How to Clean the Water Trough for Your Horses


Cleaning the water trough can be a total pain, but it’s easy if you do it regularly. Stock water tanks and water troughs are great for keeping a herd hydrated, but only clean, clear, algae-free water is available. No horse (or human) wants to drink dirty sludge; it’s not safe or tempting. Therefore, not maintaining a clean trough can actually put your horse at risk for dehydration and other horrid things. You don’t need many tools to clean your horse’s water tank, just a regular schedule and some elbow grease.


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water trough next to pasture fence

No rule says you need to keep the trough full—this trough is only filled 1/3 of the way and checked daily to refill as needed. This gives you less to clean and drain!


Easy steps to clean your horse’s trough and water buckets with bleach or a tablet


If you like to scrub things, try this method:

  • Empty the tub using the drain or siphon with a hose.
  • Scrub it out with a 1:10 bleach solution with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.
  • Rinse the bleach solution out, maybe even a few times.
  • Refill with clear water.
  • Carry on with the rest of your farm chores.


The best way to clean your horse’s water tank


  • Most troughs and stock tanks have a drain at the bottom for easy water emptying. This beats using buckets to empty a trough! It’s also feasible to just topple your trough over. No need to go to your cross-fit class, but you may end up with mud. 


  • The safest way to drain the tank is to attach a hose and drain the trough far away from the area where horses stand to drink—outside the fence, down a hill, and away from hooves. This keeps the footing around this high-traffic area safe and prevents stagnant pools from forming that can attract insects and mosquitos.


  • The slime-busting weapon of choice is any long-handled stiff brush. Or short-handled, you decide. Toilet scrubbing brushes are handy but may not be long enough or tough enough.  Drill attachments are also handy and save elbow grease and time.


  • Be mindful of scrubbing too hard, possibly adding scratches and scuffs to the trough or bucket. You will create an uneven surface that gets harder to clean over time. Muck tubs and other hard plastics seem to be more susceptible to this than metal tubs.


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  • You can start scrubbing the walls of the trough as the water drains, or you could wait.


  • Using an apple cider vinegar wash is also a good, natural idea to rinse the walls of the trough. Using apple cider vinegar is also harmless, and in many cases may be beneficial to your horse.


  • You can use a bleach dilution too, although rinse well and allow to dry off in the sun before refilling. Use a 10% bleach solution, which is easily made by adding 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.  Make sure the bleach is unscented and the typical household variety.


  • You can also use trough cleaning tablets, which claim to be safe for livestock. Be sure you have enough water in the trough to dilute them and give your horse another water source if you think your horse can taste them.

More about bleaching troughs and tanks


Use bleach to clean the water trough without draining and scrubbing.

  • By adding 2 drops of bleach to every gallon of water already in your tank or tub, you can disinfect the water. There is no need to scrub or rinse.


  • Wait one hour before letting your horse drink from this disinfected source.


  • If your water supply is from a creek, lake, or other natural source, add 4 drops of water to each gallon and then wait two hours for the bleach to dissipate.


horse drinking from clean water trough


How can you keep the livestock trough clean a bit longer


  • Try and figure out a way to keep birds and bugs from using the trough or stock tank as a bath, bathroom, or water source.


  • Offering birds alternative baths may work. To lure the birds away, hang a smaller bird bucket or bath away from your horse’s tank.


  • You may also find drowned critters in your troughs, so you must clean it asap.  There is no need for botulism or other mystery vet bills!


  • To prevent drownings in the future, fix a length of wood to the side of your trough and let the other end bob in the water. This provides a ramp for escape should a frog, squirrel, or other woodland creature get stuck in your horse’s water supply.


  • For insects, you can change the water before larvae hatch. For most species of mosquitos, this is four days. Some species of mosquitos take longer to hatch. If you wait too long, you will see tiny wormy things bobbing up and down in the tank. Mosquito babies love to hijack tanks and troughs.


  • Mosquito dunks are available to drop in and help alleviate the mosquito problem.


  • Use less water when you fill the tanks; this makes cleaning them much easier when the water level is not as high.


Is sun or shade better?


  • Algae is a plant – and, therefore, needs sunshine to grow well. Keeping your troughs in the shade reduces the likelihood of green algae forming; if it does, it’s not growing as fast.


  • The sun can also overheat the water, which might be okay in winter. Horses are silly creatures and actually prefer their water to be colder. But a horse will drink more water when it’s warm.


  • You might need to move your tanks seasonally for optimal positioning: in the shade for summer and in the sun for winter. The sun may even help ward off ice.


  • Moving your troughs around may also help keep mud at bay.




What about goldfish to clean the water trough?


  • Sure, it’s an option, but you must maintain the tank’s oxygen and ensure the ammonia from fish poop is taken care of. This article details this whole process. And goldfish are one type of fish; others may be better suited for a water source.


  • Your trough’s fish will also need shade and protection from winter freezing and sun protection to protect against cooking. Or at least being unnaturally hot.


How often should a water trough be cleaned?


  • Ideally, clean your horse’s tubs, buckets, and troughs at least weekly to prevent algae, bacteria, and other debris from contaminating the water. Clean the trough immediately if you find birds, animals, or excessive debris in the tub. Some horses like to play and paw in their water source, so clean more frequently.


What happens if you don’t clean a water trough regularly?


  • Aside from letting algae, bacteria, and other contaminants take over, not cleaning water can create bad smells and reduce drinking. Horses can become dehydrated, and the spread of waterborne diseases and mosquitos increases.


Is algae growth in a water trough harmful?


  • Algae growth creates toxins and bacteria in water, which might cause health issues for horses and livestock. Animals will likely drink less, which can lead to other health issues like dehydration and colic in horses.


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07/25/2024 07:43 pm GMT

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