Leather is a natural material that can provide years of excellent and reliable use. Maintenance with the right leather conditioner helps ensure it stays in great shape.
Leather conditioner is a natural substance or synthetic compound that, when applied to leather, helps to moisturize and condition the fibers so they stay flexible and durable over time. It can be composed of a singular substance, or a blend of oils, waxes, fats, and other conditioning agents mixed a specialized formula.
Let’s have a deeper look at leather conditioner types, when to use them, alternatives, how to apply, and more.
What is Leather Conditioner?
Leather conditioner is a substance made to nourish the natural fibers in the leather and give back some of its natural oils to keep it flexible & strong. Leather is a natural material and it consists in part of natural oils and moisture. These can be lost over time and applying leather conditioner helps to restore that moisture.
As a leather material is exposed to daily conditions of life such as sunlight, heat sources, dust, mud, friction, or dirt it starts to lose its natural oils and humidity. The leather starts to dry up and fibers in the leather become less flexible. This makes leather prone to crack and dissolve if certain measures to give back its flexibility are not taken.
Some leather conditioners only provide conditioning, by helping to restore some of the natural moisture to the leather. Other conditioners add some water resistance, and yet others provide even waterproofing qualities to the leather. The choice of which leather conditioner to use will depend mainly on the type of leather good being conditioned, and preference for its finished result, look, feel, and performance.
For example, heavier leather conditioner might be used on thicker leathers used for heavy jobs, such as work boots, some saddlery, and tool belts. These can absorb more, which is often necessary to penetrade deep into the fibers of the thicker material. Finer leathers, like those used for dress shoes and accessories, might benefit from a much lighter conditioner formula and a suitable polish. Since they are thinner leathers, less conditioner would be needed. Too much conditioner can be troublesome to a degree. We’ll explore more below.
When to Use Leather Conditioner
When owning a natural leather good, at some point it’s likely it will need to be oiled and conditioned. This is totally normal maintenance as over time, exposure to the elements such as heat, sun, dirt, rain, and grime will draw out some of its natural moisture. This can lead to drying, lightening of the color, and ultimately cracking of the leather material.
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Once the material cracks and flakes, it’s weakened and very difficult to repair. Thus, proper oiling and conditioning of leather is a great way to maintain leather goods for decades. There are a few signs when one might want to oil leather.
In addition to regular conditioning, there are certain signs of leather that signal a need for conditioning. One sign is the color change in the leather. Patina is the expected color change for leather (developed over time from frequent use – most often seen with vegetable-tanned leather) but if the color of the leather goes lighter and the individual fibers become more visible, it might be the result of leather losing its natural moisture.
Loss of flexibility, and visible cracks are also clear indicators that conditioning is likely needed. In that case, you will likely need to apply leather conditioners to give back the lost moisture.
Every few months (proactive maintenance)
Ideally, like most things, proactive maintenance will help keep larger issues from coming up, and prevent leather damage that will require far more than just conditioning, and get into the realm of repairs. For items that are used frequently and in tough working or usage conditions (sun, heat, rain, daily use, etc.), conditioning every few months can be very helpful. For items used less often or in lighter conditions, conditioning every 6 months to a year should be enough.
Some items might need monthly conditioning, for example tack and saddlery that is used frequently in tough and dirty conditions, frequent maintenance can help it stay strong and perform well.
It begins to lighten in color
Leather begins to lighten in color as moisture is lost. If you notice it doing so, it might be a sign that it needs some conditioning to help restore the natural moisture.
It becomes less flexible and somewhat stiff
Once leather loses moisture for a prolonged period of time, it can become stiff, and even rigid. In this state, it becomes easier to crack, which results in permanent damage to the fibers. This is definitely a sign that is can use conditioning.
Small cracks begin to appear
Once the flexibility is lost, the leather fibers will begin to crack as it’s bent, moved, and used. If cracks appear, it’s a sure sign the leather is dry and needs leather conditioning. Cracks, for the most part, cannot be repaired easily, so prevention here is often the best course of action.
It’s relatively easy to use leather conditioner. Once familiar with the process, the trickiest part might just be remembering when to do it 🙂 Over time, it becomes a familiar and sometimes fun habit as part of quality leather good maintenance.
Types of Leather Conditioners
Choosing the proper leather conditioner is very important decision, and an conditioner that might work great for a specific type of leather can easily damage another. There are several high-quality types available, some of the more popular include:
1. Leather Oils
Leather oil is a natural or synthetic substance that helps to moisturize and condition the fibers when applied properly. It can extend the lifespan of leather goods make them soft again. It can be composed of a singular oil, or a blend of oils, fats, waxes, and other conditioning agents.
2. Leather Creams
Leather cream is another option for leather conditioning. They are generally lighter in consistency than oils, making them suitable for some thinner leathers and related applications. Some leather creams also have waterproofing agents intergated into the compound, for those needs where this can be a benefit.
3. Leather Wax
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Wax conditioners are more like complementary leather conditioning items. They don’t penetrate deep into the leather to nourish the fibers, but they add surface protection to the leather. The wax forms a water resistant, and in some cases, water proof barrier between the elements and the leather fibers underneath it.
Since it doesn’t penetrate the leather, the fibers are usually still in need of moisture. Thus, leather wax can usually be applied onto the surface of leather items, after proper conditioning has been done.
4. Specialty Leather Conditioners
Some leathers are very unique, or require specialized conditioners. For example, suede and nubuck leathers have very exposed leather fibers. They usually need a special and gentle conditioner that helps preserve the fibers.
There are other speciality conditioners that include all sorts of various agents including waterproofing, some have color additives, and others formulas intended for unique leather types such as plant-fiber leather. When planning to condition, identify first the type of leather to be conditioned, then the most gentle, and suitable conditioner for the job.
Specific Leather Conditioners
Leather Conditioner For Cars
Leather car seats are exposed to many harsh conditions such as friction caused by the passenger and direct sunlight. The best oil to use on a leather car seats is likely Lexol. Being a lighter oil, Lexol won’t leave any residue while protecting your car seats.
Leather Conditioner For Furniture And Couches
Similar to car seats, leather furniture and couches are exposed to difficult conditions. Daily pressure, sweat and heat from the residents require enough care with a conditioner like Lexol.
Leather Conditioner For Shoes And Boots
Shoes and boots are more heavy-duty item that require specific leather care products. They are affected by outside conditions, dust, mud, rain and other rough conditions. Saphir mink oil leather conditioner is recommended for this specific purpose.
Leather Conditioner For Jackets
Leather jackets are not as delicate as bags or purses but still, they are not heavy-duty items like work boots. They often go through rough use cases, friction, and bad weather conditions. Lexol can often be used to condition leather jackets.
Homemade Leather Conditioner
Generally, it’s best to use a leather-specific conditioner to restore moisture to leather goods. However, if you’re in a pinch, or want to try a homemade solution on some old boots or belts or leather goods that aren’t needed for a long period of time, it is certainly do-able.
One possible recipe includes combining beeswax, sweet almond oil, and cocoa butter. Mix over low heat, periodically stirring while they blend together into a formula. This will help develop a nourishing conditioner that can be applied to the leather.
Again, something like Lexol will be much better for quality goods or long-term use. Though for some fun DIY on an old leather goods, homemade boot oil can be made while also being a fun little project.
Leather Conditioner For Bags
Bags are usually made from delicate leathers. They can also be made from luxurious or exotic leather. Thus it requires an extra care to condition the leather bags. Lighter leather conditioners such as Lexol can be used to condition leather bags.
Popular Leather Conditioner Brands
Lexol Leather Conditioner
*Note (April, 2022) – Sources have been sharing that the Lexol formula has been changed. Originally seemingly made in the USA of mostly natural ingredients – it now appears it is being made overseas, with some unnatural ingredients, and several strong additives that contribute to a noticeable smell. If that can be confirmed, the new formula would NOT be recommended. The recommendations are focused on the old, original formula that had been around for years. Others to consider would be Leatherique Rejuvenator and Leather Honey Conditioner.
Lexol is an aqueous emulsion (water-based substance) conditioner that does not contain any silicone or petroleum-based solvents or substances. This helps it to penetrate the leather fibers deeply and evenly. Lexol also is non-toxic, is not flammable, and also is not too greasy, making it a very different leather conditioner than most others that are available. It is very gentle, and effective.
The conditioners and oils used are held within the water-based emulsion relatively evenly, so when applied to leather they spread consistently across the surface and penetrate into the fibers. Often, leather with Lexol applied does not feel tacky after it dries, which is different than many other conditioners.
Also, since it is so gentle, non-toxic, easy to work with, and leaves a usually great result, Lexol is one of the best leather conditioners for many types of leather goods. In general, worth noting, it should not be used on suede or nubuck leather.
Leather Honey Leather Conditioner
Leather Honey is another leather conditioner developed in the US that infuses leather with necessary moisture. It penetrates deep to protect the fibers. It is non-toxic and does not consist of silicone or solvents. It also has no animal products used in the production process. It is generally not sticky once applied.
One can use Leather Honey Conditioner on leather car upholstery, shoes, boots, baggage, saddles, sports equipment, furniture, and other leather accessories. It is not recommended for suede or extremely soft types of leathers.
Bick 4 Leather Conditioner
Bickmore is one of the oldest companies that produce leather conditioners. The company is in operation since 1882. Bick 4 Leather Conditioner is one of their most popular products. The product information suggests that it can be used with all types of leather products such as boots, shoes, jackets, purses, handbags, furniture & upholstery, car interiors, motorcycle seats, equestrian equipment such as saddles and tack, any exotic leather products.
Unlike some other leather conditioners, Bick 4 is a wax-free product. Wax has a sealing effect on the pores of the leather. Although it is good for water resistance, it can prevent the leather from breathing.
King Ranch Leather Conditioner
King Ranch is another traditional company that produces saddle and other leather goods. They started producing saddles in Texas right after the civil war and they produce many different leather goods until today. King Ranch Leather Conditioner is the result of their leathercrafting heritage and keeps your leather products in good condition while helping to extend their lifespan.
Oakwood Leather Conditioner
Oakwood Leather Conditioner is an Australian product. It contains natural ingredients including tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, emu oil, beeswax, and lanolin. It has water-repelling features in addition to protecting and conditioning leather. It may darken the leather a little bit when applied, which could in some cases be temporary.
What to Look for In Leather Conditioner
Many leather conditioners have similar ingredients with a few small but important differences. Those include the addition of petroleum-based substances, those which are water-based, and those which contain wax and surface protectants.
Some leather conditioners have wax in them. Wax has both positive and negative effects. So you may have to consider both advantages and disadvantages of wax. Wax has a sealing effect on the leather pores and this means the leather will be more water-repellant and even water-proof. It also means more surface protection against external factors since it will create a layer on the leather.
However, sealing the pores of the leather means leather can’t breathe. Breathability is one of the main advantages of natural leather and preventing it to breathe can have positive long-term effects on flexibility and durability.
Another ingredient category that we need to be careful of is the chemical and petroleum-based ingredients. These materials can have short-term advantages, but they will generally shorten the lifespan of leather goods in the long term by weakening the leather fibers. Especially, it is not suggested to use conditioners with unnatural ingredients on more delicate good like bags and purses. On more heavy-duty items like saddles, it may be a less of a concern.
2. Safety to Leather in the Long Term
Some leather conditioners that include chemical and petroleum-based ingredients can have short term advantages but in the long term, they will weaken the leather fibers and can lead to cracking and faster wear. That’s why leather conditioners with natural ingredients work better for the safety of the leather in the long term. It’s usually best to begin conditioning with gentle conditioners, unless the effects will be obvious and a stronger one is needed.
Lighter leather conditioners work better with finer leather goods such as bags, purses, and wallets. They penetrate the leather slowly but evenly and do not change the color of the leather or create stains. Also, they don’t leave a noticeable feel after they are applied.
Heavier leather conditioners are a better suit for more heavy-duty leather goods such as work boots or saddlery. However, heavier oils can block the leather pores, stain the leather, or make it feel greasy.
4. Impact on Leather Color
Most leather conditioners make the leather darker when applied, however mostly the darkening effect is usually temporary. Once the leather is dried after the application, the color can go back to normal. However heavier leather conditioners can change the color of the leather permanently.
The darkening effect of heavier leather conditioners can darken the leather gradually after each application. Also, heavy leather conditioners can block the pores of the leather and stain it – so it’s a balance between choosing the right conditioner for the job and the impacts it might have on the color of the leather.
The Best Leather Conditioners
1. Lexol Leather Conditioner
Lexol is a great all-around, non-toxic leather conditioner suitable for most leather uses and on most leather types. Exceptions are suede and nubuck. It can also be used on finer, more delicate leathers where other leather oils might be too heavy. Lexol has been around for a long time, and is realtively trusted in the industry and within the craft.
2. Saphir Mink Oil Leather Conditioner
Saphir leather conditioner is a popular mink oil based conditioner from France. Saphir generally does not use silicones, resins, and other petroleum-based products in their production process. This is a 100% pure, natural mink oil formula. It will penetrate the leather deeply, and also works on shoes.
One of the challenges of oiling shoes is that some oils will block the leather pores and prevent even application of a nice polish/shine. This formula from Saphir is formulated for shoes, so is a great choice when using it for that. It is primarily used for shoes and it has a reputation among use for delicate and quality leathers.
3. Leather Honey Leather Conditioner
Leather Honey Leather Conditioner is used on a variety of leather goods including leather car upholstery, shoes, boots, baggage, saddles, sports equipment, furniture, and other leather accessories. It is also non-toxic and consists of all-natural materials. It does not include any silicone or solvents.
Best Leather Conditioner For Jackets
The best leather conditioner for leather jackets is Lexol. Leather jackets are not heavy-duty items like work boots but they are not as delicate as a luxury bag. They often go through rough use cases, friction, and bad weather conditions. Mink oil can also be used to condition leather jackets.
Best Leather Conditioner For Shoes and Boots
The best leather conditioner for shoes and boots is Saphir Mink Oil Leather Conditioner. Dress shoes are usually made from luxury leather and they require extra care. Saphir’s solution is more associated with shoe care and they are in a good relationship with exotic leather or luxury leathers like shell cordovan. Wax content of Saphir is also useful for shoe care.
Best Leather Conditioner For Furniture and Couches
The best leather conditioner for furniture and couches is Lexol. Leather furniture needs frequent care since they have to handle a lot of consistent pressure and friction daily. But the leather conditioner for leather furniture should be light and shouldn’t be tacky. Lexol is one step ahead with light and deeply effective formula which also leaves no residue.
Best Leather Conditioner For Cars
The best leather conditioner for cars is Lexol. Leather Honey leather conditioner is also a popular choice for cars however its formula is a bit heavier and stickier than Lexol. Leather car seats scenario is very similar to leather furniture. In addition to daily usage, car seats are also exposed to sunlight. That requires more care compared to leather furniture that stays at home.
How to Apply Leather Conditioner
Preparation & Cleaning
First, we need to prep the work area by clearing and covering it with a protective layer like paper or plastic.
For the leather conditioner to work effectively it needs to reach deep into the leather fibers. That’s why we need to make sure the leather we plan to use the leather conditioner on it is clean from dirt, dust, mud, grime, oils from the skin, food, various stains. There are many leather cleaners to choose from. We need to make sure they are made for leather cleaning specifically. If you use cleaners that include alcohol or that have high pH formula, you can damage or stain the leather.
After selecting the appropriate cleaner, we need to apply it using a lint-free cloth. Gently rub it in small circles over the entire leather surface, all the way to the edges. It’s important to clean the whole surface evenly in order to prevent color tone differences once the leather conditioner is applied. After the cleaner is applied, we need to wait for it to dry. You can follow the cleaner’s instructions but many factors can influence dry time, such as leather thickness, how much cleaner was applied, ambient temperature, and ambient humidity.
Apply Leather Oil
Next, we should apply the leather conditioner. Again using a lint-free cloth apply the leather conditioner in thin layers with circular movements of the cloth. If you need to apply more than one layer of leather conditioner, you should wait for the first layer to dry. If you apply the second and third layers immediately you can clog the leather pores with excess oil and end up with a tacky, greasy surface.
Here is a helpful video demonstrating the steps to conditioning leather boots:
Helpful Leather Conditioner Insights
Common Household Oils
Is coconut oil a good leather conditioner?
Coconut oil is not an leather specific conditioner and is not recommended for leather. Leather can’t fully absorb coconut oil and it can leave a slick surface which will rub off onto clothing.
Is Vaseline good for leather?
Vaseline is made from petroleum and sometime called petroleum jelly. Unnatural material like petroleum will accelerate the breakdown of the leather fibers over time, thus vaseline is not recommended for leather. Also, vaseline is a very heavy material which will coat the whole surface of the leather, preventing the future conditioning of the leather as well as breathability of the leather.
What household oil is good for leather?
Olive oil can be used in some cases to substitute neatsfoot oil. It won’t darken the leather too much but it is not recommended for fine leather products such as shoes, purses or wallets.
Does baby oil ruin leather?
Baby oil can do a good job to penetrate the leather pores easily but it doesn’t have enough fat ingredients to nourish the leather fiber, so it won’t be effective. We can easily say that baby oil is not good for leather.
Can I use olive oil to condition leather?
Yes, olive oil can be used in some cases to substitute neatsfoot oil but it is not recommended to use olive oil on finer leather goods.
Can I use hair conditioner on leather?
No, hair conditioners contains lots of chemicals that will have negative effects on the leather. Leather is a natural material and it’s best if the conditioners consist of natural materials such as mink oil or beeswax.
How often should I use leather conditioner?
You should use leather conditioner twice a year for regular use items. However for heavy-duty leather good 3-4 times a year might be necessary.
Does leather conditioner waterproof?
Not all leather conditioners are waterproof. Some leather conditioners have water-repelling features and some of them are waterproof. It usually depends on the wax content of the leather conditioner.
Can you use too much leather conditioner?
It’s recommended to apply leather conditioner in thin layers. If you apply too much leather conditioner at once you may clog the leather pores and cause stains. You need to apply a thin layer and wait for it to dry. Once it’s dry you can apply another thin layer.
How long does leather conditioner last?
Depending on the usage scenarios they can last up to 6 months. However in harsh conditions they may last less.
Does leather conditioner soften leather?
Yes, leather conditioner soften the leather. It gives back the natural moisture of the leather when applied properly. It nourishes the leather fibers thus giving back the elasticity of the leather.
How do I condition my leather car seats naturally?
You can use diluted vinegar to clean your leather car seats and you can use olive oil+vinegar+linseed oil mixture to condition your leather naturally. However you should always try the result on an unseen part of the leather to make sure. Also never spray the solution directly onto the leather. Spray to a clean cloth and use the cloth to evenly spread the conditioner.
There are many leather conditioning products and many different use cases however the fundamentals are very simple. Leather is a natural material that requires extra care. If you condition it regularly to nourish it with oils and waxes, it will be much more durable and serve you more. Choose an appropriate leather conditioner made from natural substances and use it regularly to keep your leather goods in shape.
Does leather conditioner remove scratches?
Leather conditioners does not directly remove scratches but the effect of the conditioner may make the scratches less visible. Leather conditioner will nourish the scratched part and make the flakes darker. As a result the leather may look smoother.
How long does it take for leather conditioner to dry?
You need to follow the instructions of the manufacturer. However, for large pieces of leather, it’s best to wait overnight for it to fully dry. Many factors can influence dry time though, such as leather thickness, how much leather conditioner was applied, ambient temperature, and ambient humidity.