Get rid of that ammonia smell in horse stalls


We all know the familiar smell of ammonia in a horse’s stall—it makes your lungs ache and your eyes water. Sometimes, you only catch a brief whiff, and other times, you must leave the area! Now imagine being locked in a room with that horrible ammonia smell and then eating your dinner off the floor right next to it. Getting rid of that ammonia smell in horse stalls is much easier than you think, especially with the right stall freshener.


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Your horse’s urine doesn’t smell up the barn – it’s how the urine transforms


  • The ammonia you are smelling is not actually IN your horse’s urine; it is created when the urea in urine is broken down. This is the same process that happens in cat litter boxes.


  • As a horse’s body processes protein, they need a way to eliminate excess nitrogen. Enter urea, the transport for those extra nitrogen molecules. This happens inside your horse’s body.


  • Urea is excreted in both urine and manure! When microbes in your horse’s bedding and environment “eat” the urea, the enzyme urease transforms it into ammonia. Urease is found in many microbes and plants, too. The result is ammonia gas.


  • While there is urea in manure, too, most of the ammonia comes from your horse’s urine.


horse eating in a stall off the ground

Would you want to eat next to a spot of ammonia smell?


Your horse’s diet and that toxic smell are related


  • High-protein diets create more urea, which creates more ammonia. Many horses do well on higher protein diets and may even need that boost for various medical conditions, healing, and high-performance training regimes. Protein helps build muscle, and that can be very helpful!


  • Legumes like alfalfa are higher in protein than other hay, and some bagged commercial feeds are higher in protein to support performance, growth, and pregnancy. Your equine nutritionist and vet can help you balance the correct diet for your horse.


Why that ammonia smell in urine is harmful


  • Ammonia is dangerous. First, ammonia is caustic – which means it corrodes tissues that it comes into contact with. The mucous membranes of your horse’s eyes, nose, mouth, and even further into the respiratory system are all at risk.


  • Ammonia causes inflammation and shrinking of the respiratory system, which in turn causes disease, decreased performance, and trouble breathing and is generally terrible for horses and other critters.



Ammonia gas contributes to respiratory issues


  • There are two major equine respiratory diseases to know about: Inflammatory airway disease (IAD) and heaves.


  • IAD is primarily seen in young horses, and you may not notice an issue until they start coughing during exercise. You don’t see trouble breathing or coughing when the horse is resting. A vet may find more mucus than normal in their trachea.


  • Heaves are also called recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) or recurrent airway disease (RAD). They are seen in older horses and create breathing problems even when the horse rests. Horses with heaves cough often, struggle to breathe at rest, and may even have audibly noticeable breath sounds that are clearly strained and abnormal. There is often a muscle line along the sides of the flanks that becomes obvious as the breathing muscles are overworked. You may have heard the term equine asthma to describe this, too.


  • These conditions can largely be prevented by reducing your horse’s exposure to dust and ammonia.



zeolite stall refresher in scoop

Use an old feed scoop for your zeolites, and you don’t have to lug the bag around.



PDZ for odor control and other stall fresheners


  • You may also consider adding a stall freshener under your bedding to soak up the urine.


  • In the past, lime (calcium hydroxide) was commonly used for this purpose, although that stuff is horribly caustic and can burn skin. Ag lime or barn lime is safer, but it only covers odors and becomes slippery.


  • Zeolite products, like Sweet PDZ horse stall refresher, are another option. This mineral is superb at trapping the ammonia within the powder or granules, drying up the area, and not creating slime. You can use it with all types of bedding, even for cat boxes, chicken coop, and any other problem area.


  • Another option is a liquid ammonia eater, but you may not want to add more liquid to a urine spot. Also, some liquid deodorizers are more for stall cleaning and disinfecting than ammonia control.


What natural remedies help neutralize the odor of ammonia in a horse barn?


Yes, natural remedies like sprinkling baking soda or white vinegar in horse stalls can help neutralize ammonia odors. Products such as zeolite or horse stall odor eliminators containing beneficial bacteria are also effective.


urine spot in a horse stall

Carefully peel back shavings to find the urine spots. This will prevent you from tossing urine-soaked shavings around the stall.


How to eliminate the ammonia smell in horse stalls with a stall freshener


  • Using ammonia-eating products is a great way to reduce ammonia smells and improve your horse’s respiratory health.


  • To start, your stall cleaning process may need to be revamped. If you only clean once daily, consider cleaning your stalls more often. If you add in a quick pick at lunch and/or the end of the day, you will have many benefits. A cleaner horse, a cleaner stall for the next morning, fewer flies, less ammonia, stronger arms, and happier horses. You will also get to know your horses better and be alerted to possible illnesses and colics earlier as you will be up close and personal more often.


  • If you have mats in the stall, peel back all of the shavings to reveal the urine spots. Use a snow shovel to scrape the mats and remove all of the wet shavings in that area.


  • Then add your zeolites or liquid to the area, and you are done!


  • If you have dirt floors, you may need to leave them bare to air out for several days (do some stall rearranging for the horses) or strip the top layer and add freshly packed dirt. Don’t be afraid to bend over and smell – remember that your horse (whose nose is much more sensitive) has to be on the ground to eat and sleep.


sweet pdz zeolite and manure fork

Stall fresheners eat ammonia for breakfast and are safe for your horse.


More tips for ammonia control


  • Ventilation is necessary in all seasons. Good ventilation is also a major must-have in the barn, and not just for the ammonia. Stalls without windows or stalls in the back corners must be vented for the health of your horse. Consider using swirly-type vents in the roof. No rain gets in, and more air flows around.


  • Speaking of ventilation, keep the barn as open as possible all year long. Resist the urge to close all the windows. If you think your horse will be cold, add a blanket, but keep the air moving through.


  • More stall picking. This also applies to outside areas, like sheds and run-ins. The snow shovel is a master tool for urine spots.


  • Choose new bedding, like sawdust or wood pellets, that absorbs liquids well. Cover those with kiln-dried shavings to pack down the dust. If you use sawdust, ensure there is zero chance of black walnut shavings, as that causes horrible laminitis within a few hours of touching your horse’s hooves.


  • Don’t sweep or blow barn aisles when horses are present. This is more for dust control and to prevent your horse’s nose from breathing in particulates.



Your horse’s lungs will thank you for your efforts!



Also – one type of lime can be caustic, and the other gets slippery and doesn’t actually eat the odors.


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