No one needs to be told how much harm a smelly barn can do to your horse. The ammonia from urine and manure can cause respiratory problems, including irreversible illnesses like heaves.
And no matter how many windows you open or how airy your barn is, your horse will find it difficult to escape the ammonia smell rising from the stall floor. It's even worse in the winter, when horses are often in their stalls longer and the barn is less airy.
The same problem can occur in run-in sheds, which should be cleaned out daily and treated just like a stall. It's all for the sake of your horse's health.
Most everyone has encountered a barn using lime to deodorize horse stalls. Or maybe pine oil, which adds a nice scent to the barn air, too. Those products still work, and they are inexpensive choices and strong ammunition to the smelly-stable battle. But they have their drawbacks.
Lime is a fine white powder and was heavily used years ago for odor control. You need to look for calcium carbonate (barn lime, garden lime). It will control odors and help dry an area, but it can form a slippery surface. Its greatest advantage is price, at about a nickel a day. Its disadvantage is that it's very dusty and easily gets into the air. The fine powder from lime can irritate respiratory tracts and eyes of horses and people.
Pine oil is also a tried-and-true force for odor control. Mix 3 oz. of pine oil concentrate to 1 gallon of water and sprinkle it with a garden sprinkler. Pine oil is a great odor controller, but it won't dry the stalls, the way lime can. Unfortunately, it, too, can cause respiratory and skin irritation to equine and human.
Many barns have tried plain clay non-clumping kitty litter in their stalls. And that will dry the stall, but it won't do much to control odors. We've also tried clumping kitty litter, which absorbed urine better, but it's much more expensive. Avoid organic litters that may be made from corn and wheat byproducts that might tempt the horse to eat it (bad, because it could be moldy). And we're wary of scented kitty litter as well, as some horses may be sensitive to it. If you do decide to try kitty litter, it won't cost you much, at about 20 cents for a pound for the generic clay. You can mix it 50-50 with lime to increase its odor control.
Baking soda is fine as a deodorizer and will also absorb some moisture. It will also mix with kitty litter. Baking soda, purchase in large bags at the feed store or a warehouse club, is relatively inexpensive. We keep it around the barn for a variety of tasks, including cleaning out the water tanks, buckets, bits and stirrups. However, like kitty litter and lime, a buildup of it can become slick.
You'll find a variety of commercial products available to deodorize your barn. Most do both odor and moisture control. All require that you follow instructions - in these cases, if a little is good, a lot is NOT better! The best part about most of the commercial products is that they try to eliminate the chance of irritation to users and barn residents. None of the products we tried were anywhere near as dusty as lime.
Absorption and adsorption both help reduce ammonia by making the urea less available to bacteria. Stall fresheners are often mineral-based, usually clays, like zeolites or montmorillonites. Over the years, we've found that zeolites gave better ammonia control, while the montmorillonites absorbed more moisture.
Many products, like Stall Dry Plus, are also antimicrobial, which means it works to kill the bacteria. Sprays, on the other hand, use live bacteria or enzymes to eat up the ammonia, which stops the smell.
Some products are liquids, while others are powders. Liquids often require that you dilute the product in water in a garden sprayer (some come in their own spray bottles, but a garden sprayer is so much easier to use, especially if you're doing a lot of stalls. Powders or granular products are simple - all you need is a bag and a scoop of some sort (like a one-cup measuring cup).
Wet products are also a big help with wood pellet bedding, which constantly needs to be wet down to keep the dust at bay. We also liked that with a spray product, you can deodorize virtually anything. We sprayed the stall bedding, trailers, walls, barn aisle, wheelbarrow and pitchforks. Within days of starting to use Bye-Bye Odor, our barn smelled terrific. As long as the weather was above freezing, things were great.
Dry products don't freeze. So, all year round, we can clean our stalls, then sprinkle the powder on wet spots and usual manure areas, then bed back over it. Unlike lime, baking soda and kitty litter, most commercial produtcts didn't get slippery. And they did a good job reducing smells. All claim to reduce bedding use one way or another, and we did notice we used less bedding. How much, though, varied by product and by individual horse and individual stall cleaner.
Obviously, our goal was to reduce odors, and the products in our chart below definitely made a difference. Cost per day per stall ranges from about a dime a day to 75 cents a day, but the prices are very dependent on how much you actually use. Remember: When it comes to these products, more is not always better.
For favorites, we really loved using Bye Bye Odor throughout the barn. We found it has a pleasant scent, and it's nicely priced. We filled our garden sprayer and made everything smell better. It's an excellent choice and the Best Buy in the products in our chart.
With the dry products, availability will have to weigh into your decision because shipping a 10- or 40-lb. product can significantly change its overall price. That said, if all the dry products were at the same store, we'd reach first for Odor-No-More. It is effective, and we felt we saved the most bedding using this product as it seemed to us to absorb the most moisture.
HJ-Recommended Commercial Odor Absorbers