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HOW TO CLEAN AND PRESERVE YOUR LEATHER GOODS
There is a unique, timeless beauty to the best leather goods. High-quality leather looks, feels and smells like the height of luxury, and if it's well made and carefully maintained, it can last for several lifetimes. In an age of disposable consumerism, leather goods have a reassuringly different character. It is imbued with the strength of nature and the spirits of both heritage and longevity.
If you love your leather goods as much as we do, you'll understand that finding the best products is only half of the story. Maintaining your leather in the best possible condition is every bit as important, and while there is a broad range of creams, lotions, treatments and techniques you can use perfectly legitimately, there is one product that can give you universal performance and protection. Not surprisingly, it is another iconic piece of our nation's history that remains a living part of the modern world: saddle soap.
NOT JUST FOR SADDLES
If you thought saddle soap was exclusively for the care of saddles, you would be forgiven. After all, that's what its name suggests. Although it may have been invented at a time when everybody rode on horseback and used horse-drawn carriages, the reason it has always been used by horse riders is that it is really good with leather in all its forms. That includes shoes, boots, jackets, pants, belts and bags.
WHAT IS IT MADE OF?
There are all kinds of recipes for making saddle soap, but the most common ingredients include lanolin and beeswax which are both organic and derived from animals. We get lanolin from sheep, and its combination of waxy esters, alcohols, acids and hydrocarbons makes it highly effective at cleaning, conditioning and moisturizing. It is so gentle and effective that you'll often find it in baby creams. While any leather store will be able to sell you a range of products that claim to offer the best leather care, nothing will do the job as well as saddle soap.
EXACTLY WHAT DOES SADDLE SOAP DO?
It contains powerful cleaning compounds that remove almost any kind of stain, but it does a lot more than this. Over time, leather will inevitably become dry and brittle if it’s left exposed to sunlight and dry air. In fact, leather may fade or perhaps even “sunburn” (darken). Yep, we’ve seen it all. Before you know it, cracks appear and irreversible damage done. As we've seen, saddle soap has remarkable moisturizing properties that can guard against this natural deterioration and keep your leather in perfect condition for as long as you continue to treat it regularly. If you think of the punishment saddles receive when worked hard in all weather, it makes sense that anything that is effective on them will also do a good job on everything else.
HOW TO USE SADDLE SOAP
Prepare a clean, clear surface and get all your cleaning gear together. You'll need at least three cloths - one for washing, one for drying and one for applying the soap - a bowl of clean water, and the soap itself, plus any other supplementary products you want to use.
Moisten the cleaning cloth and wipe the leather to remove any dust or debris. Work the cloth into the seams and stitching where the worst of the dirt will collect; you could even use a toothbrush for this.
Next, take the application cloth, dip it into the soap to get a small quantity on the cloth, and then rub it all over the surface just like you would if you were waxing a car. As you rub, the soap should absorb into the leather. Keep going in circular motions until the soap disappears, making sure you cover the entire area. Saddle soap is a strong astringent which means it’s very good at pulling stains out of leather. Use wisely and sparingly.
Once you're done with the soap, use the drying cloth to remove any excess. At this stage, you’ll want to apply quality conditioner or oil. The key to using saddle soap successfully is to use conditioner afterward, because the detergent will strip away some of your oils and waxes that are important for the leather’s longevity.
When the process is finished, you need to give the product plenty of time to dry so that the full effect of the saddle soap and any conditioners can be felt. It might take a few hours or a full day. Don't leave it near any excessive or artificial heat; just put it somewhere shady where it can stay undisturbed.
NOW, IT'S TIME TO CONDITION & SEAL
After a good cleaning, we recommend a high quality leather conditioner such as Fiebing's Aussie Leather Conditioner. Depending on your use and conditions, you shouldn't need to condition it more than a few times/year, including "spot" conditioning when you see a dry area. That's the primary way you know you need to condition your product: does it look too dry to me? You just don't want to over-condition it to the point it feels to wet or oily.
All leather (full grain and others) may absorb spills if it's not sealed in some manner. Our leathers are sealed by our tanneries so that color doesn't "crock" (transfer) when it's rubbed. To further ensure that your fine leather good won't absorb a spill, you may further treat it with a product such as Fiebing's 4-Way Leather Care and/or Snow Proof Paste. First, be sure to test on a hidden or inconspicuous portion of the leather to ensure it doesn't change the look in some undesirable way.
WHAT IF MY LEATHER GOOD GETS WET?
If you do get caught in the rain, no worries. Simply wipe the excess water away as quickly as possible, let it dry naturally and any water spots should disappear. Once the leather has dried, re-condition the leather. This is because water can dry the leather’s natural oils, so a good conditioner will help return the leather to a like-new condition.
PARTING THOUGHTS ...
If you follow this procedure regularly but not too often - say, every three to four months, based on use - you'll be delighted with the results. That irresistible leather product you fell in love with and simply had to own will stay as soft, strong and beautiful as the day you bought it. Saddle Soap is leather's perfect partner. If you need a recommendation, our goto is Fiebing’s Saddle Soap. Fiebing’s has been the leading manufacturer and supplier for leather care products since 1895, so they definitely know a thing or two about taking great care of your Mission Mercantile leather goods.