As a leather crafter and boot enthusiast, I often consider which product is right for each leather item. Do I need cream or conditioner, and is there really a difference?
Leather cream is a gentle conditioner that adds pigment and a layer of wax to leather products. It’s best used for shoes, belts, bags, and other goods that need light moisturizing. It can also be a rejuvenator, bringing color and shine to leather products. Leather cream prices range from $10–$35.
Leather cream and conditioners may have similar uses. However, to help better understand when and why to use leather cream, let’s review its properties and how it can bring worn leather goods back to their former glory.
What is Leather Cream
Leather cream is a mix of three main ingredients; pigment, oil, and wax. Each serves a different purpose. Pigment is used to add small shades of color back into a product. The oil will provide moisture to the leather, preventing it from drying out, cracking, or peeling. Finally, the wax will sit on top of the leather, creating a layer that offers a small amount of protection, and can be polished for a glossy shine.
Types of Leather Cream
The two main types of cream are neutral or colored. Neutral creams forgo the pigment and offer a product that is purely intended to moisturize and add wax.
This can be helpful to those who want the benefits of the cream without jeopardizing the color of their leather product. Alternatively, colored cream offers all the same benefits with the addition of pigment to restore the faded colors of leather.
Characteristics of Leather Cream
Pigment is a coloring material used in leather creams to restore faded goods. While it is not an essential ingredient of leather creams, the added benefit of color restoration helps define the product as a rejuvenator. Pigment is used in trace amounts allowing for complete control when applying to leather goods.
If necessary, multiple coats can be used to darken a product completely. Pigment as a material is insoluble in water, meaning rain and other liquids will not cause the color to run. This is unlike leather dyes; if they are not properly treated with a protective coating, the dye will begin to run when exposed to liquids.
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Oil is the hydrating element in leather cream and is one of the two main components. The choice companies use in oils can be a deciding factor when purchasing leather cream. Popular options used in leather cream are neatsfoot oil, mink oil, and seed oil. Neatsfoot oil is used for deep moisturizing but is known to darken leather and offers no water protection.
The oil will provide moisture to the leather, preventing it from drying out, cracking, or peeling.
Mink oil does not moisturize as well as neatsfoot but has little to no effect on the leather’s color and offers some waterproofing. However, it is important to remember that mink oil is harvested from the animal’s hide, which may raise ethical concerns for some.
Lastly, there are various seed oils, including macadamia, almond, sea buckthorn, and coconut oil. Oils made from seed have similar qualities to mink oil but do not possess the same water-resisting ability. Leather creams will sometimes use a combination of oils to achieve the best product but will have one main source for their product.
Wax is the other main ingredient in leather cream, which provides a protective layer to leather products. While also trapping in the added moisture, preventing the item from dehydrating as quickly. As a result, almost every single leather cream on the market uses beeswax.
Gajendra Gaur and Yogesh Kumar Sharma of the Swami Shraddhanand College’s Department of Chemistry noted the benefits of beeswax as a protective coating in their research. Beeswax offers wear resistance and repellency and can be buffed to a shine. Other common waxes used in tandem with beeswax are carnauba wax and lanolin.
While it is similar to beeswax, carnauba wax produces a thinner coat than beeswax, meaning it wears off sooner. However, its benefits include a smoother surface that can produce more of a shine than beeswax. Lanolin is a unique type of wax that provides moisture but does not offer the same protection as other waxes.
Leather Cream Materials and Their Properties
|Material||Does it affect Color?||Does it hydrate?||Does it add protection?||Does it offer water resistance?|
|Neatsfoot Oil||Yes||Yes, Deeply||No||No|
Pros and Cons of Leather Cream
Pros of Leather Cream
Leather creams combine multiple leather maintenance products into one. It can restore color to a faded leather product while rehydrating and protecting it. The cream’s gentle moistening creates an easy-to-use general maintenance product without the fear of over-saturation. The finishing coat of wax left on the leather can be polished to a shine while simultaneously locking in the moisture added.
Cons of Leather Cream
Like other leather products, some leather creams will darken leather and must be tested before larger applications. Leather cream’s hydrating abilities are not as good as a leather conditioner, taking more product for the same effect.
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The residue of the cream’s wax finish could be unnecessary or intrusive by changing the look and feel of a leather product. Matching the color of the leather cream to a specific product can be difficult and create undesired results.
How Leather Cream is Made
Leather cream’s creation starts by combining solid ingredients. This includes waxes, butter, and fats. The oils will then be added to this mix before the heating process begins. The waxes, butter, and fats begin to melt and combine as the ingredients are heated. It will then be cooled and packaged.
Nikola Mihajlovski, and Konstantin Bahchevandjiev of Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje discuss the purpose of the fats used in leather cream in their research about leather care and maintenance using leather conditioners. They note how the fats and waxes will fill the pores of the leather, protecting it while not allowing as much hydration to escape.
Cost of Leather Cream
Although many leather creams share the same ingredients, their prices can vary from $10-$35. Lower-priced creams tend to use less or synthetic ingredients and offer no pigment.
While higher-priced creams will be in various colors and have additional ingredients. For example, almost every leather cream uses beeswax; however, higher-priced brands will also add carnauba wax, making for a smoother and shinier finish when polished.
Tips for Working With Leather Cream
- Test the leather cream on hidden parts of products to note how the leather reacts.
- Use a soft chamois cloth to apply and buff the cream.
- Apply in small amounts to save the product.
- Allow the cream to dry before beginning to polish.
- Monitor the applicator to prevent unwanted debris in the cream.
Alternative Option to Leather Cream
Without leather cream, one could substitute any leather conditioner, or neatsfoot oil, for the same hydrating effect. If the cream was being used for color correction, one could apply leather dye as an alternative. Finally, Carnauba wax, mink oil, or resolone could be applied as a similar protective coating to the cream.
While it is similar to beeswax, carnauba wax produces a thinner coat than beeswax, meaning it wears off sooner.
Examples of Items Leather Cream Can Be Used On
Leather cream can be used on various leather products, such as belts, bags, boots, shoes, jackets, and more. A product that can benefit from leather cream would be something that has faded, is dried but not cracked, and could use a layer of protection.
Leather cream is also ideal for the general maintenance of leather products, keeping them in good shape. However, while leather cream can help rejuvenate some products, if an item is cracking, peeling, or simply feels excessively dry, leather cream may not produce the same results as a leather conditioner.
Check out this helpful video to learn how to use leather cream to help protect and restore your leather products.
How Leather Cream Differs From Leather Conditioner in Practice
To help better present the differences between leather cream and conditioner, I treated a pair of leather boots. One shoe with leather cream, the other with conditioner. Since my boots are normally well treated, I sprayed them with a bit of water and left them outside for two days; to let the sun dry them out.
This was to simulate leather boots or shoes that needed to be treated. The leather cream I used was a neutral tone, made with mink oil, beeswax, and lanolin. The leather conditioner was made with beeswax, shea butter, and a proprietary blend of seed oils. Upon the initial application, I could immediately tell two things.
One was that the leather cream was soaking in quickly, requiring a heavier coat. The second was the leather conditioner was much darker than the cream. After evenly coating each boot, I let them dry for an hour and began to buff them with a chamois cloth. The leather cream took a shine very easily, and while the conditioner did start to produce a similar polish, it took more time to produce the look.
Lastly, I wanted to look at the difference in water resistance as both products shared beeswax. The boot, conditioned with leather cream, left a couple of water spots but much of the initial water beaded off the sides of the boot. The leather conditioner also provided some protection; however, nearly triple the water was left on the boot.
To summarize these results, the leather cream took much more product to rehydrate the boot, but left a shiner, more water-resistant polish, and did not affect the color once dried. The leather conditioner hydrated the boot quicker, leaving it feeling more supple than the cream. However, it lacked the ease of polish and was less water resistant. The leather conditioner also left the boot noticeably darker than the cream did.
Leather Cream Care and Maintenance
How to Maintain Leather Cream
The most important thing when maintaining one’s leather cream is keeping it free from contaminants. This is achieved by always using a clean applicator while closely monitoring any dye rub-off and keeping the lid closed while not in use to prevent debris from entering the product or drying out.
How to Store Leather Cream
Leather cream is best stored in its original container at room temperature. This container should remain tightly sealed until needed, as the cream could become dry and gritty when left open. However, leather cream can be moved to jars and other storage containers as long as said containers are clean, free of contaminants, and can provide an airtight seal.
Is cream good for leather?
Leather cream restores, hydrates, and protects leather, making it a good product for general use. However, one may test small hidden areas to see the changes the leather cream may produce.
Is hand cream different than leather cream?
Yes, hand cream is different than leather cream. Leather cream is specifically formulated to treat and wax leather. While hand cream may contain moisturizing oils, other additives may damage or discolor leather and do not provide any protective wax.
What is the best leather cream?
While there is no standardized “best” leather cream, good leather creams provide good moisturizing oil and a durable wax layer. Typically all-natural ingredients such as neatsfoot oil, seed oils, beeswax, and carnauba wax indicate a good product. Each leather piece is different, so finding a cream that works best for your leather goods is ideal.
While there are many options when maintaining leather goods, leather cream covers most needs. Its ability to restore, condition, protect, and shine makes it ideal for anyone who wants to keep their leather products looking their best.