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How to Disinfect Horse Combs and Brushes

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Learning how to disinfect horse combs and brushes used for grooming is important for good stable management, particularly if you own or manage several horses and can’t reliably keep separate brushes for each horse. Unfortunately, you are likely to encounter instances when disinfecting grooming items is an absolute must for horse and sometimes human health. In those situations, following proper disinfection procedures is critical.

Detergent Wash

Start by removing as much loose dirt and hair from the brushes as you can. One tactic is brushing one brush against another, or running a comb through a brush—just make sure you include those combs and brushes as ones to be disinfected. Fill a bucket with hot water and add a dishwashing detergent that has a grease remover in it. Scrub the brushes together again in the hot, soapy water.

If you have an illness or other contagious condition in the barn, wear disposable gloves when you clean the brushes and combs.

Disinfectant Soak

Fill another bucket with hot water and a disinfecting ingredient. Good choices are bleach or a household disinfecting cleaner. Be aware that these agents can dry out wood handles or natural-bristle brushes, but that concern has to be secondary if you are dealing with a highly contagious condition. Use one part bleach to 10 parts water -- so, for example, 1 cup of bleach for 2-1/2 quarts of water -- 2-1/2 tablespoons of household disinfectant per gallon of water. Commercial, effervescent disinfectants safe for wooden nonsynthetic brushes are available from tack shops; follow mixing directions on the package. Adding 2 tablespoons of an antibacterial mouthwash to a gallon of water is another option. Many horse owners have iodine-based surgical scrubs in their barns that are fine to use; add just enough to your water bucket until the water is the color of tea. Soak the grooming items for 30 minutes, or per manufacturers' instructions on commercial horse brush disinfectants.

You also can use hydrogen peroxide in a pinch, but unless you have a 35 percent formula -- which is mixed at 1 ounce per 11 ounces of water -- you'll need to mix your standard 3 percent household formula half-and-half with water. If you don't have many grooming tools, pour the hydrogen peroxide directly on the combs and brush bristles, then rinse after the bubbles disappear.

Rinse and Dry

Remove the items and rinse each one well with clean water from a hose or faucet. Lay them out to dry on a towel; outdoors in the sun is ideal. If you place your wooden brushes with the bristles down and the wooden backs up, less water will seep into the wood, which will help them last longer.

Circumstances for Disinfecting

Washing your brushes and combs weekly in detergent is good horse stable management and healthy for your horses. However, you should disinfect them whenever a horse gets a contagious condition, to prevent its spread. Strangles and pigeon fever both are fairly common illnesses in which horses develop abscesses that rupture and leak pus, making them highly contagious. If you work with newborn foals, rotavirus A and adenovirus are two illnesses that require you to disinfect grooming tools you use on the foals. Keeping your horses’ vaccinations up to date is the best way to prevent serious, contagious diseases from spreading.