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Saddle Soap – When and Why to Use for Leather Cleaning

Leather is an incredible material that can be used for years when cared for properly. While researching cleaners and conditioners to use on projects, I learned about saddle soap and when it’s best to use it.

Saddle soap is a mixture of soaps, oils, and waxes applied to leather to clean and condition it, commonly in one step. It is available in various formulas, each suited to the particular use of the leather, and comes in solid, paste, and spray forms for easy application and use.

Making the right choice of saddle soap can save time and money and ensure that the leather being treated receives the proper formula for the type of leather and the environments in which it is used. Let’s explore more.

What Is Saddle Soap?

Saddle soap is a blend of ingredients used to clean, condition, and preserve leather products. It consists of soap, beeswax, neatsfoot oil, and water in a paste or balm form, occasionally in liquid form that can be sprayed. It is a particularly effective leather cleaner for removing dirt, grime, and excess oils from leather while replenishing natural oils to maintain its suppleness and durability.

Cleaning and conditioning brushes - Saddle Soap - Liberty Leather Goods
Cleaning and conditioning brushes

What Does Saddle Soap Do?

Saddle soap, as the name refers, is a leather soap used to clean leather goods, including saddles. Each component of the saddle soap has a specific use when applied. Soap in the balm cleans grime, sweat, and debris from the leather.  The beeswax helps seal pores in the surface of the leather to help resist water.  Neatsfoot oil assists with conditioning the oil and softening it.  These saddle soap characteristics prevent leather items from degrading or cracking.

The Difference Between Saddle Soap and Regular Soap

Saddle soap differs from regular soap because it contains other ingredients like beeswax and neatsfoot oil.  These added ingredients help preserve and condition the leather as it is being cleaned.  Soap alone has a very high alkalinity and can harm the leather if used by itself.  Most saddle soaps contain glycerine and are made from natural ingredients, such as goat’s milk.

The Difference Between Saddle Soap and Leather Conditioner

Leather conditioner differs from saddle soap. Leather conditioner preserves and softens leather, whereas saddle soap provides resistance to water and cleans grime in addition to softening and preserving leather.  There are times when conditioner can be used after saddle soap is applied.

Here is a detailed video look into how to use saddle soap:

Helpful Saddle Soaps to Start With

Here is an easy-reference table with paid links to items that I trust – these are some helpful saddle soaps to try.

TypeDescriptionSource
Saddle SoapFiebing’s Yellow Saddle SoapView on Amazon
Saddle SoapBickmore Saddle SoapView on Amazon

Saddles

Of course, it wouldn’t be called saddle soap if it weren’t used on saddles.  Saddles are in the sun regularly and in all types of weather climates.  Saddle soap prevents deterioration of the leather, allowing saddles to last for many decades.  It cleans grime and salt from sweat from all saddle parts, including the seat, stirrup straps, skirt, and saddle tongue.

Footwear

Saddle soap is popular for cleaning leather boots and shoes in keeping them in tip-top shape.  Applying it regularly will prevent them from drying and cracking.  It also allows the leather to stay soft and supple.  Using saddle soap for footwear regularly will help protect them for years.  Nice leather shoes or boots can be expensive and are worth protecting.  Well-protected footwear will outlast the soles attached.

Horse saddle - Saddle Soap - Liberty Leather Goods
Horse saddle

Outerwear

Another popular use is on leather jackets, especially motorcycle jackets, which can be subject to extreme conditions. Saddle soap is a popular solution for cleaning and water resistance. A riding jacket with well-applied saddle soap also makes for much easier cleanup from bugs and road grime between cleanings.

If you are working on items related to leather preservation, here is a helpful piece from the Texas A&M Nautical Archaeology Program covering leather preservation.

Indoor / Outdoor Leather

Saddle soap is also popular for leather items that will be exposed to direct sunlight, like horse tack, motorcycle seats, leather automotive seats, and dashes. It can also be applied to leather furniture and leather wear that may not get used frequently, like outerwear.

If you live in a warmer region, this information from the University of Florida Animal Sciences Department provides some insights into Saddle and Tack Care in Hot and Humid Environments.

How to Use Saddle Soap Step-by-Step

Properly caring for leather products enhances their appearance and extends their lifespan. Using saddle soap is a traditional and effective method for cleaning, conditioning, and preserving leather. Follow these step-by-step instructions to ensure your leather goods remain in top condition.

  1. Clean the leather with a brush or cloth to remove large debris.
  2. Apply saddle soap using a soft cloth in a circular motion until all of the soap is rubbed in, similar to applying wax to a vehicle.  Remove any excess soap.  For large items, mentally divide the article into several different areas for application to ensure all areas receive equal coverage.
  3. If saddle soap does not contain neatsfoot oil, apply a leather conditioner to provide a protective coating. This coating is necessary to preserve the leather and re-moisturize the leather.
  4. Allow to dry at room temperature for several hours to a full day. Do not set near a heat source to hasten drying, which can damage the leather. Allowing the conditioner to dry fully prevents it from being rubbed off on other items and ensures your leather item is fully protected.
  5. Repeat every 2-3 months.  Using it more often can cause damage to the leather.

Best Saddle Soaps

SoapDescription
Fiebing’s Yellow Saddle SoapA traditional favorite among leather enthusiasts, it’s known for its gentle yet effective cleaning properties. It’s suitable for removing dirt, grime, and sweat from leather without overly drying it out. It’s often used for cleaning saddles, boots, and other leather goods, thoroughly cleaning while conditioning the leather.
Kiwi Saddle SoapWell-known for its affordability and reliability. It cleans leather thoroughly, removing dirt and grime while conditioning the leather to prevent drying and cracking. Widely used for cleaning and conditioning horse tack, shoes, and other leather items, it’s a versatile choice for maintaining leather’s durability.
Bickmore Saddle SoapEspecially appreciated for its ability to clean and soften leather effectively. It helps to preserve the leather’s natural oils and suppleness. It’s commonly used on saddles, tack, and boots, offering a deep clean while maintaining the leather’s integrity.

Why Is Saddle Soap Bad for Leather?

Saddle soap can actually be bad for leather if used too often.  The soaps can have a high alkalinity that may break down the leather fibers, causing them to fail prematurely.  Some saddle soaps are advertised to darken leather.  If one has light-colored leather to restore, make sure to read the descriptions provided by the saddle soap manufacturer.

Do You Rinse off Saddle Soap?

One does not have to rinse off saddle soap.  It is rubbed into the leather, penetrating the surface.  It is absorbed into the leather to enrich, clean, and rehydrate leather surfaces.  If it is applied too thickly, it may be necessary to wipe off excess saddle soap from the item.

Does Saddle Soap Soften Leather?

Saddle soap softens the surface of the leather, making it more supple. It also helps hide imperfections in leather surfaces. However, it does not make hard leather items too soft, causing them to lose their form. Boots are a perfect example of being treated with saddle soap; they still look and work like boots without deforming in shape.

Here is a super helpful video on why to use saddle soap and how it works.

How Long Does It Take for Saddle Soap To Dry?

Saddle soap does not need to dry like a liquid. Once you apply saddle soap and rub it in well to the leather, the item is ready for use. If you want additional protection from saddle soap rubbing off on other items, you can use a dry cloth to rub the item down one more time.

What Is a Good Saddle Soap Alternative? 

Alternatives to saddle soap provide the same benefits. The disadvantage is using multiple products, such as neatsfoot oil, natural soaps, and beeswax. These would be used in conjunction with each other yet separately. One would clean with soap, apply neatsfoot oil, rub it in well, and then apply a beeswax coating.

Final Thoughts

Some leather items, such as saddlery and tack, are used in rough environments daily, accumulating dirt, mud, and grime. It’s easy to clean and maintain these with quality saddle soap. Even some other common leather goods can benefit from this treatment, too. These are quality items that would be great to have on hand in the home or in the shop.