No matter how clean your dog stays or how fresh his coat, the collar he wears will eventually absorb enough skin oils, dirt, and grime to develop an odor. Dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors rolling in the mud, swimming in lakes and streams, chasing balls, or playing at the dog park are more prone to collar funk than the small lap dog who rarely ventures out and takes a weekly trip to the doggie salon. But eventually, all collars will need to be washed to keep them smelling nice—and to prevent unhygienic bacteria buildup.
What Makes a Dog Collar Smell Bad?
If your dog has been sprayed by a skunk, it’s obvious what caused the collar to smell bad—but dirt, debris, pond scum, mold, parasites, and bacteria can also contribute to the odor coming from your dog’s collar. Whatever he’s rolled in or paddled through seeps into the fibers of his collar and mingles with dry skin, body oils, and fur. This creates a smelly problem. No collar material is immune to odor: Nylon, leather, polyester, and metal dog collars can all get dirty and start to stink if not cleaned properly. The method you use to clean the collar varies depending on the material. Note: While cleaning and drying your dog’s everyday collar, put a backup collar on him so he’s never without proper identification.
How to Clean a Synthetic Dog Collar
If you clean your dog’s collar regularly, it’s not a big job. The quickest and easiest way to keep his collar smelling nice is to wash it at least as often as you wash him. Put a little dog shampoo into a bowl of hot water and soak the collar for 10 to 20 minutes. Then, give it a light scrubbing with a soft-bristled brush—an old toothbrush works well—paying special attention to any crevices where dirt and grime can hide. Rinse the collar under hot water, then place it on a flat surface or hang it by the buckle until it’s completely dry.
Or you might try cleaning your dog’s collar with natural ingredients. Mix two or three teaspoons of vinegar—apple cider vinegar smells nicer—and baking soda into a bowl of hot water. Let the collar soak, then scrub it clean. Rinse thoroughly in hot water and let dry. Note: Avoid soaking a leather collar in your cleaning solution.
Cleaning a Leather Dog Collar
While many leather collars can be cleaned as described above, some leather collars, particularly those that have not been well cared for, should not get wet and certainly shouldn’t be soaked in water. The higher cost of a leather collar also might make you hesitate to dunk it in a watery solution. Fortunately, there are other options. Cleaning your dog’s leather collar regularly to maintain it is better than trying to reclaim a collar that is soiled and stinks. After cleaning a leather collar, avoid using heat or sunlight to dry it as this may cause the leather to crack or deteriorate.
Cleaning a Badly Soiled Leather Collar
Rather than soaking your leather collar in a solution, make a smaller bowl of soapy water, or a baking soda and vinegar solution. Dip a toothbrush in the solution and then scrub the collar clean. Rinse, and immediately blot the leather collar dry with a towel before hanging it to finish drying. Once it’s completely dry, use a leather conditioner on the collar.
Cleaning a Finished Leather Collar
Finished leather has been treated and dyed. This protects the leather and helps it stand up to water and stains. If you scratch the leather and it is the same color, it’s finished leather. Check the collar’s tag for specific cleaning instructions and warnings. Lacking this, you can clean finished leather with warm water and mild detergent. There are commercial leather cleaners, but before you use any kind of product on your dog’s collar, be sure it won’t poison him or irritate his skin.
Cleaning an Unfinished Leather Collar
Unfinished leather is more supple because it is untreated. It is also more susceptible to stains and discoloration. If your dog wears an unfinished leather collar, use a little saddle soap on a cloth and scrub the collar clean. Wipe away any additional soap and let the collar air dry away from the sun. Cleaning solutions and conditioners may darken unfinished leather, so do a spot check first.
Special Collars and Hard-to-Remove Stains and Odors
How to Clean the Metal Parts of a Dog Collar
Your dog’s metal collar needs to be cleaned regularly, too. Dirt and oil can build up on the metal, which may damage the collar or irritate your dog’s skin.
Use a mild dog shampoo or dish soap to clean lightly soiled metal collars or buckles, D-rings, and tags on a synthetic or leather dog collar. For metal collars that are showing signs of rust or discoloration, you may need to spread a thick paste of water and baking soda on the collar, and let the paste harden. Then, scrub the baking soda solution away with a toothbrush, rinse, and allow the collar to dry.
How to Clean an E-Collar
It’s imperative to keep your dog’s Elizabethan collar clean. Elizabethan collars—also called E-collars or cones—are often used after surgery to prevent your dog from licking or worrying stitches and sores. If his E-collar is dirty, it may cause irritation at the neck and could introduce bacteria or debris that may contribute to an infection.
To clean a hard plastic cone, wipe it down with a damp cloth or use mild soap and water for heavy soiling. Allow the plastic cone to dry completely before putting it back on your dog to prevent mold or bacteria growth.
To clean a soft E-collar, spot clean as necessary with a damp cloth. You can use mild, unscented soap for heavier soil, but make sure the collar is fully rinsed and dry before putting it back on your dog to prevent bacteria growth.
Clean any padding, as well. If you’ve used a cloth or gauze to prevent rubbing and irritation at the neck, change it daily or whenever it gets wet or soiled.
Getting Skunk Smell Out of a Collar
Cleaning your dog’s collar after an encounter with a skunk takes patience, and sometimes a few tries. The odor comes from a thick, sticky, yellow oil that repels water. The trick to cleaning skunk spray is soaking it in a vinegar and water mixture or enzymatic cleaner right away—these work better than soap or shampoo alone.
Another option is to soak the collar in a mixture of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap, but be aware that peroxide may discolor the collar. After the soak, wash the collar with a degreasing dish soap or castile soap, rinse well, and let it dry. Leather collars may not handle a soaking well, but if you’re left with no other options you may be able to restore the leather’s luster if you apply a leather cream or conditioner to repair any damage.
How to Wash Poison Ivy Oil Off Dog Collar and Leash
While dogs are less prone to reactions to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, humans can develop an irritating rash when exposed to the oils from these plants. Bathing your dog after exposure may not be enough to prevent the sores and blisters that appear after contact with the plant: You’ll want to clean his collar and leash to prevent contact with the toxic oil.
Wear gloves when cleaning the collar and leash to prevent exposure and irritation. Liquid dish soap with a degreasing agent can break down poison ivy oil. Suds it up, rinse well, wash again for good measure, then let the collar dry completely.
It’s no fun snuggling up to a clean dog only to realize his collar still reeks of swamp water. Taking a few extra minutes to clean your dog’s collar when you bathe him goes a long way towards preventing the buildup of dirt and grime that causes odor.