Walk with any owner of a white or gray horse — or even one with just a lot of chrome — and you’ll quickly learn that they’re obsessed with finding good stain removers. It’s seems like the DNA that causes a horse to have white hair also makes the horse seek out whatever mud or manure is in the vicinity. And, when it comes to stains, manure and urine are generally the most challenging.
Old-time stain-removing tricks include using bluing, vinegar, witch hazel, alcohol, liniments and even glycerine on the soiled areas. Today, however, there are a number of commercial products that keep the horse’s skin and hair in mind, using a gentler formula with skin conditioners, aloe, vitamins and moisturizing ingredients.
When it comes to whitening and stain removal, the gold standard is bluing. However, it comes at a cost. Bluing can be drying to the skin and hair, sometimes causing skin irritation. Most equine products that utilize bluing will also include aloe or vitamin E to put moisture back into the coat and counteract the dryness of the bluing. Beware, too, that if you overdo it with bluing, you may end up with bluish-purple hair.
Modern science has brought us other whitening ingredients, like stain-lifting enzymes, herbal stain dissolvers, bleaches and oxygen-based products, such as the Wow! Whitener spray. Some of the oxygen-based cleaners utilize a form of peroxide, which can be drying to the horse’s hair.
For sensitive-skinned horses, both Lucky Braids Shampoo and Absorbine’s Special Care Ultra Gentle work well and don’t irritate the skin. Use Lucky Braids Whitener for spot treatments on these horses.
Note: A lot of horse owners like to use human shampoos and dishwashing liquids to bathe their horses. Most horses survive this just fine, but a real horse shampoo will improve your horse’s coat condition and provide him with healthier skin. Equine products are not that expensive to use, and they are formulated for a horse’s natural skin pH and to enhance the coat. We think you’ll find a shinier, sleeker coat.
We gathered a group of shampoos and sprays that were intended to lift stains easily from our horses’ coats and whiten white coats. We used the products on a variety of horses, from gray to white to darker horses with white markings. If the shampoo was not meant to be explicitly whitening, we also tested it on horses of a variety of colors to judge its overall stain-lifting ability.
We followed all manufacturer label directions for at least one of the washes. We also did two additional washes — one giving the products even longer to sit on set-in stains than recommended and one quick wash where the product was scrubbed in and immediately rinsed out.
Our top choice is the Lucky Braids Shampoo from Top Turnout Inc. It produced great lather, mild scent, and we found it solved many skin problems. Mild fungus, itchy skin, stains, and dry skin all improved when we used this shampoo.
It has mild whitening properties, putting a good show glow on a horse’s coat, but it didn’t whiten enough to remove heavy stains. As an added bonus, though, its clean, non-slick finish, allowed us to scrub a horse’s mane and braid it while still wet without our hands slipping all over the place.
Absorbine’s SuperPoo earned Best Buy. It effectively cleaned away even the toughest stains, including the sticky muddy-colored sap produced by a plant called tarweed. In fact, SuperPoo was the only shampoo that removed this sap.
For best whitening shampoo, we like Xtreme Showhite Shampoo. It did a good job whitening coats and socks, and it put a lovely sheen on the darker gray horses. We found it didn’t dry the coats and the skin was in good condition, even with frequent use.
If you need a spray-on product, we’ll go with Lucky Braids Whitener. It handled minor stains well and could be used an easy touch-up right before a horse went in the ring. It worked as well on dark horses as lighter ones. Wow! was a close runner-up here.