Believe it or not, the best tool to clean a horse trough is a toilet bowl brush! – no, not the used kind (gross!), a brand new, one! A basic toilet brush has bristles on all sides that make cleaning trough bottoms, rims, and sides way easier than most bucket or trough cleaning brushes! Plus, you don’t have to pay for a specialty brush from a tack or farm store just to do this basic task!
The best way to deep clean a horse trough is a combination of water, bleach, sunshine, and elbow grease (that is, scrubbing).
How to Clean a Horse Trough:
How to clean a horse trough
Drain or Dump
To clean a horse trough, start by emptying it completely. Some troughs have a drain on the bottom, but if yours doesn’t, you will need to tip it over and dump the water (or bail or siphon out the water that’s in it until the water level is low enough that it can be tipped over and dumped).
Even if your trough has a drain, you’ll probably need to overturn the trough to get every last bit of water. Standard Rubbermaid livestock troughs that include a drain still need to be tipped to be sure that all the water- including the sludge at the bottom- is removed before cleaning.
Scrub or Powerwash
Once you have dumped out your trough, mix a solution of 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water, and use it and a brush to scrub the inside of the trough. If your trough is only lightly soiled you can use a toilet bowl brush and go over it with a few quick swipes. If you have a heavily soiled livestock tank you’ll need to get in a little deeper. For troughs where sediment or algae has collected on the sides, you’ll need a better brush. The toilet brush doesn’t work to remove sediment from the sides because the leverage of the handle doesn’t allow you to apply enough pressure. Instead, grab a plastic bristled, plastic-backed scrub brush and aggressively scrub at the trough.
Avoid any scrub brush with a handle- brushes that are designed to fit in your palm make it easier to scrub with pressure.
DON’T USE ABRASIVES TO CLEAN A PLASTIC TROUGH!
Unless you have a galvanized steel stock tank, don’t use an abrasive scrubber like steel wool or a wire grill cleaning brush. Although a steel wire brush will quickly remove algae, sediment, etc from plastic and molded troughs, these cleaners will leave tiny scratches on the surface which will collect bacteria, house algae and sediment, and will make your trough even harder to clean in the future.
Can you use a power washer to clean a horse trough? Maybe. Just like other abrasives, powerwashing can potentially scar the surface of plastic horse troughs. Because the water pressure can be adjusted, though, with the right setting a powerwasher can be a great tool to help speed up trough cleaning without damaging the surface. Thanks for new technology, backpack-sized electric-powered powerwashers are a huge help on a farm, making it safe and easy to use powerful jets of water to clean troughs, trailers, horse blankets, and fences.
Rinse and (if possible) Leave to Dry Fully
Theoretically, a scrub with bleach water will fully clean all unwanted microorganisms, algae, insect larvae, and bacteria, but for good measure, I like to let sunlight do a second round of passive cleaning. After you’ve dumped and scrubbed your tank, you can either do a thorough rinse to remove the bleach water and refill your trough or let your trough air out in a sunny space for an hour or two. Sunlight works in two ways: neutralizing any bleach residue by breaking it down, and by killing any remaining microorganisms.
Extend Time Between Cleanings through Good Trough-Management
Once your horse trough is clean, check out our tips on keeping your horse trough clean naturally to reduce the frequency and difficulty of cleaning in the future.
The best tools for cleaning a horse trough are as follows:
For Daily Maintenance: A Fresh, Dedicated Toilet Bowl Brush
For Dump-and-Scrub Deep Cleans: A Big Hand-Held Scrub Brush (no handles!)
For ultra-fast deep cleaning: Portable Lightweight Power Washer
A plastic backed, plastic bristled brush is best for scrubbing. Even better if it has a handle loop. Bucket brushes with handles that extend out from the body tend to stress the wrist, but styles that strap onto your palm make scrubbing with pressure much easier.
Cover your Trough to Prevent Algae Growth
Styrofoam is not essential for cleaning your trough, but it’s a huge help in keeping it clean. A Styrofoam float that covers ½ to ¾ of your trough – leaving just enough room for a horse or two to drink, can keep water cooler in the summer (and warmer in the winder) helping prevent algae blooms.
Foam exercise mats tend to work better than styrofoam- which will disintegrate into particles as it ages or is explored by curious horses. We like this set of black and white interlocking foam panels for layering to create trough covers. Cut to fit the shape of your trough and glue layers together for durability- use a black mat for one side and a white mat for the other so, as summer turns to winter, you can clip the mat to either repel or trap heat from the sun as needed.
If you have relentlessly curious horses, You can cover your trough with heavy-duty plywood cut to fit over the rim of your trough and secured with C clamps.
How to keep mosquitoes out of a horse trough
In some parts of the country, managing mosquitoes can feel like a full-time job for horse owners. Here’s what you need to know to keep your horse trough are stock to take a mosquito-free:
- Mosquitoes like stagnant water. Prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs and nesting by: changing the water regularly. Weekly flush and refill will prevent any mosquito larvae from hatching.
- Add a mosquito dunk – according to the EPA, mosquito dunks are safe for use in horse troughs and fish habitats. They prevent mosquito larvae from hatching by interrupting the development of larvae.
- Keep the water moving. A water agitator or even a floating solar-powered fountain can prevent mosquitoes from ever laying eggs in troughs.
- Be mindful of your natural partners in mosquito prevention. Bats, dragonflies, and even fish can help with mosquito control. Read up on how to promote these natural predators.
- Add fish to your trough. Not recommended for small troughs, but for large troughs, a few fish can have a positive benefit on water quality by eating larva from insects and even some small debris dropped by horses.
- Treat the whole farm. If you have trouble with mosquitoes in your trough, part of it may be because mosquitoes are already heavy in the area. Explore if there is other standing water near your property and if it can be controlled. If possible, treat these areas first so that maintaining your horse trough and stock tanks as a mosquito-free area will be easier.
Watering Horses with Chlorinated water
Chlorinated water is safe for horses as long as the water is no more chlorinated than human-safe levels. You might be surprised to learn that adding tiny amounts of bleach (which is a corm of chlorine) to a horse trough can be an effective way to control algae. While it’s not recommended as a first line of defense, bleach is approved by the CDC as a way to treat water for human consumption in times of crisis. When it comes to water quality, horses and humans aren’t that different, if humans can safely drink water a horse should be able to as well.
Far more dangerous to horses is a dramatic shift from one unfiltered water source to another. As long as your horse is used to treated tap water, you should be able to travel and water your horse from any other tap water within a country that has high water quality testing. On the other hand, if you use well water to water your horse, switching to another water source may upset the horse’s stomach due to an abrupt change in mineral content. If you’ll be traveling with your horse and won’t be going from tap-water to tap-water availability, you may want to plan to bring water from home for your horse to drink.
Naturally killing Algae with UV light
One of the most novel ways to prevent algae – and prevent it completely, with no recurrence, is to install a UV filtering system. For about $100, you can install a Natural-algae killing UV filter that sits on the bottom of your trough or stock tank. Although it should be installed with a cage or a bit of fencing to protect it from curious horses, this type of filter constantly runs a stream of water over a strong UV light inside. Just like sunlight in high concentrations, the light will naturally kill every bit of algae, parasite, and microorganism in the water with absolutely no chemicals required.
Although I don’t know anyone using this UV-light water management system on a horse farm currently, when I allowed my horse to graze in my fenced three-acre front yard, my horse would often drink out of my garden pond. The garden pond was a favorite of both horses and chickens – the untreated, un-chlorinated well water combined with the UV filter and constant movement made it an irresistible drinking source. When my horses were turned loose from their paddocks each night– where they had water freely available– often their very first stop was to drink out of the garden pond with its free-flowing waterfall and UV filtered water.
Sunshine or shade for algae control?
Like most plants, algae requires sunlight to perform basic photosynthesis and survive. What’s interesting about algae, however, is that too much sunlight also kills it. While algae depends on sunlight to grow, direct light – or too high UV rays – instantly kills algae. This is why UV filters are such powerful algae controllers. Does this mean that you should put your trough in sunlight or shade to best control algae? This answer varies depending on who you ask, but generally placing a trough in a slightly shaded area will result in less algae, however, natural shade – like a tree – can result in leaves, seeds, or sap dropping into the trough which can contaminate water or cause bacterial growth.
Dealing with Green water in a Trough
If the water in your trough turns green, it’s a signal of a big problem in trough management. While it’s normal for algae to grow and even to blooms heavily on occasion, you should aim to clean out your trough frequently enough that in the water never turns green. If your trough is too big to dump regularly, install this basic drain with a simple on/off switch and began draining off a portion of the water every few days. If you top off the trough with fresh water each time you partially drain, the regular influx of freshwater will minimize the algae blooms that turn water green. Read more natural ways to keep a horse trough clean.
Recycling & Reusing Horse Trough Water
Most horse owners, when it’s time to drain, dump, and refill a horse trough, simply unplug the drain and let the water flow. There’s a few problems with this: the biggest issue is that this often creates a muddy mess around the trough. Whether it’s summer show season or winter frozen mud, mud around a trough can be a problem both for grooming and for hoof health.
To remedy this- and be a little more environmentally friendly with your wastewater- convert your drain to a spigot to which a hose can be attached. Once you’ve done this quick conversion, you can direct the wastewater from your horse trough, with all its rich bacterial life, onto a garden or into a storm drain where it can be treated and returned to the water supply safely.