We get asked a great deal can I use saddle soap on my leather jacket, car interior, leather furniture and handbags – simply put NO – here’s why.
Saddle soap is made in many different ways depending on the manufacturer, but the important factor with saddle soap is the Lye content, Lye is highly soluble in water producing caustic solutions.
Lye has many meanings and names, sodium hydroxide is one of them, caustic soda is another, its main characteristics is a solid white compound and it’s highly caustic. Just the words highly caustic should be enough to put you off using this on your beautiful leather jackets, furniture, car interior or handbags, these items require more specialist products to clean and care for leather.
Sodium hydroxide is used in many industries, mostly as a strong chemical base in the manufacture of pulp and paper, textiles, drinking water, soaps and detergents and as a drain cleaner. This alkali is deliquescent and readily absorbs moisture, moisture is what is needed in your leather items to keep them nice soft and supple. Without this they will dry up, crack, split and deteriorate much faster than using products produced for these applications.
Saddle soap and similar soft soaps are strong alkaline base with a pH of 10 or above. When treated regularly with saddle soap, leather will gradually change from its normally state to alkaline. This pH change will cause the leather to harden, darken, and weaken its structure.
The thick, fatty lather of saddle soap is difficult to rinse completely from crevices and folds, causing all types of problems and issues, turning to a horrible crusty white base and difficult to remove from such fine leather as found on leather jackets and handbags.
An accumulation of dried saddle soap in grain structure areas will cause the leather to deteriorate even faster, due to the growth of mould / mold, the accumulation of gritty dirt, and the changes in the pH.
Prior to the commercial product of today’s saddles soaps, when all saddle soaps were handmade some added pumpkin to create an orange coloured substance; others used dyes for different colours of leathers. These old remedies often included items such as beeswax, soap shavings, water and a corrosive substance called lye or caustic soda. The latter is still used as a cleaning agent today and as an ingredient in soap making Neatsfoot oil, which we can still buy today, is often a component of saddle soap and interestingly, it was originally derived from the legs and feet of cattle. Nowadays it is usually made from lard and often has soya oil or rapeseed oil added. Mink oil was another rather unsavoury component of saddle soap, derived from the oil stored beneath the skin of the mink.
Leather furniture is also manufactured in a different process to saddle leathers and again, you can’t use saddle soap on leather furniture.
The reason for this difference is saddle leather or belt leathers as some will call it, are a veg tanned process, this process allows them to be tougher and withstand the harsh conditions of outside use. Furniture leathers are manufactured using a chromium chemistry method, the difference is this provides the leather with a soft supple texture and is not as tough as any form of veg tanned leathers. Saddle leathers are normally extremely thick producing a very tough hard leather in any event.
Due to saddle soaps caustic natures this just causes the leather to dry out, imagine using harsh chemicals on your own skin for long periods of time, your skin will dry, crack, split and become infected, this is exactly what will happen to your fine leathers found in today’s cars, on leather furniture, handbags and clothing.