Wondering how to clean horse water trough?
I feel you and know just how frustrating this barn chore can be!
Over the years I’ve picked up some great tips from other equestrians and wanted to share the love.
Let’s get started by first looking at what you should use for cleaning horse water troughs.
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What to Use to Clean Horse Trough?
When planning how to clean horse water troughs using the right tools is a big part of the process.
You want to get the trough sparkling clean without causing damage that can lead to increased algae growth. Regardless of what you use, expect to put in some effort. A quick wipe won’t do it.
Your best tool to tackle slim and dirt build-up in a horse waterer is a good stiff brush! You have a few options.
Look for a short bristled, hard horse grooming brush. I’m referring to those brushes that are sold for grooming but are so stiff that you actually never end up using them on a horse!
I like these types of brushes and use them often. They do a good job but aren’t the best at really getting into corners.
Another option is a toilet brush – new and specifically for this task of course. The shape of a toilet brush is better for tackling hard-to-reach spots of the trough.
The long handle on a toilet brush makes that task a little easier, especially if you suffer back pain from too much bending over.
Whichever type of brush you use, it is best to use one that has plastic bristles. Over anything that will scratch the trough. Scratches will create a breading ground for algae and the perfect place for dirt and bacteria to hide.
In addition to your brush, some equestrians like to use a small and by small I mean a couple of drops of bleach highly diluted to clean their trough.
Personally, I stay well away from bleach. I just don’t want to take the risk. If you want a bit of extra cleaning power use dish soap (rinse well) or an apple cider vinegar wash when you’re scrubbing.
I usually just stick to my stiff scrub brush and water.
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Cleaning Horse Water Troughs: 4 Steps To Follow
Now that you have your main tool, it’s time to get that trough clean. Horses prefer to drink fresh clean water. Who can blame them?
Plus, dirty water isn’t exactly healthy and blue-green algae can even be toxic.
So, let’s take a look at the steps to follow and ensure your horse has access to a clean water source.
#1 Drain the Water Trough
The first thing you need to do is get rid of the dirty water. Most troughs have a plug that allows you to do this easily.
However, if the trough doesn’t have a plug, you’ll have to tip or scoop the water out. This is a real pain and makes the job take a lot longer. I, unfortunately, have one of these troughs and it takes ages to clean.
One thing to be careful of is dumping the dirty water all in one place around the trough. This makes the area muddy which is not ideal. It will attract insects and cut up your ground.
Try to empty the water by spreading it out as much as possible or if possible attach a hose so you can drain it outside of your paddock.
I like to leave a small amount of water as it helps with scrubbing.
#2 Getting Scrubbing
The next step takes a lot of elbow grease. Use your brush and scrub the entire interior surface. If the grim is really bad add some dish soap or apple cider vinegar.
Pay special attention to the corners and any grooves.
One tip, from a Pony Club leader, I was taught as a kid, on how to tell your water bucket or trough is clean is to rub the interior wall with your finger. It should not feel slippery or slimy if it is clean.
#3 Rinse The Horse Water Trough
After you’ve given the interior a good scrub, rinse the trough with fresh water. Keep rinsing and dumping the water to remove all the dirt you lifted with your brush.
This will clear everything away so you can see any spots that need more attention. If you see dirt head back in with your brush and do some more scrubbing.
Once you’re happy the trough is clean enough, give the trough a thorough rinse to ensure you wash away all the dirt and any soap or bleach you used.
#4 Refill The Trough With Fresh Water
Now all you have to do is fill up the trough with fresh water. Hopefully, you remembered to put the plug back in, a mistake I’ve made! And what a mess if your walk away to do something else while waiting for the water tank to fill.
Check out this equestrian’s tutorial on water trough cleaning and the type of brush she uses to scrub.
How Can You Keep The Horse Trough Clean a Bit Longer?
While there is no way to avoid cleaning horse water troughs, they are a couple of tips I’ve learned that will help it stay clean a bit longer.
One of the best things to do is place the trough in the shade. However, don’t stick it right under a tree as leaves can drop in. Shade will help reduce algae growth and keep the water a bit cooler.
If the trough is out in the sun the water can get too hot which isn’t appealing to your horse.
In addition to keeping your trough in a shady spot, also make sure it is away from your horse’s hay. This way they can’t drop bits of hay into the water.
Another way to prolong cleaning sessions is to always top up the trough with fresh water every day.
How To Keep Algae Out Of Horse Trough?
How to keep algae out of horse trough? Keeping algae out of a horse trough is often a nightmare, especially during the summer.
Firstly, and most importantly, you will need to scrub it clean more frequently and ensure there is daily fresh water.
Plastic tanks or containers are prone to more algae growth than metal ones. Even automatic horse waterers that refill every time your horse drinks will get algae in hot weather.
So, how to stop water troughs going green? What else can you do in addition to cleaning?
One tip I learned is to try to add some apple cider vinegar to the water. You don’t need to add a lot, only around ½ cup per 50 gallons. It won’t harm your horse in fact many horses really like that taste and it is used as a feed supplement by some equestrians.
Another tip is to stick barley straw balls or blocks in the water trough. This is another safe option and I’m all for truly safe than risking chlorine bleach or other chemicals.
The best way to use barley straw is to net it and attach it to the bottom of the trough.
Even with preventative measures, you will still need to scrub the trough regularly to keep the water clean.
How Often to Clean Horse Water Trough?
How to keep water troughs clean? This goes hand in hand with how often you should clean the horse water trough.
There are different opinions on this and a lot of it will depend on where you live and the type of water trough you have.
At a minimum, you need to clean the trough at least once a week. However, in very hot weather, during warmer months, I’ve noticed that this just isn’t good enough. In this weather, you will need to clean every other day, or even daily.
In the winter months, you won’t have to clean so often and might get away with 1-2 weeks between cleanings.
To know the best cleaning frequency for you, try out different lengths of time in between scrubbing. If you notice organic material or the growth of algae, you need to clean it.
Are goldfish an effective cleaner for horse troughs?
Not really. While some people suggest using goldfish, I recommend avoiding it. A study publishing in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science found that goldfish did not improve water quality, they had no effect on algae, and they had a high death rate. 
Can you put bleach in a horse trough?
Yes, you can use bleach in a very small, highly diluted amount.  Many people suggest adding this but I don’t want to take the risk.
Is it safe to clean a horse water trough with soap?
Yes, you can use some dish soap to clean a horse water trough. Just make sure it is thoroughly rinsed so no soap or soap residue is left behind.
What to put in water troughs to keep from freezing?
One super simple way to keep water troughs from completely freezing is to fill a plastic bottle with table salt and stick in the trough. Check out why and how in this video.
As you can see, how to clean horse water trough is not that hard but does require elbow grease. You also need to do it consistently to ensure your horses always have fresh, drinkable water.
Remember horses always need access to water and they drink several gallons of water each day. A dirty trough will cause the average horse to not want to drink.
Do you have a method you use to keep your horse’s water trough clean? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to know your tips!
- 1. Catalano DN, Heins BJ, Missaghi S, Hathaway MR, Martinson KL. The Effect of Goldfish (Carassius auratus) on Water Quality in Horse Stock Tanks. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2019;79:73–8.
- 2. Cleaning your horse’s water tank [Internet]. extension.umn.edu. [cited 2022 Jul 18]. Available from: https://extension.umn.edu/horse-care-and-management/cleaning-animal-water-tanks#using-goldfish-to-maintain-water-quality-1908061
Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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