Leather items can last for decades and even longer when properly cared for. This usually involves periodic conditioning to ensure the natural fibers retain their strength. Some recommendations include paid links to products that I trust.
The best leather conditioner is the Lexol Original Formula Leather Deep Conditioner (click here to view it on Amazon). Its formula is very unique, water-based, and does not contain any petroleum-based solvents or silicone substances. It is very gentle, non-greasy, without odor or smell, and is non-toxic. Overall, this set of qualities makes it very different than most other conditioners, and a very quality product to use.
*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 (click here to see on amazon) and Leather Honey Conditioner. (click here to see it on amazon)
There might be a few other common types we’re familiar with, let’s briefly take a look at the differences.
When to Use Leather Oils and Conditioners
Natural leather goods are made from natural fibers. Faux leather is most commonly made from plastic and if it is, will not require the type of conditioning natural leather does. For natural leather, exposure to the elements such as sun, dirt, and handling can draw out some of the natural moisture in the leather.
Over time, the loss of this moisture can lead to the fibers becoming brittle and cracking. To prevent this, periodic application of leather oil or conditioner can help keep items in great shape for years of reliable use. Common times to condition leather include:
Every Few Months
As periodic care and maintenance, especially for heavily or frequently used leather goods, it’s a good idea to condition them every few months. This might involve just checking them to see if they need it, or a routine cleaning and application of conditioner.
When it Begins to Lighten in Color
An indicator that a natural leather item is losing moisture is that it will begin to lighten in color. If one notices this, it’s likely time to condition the leather and add some moisture back to help keep the fibers strong.
It Begins to Stiffen of Crack
If a leather item has lost a lot of moisture, it can begin to stiffen and crack. This is a key sign that it will need to be conditioned to restore moisture to the leather fibers, and allow it to become flexible again.
Types of Leather Oils and Conditioners
Mink oil is a naturally derived substance that comes from the mink animal. It has been used for hundreds of years on leather, comprised mainly of fatty acids that help give leather flexibility. It is also used in the human cosmetic industry. This type of conditioner, which is light, penetrates deeply and slowly into the leather fibers.
Lexol is a water-based conditioner that that does not contain any silicone solvents or petroleum-based solvents. This makes it very gentle on leather, non-flammable, and non-toxic. It is also very effective, making it an excellent choice for many applications and types of natural leather.
Neatsfoot oil is most often made from the bones of cattle or other hoofed animals. The oil generated from that process is often mixed with petroleum-based substances and other oils and chemicals. Over time, though, the composition of this conditioner is prone to oxidizing, which ironically draws moisture out of the leather which leads to drying and cracking. It conditions well in the short term, though in the mid-to-long-term dries the leather out much more quickly. In general, other conditioners are likely a better option.
Many other oils are available as conditioners, with manufacturers introducing their own compositions and formulas. Some can work well, and some should likely be avoided. In general, it’s best to learn about what the ingredients are, and what they do, to make an informed choice if it’s something that will work well for the project or item it will be used on.
What Works Best
Leather conditioner compositions can vary greatly by what the manufacturer includes in the formula, there are so many out there. Generally, for a use like this, a formula that has very few, water-based, and gentle ingredients is best. The leather will benefit from added moisture, without a lot of additional additives which could adversely react with the leather over time.
For this reason, the Lexol Original Formula Leather Deep Conditioner (click here to view it on Amazon) is far and above an excellent choice. It has been around for decades, is trusted, and reliable producing consistent results. It can be used on even the thinnest of leathers or for thicker upholsteries.
If one would like to try a natural oil for medium to thick leathers (such as jackets and clothing), Obenauf’s Leather Oil (click here to view it on Amazon) is a great choice. It is a formula of natural oils, propolis (a sticky, glue-like substance produced by bees), and a base of beeswax.
Whatever you choose, a quality leather oil or conditioner can help keep leather goods looking and performing great for a very long time.
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