains. They work best when heated to the hottest temperature you and the dog can handle. Then you apply the shampoo undiluted to the stained area and allow it to sit for several minutes, later and rinse.  I have used these shampoos with some success, mostly with urine stains. Multiple applications are needed in most cases to remove the stains, but it is a highly effective class of shampoos for removing the stains they target.

Bleaching shampoos are a bit more uncommon but they include the #1 All Systems White Lightening shampoo and the Whitening Gel by All Systems as well. The ingredients are not listed on the shampoo or the gel that I have, but they do have a warning that they can remove color on dark coats, so I am theorizing, that peroxide, in some level, is present in this product. On that note, it DOES WORK to remove stains and whiten whites. It is a harsh type of shampoo or gel and you absolutely MUST condition the coat with a deep conditioner after use. I do not have any of this shampoo on hand to check the PH, but based on how it works, by bleaching, I am confident that the PH would be in the 8-10 range. Again, to facilitate opening the follicle to permit the color molecules that are in the cortex of the hair to be removed, making the hair white again.

You can actually make your own bleaching shampoo for really stubborn stains or imbedded stains that nothing else works on. To do this you will need

  • Wellite on scalp lightener (available at most beauty supply houses)
  • 20 lift Lightener to add to the Wellite (I use a cream lightener because it will make it thicker and allow it to stay on the coat better without running into areas we do not want bleached)
  • Diluted bluing shampoo sufficient to apply thouroughly to the coat

 Add the mixture (mixed as directed in equal parts of lightener and Wellite powder) to a diluted bluing shampoo in a plastic applicator bottle. I usually mix up 2 ounces each of the two ingredients added to 8 ounces of shampoo for a small dog, so slightly more for a larger one or thicker hair. Lather into the white portions of the DRY coat ONLY, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes or so. Avoid all colored areas of the coat because this mixture will turn black hair orange and red coat brassy or bleached out altogether. Rinse well then condition to prevent damage. Never store the unused portion of shampoo. Discard it when you are finished with it. It will be ineffective within 30 minutes and can burst if left closed.

This magic mixture will do much the same thing that Wellite does alone but in a much more gentle way. The shampoo makes the mixture a little less harsh and easier on the skin. This mixture is great for mild staining or white dogs that just need to sparkle. For more sever staining use the Wellite mixture directly onto the coat. To minimize damage to your skin always wear gloves when bleaching or dying or even using bluing, otherwise you may end up looking like a Smurf.


Then, we have shampoos that cover up stains by dyeing the hair shaft with a blue dye, which we discussed earlier, makes the eye THINK the coat is whiter than it is.

Shimmer Lights is a deep purple shampoo made for white or gray hair in humans, which “takes out the yellow” that can happen with chlorine and shampoo buildup and damage from environmental pollution we come into contact with everyday, including cigarette smoke. One reason it does this is that it has a high PH rating so it is actually opening the cuticle, removing the particles causing the discoloration and then, the bluing is deposited into the cortex, to make the white or silver more vibrant, due to the optical enhancers.  This shampoo works great on dog hair as well, and does a fairly nice job of removing urine and licking stains as well as clay and grass due to its high PH. It is harsh however and if you use this shampoo you need to follow up with a deep conditioner. I recommend not using it very often, but rather only when you are in need of serious yellow or stain removal. Before using this shampoo, I also suggest that you wash the dog thoroughly in your favorite shampoo because I do not find it cleans very well.

Chris Christensen has White on White Shampoo which works very similarly to Shimmer Lights. If you take a small amount of the W.O.W. and put a drop on a paper towel, you can see the dye in it actually spread throughout the towel. Again, if you use this shampoo, use a good cleansing shampoo first, then apply this one, and then, use a deep conditioner to protect your dog’s coat.

As with all products with heavy bluing, these shampoos can leave your dog blue or purple so use with caution and make sure that you apply it to a thoroughly wet coat and rinse well. Otherwise you may be dealing with bleaching out the coat anyway.


On a final note. ALL shampoos, especially those with dyes, enzymes or bleaches are hard on the eyes. Avoid the eye area at all cost. When I am bleaching out dogs I use eye salve in the eyes and am still incredibly careful. Never leave a dog alone that is being whitened in any way to avoid them shaking or rubbing the mixtures into their eyes. I usually take a book or paperwork with me while timing the treatements and set a timer to ensure enough contact time.


Happy whitening guys!



Are any of these safe on puppies?

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