Winter Blanket Care

Horse blankets rip, tear, leak and wear. Here's how to keep them clean and make quick repairs.
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Horse blankets rip, tear, leak and wear. Here's how to keep them clean and make quick repairs.
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December is upon us, which in many parts of the country means your horse has probably had his blanket on for about one month. That also means your horse has had 30 days to wallow in the mud, cover his blanket in dirt, or snag it on the fence. It's just about time to clean that blanket up and make the first repairs of the season.

Fixing and cleaning the blanket now will help extend its usable life, keep your horse comfortable all winter long, and save you a bundle of money. Go ahead and pull that dirty, ripped blanket off, redress your horse in his spare winter wardrobe, and drag that blanket somewhere warm where you can get it fixed up.

Whip Away

A simple whipstitch is an easy way to make quick repairs to tears before laundering a horse blanket. After the blanket is clean, you can rip out the whipstitches and send the blanket to the repair shop.

Before you get started, you'll need to thread a heavy-duty upholstery needle with thick thread, such as embroidery floss. Tie a knot at the end of the thread large enough to keep it from pulling through the fabric.

A. Turn the raw edges of the frayed fabric together facing each other, creating four layers of fabric.
B. Push your needle through all four pieces of fabric and gently pull the thread taunt.
C. Crossing over the top of the fabric, push the needle back into the fabric. The stitch will bind the fabric by spiraling around all four layers.

These stitches are temporary, so don't worry about making them tight, small or pretty. Instead, make functional stitches that will hold the fabric together. Too small, and you'll have trouble ripping them out. Too big, and the fabric will separate.

Emergency Mending
If the blanket has any rips or tears, they will become worse in the wash. So, here's the Catch 22: Most blanket repairers won't put a dirty blanket on their sewing machines. You do, however, have a couple options for preventing rips from getting worse.

First, you can try to treat the frays with an anti-fray glue product such as Fray Stop, which is available at craft and fabric stores. Fray Stop withstands light to regular washing, and ironing can strengthen the product's hold. The product is not, however, made for heavy washing, and therefore works best for light fabrics and delicate wash cycles.

Heat, provided by a lighter, will also stop frays by melting individual threads of synthetic fabrics, such as nylon. Simply hold the heat of the flame close to the tear. Just be careful, because many fabrics are highly flammable and easily catch fire. Make sure you use the lighter outside and away from any buildings or objects that could ignite if the flame spreads.

Another option for tears is basting the seam, raw side in, with blanket pins (large safety pins) or a simple whipstitch. If you go the whipstitch route, you'll need an upholstery needle and thick thread, such as embroidery floss (step-by-step instructions on how to do a whipstitch are provided in the sidebar "Whip Away" on page 57).

Several companies make blanket-specific patches for emergency repairs. These are either self-adhesive or iron on. Or, for temporary repairs, use heavyweight or denim iron-on patches, which are available at most fabric, craft or department stores.

Often, torn blankets are beyond repair. In these cases, don't just throw the leftovers out. Instead, dissect the blanket and keep straps, clips, fabric and buckles for future use. Whether you do your own mending or send your blankets out, having spare parts on hand usually expedites the repair process.

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Do Your Laundry!
Dirt and grime wear out fabric, while urine degrades thread and breaks down seams. Fungi, trapped against the horse, flourish in dark, damp places under blankets.

To extend the life of your blankets and protect the health of your horse, regularly wash your blankets or have them professionally laundered. In fact, go ahead and add blanket washing to your weekly, biweekly or monthly to-do list, depending on how messy your horse is and how he's housed.

Before putting your horse's blankets in the wash, take some extra time to shake out any loose debris or hair. Brushing or hand vacuuming the blanket before laundering can also help save wear and tear on your washing machine. While you have the vacuum out, concentrate on removing grime and hair from the seams.

To protect the washing machine, you'll want to take off any removable straps and attach all buckles and Velcro closures. Place any independent straps in lingerie bags, or hand-wash them instead.

Next, you have to decide if you really want horse blankets in your washing machine. Your best bet is a large-capacity frontloading and/or heavy-duty industrial washing machine. Many Laundromats do not allow horse blankets in their machines. If your local laundry has signs posted against blanket washing, or if an attendant asks you not to wash your blankets, please help foster good will with the community and abide by the rules. In these cases, it's best to send your blankets to a professional laundering service.

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Wash the Right Way
If you do decide to wash your blankets yourself, make sure not to overload your washer, especially if it has a center agitator. Overloading will stress the machine and keep your blanket from getting thoroughly clean.

When washing blankets, it's also important to follow the label instructions. Not all blankets are made the same, and different fabrics require special types of care. Choosing between hot and cold water is also a struggle. Cold water doesn't kill bacteria and fungi, while disinfecting heat can damage waterproofing and cause fabric and strap shrinkage. A warm-water wash followed by a cold-water rise is probably your best bet, but again, check the blanket's laundry label and follow its directions.

Harsh detergents can also degrade waterproofing, so choose a gentle product such as Woolite. Many horse-supply companies also carry blanket-specific washes. A product suitable for waterproof jackets and ski clothes is also acceptable.

Sometimes one wash alone isn't enough to get a blanket clean, especially if it's especially filthy or urine-soaked. You may decide to run blankets through several wash cycles to get them acceptably clean.

Also, washing additives can give a wash cycle more cleaning umph. Bleach will ruin most blankets, so that option is out. For extra cleaning power, add a scoop of Oxy Clean, or a similar generic product, to the warm-water wash cycle. Other products, such as Nature's Miracle (available in pet supply stores), can also help break down organic stains and odors.

Dry Thoroughly
Once a blanket is washed, it needs time to dry. Most blankets benefit from air drying rather than machine drying. Running a blanket through the machine dryer can cause shrinkage and threaten the blanket's waterproofing.

This probably means you need a spare outfit to keep your horse warm, unless he's okay going naked for a day or two. Sometimes, when time is sensitive, it's tempting to throw a thoroughly cleaned yet slightly damp blanket back on the horse. This is a bad idea. Wet blankets can chill your horse and foster fungal or bacterial infections of the skin.

Instead, hang your blanket out in a warm room or under the sun to dry. If outside is an option, hang the blanket inside out, so its underbelly is exposed. Many microbes are sensitive to ultraviolet light, meaning the rays of the sun will kill any residual germs and fungi, thus creating a healthier blanket for your horse.

After the blanket is dry, give it a sniff. Still smelly? Then try spritzing the blanket with a light layer of the anti-odor product Febreze. You might be surprised at just how fresh your horse blanket can get.

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Blanket Repair Kit

Blanket Pins
Extra buckles and straps
Blanket wash or mild detergent
Upholstery needle
Thick thread or embroidery floss
Febreze
Camp Dry or other waterproofing product
Lighter
Patches or blanket repair tape

Reinforce Waterproofing
Over time, daily wear and frequent washing can degrade a turnout blanket or sheet's original waterproofing. After washing, drying and mending the blanket, you'll want to reinforce its waterproofing to help keep your horse comfy in wet weather.

Use a waterproofing or water-repelling product, either Kiwi's Camp Dry (available at most outdoor sporting stores) or one specifically made for horse blankets.

Use the water-repellant on the outside of the blanket only, and not where the blanket will lie against the horse's skin. Focus the product specifically on any seams or patches, which both have a tendency to leak. When using a water-repelling product, always follow the label directions. Most need a day or two to cure on the blanket before it will be ready for use.

Once the blanket is clean, mended and dry, you can wrap your horse back up in his warm winter clothes. And know that all your hard work is helping to keep his skin healthy.