While washing English saddle pads is usually straightforward, cleaning western saddle pads is trickier. These thick, dense pads can be up to 1½ inches thick, often featuring difficult to clean materials like wool, leather, foam layers. In this article, we’ll discuss tips, tricks, and best practices for cleaning both English and western saddle pads – helping you to keep your horse’s saddle pads looking newer, longer.
Why Clean Saddle Pads Matter
Some styles of horse saddle pads can be really difficult to clean and wash, so it’s often easy to justify skipping the cleaning process and re-using dirty pads. After all, you might think, they aren’t meant to be clean after every ride. But here’s the thing: over time, dirt, sweat, and matted fur build up on the bottom of a saddle pad, creating harbors for bacteria. As the debris deposits build up, they can chafe your horse under the saddle, causing saddle sores that may be worsened by the bacteria on a dirty saddle pad. By regularly cleaning your western and English saddle pads you can prevent saddle sores and avoid being sidelined waiting for them to heal.
How to clean a thick western saddle pad
1. Curry off hair and debris
Use a curry comb – preferably with nubby “fingers” that grip and remove hair to get rid of matted hair and dirt buildup on the underside of your saddle pad. Follow the curry comb with a stiff brush to lift even more dirt off the surface of the Western pad. This alone can be an effective way to clean western saddle pads without washing and extend the time between washes.
2. Use impact to remove dirt and debris from the pad.
Before attempting to wash your western saddle pad, you’ll need to remove as much dirt as possible. If you don’t spend time removing surface dirt first, your wash water is likely to turn into a muddy sludge that will only embed dirt deeper into the fibers of your western saddle pad. For another cleaning step before washing, smack your saddle pad against a fence or post repeatedly.
On impact, you should see dust rising from the saddle pad (and you may even need to wear a mask to keep from inhaling it!). Once you stop seeing debris shake off the pad with each impact, it’s time to wash your saddle pad.
Washing saddle pads: two options
Depending on the type of Western saddle pad you have, you may or may not be able to wash your Western pad in a regular washing machine. Thick wool felt, memory foam, or gel-core western saddle pads cannot be machine washed, but woven Mexican-style blanket Western saddle pads can often be washed in a washing machine.
Washing Mexican-style Western saddle pads in a washing machine
With surface dirt dislodged, it’s time to place your blanket style Western pad in a washing machine. If your blanket is made from synthetic fibers, you can wash the pad with warm water. If your pad is made from natural fibers like wool you should only use cold water to wash your pad. If you aren’t sure whether your pad is natural or synthetic fiber, use cold water just in case (wool is a more common material, and if you paid more than $40 for your blanket style Western saddle pad, it’s probably made from wool)
Washing thick felt, stitched, or layered Western saddle pads
If your saddle pad doesn’t bend easily, you shouldn’t wash it in a washing machine. But don’t worry, you can still get it really clean with one tip: take it to the car wash!
Most self-serve carwashes have clamps on the wall designed to hold floor mats, but these clamps work perfectly for holding large Western saddle pads up on the wall so you can wash the pad using the high-pressure spray of the car wash’s wand. When washing Western saddle pads at a car wash, avoid using any of the provided detergents – these are way too harsh for fabrics and may leave a residue that could irritate your horse’s skin. Instead, wash with plain water or use an unscented laundry detergent diluted in water and scrubbed in by hand using a stiff-bristled brush.
Be careful not to let a high pressure jet get too close to wool-felt pads. Felt is formed by pressure and agitation- and the pressure and agitation of a high-pressure water jet can deform a pad. If you are washing a wool felt saddle pad, keep a safe distance while spraying and watch for any signs of changes to the felt’s surface.
Spray the saddle pad with a strong jet of water working from top to bottom so mud and debris flow down and wash away. With this method, you can remove years of builtup gunk on the bottom of your Western saddle pad. It can be very satisfying to watch the dirt wash away!
PRO TIP: If you don’t have a pickup truck with a water-safe bed, be sure to bring a large bucket or thick plastic bag with you to the car wash so you can transfer the wet and heavy saddle pad home to dry.
Dry the Western Saddle Pad
Whether you use a washing machine or a high-pressure jet to wash your Western saddle pad, you’ll need to let the pad air dry in a sunny, breezy location. Never machine dry wool or synthetic Western blankets, as the heat can damage both types of fibers. You’ll need to be sure that the western saddle pad is completely, 100% dry before using it on your horse again. Speed the drying process by aiming a fan at the pad and make sure the pad has ventilation from both the top and the bottom so it dries evenly.
Condition leather guards.
While blanket style Western saddle pads typically don’t have leather reinforced pieces, most felt or shaped Western saddle pads will have a patch of leather stitched on at the front center of the pad – where the horses withers are – and the bottom, sides where the girth and stirrup leathers can rub against the pad.
To finish cleaning your Western saddle pad, you’ll need to give a little bit of TLC to these portions of the pad. After washing the saddle pad with water, allow the leather patches to dry fully. Once dry you’ll need to apply conditioner to restore some of the natural oil to the leather that was lost in the process of washing. A simple leather conditioner like Mink oil makes reconditioning these leather patches easy. If you don’t have a specific leather conditioner on hand, olive oil is sufficient for small patches of leather such as those on a western saddle pad.
make this section #english
How to wash an English saddle pad
You may think that you know how to wash an English saddle pad. English saddle pads, after all, are designed to fit in a washing machine and be easy to clean regularly.
In this article, however, I’ll show you how to really clean your English saddle pads so they are sparkling clean and restored to almost new condition.
How to wash an English horse saddle pad
1. Brush off dirt and debris.
Flip your saddle pad upside down on a flat surface and use a clean horse brush to dislodge loose hair, dirt, and debris. Taking a few minutes for this extra step- which removes dirt before washing- can help get your pad cleaner, since your first wash of water won’t be a sludge of a muddy mess.
2. Make a paste of Tide liquid laundry detergent and Borax
While many brands try to convince us that their laundry detergent is the most effective, Consumer Reports still ranks TIDE as the most effective laundry detergent at removing dirt and stains from textiles. I recommend using Tide Free & Gentle unscented laundry detergent for washing all of your horse-related laundry – if your horse has sensitive skin it may react to scented detergent’s residue left in the saddle pad after washing. BORAX: Borax Washing Soda is an inexpensive and easy-to-find cleaner that can boost the effectiveness of any detergent.
Combine the Borax and Tide in a wide shallow bowl, diluted with a little water.
3. Pretreat the underside of your saddle pad
To get your saddle pads sparkling white, apply this pretreatment mixture about an hour before washing your saddle pad. Use a clean synthetic bristle horse brush or a scrub brush to apply the concentrated detergent mixture to the underside of your saddle pad as well as any spot on the top side of the saddle pad that is discolored from dirt or saddle leathers. Use the scrub brush to agitate the surface, scrubbing the soapy mixture into the fabric.
4. Wash in a washing machine with special settings.
If you are washing a white English saddle pad, set your washing machine to fill and wash with hot water. Manually override your washing machine’s settings to make the washing machine fill the drum with the highest level of water possible (many modern washing machines are ultra-efficient and wash with only a small amount of water. For very dirty items like English horse saddle pads, however, this washer setting is less effective at cleaning. Finally, set the washing machine to run an extra rinse cycle ensuring that all detergent will be removed from the English saddle pad.
5. Inspect and rewash as needed
When your wash cycle has finished, examine your saddle pad. Has all the discoloration been removed, is it dingy or yellowed?
If your saddle pad is less than sparkling after the first wash, run it again. This time you can use a cap-full of bleach to brighten or a few drops of Mrs. Stewart’s laundry bluing to correct yellowed tones and restore white pads to brilliantly bright white.
After the second wash cycle, you’ll be ready to dry your English saddle pad. Dry your English saddle pad in a breezy location until completely dry. Never use a wet saddle pad on a horse, since this can cause saddle sores that could sideline your riding for weeks.
Storing Saddle Pads
Barns are dirty places. It’s hard to keep things clean in an environment so filled with dust, mud, and debris. The best way to keep your saddle pads fresh between uses is to use a storage bag or bin. If you expect to not need to use your saddle pad regularly (for example like a show pad only used for horse shows, you can seal them in enormous zip-top bags or even space-saving vacuum-seal bags (I like these space saver bags, because they come with a hand-pump and make it easy to use them without a vacuum).
When storing English horse saddle pads in airtight storage, it’s best to include a few silica packets in the bag or bin – these moisture-absorbing, non-toxic packets help reduce humidity in the container and prevent mold or mildew from growing on your tack and equipment. Using airtight storage like thick plastic bags, storage bins, or even zip-style mattress bags, not only protects your horse saddle pads from dirt and debris, but also keeps them clean, safe, and away from a barn past like mice, rats, and cats.
Keeping Saddle pads clean Between Washes
To keep your saddle pads sparkling between washes, be mindful of where you put your saddle pads. Always make sure your horse is groomed before tacking up and avoid setting your saddle pads on fence posts, tack trunks, or other areas that could be dust-covered. Keep your saddle pad stored in a clean tack room or bins. (Never store a wet sweaty horse saddle pad in a sealed container though, wet horse saddle pads need to be fully dried before their next use.)
To help your newly cleaned saddle pad resist stains and dirt, you can apply a fabric protectant spray designed for outdoor products like Scotchgard. This is surface treatment helps create a barrier that prevents dirt and debris from discoloring or embedding in the fabric of your saddle pad.
How often should you clean your horse’s saddle pads?
The frequency with which you should wash your horse saddle pads can vary from season to season. In the spring and summer, when your horse is likely to sweat and shed hair liberally onto the underside of the saddle pad, your saddle pad should be washed every few rides. However, in the fall or winter or whenever you’re riding a mostly clean horse that isn’t in the process of shedding its coat or heavily sweating during the ride, you may not need to wash your saddle pads very often. Grooming your horse well before riding is a great way to extend the amount of time between saddle pad cleaning.
Using a thin baby pad underneath your English saddle pad can be one way to extend the time between washings, especially in the summer. The thin additional pad provides sweat absorption and protects the underside of your saddle pad from dirt and debris.
In this guide to cleaning horse saddle pads, we’ve discussed the various steps to cleaning a dirty western or English saddle pad and restoring it to a clean and great-looking saddle pad ready for many more rides. This saddle pad cleaning tutorial is designed for fabric, cotton, flannel, fleece, felt, and synthetic English and Western saddle pads. For cleaning saddle pads made of memory foam, shearling fleece, wool, or sheepskin, you should refer to the manufacturers cleaning instructions for your specific brand of saddle pad.
Keeping your pads clean is a critical part of horse tack maintenance and horse management. Cleaning pads can be an opportunity to inspect your equipment for damaged or worn pieces.
For cleaning shaped fleece saddle pads – the type required for many English horse shows – check out our tutorial on cleaning and restoring a matted fleece saddle pad to like-new condition.