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 tanks and water troughs are great for keeping a herd hydrated, but only if the water is clean.


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  • No horse (or human) wants to drink dirty water; it’s not safe or tempting. So, you can actually put your horse at risk for dehydration and other horrid things by not maintaining a clean trough.


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. Gives you less to clean and drain!


Easy steps to cleaning the troughs and water buckets


  • Empty
  • Scrub
  • Refill
  • Carry on


The best way to clean your horse’s water trough


  • 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. It also prevents stagnant pools from forming that can attract insects.


  • 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.   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.


  • 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. 


horse drinking from clean water trough


How can you keep the 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 do the trick for you. Hang a smaller bird bucket away from the troughs to lure the birds there.


  • You may also find drowned critters in your troughs, so you need to clean it asap.  


  • 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 critters 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 troughs!


  • 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.




What about goldfish in 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.  



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