Toxic car cleaning products to avoid holiday cottages


Toxic car cleaning products to avoid

Emma Scales-Theobald 13 March 2024

Whether you and your four-legged friend have been splashing about on your morning walk, or you’ve spent all day soaking in the sights of the countryside on a lengthy walk, it’s safe to say your car might need a bit of scrub once you get home.

This is why, after enjoying time with your dog, the last thing you want to do is accidentally make them ill with the wrong car cleaning product. If this is a concern for you, then you’re not alone.

Data shows that search terms relating to dog-friendly cleaning products have increased in recent months, and that’s why we’ve teamed up with our resident pooch pro – Dogtor Emma-Scales Theobold – to spill the beans on just which car-cleaning products you should avoid using to keep your dog safe when you’re out and about.

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Common car cleaning products toxic to dogs

Montage of antifreeze being put in a car engine and a cute pup looking over the back seat of a car

Starting with the important stuff, Emma immediately wanted to highlight just how lots of common things we keep in our cars can be toxic to dogs.

Emma explains that “Lots of the products we use to clean our cars are toxic to us, so it’s no surprise that they can be a danger to our pets as well.

“Products such as anti-freeze, washer fluid and even air fresheners should ideally be kept securely out of the way whenever your dog is travelling with you. Anti-freeze and washer fluid, in particular, can be highly toxic to dogs, even if only a small amount is licked, as they both contain methanol.

“Air fresheners, on the other hand, can act as irritants for a dog’s airways if breathed in over long periods, especially those with citrus and tea-tree scents, as these use problematic essential oils to create their smells.

“Naturally, other typical cleaning products, like ammonia, bleach, chlorine and phenols, should also be kept away from your dog for the same reasons.”

Signs to look out for that your dog may have reacted to a cleaning product

Large dog looking sad and lethargic

While cleaning your car properly is important to stop the build-up of dirt and muck left behind by muddy paws, you want to be mindful of leaving enough time between cleaning its interior and letting your dog back inside.

Of course, sometimes accidents happen. As Emma notes, “If you’re at all concerned your dog may have ingested toxic cleaning products, you’ll want to watch out for some of these key signs and symptoms:

  • Irritation of the eyes and mouth
  • Rashes
  • Inflamed skin
  • Excessive scratching and drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Breathing problems
  • Seizures

It goes without saying that no one wants to see their doggy companion experience any of these symptoms, but by minimising the potential for contact with toxic cleaners, these sorts of reactions can be avoided.”

What should you do if your dog falls ill while travelling on the road?

Husky being examined by a vet

Although unlikely, should your dog suddenly fall ill while you’re travelling, Emma recommends doing the following:

“First, you’ll want to pull over at a safe spot, then you can keep your dog calm as you assess the situation – it may just be that they’re feeling a little car sick (yes, they can experience that too!) rather than having a severe reaction.

“If, however, your dog is normally fine in the car but is experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should seek veterinarian assistance as soon as possible while removing your dog from the source of the irritation.

“Once veterinary help has been acquired, you’ll need to provide the vet with as much information as possible on whatever you think your dog may have been exposed to and for how long.

“However, if your dog is experiencing a particularly severe reaction, such as breathing difficulties or seizures, then you should locate the nearest veterinary practice and head straight there for an immediate emergency appointment.

“For milder reactions, such as rashes or inflamed skin, you’re best calling your nearest practice to see if an appointment is possible and making note of what the vet suggests doing to keep your dog comfortable in the meantime.”

Examples of safe pet-cleaning products you can use

Montage of a collie dog looking out the boot of a car and a range of safe cleaning products

So, having flagged several cleaning products that can be dangerous to use around your dog, are there any substitutes you can try instead that will do the job just as well?

Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes!

As well as answering all our questions, Emma was kind enough to provide us with a list of her favourite replacements for you to try out next time you need to give your boot a quick wipe:

  • Baking soda – perfect for eliminating pesky odours, baking soda can be liberally applied to car seats or boot mats that are getting a little too musty
  • Vinegar – when mixed with water and baking soda, vinegar can help remove stains from car fabrics
  • Pet-safe enzymatic cleaners – an alternative to hydrogen peroxide, pet-safe enzymatic cleaners do the same job but are more convenient to use
  • Lemon juice – ideal for use as an anti-bacterial or fungal agent, lemon juice can be used to clean surfaces in your car. And as a bonus, it can make the interior smell nice without the need for essential oils
  • White vinegar – much like vinegar, when white vinegar is mixed with water and a little washing-up liquid, it can be used to clean stains as well as windows
  • Natural air fresheners – a safe alternative to normal air fresheners, dog-friendly natural air fresheners use safe essential oils, like lavender and chamomile, to prevent irritation

Tips for keeping your car clean if you have a mucky pup

Happy dog on seat cover in the back of a car

As useful as it is to have the right tools to clean your car properly, prevention is often better than the cure. So, to avoid having to fully wipe down your car’s interior every time your dog clambers out, Emma also provided us with her top tips for protecting its interior:

  • Car seat and boot covers – essential for any dog owner, car seat and boot covers are perfect for creating a shield between your car interior and an excitable, mud-splattered pooch. It will stop things from getting scratched and make them easier to wipe down if any mud does get through
  • Blankets – a suitable substitute for covers, blankets, especially waterproof ones, are another quick way to protect your seats and boot, and are very easy to wash if they do get dirty
  • Dog guard – ideal for stopping muddy paws from climbing out your boot and leaving mud on your seats or boot trim, a dog guard makes sure your pooch sticks to one area you don’t mind getting dirty
  • Dog crates – perfect for keeping any potential dirt in one place, dog crates mean you only have to wash a single area rather than the whole car
  • Dog jackets – if you forget to directly protect your car, dog jackets can be a great way to keep your pet mud and rain-free on those wet days when walks are a must
  • Dog drying robes – whether these are microfibre towels, mitts or flannels, doggy drying robes are ideal if you want to get the worst of the wet and dirt off their coat before they climb inside
  • Dog wipes – it’s very easy for wet dog smell to take hold in your car, so dog wipes, dog-friendly waterless shampoo, and dog ‘perfume’ are going to be invaluable in reducing such odours between full washes
  • Travel showers – a little more of an expensive solution compared to our other suggestions, travel showers are nevertheless a fantastic way to wash off very muddy paws and faces before your dog settles in for the journey home. Just remember to have a towel handy to dry them after their rinse

Top tips for using potentially irritating cleaning products

Woman reading the label on a cleaning product bottle

While we’d all ideally like to avoid cleaning products that could prove harmful to our pets, this isn’t always possible.

That’s why, to round off our car cleaning advice, Emma had this to say “At the end of the day, if your car needs a good clean, and you're short on time, then it’s going to be easier to use the cleaning products your most familiar with. But while these can be harmful to dogs, so long as you’re careful, your pets should be fine.”

Again, she provided us with some top tips to follow if you need to use toxic cleaning products in your car:

  • Read the label – always read the label of any cleaning products before using them to check for toxic chemicals and advisory warnings
  • Follow the instructions – no matter where in your car you’re cleaning, be sure to follow the instructions to the letter
  • Ventilate – once you’re finished cleaning, always ventilate your car properly to prevent chemicals from lingering
  • Let it dry – if you have been using potentially harmful chemicals in your car, you must let everything dry fully before letting your dog inside
  • Stow securely – like with children, you must keep all toxic cleaners out of reach of your dog, ideally in a cupboard in your home that’s well out of reach
  • Use pet-friendly alternatives – we know it’s not always possible, but if you can, try to use pet-friendly cleaning alternatives

Taking your dog on their next big adventure?

So, now you know exactly how to keep your favourite furry friend safe the next time you’re cleaning your car or travelling between new and exciting destinations.

Don’t forget to check out our other dog guides as well for more inspiration on how to keep your dog safe when travelling, as well as interesting things to do and see.

And speaking of travelling. If you’re planning on surprising your pooch with a brand-new walk or some stunning scenery, then why not check out our dog-friendly cottages for a family weekend away?

Emma Scales-Theobald PhD MSc

Emma Scales-Theobald PhD MSc

A canine behaviour and nutrition consultant who provides regular expert advice to Canine Cottages on the subjects of canine health and behaviour. She holds a PhD in Veterinary Medicine and Science from the University of Surrey, as well as an MSc in Animal Behaviour from the University of Exeter.

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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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