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How to Clean Horse Tack: Best Products and Practices

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Tack is the equipment used on horses, and it includes saddles, bridles, and other pieces like hackamores and martingales. Your horse’s tack needs to be cleaned regularly to keep it in good shape for use.

The best way to clean most horse tack is by using saddle soap and water. Mix the saddle soap with warm water and scrub the leather with a soft cloth or sponge until it’s clean. Once you’re finished, rinse off your equipment in cold water and let it dry before storing.

Horse tack needs frequent cleaning because it undergoes a lot of abuse from sweat, dirt, and horse slobber. Dirty tack can harm your horse and decrease its useful lifespan.

Picture of a girl cleaning her horse tack.

In this guide, I will talk about:

  • The best way to clean horse tack
  • How often should you clean horse tack?
  • What do you clean horse tack with?
  • And more…

What is the Best Way to Clean Horse Tack?

Cleaning your horse’s tack is essential for maintaining its health and safety. Leather, metal, or plastic horse tack can be challenging to clean, but it doesn’t need too much effort with these simple steps:

What you need

  • Sponges and rags
  • Leather cleaner or glycerin soap
  • Leather conditioner
  • Brushes/old toothbrush
  • Q-tips
  • Bucket of water
  • Mink oil – warm (optional – for very dry saddles).
  • Silver polish (optional – for buckles)

Saddles and accessories

Steps

  1. Remove saddle accessories for cleaning. This involves removing all buckles. (Just make sure to mark which hole the buckles went in to ensure proper fit after cleaning).
  2. Wet a rag and remove the dried dirt, sweat, and other debris from the saddle.
  3. Next, apply a thin layer of saddle soap. Use the Q-tips and old brushes to get in tight crevices and corners. Don’t forget to clean under the flaps.
  4. For a very dirty saddle, use more saddle soap.
  5. Rinse thoroughly. 
  6. Dry fully.
  7. Apply leather conditioner sparingly on the saddle. Always follow label instructions on the product.
  8. For dry leather, apply some warm oil or leather balm on the underside of the saddle before storing/using..

Horse Headgear 

Halters

The best way to clean nylon, rope, or other halters is to soak in a bucket of water for an hour. You can add a mild detergent to it. Then scrub using a brush or scourer to remove dirt and debris.

You can wash nylon horse halters in the washing machine. Place the halter in an old pillowcase with the open end tied off and wash with a mild detergent.

Bridles

The best way to clean a leather bridle is with glycerin soap and water. Apply the glycerin soap to the bridle and rub with a rag or sponge to remove hardened dirt and grime. You can then wash it under running water. Hang to dry.

Condition the leather bridle using a leather conditioner or neatsfoot oil.

Hackamore

To clean a hackamore, soak it in warm, sudsy water. Scrub the ground-in dirt with a brush. Hang it to dry. Once dry, condition it with oil.

Reins

Leather reins are best cleaned using glycerin-based soap. Rub warm water and soap on the reins and scrub with a brush. Rinse thoroughly and hang them to dry.

Cotton reins should be washed with a mild soap like Castile soap or mild dish detergents like Dawn or Ivory dish soap. You can fill a bucket with warm water and soap and soak the reins in it. After soaking for an hour or two, scrub the dried dirt and hang to dry.

If you have rawhide reins, it is best to clean them after every ride. Simply wipe them clean. You can use special tack wipes. (I have recommended some products later in this guide).

Bits

The best way to sanitize tarnished bits is using diluted vinegar. Soak the bits in warm water and vinegar for an hour. Use a brush to remove the gummed on grime.

If the bit is rusted, soak it in a mild acidic solution to eliminate the rust. Never use harshly fragrant soaps or detergents to clean bits as they can leave a bad taste in your horse’s mouth.

Halters 

To clean an old horse halter, dip an old rag in water mixed with saddle or glycerin soap. Apply this to the harness in sections and rub thoroughly. Rinse under warm water. You can also use water and baking soda to restore an old halter.

Breastplate and martingales

Use the flat part of a butter knife and remove the congealed dirt from martingales and breastplate. Make sure to hold the knife at an angle and scrape off in the grain of the leather.

Picture of horse girths

Girth

Wipe the sweat off the girth after each ride. For deep cleaning, wipe the girth using mild saddle soap and water and then dry off with a cloth. Always condition leather girth using leather balsam.

Saddle pads

You can wash most saddle pads in the washer but do ensure their color doesn’t bleed. Use a mild/hand-wash cycle. Never use hot water for washing saddle pads. Also, hang them up to dry instead of using the dryer.

How Often Should You Clean Horse Tack?

Sweat, dirt, horse saliva, and other grime can rub and stick onto horse tack. Hardened grime is tough to clean off. That is why you must wipe down all horse tack (bits, reins, halters) after each ride, especially if you ride frequently.

You must also schedule time for some deep cleaning once in a while. This will help your leather tack remain supple. Exactly how often you deep clean will depend on how much time you spend weekly in the saddle.

Remember: mold is the enemy of leather – so always dry the tack properly before storing.

How to Deep Clean Tack?

The best way to deep clean horse tack is to soak it in warm water and a bit of soap. You get special saddle soap to clean leather tack. Alternatively, use a mild dishwashing detergent like Dawn.

For leather tack, soak a rag in a soapy solution and wipe the tack in sections. You can soak some tack in the sudsy warm water too. It depends on how grimy the tack is.

Tack, such as bits, can be cleaned with diluted vinegar. For saddle pads, you can use the washing machine but do use the gentlest cycle.

Always dry all washed tack thoroughly before storage.

What Can You Clean Horse Tack With: 4 Must-Have Tack Cleaning Products

Here are some of my favorite products to clean horse tack with:

Absolutely Clean Amazing Saddle & Tack Cleaner and Conditioner

I love Absolutely Clean saddle cleaner and conditioner because it cleans and deodorizes. You can also use it on fabric saddle pads and not just leather. Absolutely Clean features a natural enzyme formula that removes dirt and debris without leaving any ugly film or residue on the tack.

Features

  • Made with powerful natural enzyme
  • Vet-approved
  • Removes tough stains and odors
  • Made in the USA

Benefits

  • Can be used on leather, fabric/suede
  • Does not leave residue or film
  • Easy to use
  • Fast-acting formula
  • Does not cause stiffness or dryness in leather

Drawbacks

  • Not too effective on oily stains

Fiebing’s Yellow Saddle Soap

Fiebing’s saddle soap works very well on leather saddles, and you can also use it to clean leather shoes and sofas. The soap cleans and lubricates leather tack to keep it supple. The fact that Fiebing’s has been around since 1895 also means something!

Features

  • Available as white and yellow soap paste as well as liquid
  • Cleans and conditions
  • Odorless
  • Made in USA 

Benefits

  • Moisturizing
  • Easy to use
  • Water resistance

Drawbacks

It tends to leave a slight residue, but all you need is to put a bit more elbow grease and remove it. Also, it might darken some tack, but the color goes back to normal after the paste dries.

Hydra Sponge Horse Tack Sponges

These sponges are an excellent applicator for the saddle soap above, and it’s an outstanding all-purpose tool for cleaning just about all your tack. Note: these are not like your ordinary kitchen sponges. These tack sponges are excellent for cleaning leather items and hold up well for tough cleaning jobs.

The best part is their versatility: you can also use them for face painting, face washing/exfoliating, washing dishes, or applying glue or paint in hobbies and craft projects.

Features

  • Synthetic soft, absorbent sponge material
  • 2.5 inch diameter

Benefits

  • Can be cut into a crispy half. 
  • They wash well and do not absorb the soap/cleanser
  • Clean without abrading delicate leather tack
  • Value for money

Drawbacks

Some users found them too small.

Manna Pro Horse Tack Lexol Cleaning Wipes

Manna Pro brand has been around since 1985, and I am sure you have used their other equestrian products. I have personally used Lexol tack cleaning wipes during shows after my friend recommended them. They are especially handy to use after a ride to remove sweat and dirt between deeper cleanings.

Features

  • Odorless
  • pH-balanced

Benefits

  • Versatile leather cleaning wipes – can be used for cleaning upholstered furniture, shoes, handbags, purses, wallets, etc.
  • Leave no residue.
  • Quick and efficient cleaning action
  • Can be used for cleaning any color leather.

Drawbacks

A few users found them a tad bit too soapy.

Conclusion

The best way to clean horse tack is by using glycerin soap, saddle soaps, or special leather cleaners. Cleaning horse tack has numerous benefits:

  • Cleaning the items routinely lets you examine them for damage as well as replace anything that needs fixing in a timely manner.
  • Clean tack helps to prevent the spread of bacteria and skin diseases.
  • Keeping your tack clean will help it last longer and save you money.

FAQs

How do professionals clean a saddle?

Professionals mostly clean a saddle with a damp towel soaked in water. They simply wipe down dirt, hair, mold, and sweat after each ride. Many use an old toothbrush for scrubbing stuck-in dirt under flaps and corners.

Can you use dawn dishwashing soap to clean tack and saddles?

Dawn dishwashing soap is a good product to clean horse tack and leather saddles. It’s mild enough not to harm the leather but strong enough to remove dirt and oil. After washing with Dawn, be sure to use a conditioner on your leather tack.

Can you clean tack with water?

You can clean most tack with water, but you should also use saddle soap, Lexol cleaner, or dishwashing soap for leather.