It’s finally spring, and with the warm weather and the flies comes the time to remove winter blankets from the barn aisles until they’re needed again. There are many professional horse blanket cleaners out there who will pick up your dirty blankets, launder, repair, and waterproof them, then deliver them back to you. It’s a luxury, for sure.
But given the current rate of inflation and rising gas prices, it might be worth looking at how to wash your own horse blankets and save yourself the average going rate of $18-$25 per blanket. Now, not all of us want to toss a manure stained, hair-covered, and mud-caked blanket into our home washing machine. But for those of us brave enough or with the right can-do attitude and some careful prep, you can wash them in most machines, or by hand.
While some horse people have been known to do a ‘midnight run’ at the local coin laundromat, we don’t recommend it. The owners of laundromats and other customers can understandably become irate with the sludge and hair left behind. If you have a machine at home, there is no reason not to use it for your horse blankets (unless it’s a small condo-sized stackable.)
Here are 12 tips to prep, wash and waterproof your own horse blankets, from lightweight sheets to heavyweight turnout rugs.
Lightweight Blankets & Sheets
1. BRUSH YOUR BLANKET. In order to ensure the blanket gets as clean as possible, and to spare your machine and water pipes from getting clogged, remove as much excess dirt and hair from each blanket. A hard/rough dandy brush will do the trick nicely.
2. HOSE YOUR BLANKET. Consider this a pre-wash cycle outside of the machine. Use the barn hose and rinse it off to remove the top layer of soil; if you have a pressure washer, that’s a bonus. Again, this is to protect your washing machine and drainage system.
3. READ THE WASHING INSTRUCTIONS. Manufacturers include them in the bag containing the blanket. Most suggest a gentle cycle, cool water, and mild detergent. You might consider using a mesh bag to contain all the straps and buckles and prevent them from smashing your wash tub to smithereens (or not, if you want to live dangerously).
4. DON’T USE FABRIC SOFTENER. As tempted as you might be to ensure your horse or pony has a soft, fluffy blanket, fabric softeners can strip away the waterproofing, which wicks away moisture from the animal’s coat. So instead of being warm and dry, your horse will be cold, damp, and miserable.
5. HANG TO DRY. A clothesline or a fence line will work as long as the blanket is left long enough to thoroughly dry before you store them for the season. Heat from a dryer can damage the fabric, so machine drying is a definite no.
Heavy Turnout Rugs
While at-home washing machines can easily tackle lighter stable sheets, rain sheets, and flysheets, or even a stable liner under 200 grams, when it comes to the heavy-duty turnout rugs you might want to consider washing by hand.
1. PRE-CLEAN. As with the lighter sheets, you need to prep the turn-out rugs by brushing away the hair, mud, and manure that has accumulated over the winter. Again, use that stiff dandy brush or even a hand-held vacuum to remove loose dirt and hair. A shedding blade can really be useful to get the stubborn horsehair off.
2. HOSE & SOAK. For really dirty blankets, soak them first in a utility tub or bucket on water and soap to loosen the dirt. Hose down the blanket with cold water and using a detergent of your choice (safer to choose one that is made for sensitive skin) you can take a scrub brush and put some elbow grease into it and lather it up. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. And rinse again; any residual detergent can spark a skin irritation even months later.
3. HANG TO DRY. As above, you’ll want to ensure these heavy blankets are bone dry before storage to avoid any mold or mildew.
4. STORE them in a moisture-free bag or trunk until fall and winter.
Turnout blankets and rain sheets are made with waterproof fabric and coated for added protection. But after a few years of wear, the waterproofing breaks down. How do you know when it’s time to re-waterproof? Over the course of the winter and spring rainy season, you’ll no doubt have noticed when water is pooling or sitting on top of the horse’s back, withers, or hindquarters.
But good news, you can fix this at home! We suggest doing it in the spring so your blankets are ready to wear come fall.
1. CHOOSE THE PRODUCT. There are several waterproofing products on the market specifically designed for horse blankets, such as Nikwax Rug Proof, available on Amazon.ca But to be honest, any waterproofing spray will work. Look for ones that are suitable for human outdoor gear, or that you can spray onto patio cushions.
2. SPRAY MULTIPLE LAYERS. Spray the waterproofing product onto your clean, dry blanket and spray 2-3 thin coats, allowing each coat to dry before re-applying (this can take as long as 24-hours between sprays).
3. WEAR WITH PROTECTION. We recommend doing this outdoors, wearing gloves and a mask because these are chemical sprays. We all have a large supply of masks these days, so it’s good to find another use for them!