Understanding Leather Products

Be aware that some leather products that have been around for a long time have new formulations. Therefore, chemically you are really looking at an entirely new leather product so while you think you may be achieving certain results from using the product last year; this year with the new formulations, the results achieved could be very different. Additionally, some leather products that have been in use for a long time were used for a different purpose than used today.

Acrylic Copolymers

Technology continues to offer new leather products such as acrylic copolymers that form a barrier ‘net’ too fine for water molecules to pass through, but still porous enough to let water vapor in so the leather can still breath. These products do not have the slippery consistency of silicone sprays and do not have a negative effect on dyes.

Most reputable leather merchants will also give you guidelines about how to care for your leather. Some even provide information about how to tell good leather from bad.


This natural leather product has been in use for a long time. Today, it is combined with ingredients that are more modern, which allows for better leather products to be made. One of the primary things that beeswax does is provides waterproofing although it also replaces natural oils.


Blackball is a combination of beef tallow, beeswax, and soot that was used in the 18th century as a multi-purpose leather treatment, waterproofing, conditioning, and blackening in one fell swoop.


A simple wipe down or brushing with each use is a good idea for your leather items to help knock dirt off the surface and keep dust from working its way into the pores. For heavier soiled leather or for stains, cleaning should be done to keep the dirt and other debris from working its way into the leather and becoming a permanent, more than likely unattractive part of your item.

The concept here is not washing per se. You are applying a detergent of sorts to the surface to emulsify and lift off soils and stains. Follow directions and determine first if the type of soil you are dealing with can be removed with spot cleaning. If needed, you can clean the entire area of the leather.

Cleaning is always followed by conditioning. Just be sure to let the item dry thoroughly and naturally, and avoid using hair dryers unless specified to be okay by the manufacturer. In some cases, using a hair dryer on low heat is permissible but of course, you want to do this with extreme care.


You can follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, or just use common sense here. It is not difficult to tell if your leather is a bit tired. Regular conditioning will prevent deterioration such as cracking, which is important since once leather is cracked there is no going back.

Cracked leather can only be fully repaired by replacing it. Although it can also be dyed so the leather appears uniform, the crack will remain. Conditioners run the gamut from oil to wax and both function as conditioners. Wax tends to make leather harder, which works for some items such as a bicycle seat while oil tends to make leather softer as what you would find with a leather sofa.

Lanolin is another conditioner that is used. Obenaufs has leather products that are worth considering, especially if you are working with a specialized garment such as motorcycle and firefighter’s gear. Obenauf’s also makes boot care kits that people rave about.

Conditioners also function as basic waterproofing agents or sealants. This makes perfect sense since it is the same principal at work as in nature when the hide was still on the animal. If you are working on a leather item that is not going to be in direct contact with your skin, oil is great. Boots and the outside of a jacket are good candidates.

It is always a good idea to give oil a day to soak in, regardless. If you are working with an item that does touch your skin, or fabric, for example a seat of some sort, give the product time to soak in and maybe a gentle cleaning before you sit on it or wear it.

Mink Oil

Mink has a fatty layer under their skin and have great pelts, as you know. This fatty layer is rendered and turned into Mink Oil, which is used to treat leather. Mink oil will leave furniture feeling greasy. It’s primary purpose is as a water proofing agent for hiking boots. It is not recommended as a protective coating for upholstery leather. Some Mink leather products have filler ingredients so read the label if you prefer good quality.

Neatsfoot Oil

A “neat” is a beef animal, and this oil used to be made out of cow hooves, hence the name. It is heavy oil and is known to rot cotton stitching on leather items that have been sewn. Of all the raw oils, Neatsfoot oil seems to have the most colorful history. Neatsfoot oil was combined with all sorts of things to keep leather (especially footwear) serviceable.

Saddle Soap

Saddle soap is a great solution for saddles but can actually harm upholstery leather. Saddles are made from tough, vegetable tanned leather that can take the alkalinity of saddle soap. It’s intended to remove manure and related heavy soil from saddles.

Upholstery grade leather has been processed differently, usually processed with chromium tanning which imparts supple characteristics. Saddle soap speeds up the demise of upholstery leather by breaking down the fibrous structure through chemical reaction.

In the days when most leather items were the natural color of the hide, this was not an issue. In fact, the age finish that saddles take on was desirable. As dying and bleaching leather has become more popular, people are more concerned about the leather staying the original color purchased. Waxed canvas bags






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