Mould. It is unsightly and plain gross. It can be dangerous in some circumstances, and cause health issues. There are very few instances where that word is used as a positive. If you live in damp climates, or those with high humidity, chances are you have seen or owned tack that has been affected by mould.
I myself, have a first hand experience involving my horses fancy show halter being left outside in a plastic tote, on our back deck for an entire year. That means a year of British Columbia rain, hail, sleet, sun and snow. All the elements (but honestly mostly rain, as us Vancouverites can attest. When I found my poor piece of rotting tack, I thought that was it. I cursed my partner for leaving it outside. Who leaves a beautiful leather halter in a plastic tote, outside? I'll tell you who: a non horse person that has no idea about tack and really just thought he was tidying up my bomb of a tack collection that I so freely leave all around our house, office and garage.
But I digress, after I shed a single tear (totally not over dramatic) I thought, well I might do some experimenting and see if this can be salvaged.
My poor leather halter left out for a year in the elements. Covered in mould and looking terrible.
So, how do you get rid of mould in tack? And more importantly, how do you keep it away for good?
Let's talk about what mould is, how it forms, and how it spreads. Rewinding back to grade 9 biology for a moment, mould is a type of fungus, who's job is to break down (decompose) organic materials. Mould forms on leather due to the leathers natural composition and porosity. It is airborne, meaning if you put a piece of mouldy tack beside a piece of non mouldy tack, eventually the non mouldy piece will be affected.
Mould needs damp, warm conditions with limited air flow to grow. Thats why my poor halter was the perfect breeding grounds for mould because it was damp (soaking actually) and then left in the sun in a fairly sealed box to grow.
How Do You Clean Mould Off Tack?
The first step in this process is to physically remove the mould from the item. I gloved and masked up, because I didn't want to breathe in the spores and it was honestly just disgusting and scary, and PPE seemed like a good idea. This also happened at the beginning of lock down in 2020 and everything at that moment was terrifying. So gloves and masks were a good idea.
I ran the halter under hot water and scrubbed the green fuzzy mould off as best as I could. It seems odd to completely saturate your hater in water, after what we've been taught, but really the only thing the water is going to do in the long run, is actually dry the leather out. So in this case it's not going to be damaging to your equipment. I used the hottest water I could. And left it to soak for about an hour before removing.
White vinegar is a miracle cleaner for everything, including leather.
If it is possible, laying our your leather tack in the sun for a day is super beneficial for killing the mould spores. This is however, entirely dependant on the time of year and climate you live in. We've had the rainiest year ever (or so it feels like) so this wasn't exactly an option for those of us living in the Pacific North West.
The next step I took, is to thoroughly saturate the leather in white vinegar. For those of you that aren't aware, vinegar is magic. Because of its acidity, it's a wonderful cleaning agent for virtually anything. The vinegar will clean the leather and further kill the spores and prevent them from regrowing. Don't be afraid to use too much. Using an old toothbrush (I feel like I don't have to use the word old, you all know better, right?) scrub. Really use some elbow grease and get in there. Let the vinegar sit on the tack for a few hours. You can then rinse off the vinegar and hang to dry.
Now comes the waiting game. I waited for a few days, keeping my halter drying indoors. Several days later, the halter was dry. When I say dry, i mean DRY. All of that work cleaning off mould and killing mould spores really worked. Now I was left with this dry, hard, stiff piece of equipment that seemed like it was going to be unusable.
This next step is critical. This is the make or break. You need to get moisture back into the halter. However, the product you use will affect the longevity of your piece. I personally do not use anything that contains Glycerine in it, as I've found it only saturates the top layer of leather which can actually cause mould and mildew to regrow. I use a leather conditioner, leather balm, whatever you refer to it as to clean my tack thoroughly after it has been dried out. Effax Leder-balm is always my go to. I've had the most success with it, and it always leaves my tack supple, and soft without being greasy.
This final step may take several passes before your tack feels usable again. I used the Effax Leder-balm three or four times before the halter felt usable again. On the last time, I left it overnight, and the conditioner really soaked into the leather, making it feel brand new again. I highly recommend the Effax line of products. (Not sponsored by any means, I'm just obsessed)
Effax also carries a spray specifically to prevent mould and mildew from reoccuring. Effax Mildew-Free can be sprayed on cleaned tack and will help from having to repeat this process.
The finished product. Cleaned, conditioned and almost as good as new!One step is to ensure that your tack is properly stored. In a plastic tote being pelted on by the elements ain't it, so be sure that your tack room is at the very least, dry. If you live in a humid or damp climate, a plug in dehumidifier can rid the room of excess moisture.
It would have been easy for me to simply toss my leather halter in the garbage and buy something new, but I just loved it so much and felt the need to try to fix it. Was it a lot of work? It sort of was, but the halter came out looking nearly new again. Now that you have spent all this time scrubbing and cleaning, we need to take some extra precautionary measures to ensure this doesn't happen again.
If an actual dehumidifier machine isn't an option, or isn't feasible due to space constraints, theres an awesome product called Damprid that I highly recommend. It comes in four pound buckets, or smaller sachets and can be placed directly in your tack locker to soak up excess moisture. Use it year round for best results. I especially find it useful in the winter months, when working hard training. My saddle pads and helmet get super sweaty, and Damprid really sucks the moisture out. Plus it helps eliminate odours. It's a win win really. Seriously though its an inexpensive product that helps protect your tack and keeps your locker dry.
A big thing too, with preventing mould and mildew on your tack is to USE the equipment. Tack that's in regular use rarely gets a chance to mould, because it's always being moved around, wiped down, and used. If you have a collection of tack that isn't being used, store it at home, or a climate controlled room if at all possible. That saddle that you haven't used in years was a big investment and it will stay in great condition if you keep it in the right spot.
Also worth noting: If you do have a saddle, or bridle that has a white film on it, that may not be mould. It may just be what is referred to as leather bloom. Leather bloom, also called Fatty spew (I prefer the former personally) is when the fatty components of leather seep to the surface. They are not at all harmful, and can be cleaned away with any leather conditioner and elbow grease. Don't fret if you see leather bloom on your tack. It is completely different to mould.
Hopefully you learned a thing or two from this article. I was so pleased that my seemingly destroyed halter was completely salvageable and usable with a few simple steps and some time. Now it hangs proudly on it's hook outside and no one can tell it was once an absolute science project.
Do you have any ideas for informative blog posts? Let us know in the comments below, we'd love to hear from you!