Busting the Saddle Soap Myth
Saddle soap...the perfect cleaner for saddles and other leathers, right? Not so much, as it turns out.
Saddle soap certainly has its name and tradition on its side...consumers have been using it snce the 1800s as an "all in one" cleaner and conditioner for their saddles and tack. But what most don't realize is that the use of saddle soap is breaking down and harming their leather goods. And with prices for saddles often running in the thousands of dollars, it's critical to understand why a different cleaning and conditioning solution is needed.
How is saddle soap harmful to leather?
- pH. It's important to understand the importance of pH in the leather cleaning equation. pH measures the acidity or alkalinity of a substance on a scale of 1(highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline), with 7 as the neutral center point (pure water is a 7). The scale is logarithmic, meaning that a substance with a pH of 6 is 10x more acidic than water, and a pH of 5 means that the substance is 100x more acidic than water. Leather is acidic, with a pH typically between 4.5 and 5.0. Saddle soaps are typically highly alkaline (pH of 9-10). When you bring an acidic and an alkaline substance into contact with each other, a chemical reaction occurs as the two try to neutralize each other and come into balance. The occurance of this reaction from regular use of saddle soap will cause your leather to harden, darken, and can weaken both the hide and the stitching of your saddle.
- Leather is very absorbent, and as the chemical reaction described occurs over time, a breakdown of the leather's fiber bundles can happen not just on the surfact but deep below, causing a loss in their integrity.
- Saddle soaps is high in fat, which allows it to give a nice shine to the leather, masking what's going on under that shine. The fatty nature of saddle soap actually interferes with the soap's ability to remove dirt, grease, and oils, and makes it much more difficult to rinse completely, especially from crevices in your tack. When the fats of saddle soap dry in these folds, the deterioration of the leather from the pH imbalance is accelerated further.
When looking for a leather cleaner, look for these 2 qualities first and foremost:
- neutral pH (will not change the normal acidity of your leather)
- Easy-to-rinse (won't build up in crevices and folds)
Lexol Leather Cleaner and Conditioner has prepared a "Guide to Cleaning Saddles and Tack" as a free download. This guide explains the proper cleaning and conditioning of leather in detail, including:
- The construction of leather
- Processes for daily and more thorough monthly cleanings
- Advice for storing saddles and tack to protect them from damage
- Tips for cleaning non-leather pieces of your equipment for a clean and professional appearance and a safe ride
Safe and happy riding to you this Spring!