With over three decades in the grooming industry, knowing what I know, some folks have deemed me as a pet shampoo guru of sorts.
For instance, many groomers not only don’t understand how their shampoo and conditioner actually work, but do not know how to properly care for and dispense them day to day.
In any grooming workplace, being accountable is a paramount quality. It mindfully works hand–in–hand with trust, reliability and responsibility. In the health care industry, serums, plasma, blood, vaccines, medicines and other essential liquids are managed with precision and specific protocols. So, where are the established codes of procedure within the grooming industry for safely caring for and dispensing pet shampoos and other grooming liquids?
While the post–COVID world has certainly reinforced the importance of cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing in our salons, the same cannot be said for caring for grooming liquids. Sadly, the reality of shampoo spoilage more often than not comes down to genuine ignorance and neglect by the user.
I’d like to help remedy this by sharing some important facts, a few tips and some handy guidelines to follow. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know!
Water Fosters Bacteria Growth
Leonardo da Vinci is quoted to have said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” Unfortunately this includes harmful bacteria, too. It’s important to realize bacteria are the number one enemy of shampoo and conditioner. Bathing areas are highly vulnerable breeding grounds for such contamination.
For example, folliculitis is a common skin infection you may have come across characterized by small clusters of itchy bumps. These are typically caused by bacteria that amass in contaminated shampoo bottles due to unsanitary storage, dilution and dispensing practices.
Pseudomonas is another bacterium that’s responsible for many canine skin and ear infections. These bacteria are easily transferred in water and damp environments like wash tubs.
There’s an endless list of harmful bacteria that could amass in your on–hand inventory of grooming liquids. I’ll spare you from any further fear mongering other than to say how most claims of spoilage—and even client skin reactions from a product—correlate to some lack or failure in daily sanitation practices.
Preservatives Only Do So Much
Water volume can account for 30% to 98% of a shampoo or conditioner’s formula; the remaining ingredient volumes are referred to as “solids” or “percent of solids.” Did you know that conditioners have up to three to four times more water than a shampoo?
Shampoo and conditioner solids include plant–based detergents, conditioners and fragrances as well as polymers, minerals and vitamins. It is important to acknowledge how plant– and animal–derived ingredients ultimately succumb to spoilage; even minerals and vitamins can oxidize and diminish in potency over time.
The role of a preservative is to postpone spoilage from overtaking a mixture within a reasonably designated time period. This period is often referred to as a product’s “shelf life,” and is largely based on the product’s intended use and dispensing methods. A shampoo’s shelf life is not etched in granite given there are so many variables affecting them. They are nothing more than guidelines.
Water alone will not spoil, but it will amass bacteria and other contaminants over time. These other contaminants include dander, hair, condensation, heat and oxidation. The presence of these contaminants rapidly exhausts the preservative far before ever reaching any anticipated shelf life.
It should come as no surprise that greater storage and dispensing care is required for “premium blends” with more sophisticated formulas. These liquids have a higher percent of solids, boasting more active proteins and botanicals, making them more susceptible to the spoilage variables previously mentioned.
Fact: Grooming liquids containing proteins, botanicals, fragrance and essential oils are susceptible to heat, moisture and pollutants.
1. Wash and dry your hands before opening and closing shampoo bottles.
2. Always store grooming liquids in a climate–controlled room (preferably well below 80oF; the cooler the better) because prolonged exposure to heat rapidly exhausts any preservative within the mixture, leading to premature spoilage.
3. Freezing temperatures may also affect liquid performance. Upon receipt, examine your product packaging for damages or cracks due to freeze expansion. Compromised packaging typically leads to contamination, oxidation and rapid spoilage.
4. Secure the lids tightly at all times to prevent humidity and airborne debris from contaminating contents.
5. Keep unused/unopened product in its original container. Avoid combining contents in unsavory bulk containers.
Water Quality and Dilution Guidelines
Fact: Tap water will vary by region and can sometimes hinder bathing results. High alkaline pH levels can be challenging for some shampoos. Call your water utility provider for a free quality assessment report or consider testing it yourself.
1. Adding water to shampoo compromises the mixture’s overall preservative balance.
2. Water quality factors like pH, mineral content and bacteria levels influence product performance.
3. Dilution rates are merely guidelines. It’s not uncommon for most shampoo products to successfully stretch beyond what is recommended.
4. When diluting with water, only mix what is anticipated for each scheduled work session.
5. Discard all unused diluted shampoo/conditioner within 24 hours.
Tips When Using a Bathing System
Fact: Most pet shampoo products are safe and effective to use in any bathing system device. However, some conditioners may not work in every unit due to oxidation causing the mixture to congeal and harden which may build up and clog inner workings.
1. Be certain all shampoo system maintenance and cleaning protocols are followed in accordance with the manufacturer’s specific guidelines.
2. When using pre–mix application systems, only mix what is anticipated for each scheduled work session.
3. When using metered bathing systems which syphon liquid directly from the gallon jug, make certain all fittings are securely fastened and do not leak air or moisture inside. Gallon jugs with loose or compromised fittings are more susceptible to contamination.
4. Recirculating bathing pumps require ongoing sanitizing. Filters, nozzles and hoses must be rinsed and dried according manufacturer’s warranty guidelines.
5. Make sure there is no cleaning chemical residue left behind in your bathing system that could risk contaminating any shampoo mixture or irritating a pet’s skin.
Tips for Using Mixing Bottles
Fact: Misuse of mixing bottles is common among grooming salons and often leads to cross contamination.
1. Designate a separate dilution bottle for each specific liquid product used.
2. Do not reuse any empty bottles from another product.
3. Avoid using squeeze tops because they can suck dirty water back into the mixing bottle.
4. Use hot water and dish detergent for cleaning. The sanitize cycle on your dishwasher is most effective.
6. Do not reuse empty bottles that contained bleach, disinfectant, pesticides, essential oils, ammonia and/or peroxides for mixing shampoo. These tainted bottles will contaminate grooming liquids and should be disposed of.
Tips for Hand Pump Dispensers
Fact: Open pumps breathe, allowing air and condensation back into the container leading to unwanted spoilage.
1. Make sure pumps are fully twisted shut or securely covered with a tied plastic bag when not in use.
2. Designate one specific gallon pump for each product used to avoid mingling with other products and cross contamination.
3. Write the product’s brand name on each dispensing pump or mixing bottle to match its designated gallon jug.
4. The best way to clean reusable dispensing pumps is to disassemble then run through a hot dishwasher cycle.
5. Do not clean plastic pumps with essential oils. Oils act as solvents, which soften plastic, making it porous and susceptible to harboring bacteria.
6. Be sure each pump is fully dry before placing them back into a gallon of product.
Tips for Managing Shampoo Inventory
Fact: Most shampoo manufacturers guarantee their products within 30 to 45 days from purchase.
1. Try writing both the item purchase date and the day it was opened directly on the container with a permanent marker to keep track.
2. Rotate your stock using oldest items first.
3. During extreme weather months it’s important to order from a supplier close in proximity. Shorter delivery times reduce the likelihood of damages and premature spoilage to your product.
4. It is best to place orders earlier in the week rather than later. This reduces any likelihood of your order sitting in a delivery truck over a long weekend of sweltering summer heat or subzero freezing temperatures.
5. Hold on to receipts for proof of purchase. You can often return or exchange defective product within warranty.
6. Avoid making large bulk purchases beyond a three month supply. Turning your inventory more frequently reduces the likelihood of any unexpected spoilage and damage.
Fortunately, truth, wisdom and integrity still manage to prevail in pet grooming. What better way to strengthen our industry than by sharing knowledge and furthering one’s education?
I am genuinely grateful to the many group forums, podcasts, digital publications and websites that exist specifically for groomers. However, I would argue the need for more companies to come forward and grace the streams of content with greater knowledge for everyone’s benefit. I see a missed opportunity for industry leaders. Please share this information with others in our industry! ✂️