How to Clean Your Horse Tack

Your Horse Tack-Cleaning Questions Answered

Tack Cleaning Supplies

We heard through the grapevine that you had some questions about how to clean your horse tack. Here we will talk about how to care for different kinds of horse tack, which tack cleaning products to use, and how to properly clean tack. But before we get into the specifics: what is technically considered horse tack?

By definition, horse tack is anything that your horse wears. Saddles, halters, bits, boots, martingales, and hackamores are all examples of ‘tack’. Horse tack can be made from many different materials including leather, metal, and synthetic materials like nylon or synthetic leather. Each different material has its own pros and cons, but when properly cared for horse tack can perform better and last longer. Read on to learn more about how to care for your tack.

How do you take care of your horse tack?

Buying horse tack is an expensive part of owning a horse. Learning how to clean horse tack is an essential skill to have as an equestrian. But more specifically, learning how to properly clean a saddle or bridle is even more important since they are costly pieces of equipment. Properly cleaning and oiling tack can extend its lifetime, and potentially make it worth more if you choose to sell it down the road. Tack is often subject to frequent strain and abuse while being used so it must also be maintained to remain safe.

Tack Cleaning Products: What can I use to clean my tack?

  • Bucket of Warm Water
  • Saddle Soap
  • Rags and Sponges
  • Toothbrushes and Q-Tips
  • Silver Polish
  • Leather Conditioner (for leather tack only)
  • Mink Oil (for leather tack only)

Tack Cleaning: How should I clean my horse tack?

Genuine and Synthetic Leather: Saddles, Bridles, Martingales Etc.

Horse Bit Cleaner

  1. Take Your Tack Apart
  2. For a saddle, this means taking off the stirrup leathers, stirrup irons, and other extra accessories. If you are cleaning a bridle, take it completely apart so you can wash each piece individually. Dirt can hide under buckles and in folds where the tack is under the most stress. This is a crucial step.

  3. Rinse Your Tack With a Layer of Water
  4. Using a rag or sponge and some water, remove all the dirt, sweat, hair, and grime from your tack. Make sure to clean under any folds, crevices, and hard-to-reach areas.

  5. Apply the Saddle Soap
  6. Then use a damp sponge or rag to apply a thin layer of saddle soap using circular motions. Scrub stubborn areas of the tack with some extra soap and toothbrushes or brushes. Use toothpicks to clean under the stitching of your saddle and use the Q-Tips to get into the tight crevices of your tack. During this step pay extra attention to high-stress areas of the tack. For example, anywhere there are folds, like the creases in the stirrup leathers or buckle wear marks.

  7. Rinse Your Tack
  8. Rinse all the soap off the tack using a sponge or rag. Try not to soak your tack with water, use the smallest amount of water possible to effectively remove all the saddle soap.

  9. Allow Tack to Dry
  10. Let your tack fully dry, this should not take longer than an hour. Make sure you store your tack in a dry and safe environment.

Synthetics Fabrics: Cleaning Saddle Pads, Girths, Halters, etc.

Tack made from synthetic fabric material like cotton or nylon is the easiest to clean as you can usually make use of a washing machine to ease the process. Here is how to clean horse tack made from synthetic fabric:

  1. Brush Off Excess Dirt
  2. If there is caked mud or excess hair take a brush or shedding blade and remove as much of the debris as possible.

  3. Place in the Washing Machine
  4. For this step make sure the piece of tack you are washing does not have any leather. Washing leather in the washing machine could damage the item. If there is no leather, place the tack in the washing machine and wash it on cold. If you are washing something like a halter that has metal buckles place them in a “sack” or a cloth bag to prevent the tack from damaging the washing machine during the cycle. It is best to use a gentle unscented detergent for this step, alternatively, if the tack is not extremely dirty you could not use soap at all.

  5. Let it Dry
  6. While you can use the dryer for this step if you prefer, the safest way to dry your tack is by hanging it out to dry in an area that is protected from the weather and has good ventilation. If you use a dryer, make sure it is set on its lowest heat setting. Continue to place tack with metal pieces inside a sack to avoid damaging your dryer.

Metals: Bits, Stirrup Irons, Buckles, and D-rings

Cleaning metal horse tack like bits, stirrups, buckles, and D-rings is also very important. For bits, gunk from your horse’s saliva can build up on the bit and cause discomfort. The stirrups, buckles, and d-rings can also collect dirt and grime and potentially rust. Here is how to polish your metal tack:

Bits: How do you take care of a horse bit?

  1. Scrub with Water
  2. Using a rag, brush, or toothbrush scrub the bit with hot water and remove all dirt, sweat, or build-up. If you have trouble removing build-up from a bit, try dunking it completely in hot water, letting it sit, and then rubbing the debris off with a rag.

  3. Add Some Polish
  4. Next, use a toothbrush to polish the bit with non-toxic metal polish. Make sure that the polish is one of the many tack cleaning products designed for use on bits, normal metal polish could be toxic for horses and cause discomfort. Alternatively, you can use water and vinegar to polish your bit.

  5. Let it Dry
  6. Finally, dry the bit with a towel.

Other metal pieces: Stirrup Irons, Buckles, and D-rings

  1. Scrub with Water
  2. Using a rag, or toothbrush scrub the metal with soap and water to remove all dirt, sweat, and grime. If you have trouble, use some extra soap with hot water.

  3. Add Some Polish
  4. Next, use a toothbrush to polish the bit with non-toxic metal polish. If the metal piece is connected to leather, do not use any strong polishes that could cause damage. Use tack cleaning metal polish that is designed specifically for use on horse tack.

  5. Let it Dry
  6. Finally, dry the metal pieces with a towel.

Conditioning and Oiling Leather Tack

Tack Cleaning Conditioner

Conditioning is a crucial part of taking care of any leather horse tack. Conditioning leather tack keeps the leather supple and flexible, while also preventing the tack from becoming too dry and cracking. Here are the steps to properly condition your leather horse tack:

Conditioning: How do you condition leather tack?

  1. Double-Check Your Tack is Clean
  2. Before conditioning, double-check that there is no dirt leftover from cleaning. Applying conditioner over dirt can trap it and make it harder to remove when you next clean it.

  3. Apply Leather Conditioner
  4. Once you are certain there is no leftover dirt, use a dry rag to sparingly apply a leather conditioner to your tack. Cover every leather area of the tack with a thin layer paying special attention to high-stress areas.

  5. Reapply Conditioner
  6. For especially dry tack you may apply multiple layers or use mink oil to restore the leather.

  7. Allow to Dry and Store
  8. Finally, allow your tack to dry and store it in a safe and dry environment.

Oiling: How do you oil leather tack?

Oiling is another important part of caring for leather horse tack. Oil is stronger than conditioner and tack should not be oiled as frequently as it is conditioned. To properly oil your tack, follow these steps:

  1. Check That Your Tack is Clean
  2. Thoroughly check your tack to make sure it is completely clean. Cleaning and oiling tack go hand in hand because dirt can get trapped under a layer of oil and it can become difficult to remove. The best time to oil tack is right after it has been cleaned.

  3. Apply the Oil
  4. Apply a thin layer of oil all over the tack. Avoid applying too much oil, it should not drip or pool on the leather. If you apply too much, it can come off on your clothes when you use your tack, or the leather will be more prone to stretching.

  5. Allow Tack to Dry
  6. After oiling your tack allow it to dry before using it and store it in a dry and safe place.

Daily Tack Care and Care Frequency

Now that you know how to clean your horse tack, let’s talk more about everyday care. You are ready to start conditioning, cleaning, and oiling tack but you still have questions. How often should you clean your tack? Where should it be stored? And how often should I oil leather tack?

Should you clean your tack after every ride?

You should only wipe your tack down after riding if there is visible dirt or sweat on your tack. Wiping your tack with water every day could dry out your tack, so if you must wipe it use as little water as possible. Typically, there is no need to clean your tack with soap after every ride. Your tack should be cleaned fully once a week if you ride daily.

How often should you oil tack?

Oiling tack with stronger oils, like mink oil, should be done 2 - 3 times per year. It is best to only apply a thin layer of oil on the tack. Make sure to only use leather oil designed for horse tack as some oils can cause the leather to stretch during use. Please note that oiling and conditioning your leather tack is not the same thing. Also, since cleaning and oiling tack go together, always make sure to thoroughly clean your tack before oiling it.

How often should you condition tack?

If you ride daily, you should condition your tack after you clean it around every 2 - 4 weeks. Make sure you condition right after cleaning your tack to make sure no debris gets stuck under the layer of conditioner.

Storage: How do you store tack long term?

After your horse tack is squeaky clean and properly conditioned, you’ll also want to store it in a place with proper conditions. It is best to store tack in a dry environment. If the area your tack is being stored in has too much moisture and it is left for long enough, mold and mildew could potentially grow on it. How you store your tack is most important for tack that will not be used for long periods of time, daily use allows you to check and briefly clean your tack every day.

What is the best way to store a saddle?

Store your saddle in a dry environment and cover it either with a saddle pad or a saddle cover to protect it from dirt, dust, and other debris like bird droppings or cobwebs. Place your covered saddle on a saddle rack, or gently into a dry storage container or tack trunk. Do not put your saddle on the ground as it could get scratched.

How do you store a bridle?

Store your bridle in a dry area either hanging up on a wall or in a dry tack trunk. If the bridle will not be used in the near future, it is best to store it in a bridle bag to protect it from outside dust and other debris.

Restoring Neglected Tack

If a piece of horse tack has been neglected for a long period of time it is likely not safe to use. However, neglected tack can often be restored with the proper care.

  1. Cleaning the Neglected Tack
  2. Neglected tack often has excessive dirt or build-up from sweat, dirt, or dust. Start by brushing as much of the build-up off with a hard brush. Then, go through the normal tack cleaning process. You may need to scrub harder and use more soap on neglected tack than you normally would.

    Sometimes neglected tack can even have mold or other kinds of fungi growing on it from being stored in an area with too much moisture. Luckily mold can be removed easily. Use a wet rag to wipe off the visible mold from the surface of the saddle. The rag should then either be bleached or thrown away as it can contain spores. Clean the tack thoroughly using the gentlest antibacterial dish soap you can find.

  3. Oiling and Conditioning the Neglected Tack
  4. Neglected leather tack is also prone to being extremely dry and cracks in the leather could potentially begin to form. To restore dry tack, use mink oil or leather conditioner and apply over thoroughly clean tack. You may have to let the tack dry and do a few more layers depending on how dry the leather is.

  5. Determining Safety of Neglected Tack
  6. Even though you can save most neglected tack, you should also know when the safety of your tack has been compromised. Often, you can save the majority of your tack, but certain pieces might need to be replaced. If a piece of tack has a large crack in a high-stress area or the leather can no longer be bent without breaking that piece should be replaced.

Common Mistakes When Cleaning Horse Tack

Using Too Much Water

Especially when learning how to clean a saddle, beginners often use too much water. If you apply too much water to your horse tack it could dry it out. If your leather tack is soaked and allowed to dry, the water will evaporate along with the oil that is meant to keep the tack supple and flexible. This is not as big of a problem for when you clean and conditions your leather tack since you reapply conditioner in this case. It is most important when you are doing your daily tack wipe down. Avoid getting your horse tack wet when you can help it.

Over Oiling and Over Conditioning

Over oiling or over conditioning can cause the leather to rot or stretch. Leather horse tack should only be conditioned every 2 - 4 weeks, and it should only be oiled 2 - 3 times per year.

Missing Hard-to-Reach Spots

Another beginner mistake when learning how to clean a saddle, bridle, or other intricate pieces of tack is missing hard-to-reach areas. There are many small crevices and cracks that need to be cleaned when you care for your tack. These spots are often missed but they can be very important, especially if they are high-stress areas.

Storing Tack in a Moist Location

If you store your tack in an area with lots of moisture it could potentially be at risk for growing mold or other fungi. To prevent this, store tack in a dry area. If you must store your tack in a moist area store it in a bag inside of a dry container.

Neglecting Tack

Many people do not clean their tack often enough. Being a bit late to clean your tack every once in a while is nothing to worry about, but if you never clean your tack it could risk the safety of you and your horse. Dirty tack breaks easier and can also be uncomfortable for your horse.

Our Top 5 Favorite Horse Tack Cleaning Products

When learning how to clean your horse tack it is important to use the best products. Here are some of the products that have served me well in my many years of cleaning horse tack.

  1. Hydra Fine Pore Sponge Set
  2. This is a set of 3 sponges which is perfect for cleaning since there is a separate sponge for rinsing, cleaning, and conditioning/oiling your tack. They are also relatively cheap compared to larger sponges.

  3. Dura-Tech® Gold Flatback Bucket
  4. These buckets are only 8 quarts and perfect for cleaning tack. They are easier to carry than the larger buckets and you can store all your cleaning products in this bucket when they are not being used. It is also a good idea to separate your normal water buckets from your tack cleaning buckets to make sure your horse will not drink water contaminated by tack cleaning products.

  5. Passier® Saddle Soap
  6. This is a great low-solvent saddle soap for tack cleaning. It is gentle and will not damage synthetic or genuine leather.

  7. Ultra® Leather Conditioner
  8. This leather conditioner is a non-greasy formula that will not rub off on clothing. It will last you a long time and keep your tack supple and strong. This is also a good product to use when restoring neglected tack.

  9. Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner
  10. This product is great for use on neglected tack as it is specifically designed for tack that is in bad condition. It restores and conditions while also inhibiting mold and mildew.