How to disinfect your barn, horse supplies, and leather tack.


There’s a lot of information to digest right now about pandemic-related issues. Regardless of what the state of the world is, we need to know how to clean and disinfect the barn and our horse supplies. This information is good as of 2020, and may change over time, and I will update as necessary.


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  • This is part of the bigger picture of biosecurity, and applies to all contagious diseases of horse and humans, and even those that might affect the barn cats and dogs. It’s not just for now, during this pandemic, but for the future, too. It’s also quite satisfying about getting it all spic-and-span.


  • Much of this information comes directly from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Some of it is me just being paranoid and going one step further. I’ll tell you when.

Let’s start with cleaning vs. disinfecting.


  • Cleaning means you are removing germs from surfaces. Think of this as swiping a counter and moving the germs from the counter to your paper towel. Disinfecting is actually killing the germs. The CDC says that “disinfecting does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remover germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection. “



generic virus

This is a generic stock photo of some sort of virus. Hurl all the cuss words at it that you like.



Here are some guidelines as to how long coronavirus can remain “alive” on surfaces.


  • Copper surfaces keep coronavirus alive for 4 hours, cardboard for 24 hours, stainless steel and plastic keep things going for 3 DAYS. I can’t find anything specific about how long it lasts on leather, which of course, horse people have a lot of.


  • Here’s what else we know. Porous surfaces, such as leather, are generally less hospitable to coronavirus. Good to remember as you sit your butt down in the saddle.


  • Here’s another thing we know. Coronavirus can be killed in some cases in a few seconds, in other cases, a few minutes, in some cases it takes even longer. This is dependent on so many variables, and is yet another reason to clean and disinfect surfaces.


We also know how soap works. Yes, plain ol’ soap.


  • First a word about some viruses, like coronavirus. This dude is covered in a lipid (fat) membrane. This is a survival mechanism, and also it’s downfall (insert diabolical laugh).


  • Soap is an amazing sort of product, with almost magentic like properties. The head of the soap molecule, which is shaped like a pin, loves water. The other side, the tail, hates water and instead, likes oils and fats. When you add water to soap, the molecules float around looking for stuff to stick to. The fat-loving tails find their buddies in the form of viruses and other fatty covered things.


  • Now the fat-loving tails start to jack with the outer layer of a pathogen, rupturing it and essentially killing it. This is the case for the coronavirus. They band together into micelles, which are like a piece of fatty virus surrounded by fat-loving tails. Micelles are then easily rinsed away.


  • There are all sorts of other types of viruses and bacteria that are covered in fats, which is why soap is so effective at killing a wide variety of pathogens.



  • Soap can also break the bonds that hold bacteria and viruses to our skin, which is then washed away. And lets not forget about the 20 second rule of hand washing. Which leads me to some paranoia – I’m going to wash for 30 seconds.


cleaning supplies and kitchen gloves

Part of my arsenal.

But what about hand sanitizer?


  • Sanitizers with at least 60% ethanol act in a similar manner, but are not able to lift those butthead viruses and bacteria away from you easily. This is why sanitizers are a back up, not a first line of defense. It’s important to note that hand sanitizers should be at least 60% ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, but cleaning products and wipes should be 70% ethanol.


What does this mean for the barn?


  • Here we have a few resources to pull from. The CDC suggests cleaning and disinfecting surfaces DAILY if the household has someone that is suspected or confirmed to have a coronavirus infection.


  • This seems like a GREAT IDEA, even if no one around is suspected or confirmed to be sick.



  • Granted, this list is not super easy to use. But – their message on bleach is clear – it’s good to go. More on bleach later.


More resources about cleaning and disinfecting the barn and your horse supplies.


Utah State University has some suggestions for the barn specifically.



  • Plan before you go. No lolly-gagging around.


  • Wash your hands before you go and before you leave.


  • Keep up with social distancing.


  • Be really mindful of communal spaces and appliances. Fridges and things that everyone shares should be off-limits.


  • Clean with bleach solution. Per the CDC, one-third of a cup of bleach per gallon of water, which equals 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart. Bleach solutions degrade and will need to be made fresh daily, btw.



container of bleach



The state of California has much more detailed instructions on barns and boarding facilities.



  • This document addresses who should be allowed to be on the farm – vets, farriers, workers, essential owners, trainers. I’m paraphrasing here when I say this is NOT THE TIME to bring your S.O. or buddy to the barn.


  • Find a system to keep fewer than 10 people there at any given time. I’m going to add that for smaller facilities, this number may need to be lower.


  • Social distancing! Face masks! Wash your dang hands when you arrive, when you are touching things, when you are leaving.


  • Clean it all daily. Disinfect after you clean.


  • Wear clean clothes! Don’t share anything – which actually is best anyway for your horse’s health.


Real-world examples of barn life in the times of a pandamic.


  • At the barn that lovingly cares for my horse, we have all of the guidelines set forth by the CDC and the state, plus some.


  • The upper barn is shared with a communal room. You must schedule your time there so you have the use of the tack room by yourself. The lower barn is individual stalls with their own tack room and very spread out.


  • Everyone is required to have a bottle of bleach solution outside of their tack area so they can clean the surfaces they touched before they leave. This includes gates, latches, tack boxes, lead ropes, everything. EVERYTHING. Trash can lids, bathroom door knobs, water faucets, their grooming tools, arena gates, light switches.


  • The barn owner also does a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of everything daily.


  • Get in, do your stuff, get out. Social distance and face masks.



Avoid others at the barn.

I do a bit more.


  • I go to the barn to make meds and have a quick ride and I’m done. I don’t go my usual six days a week, more like one or two. Horses, like people, can be just fine with a break from exercise.


  • When I do go to the barn, it’s my first stop. I’m wearing clean clothes, and I skip the usual snuggle with my horse and go scrub up. I also don’t stop anywhere on the way home. I take a hot soapy shower when I get home, and wipe down the car’s interior, too. My barn clothes go straight into the wash.


  • I’m fortunate enough to have duplicates of everything that I own at the barn. I have divided the tack room into two sections – supplies that the barn owner can touch and supplies that I can touch. Everything is cleaned daily. Even if I didn’t touch it.


  • I don’t do a deep clean of all of the surfaces like the floor and walls when I’m there, but anything that I have touched, or could be touched by anyone caring for my horse, gets cleaned and disinfected. Since I have the two sets of supplies, it’s really easy to clean and disinfect the other storage bins that hold the second set of stuff.


  • If the barn owner and I will be touching the same flysheet or grazing muzzle, I wear kitchen gloves as I pull the sheet off and put it back on again when I’m done. These fashionable yellow gloves can be doused with bleach and this prevents my fingers from touching the buckles.


  • I avoid all people. I tend to ride alone anyway, and now I check the schedule to see when there are gaps. This might mean I’m there crazy early, but that’s the way I like it anyway. I don’t arrive when chores are going on so I know I won’t run into someone doing turnouts or feeding or mucking. Also, if the weather is bad, I know I’ll have the entire farm to myself.


  • My horse is famous for being the babysitter, taking the less brave horses out into the woods and fields. Not anymore. I don’t ride with someone else if we can’t be 12 feet apart. Some of the property is narrower than that, and the wooded trails even more so.


  • I clean my tack on every visit to the barn. OH WAIT – I’ve always done that. Now I have just added an extra step. More on that later.


  • I have also double-checked that all of my horse’s records, instructions, medications, and schedules are readily available for the barn owner. There may be a day when the barn is totally closed, or I can’t go, in which case that information had better be up to date. I have all of his instructions emailed and printed for the barn owner.


  • If I was in the upper barn where there’s a communal tack room, I would be keeping my tack and grooming tools in my car. Just to be on the safe side.


  • Other barns in my area have implemented some rules, too. Some barns have stopped cross-tie use, you have to groom and tack up in your horse’s stall. My friend’s barn also uses a schedule, and there are no more group lessons. Other barns have locked up common areas. Some barns are also totally closed.


How to clean and disinfect the barn.


  • This is a two-step process, which is fairly easy. Clean then disinfect. First clean, soap and water is best here. I wear gloves as per the CDC guidelines. My tack room has never been so clean, btw.


  • Then I grab my bleach solution and wet it all down to disinfect. Your bleach solution, which is viable for 24 hours, needs to be WET for at least one minute. If it’s windy, it won’t be wet for a minute. When that happens, I soak a paper towel in the bleach solution and lay it on the gate, latch, door frame, etc. that I need to disinfect.


  • For cloth things that need to be cleaned and disinfected, they go in a sealed up trash bag into my trunk to be washed in HOT HOT HOT water when I get home. This includes grooming rags, saddle pads, blankets, anything cloth that I have touched or that is just ready to be cleaned.


  • You will need to figure out how to clean floors, walls, windows, doors, all of it. It takes time. Perhaps now is a good time to do some long term storage of things you don’t use, so that you can free up some space and save some cleaning time.


How to clean and disinfect your saddle, bridle, and leather goods at the barn.


  • Please track down your saddle manufacturer and see if they have published any instructions on how to clean and disinfect your tack.


  • The same thing applies to saddles and bridles as the barn, plus one step. Clean and disinfect, then condition. The conditioning step allows the leather to stay supple and safe.


  • My usual saddle cleaning routine is wiping with a damp cloth, then saddle soap, then conditioner. Now I rearrange things a bit.


brush cleaning a saddle

I usually use this brush for leather conditioner, now I use it to soap up my horse’s leather tack.


  • First, I use a small grooming brush, like a finishing brush, to work saddle soap and water into my tack. I’ve always done this with the conditioner, but now the conditioner brush is my soap brush. I have a grainy leather saddle that tolerates a brush well.


  • If you have smooth leather tack, you can use a tack sponge or kitchen sponge to work up a lather. Which, incidentally, may or may not be indicative of how effective your soaping efforts are. I can’t find any information about how soap lather is related to virus killing. It does make me feel much better to see foam, however, so that’s what I do.


  • Then I wipe off all of the soap with a damp rag, which promptly gets tossed in the bin to be laundered.


  • Now I need to disinfect. Here’s where I skip the bleach and go for the 70% ethanol. It does not feel good to do this step, but I know I have to. I feel like (but can’t prove) that this is like letting wet tack dry out and crack. Incidentally, if you do end up with wet tack from rain, wipe it down and condition it before it dries! This saves the protein bonds inside the leather that gives it strength.


  • Now I deep condition. This makes me feel so much better about the alcohol bath! I use a lederbalsam that is slathered on with a sponge or rag.


We all hope this is over soon enough, and doing our part to keep the barn clean and disinfected will go a long way to making that happen. And don’t skip on the tack conditioner!


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