Mink oil is sure to be a familiar leather conditioner to most of us as leatherworkers; we often hear it suggested as a final touch to soften up leather goods or condition leather boots. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly mink oil is and if it’s right for you and your leatherworking projects.
Mink oil is made from rendering mink fat, and it is useful for condition leather while adding some water-resistance. It can most commonly be found as a paste, liquid oil, or a spray, and it often does not cost more than $10 for an amount that will last a long time.
Mink oil is a conditioner directly derived from an animal (the mink), so it can be worth learning more about it in order to determine if it’s a product that you want to use. Animal ethics are important when it comes to business image, so finding out more about mink oil and how it’s made can be significant for any leathercrafter.
What is Mink Oil?
Mink oil is an oil that is commonly used to condition leather, and it is derived from the rendering of mink fat that has been removed from pelts headed to the fur industry. Though it is likely that Native Americans (such as the Chippewa) first observed the softening properties of mink fat, the American mink grew in popularity for its coat after World War 2, and along the way, the byproduct of mink oil was produced en masse.
Mink oil contains an acid called palmitoleic acid, which is similar to human sebum. This allows it to coat, moisturize, and protect leather.
When working with oils and other leather care products, toxicity can be a matter of concern. We’ve all had moments where we’ve gone from working with leather to handling something that gets ingested or times when we’ve spilled dyes, glues, etc. on our hands when working. In this study done by FA Andersen, it was found that mink oil does not increase skin sensitivity nor does it cause serious irritation to the eyes. It is not safe to breathe, as the particles are larger than what is safe to inhale, but apart from that, it is a very safe substance to work with in your leather projects.
The most well-known benefit is how it operates as a leather conditioner; working some mink oil into your leather softens it considerably, and it does so by replenishing the oils in leather that dissipate over time.
How Mink Oil is Made
Mink oil is made by harvesting animal hides and scraping the fat from the hide. It is then rendered using a high temperature process (230 to 240 degrees) and saponification (the process of converting fats to soap or alcohol) to reduce the amount of free fatty acids. This leads to mink oil that is virtually free of any impurities.
Benefits of Mink Oil
Mink oil has some great benefits for those working with leather. The most well-known benefit is how it operates as a leather conditioner; working some mink oil into your leather softens it considerably, and it does so by replenishing the oils in leather that dissipate over time. Since mink oil replenishes the oils in leather, it also provides a measure of water resistance.
Mink oil is a stable oil, which means that it can keep for years without going rancid. It is also a safe product to use, having been demonstrated to be non-toxic for use on improving hair texture in a study by Ju-Sub Kim. Therefore, it can be a good option for those looking to avoid chemical conditioners and seeking out natural options.
Characteristics of Mink Oil for Leather
Mink oil can be white if in its paste form and in its liquid oil form, it is a clear, faint yellow color.
Mink oil in the paste form is usually sold in 3.5 oz tubs, while the liquid oil form can be readily found in 8 oz bottles.
Mink oil is fairly inexpensive, as a 3.5 oz tub will cost anywhere between $4 to $9 and the liquid form is usually found for under $10 for 8 oz.
Mink oil is often sold in either a paste, a liquid oil, or a spray. The paste is often used in more delicate, light applications while the liquid is useful for replenishing thoroughly dried out leather. The spray makes it easy to coat boots in a convenient way.
Pros and Cons of Mink Oil for Leather
Pros of Mink Oil for Leather
- Conditions leather, making it soft to touch
- Rehydrates leather that has lost its oil
- Darkens leather
Cons of Mink Oil for Leather
- Darkens leather
- Byproduct of the mink fur industry
- Not for all kinds of leather; avoid using it on rough out boots and nubuck leather
Uses for Mink Oil on Leather
Mink Oil for Leather Goods
Mink oil is commonly used on natural veg tan leather to get it to be softer and darker. It’s important to test a small amount of mink oil on a discreet patch to see if it will darken leather beyond what you want.
Mink Oil for Leather Boots
Mink oil is great for rehydrating worn leather boots. While it can be used to break in and soften new boots (adding some heat will help with its absorption), it is at its best when used to replenish the oils that have escaped from leather over time.
Mink Oil on Suede
Mink oil can also be used on suede (but avoid using it on nubuck). Make sure to use a suede brush to clean the suede and apply the oil using a cloth. Letting it dry afterwards will achieve the best effect. Once it no longer looks greasy on the surface, the oils have been absorbed, and the suede is ready to go.
Tips for Working With Mink Oil
- Mink oil darkens leather, so make sure to apply the oil to a cloth first before applying it to your leather goods or your boots.
- A little goes a long way. It can be helpful to apply multiple thin coats of mink oil to avoid over-darkening and oversaturation.
- Use mink oil to break in boots! By applying generous amounts of mink oil to boots that have been heated (which opens up pores to soak in the oil faster), you can break in boots a lot faster than simply wearing them in.
Here is a helpful video showing how oils and conditioning affect the leather layers and fibers:
Alternative Options to Mink Oil
Some alternatives to mink oil include neatsfoot oil, leather balms, and leather conditioners. Neatsfoot oil is also an animal byproduct, so if that is a concern, then one would likely want to seek out an all natural leather balm or a leather conditioner, which should achieve the same effect of replenishing dried out leather and adding some water resistance.
The Price of Mink Oil Compared to Similar Alternatives
So, how does mink oil compare to its alternatives? The table below shows the price of mink oil relative to similar quantities of alternatives.
|Mink oil (Fiebing’s)||8 oz||$8||$1.00/oz|
|Neatsfoot oil (Fiebing’s)||16 oz||$10||$0.63/oz|
|Leather balm (Smith’s)||4 oz||$8||$2.00/oz|
|Leather conditioner (Fiebing’s)||8 oz||$9||$1.13/oz|
Mink Oil Storage and Care
How to Store Mink Oil
As long as the mink oil is kept out of direct sunlight and kept somewhere cool and dark, it can keep for many years since it is a stable oil. It is fine to store it in the container that it was purchased in, but if you would like to store it elsewhere, it may be best to keep it in a dark glass container.
Is mink oil really from minks?
Yes, it comes from fat that’s scraped off of mink hides that are used in the fur industry. It is then rendered and becomes the product used in leatherworking.
Is mink oil good for leather?
Yes, it can soften and add water resistance to leather goods and boots. When the oils from leather are dry, some mink oil can bring it back to life.
Is mink oil the same as saddle soap?
No, they have slightly different applications, and they are entirely different products. Saddle soap is primarily a leather cleaner while mink oil is a leather conditioner, so using the two in tandem can be helpful (even though they achieve different goals).
Can you put mink oil on wet boots?
It is best to apply mink oil to dry boots that have just been cleaned; putting them in wet boots can make drying take longer and the presence of water can make it harder to absorb the mink oil.
Does mink oil rot stitching?
It is possible for mink oil to rot stitching. However, most thread that rots from applications of mink oil are made of cotton thread; waxed thread will likely be more resistant to rotting.
Is dubbin the same as mink oil?
Dubbin is not the same as mink oil (although some dubbins may include mink oil in them). Dubbin is more of a wax product while mink oil is an oil.
Mink oil is definitely a product worth adding to your leathercare shelf, as it can help you achieve darker coloration, rehydrate leather that has gone dry, and generally soften the leather that you’re working with. It is inexpensive and can be found at most leather retailers in paste, liquid oil, or spray form, and it should serve as the final step in finishing up your next leather project. Whether your leather is new or old, there’s a use for mink oil in a variety of circumstances.