Aqueos - Cleaning before disinfection – does it matter?

Aqueos - Cleaning before disinfection – does it matter?


Disinfection of equine premises, housing or transport is sadly not as simple as just chucking some disinfectant down everywhere, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. It is important to understand the limitations of cleaning only, and similarly the limitations of disinfecting without cleaning first. Read on to find out more about the most effective way to clean and disinfect your stables, horse box/trailer or treatment areas, in between uses by different horses or ponies.

Why is cleaning before disinfection important?

Standard cleaning procedures will not necessarily kill infectious agents which can be transmitted between horses and ponies. It is important that disinfection follows a process of thorough cleaning to ensure such pathogens are effectively destroyed. Viral, bacterial and fungal infections can all be transmitted via surface contamination in a horse or pony’s environment. Some examples include bacterial strangles infection transmitted via contaminated water troughs, ringworm transmitted via fungal spores on shared tack or grooming equipment, and herpes/influenza viruses transmitted via contaminated surfaces in a stable. Although the different infectious agents may behave differently in terms of their survival time on surfaces, the same basic principles of cleaning prior to disinfection should always be followed. It is good practice to regularly clean and disinfect any equine environment, whether that be an equine veterinary premises, livery yard isolation stables or an equine transport vehicle, to reduce the risk of disease transmission

Why do you need to clean surfaces before disinfecting them?

Disinfection agents can be deactivated in the presence of organic material such as dirt, debris, and dust. mud, faeces, feed material, bedding, saliva or mucus. All of the above (and more!) are commonly found in equine premises, which is why effective disinfection relies on thorough cleaning before using disinfection agents.

What types of surfaces might need cleaning and disinfecting?

Stable walls

Stable floors

Stable doors

Bars between stables

Feed buckets

Water buckets


Grooming kit


Yard/mucking out equipment

Rubber matting


Treatment rooms


Foaling boxes

Equine transport

What should you do to clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces?

Before you start, ensure that you have any required personal and protective equipment i.e. gloves, goggles, face masks, overalls etc. All faeces and/or bedding should be removed from the area to be disinfected with a fork or shovel, then the walls, floors, doors etc. should be brushed to remove any last bits of bedding and dust. Any wastewater and leftover feed or hay should be removed from buckets and haynets, ready for cleaning. Rubber mats should also be removed so that underneath the mats can be cleaned and disinfected. Vigorous scrubbing may be required to remove dried-on dirt before rinsing and subsequent disinfection.

Grooming brushes should be scraped with a curry comb to remove as much hair and grease as possible, before cleaning in hot soapy water, and before disinfection is performed.

Low-pressure power washing (less than 120 psi) can be another useful technique for cleaning large surfaces prior to disinfection but requires a power source and a hose reaching the area to be cleaned, which may not always be possible.

After soap, detergent, or a multi-purpose cleaner has been used, all surfaces or items should be rinsed with clean plain water from top to bottom, before being allowed to dry before disinfection. If there is not enough time to allow complete drying, squeegee the area to remove as much of the water as possible, to avoid unnecessary dilution of the disinfectant.

Between uses, tack and any other leatherwork e.g. headcollars or leather lead reins should be cleaned with leather soap and water before using tack disinfectant wipes or spray, to ensure infections are not passed between horses and ponies sharing tack.

A multi-purpose disinfectant, or disinfectant and sanitising fogger are then recommended for all surfaces and objects needing to be disinfected. Be sure to cover all surfaces thoroughly, I.e. fully submerse buckets and haynets to ensure no areas have been missed. For difficult-to-reach areas in stables or equine transport, a fogger can be particularly helpful.

All surfaces should be allowed to dry thoroughly before new horses or ponies are allowed access to them, or before they are bedded down again with fresh bedding, and water buckets and haynets etc. are re-filled.

Take home message

Ensuring that enquire facilities are cleaned and disinfected regularly will protect the health and wellbeing of horses and ponies visiting or living there. Do not forget that any organic matter left in the environment may reduce the efficacy of the disinfectant or fogger you chose to use. Cleaning and disinfection should be part of the daily routine or regular yard maintenance – with the frequency of a full clean-down and disinfection depending upon the type of premises. If you have a disease outbreak, your veterinary surgeon will be able to advise you of any specific factors to be aware of concerning cleaning and disinfection for that specific disease.


Article written by Dr Jessica Putnam BVMedSci(Hons) BVM BVS(Hons) MRCVS – June 2022