At the end of a long winter, horse blankets can be so dirty they look unsalvagable. In fact, you may be tempted to toss your blankets our rather than trying cleaning them, but in this Ultimate Guide to Care and Cleaning of Horse Blankets, I’ll show you how to clean and restore soiled and weathered horse blankets so they’re ready to look great and perform well for another season.
To avoid having to buy expensive new horse blankets each year, take care of the blankets you have. In this post, I’ve curated tips for caring for and cleaning winter horse blankets. How did I learn? Well, in addition to being a horse owner myself, for 10 years I owned and operated a tack store in Missouri. There, not only did I sell tack and blankets, but also offered basic repair services and sold replacement parts for many blankets. Through a combination of caring for my own horse’s blankets and repairing or replacing many horse blankets for customers, I had the opportunity to learn from both experience and word-of-mouth how to care for horse blankets and keep them looking great.
This article is separated into two parts: 1. General winter care that should be given regularly, and 2. Springtime horse blanket care: how to clean your blankets and get them ready to store for the summer.
Routine care for maintaining horse blankets:
Groom before blanketing
Never put a blanket on a horse without grooming the horse first. Doing so can trap dirt and debris between the blanket in the skin, which can cause irritation. Blanketing a dirty horse also gets the interior of your blanket soiled, which can contribute to a decreased ability for the material to provide warmth to your horse. One of the best ways to keep your horse’s blanket clean is to start by always putting it on a clean horse.
Remove and Inspect Underneath Regularly
Throughout the winter, you should provide basic care for blankets. Blankets need to be removed regularly and inspected to make sure that the skin underneath is not irritated and the blanket is well fitted. During this inspection- before you remove the blanket from the horse, use a flick brush (sometimes called a dandy brush – the type of horse brush that has long brushes extending from a stiff wooden handle) to brush the blanket just like you would your horse’s fur: flick the brush upwards so that dust is lifted up and away from the surface of the blanket.
Blankets that don’t fit can cause a number of issues ranging from painful open sores to shifting of a too-big blanket causing it to be stepped on, dragged, or torn.
Clues to blanket fit can be found by inspecting your horse’s body while you groom. Look for any marks from the blanket, especially around the shoulders, girth, elbows, and between the hind legs where blanket straps rest. It’s important to do this inspection, as untreated blanket rubs can lead to bald spots and, if neglected, even scarring where hair won’t grow back the following spring.
If you find any hairless spots underneath the blanket, adjust your blankets straps, or replace the blanket with a different blanket immediately. In my experience as a tack store owner, rubs of the shoulders were most common, especially for some horses. If your horse tends to rub at the shoulders from a blanket – as wide shouldered horses often do, look into a cape – style blanket as these blankets significantly reduce friction at the shoulders.
Remove Excess Debris from the Blanket
While a deep clean of a blanket mid-winter is rarely warranted, a good surface cleaning can help the blanket stay comfortable and effective. After you’ve inspected your horse’s body, tossed the blanket inside out over a fence. Use a curry comb to remove any excess hair and if you have a horse vacuum or even a shop vac, a quick vacuum of the blanket can help maintain it.
Beat Blanket with a Broom to Restore Loft to Insulation
As the blanket is hung on a fence, beat the blanket with a broom a dozen or so times on each side. This old-fashioned method for cleaning rugs dislodges dirt but worked especially well to “fluff” compressed insulation fiberfill. By decompressing insulation and adding more lof, there’s more space between fibers to trap warm air and insulated against the cold of winter.
Finally, to round out regular blanket maintenance, before re-blanketing your horse, inspect your blanket for any rips, tears, or broken hardware before putting it back on your horse.
Spring Cleaning for Horse Blankets
In our rush to enjoy spring weather with our horses, it can be tempting to remove horse blankets in the spring and toss them into storage to deal with late, but a bit of time caring for your blankets in spring means having fresh, repaired, ready-to-warm blankets to pull out on that first cold night next fall.
Below are the steps you should take each spring to ensure blanket longevity:
Removed Caked on Dirt Before Removing Blanket from Horse
If your spring has been a wet one, when you pull blankets off for the spring to switch to lightweight overnight sheets or no blanket at all, there’s a good chance your blanket will be covered with caked-on dirt. Since a blanket in this condition can’t go in a washing machine (and wouldn’t come clean if it did!) You’ll need to clean this caked-on mud off your blanket first. I do this with a rubber curry comb (avoid the metal type as this can damage the nylon fabric of the exterior). Once that dirt is broken up a bit, you can use a stiff brush to remove as much as possible. You may have to repeat currying and then brushing a few times, depending on how dirty your blanket is.
Inspect for Tears
As you are brushing your horse’s blanket, look for tears. Once the first layer of dirt has been removed, check the nylon for signs of wear and abuse. Often tears start out tiny and can be repaired very easily, before being ripped wide-open and ruining the blanket. If you’re not sure how to repair a blanket, you can easily learn this skill from tutorials and YouTube videos, or you can find a local small business that does horse blanket repairs in many areas where horse ownership is common.
Remove leg straps and check elastic
The leg straps on your blanket should unclip and detach completely. Remove them and clean them separately. Inspect the elastic to see if it is too stretched out to be reused another year. The elastic used in horse blanket leg straps wear out quickly, luckily these are easy to replace.
Check buckles and hardware
The buckles and hardware used on horse blankets vary in quality significantly from one brand to another. Check and make sure that any quick-release buckles click together securely without resistance and stay buckled after buckling. Note any faulty hardware and check with your local tack store to see if they provide blanket repairs or recommend someone who does. Repairing is a sustainable way to protect the environment and save money.
It’s important that all of the hardware be fully functional in your horse blanket. Horse blankets that partially comes off can be dangerous to a horse, since the blanket can be caught on something or prevent them from moving freely – potentially even causing a horse to become cast and colic.
Remove, turn it inside out, and place over a fence for inspection
Once you’ve inspected the outside of the blanket, it’s fabric, and hardware, it’s time to repeat the process on the inside of the blanket. Sometimes tears can be hidden under the blanket – horses are talented in their ability to break sheets and blankets!
De-hair the inside of your horse blanket
Unless your horse’s winter coat was clipped, you’ll probably find that when you remove horse blankets for the spring, some of your horse’s winter coat has already shed off into the interior of the horse blanket. A satin-finish interior lining can reduce this. Whether there’s a ton of horse hair or just a little bit, you’ll need to remove the bulk of it before you can continue with cleaning the horse blanket.
To remove horse hair from the interior of a horse blanket, use a rubber curry comb designed to collect horsehair. The same brushes that gather shedding hair from your horse’s body should work well on your horse’s blanket interior as well. A combination of currying and vacuuming is the best way to remove enough horsehair for a machine wash cycle to be effective.
Get your blanket ready to wash
Unless you have an ultra high capacity washer, you will probably need to take your horse’s blanket to a commercial laundry mat. The steps above should have the blanket clean enough that you won’t be turned away at the door, but for best results, you need to provide a little extra care. The hardware on horse blankets banging around in a washer can cause issues, but more importantly, the tumbling of straps and their potential to attach to one another can potentially damage the blanket in the wash. To prevent the straps from tangling, remove any straps that can be removed and place them inside of an old pillowcase or very durable lingerie bag.
To protects the hardware that cannot be removed from the blanket, clip any quick-release buckles together, and cover surcingle buckles and any other metal parts with athletic socks, then tie those socks in place with string.
Here’s my best blanket washing hack: scrub the outside of the blanket before you head to the laundry mat.
Just like pretreating a stain on a T-shirt the night before washing is more effective for removing stains, giving your blanket a little extra time for the detergent to work can result in a cleaner blanket at the end of the wash cycle.
I do this by grabbing a scrub brush (a horse brush with plastic bristles and back can work) and some laundry detergent and giving the blanket a quick-once scrub with soapy water before loading it into a trash bag and taking it to the laundromat. You don’t have to use a lot of water, and it shouldn’t even be drippy when you’re done. Just use the bushels of the brush to massage the detergent into the fabric of the exterior layer of the blanket. This manually dislodges some dirt and allows the detergent to start to work before you ever get close to a washing machine.
Wash in a washing machine
most laundry mats accept horse blankets, but some don’t. Pay attention to signs and honor them. You may also have luck visiting a 24-hour laundry mat and taking advantage of off-hours washing for less disapproving eyes. Be mindful of others and don’t leave a mess behind. If the washer has dirt and fur when you’re done, clean it out or pay for an additional cycle.
Be sure and use a washer that is big enough for your horse blanket, it may cost a little extra but using the right size washer means that your blanket will actually be agitated and tossed in the washer- which is much more efficient at cleaning than if it’s shoved in a too-small washer where it can’t be agitated.
Let dry completely
Some people use commercial dryers on a low setting to dry their blankets. Arguably, this can improve the loft of the fill which results in more effective insulative capacity. Personally, I always let my horse blankets dry on a fence back home. It may take a day or two to be dry, and I typically give them an extra day just to be 100% certain that there is no excess moisture left in the material.
Most people stop here, and pack away their horse blankets for the following years use. Below are a few extra tips that, if followed, will result in blankets feeling like new and working just like they were intended when you pull them out in the fall
Check Nylon for Fraying and Singe
Nylon webbing, with time and use, tends to fray. Tiny filaments of nylon form on the surface. This is mostly a cosmetic issue and doesn’t contribute to a mature wearing out of the strap, but it can be unsightly. To fix this, you can singe these tiny fibers back, creating a strap that looks new. This can be carefully done with any heat source that can be aimed. Best results come from using a heat gun or small kitchen torch but it can be done with a lighter. Do this outdoors, away from anything flammable, and be aware that melting plastic will create fumes and nylon webbing can catch fire. Done correctly, the heat source should never come directly in contact with the nylon, only brushing near the filaments which will singe and draw away from the heat source.
Manually clean Velcro
Tack store super stores sell velcro cleaning brushes, but here’s a hack from a former tack store owner and horse blanket repairer: just use a safety pin! To clean Velcro or hook and loop you just need to insert a wire or needle between ridges of the stiff “hook” side.
A combination of using a needle to lift hair and fibers and using tweezers, pinching fingers, or even tape to remove those fibers completely, results in cleaner velcro. Cleaner velcro doesn’t just look better, it provides much better adhesion by letting the loop side connect and settle into the hook side of hook and loop.
If your horse blanket has fleece at the withers or neckline, by the end of winter it probably looks clumped and ugly. Most people think once fleece is clumped it can’t be fixed, but it can be fluffed using the same method we describe for restoring and cleaning fleece saddles pads! Use a slicker brush designed for dogs or a carding brush designed for combing wool fibers. Hold the fleece in place and brush the slicker brush across the surface briskly. This de-clumps the fibers of the fleece and returns it to plush fluffy padding.
All your expense in buying blankets, and effort in cleaning blankets, will be for nothing if you store your blanket in a way that exposes it to damage by weather or rodents. I store my blankets in Rubbermaid totes or zipper style bags made for bedding. Adding a little bit of cedar and, if you’ve recently purchased a new product that was packaged with silica, a silica packet can help ensure that the blanket will be clean, dry, and ready to use in the fall.