A Slightly Better Mousetrap

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People are always trying to find better ways to do things than the simple old methods, under the principle that if you build a better mousetrap then the world will beat a path to your door. While better mousetraps, other than the basic barn cat or the basic spring model, have been made, they still often cost more than they are worth.

We feel the same way about synthetic grooming cloths. They generally perform better than the cotton cloths that you already have stacked in your barn, and significantly better for some specific tasks, but you can get cast-off cotton cloths for free. A manufactured grooming cloth will have to work a lot better than a cotton cloth to make up the difference in price.

We took a selection of manufactured grooming cloths and put them up against a test of cotton cloths for a barrage of typical barn and grooming tasks. The manufactured cloths were all made of synthetic materials. We found that they generally performed best either dry or well wrung out. If they were really wet, then they performed no differently than cotton cloths.

Microfiber was the most interesting synthetic fabric. When dry, it felt really rough and uncomfortable against the skin of our hands that had become chapped from barn tasks. However, against the hair on the horses, the dry synthetic cloths worked as well or better than cotton. Microfiber differs from other poly-type fabrics in that the thread is spun into one continuous thread.

Thus microfiber is very light but also very tough. And, like most things, the better-quality microfiber products also cost more. You can probably find microfiber cloths priced lower than these grooming cloths at a discount store but they may not work as well.

The same thing holds true for cotton cloths. As a control to try against the synthetic cloths, we raided the kitchen for a smooth cotton cloth and an ordinary cotton tea towel. We then went to the bathroom for a lush old terry towel that still had a thick nap but was ready to retire to the barn since it had become frayed. We found that the synthetic cloths generally performed better than the smooth cotton and economy terry and on a par with the “luxury” terry.

The commercial microfiber cloths all have their specialized uses, particularly for removing mud and dust and for use with a dry shampoo (see December 2001). And they do have some advantages over cotton, such as pulling water off the horse without getting as soaked plus resisting mildew and bacteria.

Our tests on the horses included removing sand, removing dried mud/dust with a dry towel and with a wet towel, wiping water from body and legs, applying fly spray and using dry shampoo. Other barn uses included wiping our dry, dirty hands or wet hands, plus cleaning tack. We machine washed/dried the cloths and we also air-dried them on the front of stalls. The chart shows how we felt all the cloths performed.

We found we would rather still use our sponge for cleaning tack, but the synthetic cloths did a better job than the cotton towels for pulling the water and soap back off. The synthetic cloths weren’t quite as good as cotton for applying fly spray because they held onto the liquid rather than releasing it on the horse.

For wiping water off legs, the synthetic cloths did great, except for the nylon Scrubby, but they weren’t as good on the body. Again, the microfibers worked better than the Scrubby for dry shampoos. However, the Scrubby outshone the others for removing dirt and dust.

Products We Used
Epona’s Scrubby Bath Cloth appears to be a nylon version of the venerable cactus cloth. It is a long, narrow cloth, 12 x 34”, with a stiff-feeling open weave. The long edges tend to fray, but this doesn’t affect its performance. It comes in three bright colors for $5. It performed better than the other commercial grooming cloths at removing dried mud and dust but still not better than a cactus cloth or a curry/stiff brush.

Despite its loose weave, it held water much better than expected. Its clear advantage over other grooming products is its ease in cleaning. You can dunk it in a bucket and the cloth will air dry in about an hour, while a cactus cloth that gets wet will still be damp the next day. But if it’s mixed in with the other barn laundry, you can still machine wash and dry it.

If you have a horse that won’t tolerate a stiff brush, or you don’t want damp cloths hanging around, this is the answer.

Tail Tamer’s Grooming Shammy is a yellow felt cloth made in Germany of viscose/polyfiber. It comes in a package of two 15 x 15” cloths for $3.50. It works especially well in wiping water from legs. It can be machine washed, and its only disadvantage over the other cloths is that it shouldn’t be machine-dried.

EquiBrite’s Miracle Cloth is a turquoise 16” by 16” microfiber cloth made from 10% nylon and 80% polyester for $8.95. It’s particularly useful for situations where you want to pull water off the horse and for other barn chores. It can be machine washed/dried. There is a care tag on the cloth. It’s also marketed for household use under the name of StarBrite.

EQyss has a plush selection of three microfiber grooming cloths packaged together in the EQyss Deluxe Pack for $24.95.

There is a turquoise 16 x 16” cloth with terry loops, a 16 x 24” turquoise waffle-weave cloth and a blue grooming mitt with terry loops. (The mitt will soon be sold separately for $14.95.)

They can be machine washed/dried, and there is a care label attached. The two cloths take longer to air dry than regular cotton unless they are thoroughly wrung out. They should also be wrung out when using so they will work more like a shammy than a cotton cloth. We found they are especially good for removing sand, for removing dust and mud when used wet, and with a dry shampoo.

Bottom Line
Your most effective and economical choice in a grooming cloth is still to cut up those lush terry towels from your bathroom after they’ve frayed around the edges. The Tail Tamer Shammy is not only the next best choice but also our best buy at $3.50 for two.

The rest of the synthetic cloths we tried are economical only if you have a need for their specific virtues, and they’d make a nice gift if you want to treat yourself or a horsey friend. The EQyss Deluxe Pack is versatile and effective, but it costs $24.95. The single Miracle Cloth is $8.95, and we found it accomplishes most of the same things. The Epona Scrubby is fine for dirt and times you don’t want damp cloths hanging around.

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Why Buy A Pricey Synthetic'”
Click here to view ”Grooming Cloths Performance Trials Results.”
Click here to view ”FlexoDry Sponge and Scraper.”

Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: Epona Scrubby Bath Cloth, Epona Ltd., www.ep onaproducts.com, 800/863-7662; Tail Tamer Grooming Shammy, Tail Tamer Products, 800/655-7872;EquiBrite Miracle Cloth, Darren Forbes, Inc., www.darrenforbes.com, 864/579-8985; EQyss Equine Grooming Cloth Deluxe Pack, www.eqyss.com, 800/526-7469.