Q: Is it possible for me to disinfect my horse's blankets? I'd like to do whatever I can to help keep my horse as healthy and happy as possible in the winter months, especially since he is prone to skin infections.
A: Horse clothing is not disinfected when cleaned. To truly disinfect something generally requires very warm or hot water, which is not recommended for turnouts due to the nature of the membranes that make up their fabrics. Secondly, disinfectants will damage the integrity of a turnout’s membrane. Because of this, washes designed specifically for cleaning horse blankets are stripped of chemicals harmful to the membrane and are void of the bleach, softeners, brighteners and other chemicals used in general laundry or cleaning products. Blanket wash is formulated to clean without brightening or softening the fabric.
Although not recommended for use on turnout blankets, several disinfecting agents are considered effective and safe for some fabrics. In general, the most commonly used commercial laundry disinfectants fall into one of four categories:
• Pine-oil disinfectants are effective in hot and warm water. Brands include Pine-Sol, Real Pine, Spic and Span Pine and Lysol Pine Action. To be effective, the product must contain 80 percent pine oil.
• Phenolic disinfectants also are effective in hot and warm water. Lysol disinfectant is one phenolic disinfectant that is available in most areas.
• Chlorine bleach always should be diluted with water before adding it to the washer and never poured directly on clothing. It is not suitable for use on wool, spandex or certain dyed and finished fabrics.
• Quaternary disinfectants are extremely effective in all water temperatures but are harder to find than the other types. Amway manufactures Pursue, which is specifically formulated for laundry. Many household cleaners contain effective disinfecting ingredients but are not recommended for laundry purposes and especially not with turnout blankets or sheets.
If your horse is being treated for a skin infection, it would be ideal to keep the clothing very clean, which should inhibit any spread of bacteria. However, it is impossible to sanitize or create a sterile environment between the horse’s body and the blanket. Once when I was administering an IV injection to a horse, the supervising veterinarian told me that the moment I draw air into the syringe, the syringe is no longer sterile because bacteria is everywhere in a barn. The moment anything touches a horse, it’s no longer what I would consider sanitary.
I personally believe that the inner health of your horse and good grooming are the best things you can do to keep him healthy. You can use disinfecting products on your grooming gear, and it is certainly a good habit to periodically sterilize them.
Yvonne Mulgrew operates Equine T.L.C., a full-service horse-blanket business in Dickerson, Maryland.