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Home > Dogs > How to Clean Dog Tear Stains in 5 Simple Steps

How to Clean Dog Tear Stains in 5 Simple Steps

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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Tear stains are the reddish-brown stains that can occur on a dog’s face under their eyes. These stains are more noticeable on dogs with light-colored coats, but dogs with dark coats can get them too. While tear stains are not life-threatening, they can be uncomfortable for your dog to deal with. There are several reasons that tear stains occur, but removing them can take time.

In some cases, simply cleaning the stains once won’t be enough. They will keep returning. There’s no simple, fast solution for getting rid of the stains. Keeping them off your dog’s face is a process, and maintenance needs to be done every day for it to be effective. In this article, we look at ways to clean the stains and how to prevent them from coming back.

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Tear Stain Deep Cleaning Methods

There are several ways that you can clean the tear stains on your dog’s face. Depending on the severity of the stain, not every method will work for every dog, though. You may have to try a few before you find one that works best. If the stain is thick, dried, and set in, you may have to first loosen the debris by applying warm compresses. Once the gunk is loose enough, you can pull it out gently with your fingers and move on to one of these cleaning methods.

1. Cornstarch, Hydrogen Peroxide, and Milk of Magnesia

Hydrogen Peroxide
Image Credit: pedphoto36pm, Shutterstock

In a small bowl, mix one part hydrogen peroxide, one part milk of magnesia, and cornstarch in a bowl until a paste is formed. Being careful not to get any paste near or in your dog’s eyes, apply the paste to the tear stains on your dog’s face. This paste will have to set for 3–4 hours to be effective, so you may have to put a cone on your dog during this time.

Once the paste has dried, rinse it off, again being careful to avoid contact with the eyes. This process can be repeated once a day until the stains are gone.

Please be aware that hydrogen peroxide is very oxidizing and can damage the dog’s eye. So, if you opt for this DYI method, you need to be very careful to avoid the eyes and to make sure your dog does not scrub it.


2. Saline Solution

Wash the area with a saline solution for dogs. This is safe for their eyes and can be used to flush out dirt and debris. It will soften and remove any crustiness on the tear stains. The solution can be applied directly from the bottle or used on a cotton ball or soft cloth to break up stains.


3. Tear Stain Remover

Angels' Eyes Tear Stain Solution Rinse for Dogs

The safest way of doing this is to use a product that is designed to remove these stains. Tear stain removers contain ingredients that remove mucus and discharge without irritating the eyes. They can be used on fresh or dried stains.


4. Boric Acid

Boric acid
Image Credit: sulit.photos, Shutterstock

For a homemade tear stain remover, mix 1 tablespoon of boric acid in 1 cup of boiling distilled water. Let it cool, and carefully apply it to the stained areas using a soft cloth. This solution should be kept in the fridge and remade every week for maximum effectiveness.

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5 Simple Steps for Removing Tear Stains for Good

Once you’ve chosen a method to clean your dog’s tear stains, you’ll have to combine that with other maintenance steps to keep them from returning.

1. Do a Deep Clean

Before you can start any maintenance routine, your dog’s tear stains should be thoroughly cleaned. Depending on the severity of the stains, this might mean having the facial hair shaved off by a professional groomer and starting from scratch.

If the tear stains are minimal, you can clean them yourself using your preferred method. Once the stains are clean, you can work to keep them from returning quickly and getting out of control.

a welsh corgi pembroke dog taking a bath with shampoo
Image Credit: Masarik, Shutterstock

2. Keep Facial Hair Trimmed

If you notice that your dog’s facial hair is growing longer and thus capturing and holding more tears, give it a trim. Long hair can also irritate the eyes if it’s not maintained. That results in even more tears and more stains. It’s best to use clippers instead of scissors to do this. Don’t use scissors around a dog’s eyes. You can leave this job to a professional groomer if you’re uncomfortable attempting it yourself.


3. Clean the Eyes Daily

Miracle Care Eye Clear Cleaning Pads for Dogs & Cats

Start a regimen each day of cleaning your dog’s eyes. Make it a time that you’ll remember, like in the morning, after a walk, or after a meal. Use a soft cloth that’s wet with warm water, or for added convenience, use a tear stain-cleaning pad. Wipe the corners of your dog’s eyes, removing any debris that has dripped down the face. Regular cleaning will prevent stains from having a chance to form.


4. Change Potential Stain-Causing Routines

A healthy diet can reduce tear stains in dogs. Be sure your dog is eating the healthiest food that you can acquire for them. Digestive issues can lead to more waste by-products being eliminated through tears, causing more staining.

If you give your dog tap water, consider switching to filtered (but not bottled) water. The minerals in tap water can lead to tear staining. While there is no scientific evidence to support this action, some dog owners add a spoonful of apple cider vinegar to their dog’s water or food to kill bacteria.

Make sure your dog’s food and water dishes are always clean. Bacteria can grow on unsanitary dishes and pollute or infect your dog. Tears are a defensive mechanism of the eye to flush out bacteria.


5. Visit a Vet

If you’ve tried everything and nothing is working, visit your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues that may be causing the tear stains. They could be due to an eye infection or another condition that can easily be treated.

female veterinarian checking up a dog
Image Credit: Zivica Kerkez, Shutterstock

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What Are Tear Stains?

Tear stains are caused by excessive tear production in the eyes. This can have many different causes. The teary residue leaks out of the eyes and settles into the hair on the face, where it dries along with any other gunk. Since tear stains are a reddish-brown color, they’re most easily noticed on breeds with light coats.

The rust color of the stains is caused by porphyrin. Porphyrin is produced when a dog’s body breaks down iron molecules. Iron consumed in the diet or as a result of red blood cell breakdown is excreted through the gastrointestinal tract, urine, saliva, and eye tears; the hair around those areas can become stained.

What Causes Tear Stains?

Tear stains can have many causes, which can be difficult to determine. If you notice that your dog is pawing or scratching at their eyes or you notice that their eyes are red and irritated, take the dog to the vet for an evaluation.

Here are common causes of tear stains:
  • Allergies
  • Poor diet
  • Hard tap water
  • Teething (during puppyhood)
  • Blocked tear ducts
  • Dusty or smoky environments

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Final Thoughts

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you won’t be able to get rid of your dog’s tear stains for good. Hopefully, though, by using the methods that we’ve suggested, you’ll be able to reduce them and prevent them from recurring. By reducing the buildup each day, you can stop the stains from becoming hard, crusty, and difficult to remove.

If you notice that your dog’s eyes are bothering them, have them seen by a vet. The eyes could be tearing due to an underlying health problem that is easily treated. Once you know what’s causing the stains, you’ll be better able to stop them from appearing.

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Featured Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

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