As the chill of winter gives way to gentler temperatures, you may start thinking about packing up your horse's winter gear - and part of that annual ritual should include cleaning blankets. This, however, may not be as simple as it sounds.
Home Laundering Hurdles
Certainly, there are some blankets you can clean yourself. Ambitious equestrians blessed with spare time and strong arms may even be able to clean all their blankets. Some horse owners have been known to stuff blankets into their washing machines in spite of the appliance's groans of protest. This is not a good idea.
Carolyn Nadau of Anchorage Equestrian Laundry Service in Harrisville, R.I., says that over time, cleaning horse blankets will take its toll on your washing machine. "Home washers are not built to handle the volume of hair, mud and manure that come off a horse blanket," she notes. Moreover, using a domestic washing machine can wreak havoc on your home drainage system, which probably will back up eventually.
This is not to say that you can't launder some blankets at home. Lighter weight blankets that don't get too dirty, such as coolers and show sheets, can be washed in your machine. Some stable sheets also can be machine washed, depending on their bulk. If you're going to put a blanket into your washer make sure it has enough room to agitate, otherwise you won't get all the dirt off. That pretty much eliminates heavier, bulkier blankets that barely fit into the typical domestic machine.
If you want to try cleaning the bulkier blankets at home, Kathy Lasky of Bit of Tack in Newtown, Conn., suggests first draping them over a fence and using a shedding blade to remove as much fur as possible. Then go over the blanket with a stiff brush to remove loose dirt. Next, hose the blanket with water and scrub it with a good detergent. Lasky recommends using a detergent made for delicates, especially if the blanket is waterproof. Follow with a thorough rinsing and let the blanket dry completely before storing.
The two biggest problems people encounter when they clean their blankets at home are storing them before they are completely dry and not rinsing them thoroughly, Nadau says. "A blanket that is even slightly damp will rot if it is folded and stored for the summer, so it's important to be sure it is absolutely dry before putting it away."
The best way to store your blankets is in a tack trunk where mice can't make a home in them. However, a plastic bag may also be used if you tie it tightly. Some horse owners save the zippered plastic bags many sheets and comforters come in and use them to store clean horse blankets.
When washing blankets in your home machine, Nadau suggests running them through a complete extra wash cycle without soap to be sure the blanket is thoroughly rinsed. She stresses that even a small amount of soap residue can irritate some horses. Therefore, it's important to use a detergent with the least amount of chemicals and never use fabric softener. Horses sweat underneath their blankets, and this can cause problems if there is soap residue in the blanket.
Additionally, always wash blankets in cold water. This prevents the fabric from breaking down and reduces shrinkage. Nadau notes that if you maintain your blanket over the course of the winter it will be easier to clean in the spring. She suggests brushing the blanket regularly to remove dirt. Always brush when the blanket is dry. Brushing when dirt is wet will imbed it into the material.
Using the Pros
In most instances, the best choice - especially if you have expensive, heavy turnout blankets - is to send them to a professional cleaner. The cost of cleaning usually will pay for itself in the long run by extending the life of your blanket. Most professionals not only clean; they disinfect and deodorize the blanket, too. Many tack shops will send blankets out for professional cleaning. The cost ranges from $20 for a regular blanket to roughly $25 for a turnout covering. They usually come back looking like new, packed and ready to store.