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Leather Conditioner – Choosing the Right Quality and Type

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 or synthetic compound that, when applied to leather, helps moisturize and condition the fibers so they stay flexible and durable over time. It can comprise a singular substance or a blend of oils, waxes, fats, and other conditioning agents mixed in a specialized formula.

Let’s take a deeper look at leather conditioner types, when to use them, alternatives, how to apply them, and more.

What is Leather Conditioner?

Leather conditioner is a substance made to nourish the natural fibers in the leather and restore some of its natural oils to keep it flexible and 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 regain 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 conditioners 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 penetrate 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.

Leather Conditioners - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Conditioners

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, leather’s natural moisture will be drawn out due to exposure to the elements, such as:

  • Heat
  • Sun
  • Dirt
  • Rain
  • Grime

This can lead to drying, lightening of the color, and ultimately, cracking of the leather material. 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, certain signs of leather 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 restore the lost moisture.

Every few months (proactive maintenance)

Ideally, like most things, proactive maintenance will help keep larger issues from coming up, 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 are used frequently in tough and dirty conditions; frequent maintenance can help them 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 they are bent, moved, and used. If cracks appear, it’s a sure sign that the leather is dry and needs conditioning. Cracks, for the most part, cannot be repaired easily, so prevention is often the best course of action.

Leather conditioner is relatively easy to use. 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 care and maintenance.

Olive Oil in Jar - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Oil

Helpful Leather Conditioners to Start With

Here is an easy-reference table with paid links to items that I trust — these are some helpful leather conditioners to try.

TypeDescriptionSource
ConditionerLeather Honey Leather ConditionerView on Amazon
ConditionerLeatherique RejuvenatorView on Amazon
OilObenauf’s Leather Conditioner – Leather OilView on Amazon

Types of Leather Conditioners

Choosing the proper leather conditioner is a very important decision, and a 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 moisturize and condition the fibers when applied properly. It can extend the lifespan of leather goods and make them soft again. Leather oil 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 and maintenance. It is generally lighter in consistency than oils, making it suitable for some thinner leathers and related applications. Some leather creams also have waterproofing agents integrated into the compound for those needs where this can be beneficial.

3. Leather Wax

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, waterproof 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 unique or require specialized conditioners. Suede and nubuck leathers, for example, have very exposed leather fibers. They usually need a special and gentle conditioner that helps preserve the fibers.

There are other specialty conditioners that include all sorts of various agents, including waterproofing. Some have color additives, and others have formulas intended for unique leather types, such as plant-fiber leather. When planning to condition, identify first the types of leather to be conditioned, then the most gentle and suitable conditioner for the job.

Here is a helpful video showing how oils and conditioning affect the leather layers and fibers:

Specific Leather Conditioners

Leather Conditioner For Cars 

Leather car seats are exposed to many harsh conditions, such as friction caused by passengers and direct sunlight. The best oil to use on 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

Like 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, boots, and heavy-duty leather items 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. Mink oil is a natural product derived from the fat of minks, known for its ability to deeply condition and waterproof leather, making it softer and more durable.

Leather Conditioner For Jackets

Leather jackets are not as delicate as bags or purses, but they are not heavy-duty items like work boots. They often experience rough use, 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, belts, or leather goods that haven’t been used for a long period of time, it is certainly doable.

One possible recipe combines 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, using a DIY leather conditioner on old leather goods, like homemade boot oil, can be a fun little project.

Leather Conditioner For Bags

Bags are usually made from delicate, luxurious, or exotic leather. Thus, they require extra care to be conditioned. 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 shared that the Lexol formula has been changed. Originally seemingly made in the U.S. with 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 silicone or petroleum-based solvents or substances. This helps it penetrate the leather fibers deeply and evenly. Lexol is also non-toxic, not flammable, and 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. It is worth noting that it generally should not be used on suede or nubuck leather.

Lexol Leather Conditioner - Liberty Leather Goods
Lexol Leather Conditioner

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 contain silicone or solvents. No animal products are used in the production process. Once applied, it is generally not sticky. 

Leather Honey Conditioner is not recommended for suede or extremely soft types of leather but can be used on leather items such as:

  • Car upholstery
  • Shoes
  • Boots
  • Baggage
  • Saddles
  • Sports equipment
  • Furniture
  • Other leather accessories

Bick 4 Leather Conditioner

Bickmore is one of the oldest companies that produce leather conditioners. The company has been 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
  • 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 saddles and other leather goods. They started producing saddles in Texas right after the Civil War and have produced many different leather goods until today. King Ranch Leather Conditioner results from its 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 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. Oakwood Leather Conditioner contains natural ingredients, including:

  • Tea tree oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Emu oil
  • Beeswax
  • Lanolin

What to Look for In Leather Conditioner

1. Ingredients/Gentleness

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 contain wax. Wax has both positive and negative effects, so you may have to consider its advantages and disadvantages. Wax has a sealing effect on the leather pores, which 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 it can’t breathe. Breathability is one of the main advantages of natural leather, and preventing it from breathing 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 goods like bags and purses. On more heavy-duty items like saddles, it may be less of a concern.

2. Safety of 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.

3. Greasiness/Lightness

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 better suited for heavy-duty leather goods such as work boots or saddlery. However, heavier oils can block the pores of leather, stain it, or make it feel greasy.

4. Impact on Leather Color

Most leather conditioners make the leather darker when applied, but the darkening effect is usually temporary. Once the leather is dried after the application, the color can return to normal. However, heavier leather conditioners can permanently change the color of the leather.

The darkening effect of heavier leather conditioners can gradually darken the leather 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 impact it might have on the color of the leather.

Saphir Leather Conditioner Oil - Liberty Leather Goods
Saphir Leather Conditioner Oil

The Best Leather Conditioners

Overall

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 nubuck and suede leather. 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 relatively 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, or other petroleum-based products in its production process. This is a 100% pure, natural mink oil formula. It penetrates the leather deeply and also works on shoes.

One of the challenges of oiling shoes is that some oils block the leather pores and prevent the even application of a nice polish/shine. This formula from Saphir is formulated for shoes, so it is a great choice for that. It is primarily used for shoes, and it has a reputation for delicate and quality leather.

3. Leather Honey Leather Conditioner

Leather Honey Leather Conditioner is non-toxic and consists of all-natural materials. It does not include any silicone or solvents and can be used on a variety of leather goods, including:

  • Car upholstery
  • Shoes
  • Boots
  • Baggage
  • Saddles
  • Sports equipment
  • Furniture
  • Other leather accessories

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 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. The wax content of Saphir is also useful for shoe care. 

Best Leather Conditioner For Couches and Furniture

Lexol is the best leather conditioner for couches and furniture. Leather furniture needs frequent care since it has 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 a light and deeply effective formula that 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’s. Leather car seats are very similar to leather furniture. In addition to daily usage, car seats are also exposed to sunlight, which requires more care compared to leather furniture that stays at home.   

Check out this video for more on learning about leather oils and selecting the right one.

How to Apply Leather Conditioner

Preparation & Cleaning

First, we need to prep the work area by clearing it and covering it with a protective layer, such as paper or plastic. 

For the leather conditioner to work effectively, it must reach deep into the leather fibers. Therefore, it’s important to ensure the leather is clean from debris, such as:

  • Dirt
  • Dust
  • Mud
  • Grime
  • Oils from the skin
  • Food
  • Various stains.

There are many leather cleaners to choose from, so it’s important to make sure they are made specifically for leather cleaning. If you use cleaners that contain alcohol or have a high pH formula, you can damage or stain the leather.

After selecting the appropriate cleaner, we must 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 to prevent color tone differences once the leather conditioner is applied. After the cleaner is applied, 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, apply the leather conditioner. Again, using a lint-free cloth, apply the leather conditioner in thin layers with circular movements. If you need to apply more than one layer of leather conditioner, 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.

Helpful Leather Conditioner Insights

Common Household Oils

Is coconut oil a good leather conditioner?

Coconut oil is not a leather-specific conditioner and is not recommended for leather. Leather can’t fully absorb coconut oil, and it can leave a slick surface that will rub off onto clothing.

Is Vaseline good for leather?

Vaseline is made from petroleum and is sometimes called petroleum jelly. Unnatural materials like petroleum will accelerate the breakdown of the leather fibers over time, so Vaseline is not recommended for leather. Also, vaseline is a very heavy material that coats the whole surface of the leather, preventing the future conditioning of the leather and reducing its breathability.

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. However, use caution as olive oil can go rancid over time, potentially causing unpleasant odors and damaging the leather. For high-quality items, it’s best to stick with oils specifically formulated for leather care.

Does baby oil ruin leather?

Baby oil can penetrate the leather pores easily, but it doesn’t have enough fat ingredients to nourish the leather fiber, so it won’t be effective. Thus, we can easily say that baby oil is not good for leather. Over time, using baby oil can lead to the leather becoming dry and brittle, potentially causing cracks and damage.

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. Olive oil can go rancid over time, which may cause the leather to develop an unpleasant odor and potentially attract mold or mildew. Additionally, olive oil can cause the leather to darken unevenly and may not provide the same level of conditioning and protection as neatsfoot oil.

Can I use a hair conditioner on leather?

No, hair conditioners contain many chemicals that will negatively affect the leather. Leather is a natural material, and it’s best if the conditioners consist of natural materials such as mink oil or beeswax. Hair conditioners often contain silicones, alcohol, and other additives that can dry out, damage, or discolor leather. On the other hand, natural conditioners like mink oil and beeswax help to nourish and protect the leather, maintaining its suppleness and extending its lifespan.

Common Questions

How often should I use leather conditioner?

For regular-use items, leather conditioner should be used twice a year. However, for heavy-duty leather, 3-4 times a year might be necessary. For particularly dry or harsh environments, more frequent conditioning may be required to protect the leather from cracking and drying out.

Is 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. For optimal waterproofing, consider using a specialized leather waterproofing product or wax after conditioning for enhanced protection against heavy rain or prolonged exposure to moisture.

Can you use too much leather conditioner?

It’s recommended to apply leather conditioner in thin layers. If you apply too much 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, leather conditioner can last up to 6 months. However, in harsh conditions, such as exposure to extreme weather, frequent use, or high humidity, the conditioner may need to be reapplied more frequently. Factors like the type of leather, the quality of the conditioner, and the specific environment can all influence how long the conditioner remains effective.

Does leather conditioner soften leather?

Yes, leather conditioner softens the leather. When applied properly, it restores the leather’s natural moisture and nourishes the fibers, thus restoring its elasticity. This helps prevent the leather from becoming brittle or cracking over time, maintaining its softness and durability.

How do I condition my leather car seats naturally?

You can use diluted vinegar to clean your leather car seats and an olive oil, vinegar, and 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 onto a clean cloth and use the cloth to evenly spread the conditioner.

In Closing

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.

Related Topics

Does leather conditioner remove scratches?

Leather conditioner 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 manufacturer’s instructions. However, for large pieces of leather, it’s best to wait overnight for it to dry fully. Many factors can influence dry time, though, such as leather thickness, how much leather conditioner was applied, and ambient temperature and humidity.