Dogs tend to get themselves into sticky situations, especially when going for a walk or playing out in the yard. Trotting through mud, splashing around in the creek, rolling around in the sand on the beach—dogs love to get down and dirty out in the world, as is their nature. As their owners, it’s in our nature to make sure they’re happy and healthy, which also includes cleanliness. 

After a day of exploring the outdoors, it’s expected your dog may need a good bath, but what about their dog harness? If your furry friend is dirty, chances are their harness will be dirty too. Keep dirt and grime off your harness and your pet with this easy step-by-step guide to the most effective hand washing method for cleaning a dog harness.

Why Hand Wash?

First, let’s start by saying, some dog harnesses are machine washable. If your harness does not say explicitly that it is, however, you should automatically assume it is not, and washing it in a machine may end up damaging it. The buckles or any metal pieces on a harness may even damage your machine, which is much more expensive than a new dog harness. 

Even if your dog harness is machine washable, it’s not a great idea to toss it into the machine whenever it gets dirty, especially with caked-on dirt from the outdoors and body odor that may penetrate through the fabric like a teenage football player’s gym bag. It may not seem like the most time-efficient, but trust me, it’s worth it to wash by hand.

Step 1: Assess the Material

Before hand washing your dog’s harness, you need to determine what material it is made of. If the gear is made of leather, you don’t want to soak it in water and may need a special non-toxic leather cleaner to ensure the preservation of the material. Most dog harnesses, however, are made of nylon, neoprene, or other fabrics. 

Step 2: Grab Supplies

If you’re working with a fabric harness, the next step is to grab a bucket or large bowl (or use a tub or sink) and some dog shampoo. Dog shampoo? Yes—dog shampoo. You may think dish soap or detergent would be the best for cleaning fabric, but using dog shampoo works just as well and ensures your dog won’t have a bad reaction to the chemicals in the detergent. They also like the smell and will find it more comforting than just any old detergent. If it’s safe enough to use on your dog’s fur, it’s safe enough to use on a harness or collar that will be touching their skin. For leather harnesses, you’ll need a dog-safe leather cleaner.

Step 3: Clean and Soak

Get as much debris off the harness as possible. If there’s caked-on mud or dog hair, scrape it off or use a lint roller as best you can. Then, if you have a fabric harness, create a soapy bath with warm water and dog shampoo and soak the harness in the bucket or bowl of water for at least 15 minutes. You can also use a nail brush-type scrubber to get in deep if stains are present. If your harness is leather, grab your leather cleaner and use a soft sponge to work it onto the harness. 

Step 4: Rinse and Let Dry

Once the fabric harness has soaked for 15 minutes, rinse the harness in the sink under clean warm water to remove any soap. If the water runs clean through the harness, you’re good to go. If not, you’ll need to start step 3 over again. When the water runs clean, hang to dry on a clothesline or lay out on a clean towel to dry. Tossing it in the dryer can shrink the fabric or damage the harness (or your dryer).

Be sure to wait until it’s fully dry before putting it back on your fur baby—if you don’t like the feeling of slightly damp jeans, then they won’t enjoy the uncomfortable rub of damp fabric on their skin. If you’re using a leather harness, use a dog-safe leather conditioner on it once it is fully dry, and allow that to dry fully as well before you put it back on your pup. It’s not a bad idea to invest in two harnesses, in case they need to go back outside again before it’s dry.

And that’s it! The process takes almost no time at all, and for the preservation of your harness investment—and the comfort of your dog—it’s worth it to take these extra steps to make sure their harness is cleaned properly.