Most traditional horse tack was made from leather. But today, those leather items can be made of nylon, and this synthetic material has some advantages over leather. Nylon tack doesn’t need oiling, and it can be easily cleaned with soap and water or thrown in the washing machine.
Horse equipment made from biothane—a type of nylon with a coating that won’t fray—is strong and durable, does not get stiff in cold weather nor dry and brittle in hot, dry weather. If it gets dirty or sweaty, it can be wiped off with a wet rag, thrown in the washing machine, or dunked in a bucket of soapy water. If soap is used in cleaning, it should always be rinsed well to get rid of any residue that might be irritating to a horse’s skin.
Nylon halters, cinches, headstalls, reins and lead straps can be put in an old pillowcase with the open end securely tied shut. The pillowcase tends to trap the worst dirt (and any hair) from the halters.
The pillowcase also protects the enamel on the inside of the washing machine from getting banged up by the halter hardware. It also keeps the halters, lead straps, etc. from getting in a tangle, as they tend to do when washed loose.
Put the filled pillowcase in the washing machine with a load of other laundry (such as jeans or other clothing that is not fragile or white). When the load is finished, take the halters, etc. out and give them an additional rinse under a faucet or hydrant to make sure there’s no soap residue, then hang them outside to dry. The dirty pillowcase can be turned inside out and rinsed outdoors or in the sink to remove the extra dirt, then put in with a regular washing.
A “sack” for washing nylon tack can also be made from an old bath towel, which gives more cushion to keep the hardware from chipping the inside of your washer. Fold the towel in half and sew two sides closed. Add a drawstring or velcro to the open side and you have a handy bag for washing nylon tack.
Nylon harness can be too large to put in a washing machine, but it can be cleaned at a car wash.
String cinches, and even mohair cinches, can be washed with soap and water as long as they are rinsed well. The easiest kind of girth or cinch to clean is neoprene. It can be washed quickly and easily just by running water over it. Since it does not absorb moisture, it dries within minutes (or you can dry it immediately with a cloth). You can have it completely clean each time you use it, and clean it between horses if you are using it on more than one horse. This type of washable girth or cinch can also be disinfected between horses if you wish. You can wipe it off with a mix of water and Nolvasan (chlorhexadine) to prevent spread of fungal infections such as ringworm or girth itch.
Fleece pads are also washable. They are soft and comfortable for the horse, and they are easy to keep clean and soft because they are washable. They can be a nuisance to wash in a washing machine, however, leaving horse hair and grime in the machine and requiring several rinses if soap is used. Soap residue in the pad can irritating to the horse’s skin.
If you have access to a power washer (for cleaning motors and farm equipment), you can use it for washing fleece saddle pads. You can also use the wand at a car wash. The small, forceful stream of water lifts dirt and hair out of the pad very nicely, and no soap is needed to get them clean. A dirty pad can be draped over a sawhorse or saddle stand for washing, then hung on a fence to dry after you’ve cleaned both sides of it. The pads get cleaner with a power washing than in a washing machine, and you don't have to use soap. This saves wear and tear on the washing machine and the fleece.
If you need to fluff up a fleece pad after washing--whether it was washed in a washing machine or outside with a hose, carwash wand or power washer--use a vacuum cleaner. This not only fluffs the pad like new, but also pulls out any hair left in the pad.