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Busting the Saddle Soap Myth

Posted by Carolyn Adams, Thu, Apr 5, 2012

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 since the 1800s as an “all-in-one” cleaner and conditioner for their saddles and tack. But what most people don’t realize is that the use of saddle soap is breaking down and harming their leather goods. And with saddle prices often running into 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, with a pH of 9–10. When you bring an acidic and an alkaline substance into contact with one another, a chemical reaction occurs as the two try to neutralize each other and come into balance. The occurrence of this reaction due to the regular use of saddle soap will cause your leather to harden and 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 surface but deep below, resulting in a loss of integrity.
  • Saddle soap is high in fat, which allows it to impart a nice shine to the leather—which masks what’s going on underneath that shine. The fatty nature of saddle soap actually interferes with the its ability to remove dirt, grease, and oils, and makes it much more difficult to rinse off completely—especially from crevices in your tack. When the fats in saddle soap dry inside these folds, the deterioration of the leather from the pH imbalance is further accelerated.

When looking for a leather cleaner, look for these two 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)

The best way to prolong the life and beauty of your leather is with the Lexol® 2-Step Cleaning and Conditioning program:

Step 1: Lexol Leather Cleaner

  • pH balanced for safe cleaning, so it won’t harm your leather like saddle soap can
  • Leaves no surface scum or residue!

Step 2: Lexol Leather Conditioner

  • Helps to prolong the life of your leather and protect your tack investment
  • Softens leather and helps prevent cracking

Comments

Jean Simpson 09/04/2016, 3:20:22 PM

I have used saddle soap on my luggage years ago but bot for years. will I be able to clean and restore the leather or is it too late.

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