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How to clean your horse’s rugs at home


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  • Keeping horse rugs clean in winter can be difficult, especially if you’re relying on an ordinary washing machine. Many owners opt for professional rug laundry services, which is recommended on an annual basis. However, the rugs need to be sent off for a few days, so this is usually an end-of-season mission. If the cost outweighs the convenience and you want your rug clean immediately, here are some alternative approaches for how to clean horse rugs at home.

    How to clean horse rugs in the washing machine

    Most rugs can be machine washed at home, but this depends on the capacity of your machine, so you’ll need to check the specification against the weight of rug.  Providing the machine is large enough, you’ll need to take a few steps before bunging a hairy, muddy, manure-stained rug into the same machine you wash your own favourite items of clothing, if you don’t have the luxury of a second machine for the horsey kit.

    Remove as much hair, dirt and mud as you can. Blast it with the hose, or a dandy brush and a bit of elbow grease works wonders, while a vacuum cleaner is good for removing the hair. Then put your rug in a mesh wash bag, such as the Horsewear washbag, to prevent the hooks and buckles from damaging your machine. It also prevents too much or the remaining horsehair from lingering in the machine drum. Some owners get crafty with old tights to wrap over the buckles, but these easily slip off during the wash cycle.

    To protect your rug, remove any detergent build-up from your dispenser, and select a gentle delicate cycle. Do not use regular detergent or fabric conditioner as these may compromise the laminate waterproofing of the rug. Instead choose one for washing delicates, or a recommended rug cleaning product, such as Nikwax Tech Wash-in Cleaner or Nikwax Rug Wash, which are designed to revitalise waterproofing.

    Hang the rug up to dry, rather than tumble-drying.

    How to clean stable rugs

    Winter stable rugs tend to absorb moisture because they are not waterproof, hence they can get smelly, but they are often big and bulky and you may hesitate to put them in an ordinary machine. Some owners opt for lightweight turnout rugs, designed to repel moisture, on their horses in the stable. Use a separate turnout for getting muddy in the paddock.

    Stable stains on the “indoor” rug can then be scrubbed off without the lining getting wet. You can vary the warmth with thermal rugs or cotton sheets underneath, which are lightweight and easy to wash in an ordinary machine. This way the horses’ coats stay clean and the top rugs only need washing once at the end of winter.

    Often, the whole rug might not need a wash, but one mucky area could do with a good blitz. Most horse owners steer clear of pale rugs for obvious reasons, but for the stable stains that won’t budge, it’s worth trying a stain remover designed for grass stains and so on, such as Vanish Gold. The products used to clean grey horses and white socks, such as Carr & Day & Martin’s Stain Master, do a good job on fabric too.

    If your washing machine is too small, or the rest of the family don’t appreciate sharing it with your horse, it might be time to invest in a small power washer. You can find them for well under £100, either in your local DIY store or online. The force of the water blasts off all the mud and dirt, and if you have a few horses on the yard, it will pay for itself quickly. It will come in handy for cleaning stables, too.

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