Can You Use Coconut Oil As a Leather Conditioner?

Nah.

You’ll find just as many people who say that you can condition leather with coconut oil as say that you can’t.

While some of the best leather conditioners contain small amounts of coconut oil, should you put coconut oil on leather?

We don’t recommend using pure coconut oil to condition leather because it’s easy to over condition leather goods. It’s difficult to apply the right amount of pure coconut oil to the type of leather you have. Too much oil may over soften and weaken the leather, causing your boots to wear out faster. Plus, it’s a solid at room temperature and can leave white splotches on your boots in addition to leaving the leather darker and greasier.

We’ve put together everything you need to know if you want to use leather conditioners with coconut oil, we’ve also listed the best conditioners for the most common types of leather to help you keep your boots in the best condition possible.

Phu Thinh Co, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Coconut Oil vs. Coconut Oil Leather Conditioner?

It’s pretty straightforward: coconut oil is oil derived from the coconut. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat. Unlike most oil, which is liquid at room temperature, coconut oil is a white solid until 78° F, then it turns into a clear liquid.

Coconut oil’s solid state solid at room temperature is one reason it’s not the best as a leather conditioner. Under certain conditions you can get fat spew, or white blotches of fat on the surface of the leather.

There are a lot of different types of coconut oil that have been refined and processed in different ways. Each of them may have a different effect on your boots, which is another reason not to use it. You just don’t really know what you’re putting on your boots.

While most cobblers, leather companies, and leather goods manufacturers don’t recommend using pure coconut oil, there are a lot of products for conditioning leather goods that contain a small amount of coconut oil. There are also homemade coconut oil conditioner recipes if you’re feeling crafty and bit don’t mind taking a risk.

First, a bit about why you should condition your leather.

Why Leather Needs Conditioning

Leather is, or used to be, skin. Skin needs moisturizing to keep it young and durable. Yes, like your face.

Leather is made mostly of protein and fat. During the tanning processes, water is removed from the animal hides to prevent the leather from rotting.

When you buy a leather product, it will have anywhere from 5 to 25% fat added back into it. The large range of fat is because different leather has different amounts of oil in them; for example, a hot-stuffed leather is going to be 10-15% oil.

You can feel when a leather is quite oily. Tanneries use a very specific mixture of waxes and oils to get the desired softness and strength for the type of leather they’re producing.

The important thing to keep in mind is the fats and oils in the leather prevent it from becoming dry and brittle and falling apart. You need to condition dry, old leather with oil.

The difficulty is knowing what type of oils and fats are best for the type of leather you have, when to add more oils, and how much to add.

“When your boots start to look like they are drying out, they probably are,” says David Armstrong, the founder of Armstrong’s All Natural Leather Conditioner. “So start with a dab of conditioner and a thin layer of wax, bearing in mind that a little goes a long way.”

[Op-Ed: You Use Too Much Leather Conditioner]

red wing new vs old
Credit: Steven Walling, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

Does Coconut Oil Damage Leather Boots?

You may get darker leather if you use coconut oil, albeit temporarily. But what it’s best known for is leaving a spotty, patch-like appearance to the leather and sticky feeling.

Treating leather with coconut oil does have a few upsides: it will soften the leather and provide a thin layer of waterproof protection.

Because coconut oil is a natural oil (like neatsfoot oil, olive oil, and mink oil), it will darken leather boots when applied. Some people like a darker leather than what they bought — see Nick‘s darkened Iron Rangers above — but if you have a nice pair of leather boots, you probably want to keep the leather in its natural state.

When Carl Friedrik, a well-known maker of high-end leather bags, tested coconut oil on their Palissy Briefcase, the coconut oil darkened the natural color of expensive cognac vegetable tanned Italian leather. They don’t recommend using coconut oil on leather.

Also, it’s very easy to over condition your boots. If you do that, the leather pores will clog up, and the boots won’t be as breathable. People who have used coconut oil frequently also say that it can over soften the leather, leaving it prone to scuffs and making less durable.

[Review: Carl Friedrik’s Briefcase Review: Prada Quality for Under $600?]

 
Thursday's Captain in Terra Cotta Leather
Thursday’s Terracotta Leather

Which Oil Should You Condition Leather Boots With?

I don’t recommend pure coconut oil because there are better products out there. These conditioners have been specially formulated by experts to condition different leathers or to add water resistance. There’s really no one-size-fits all types of leather conditioner.

Jump to a quick care overview for each type of leather.

Leather Types

thursday captain boot heel
Thursday Captain boots

Smooth Leather

Smooth leather is pretty generic term. It might be “corrected” (sanded down smooth) or show some visible grain from the animal skins. The characteristics of smooth leather include the easily recognizable skin pores of the animal and the textures of each individual skin.

They should be regularly moisturized with a cream or conditioner. Surface scratches can be treated with a colored polish like Kiwi.

[Related: The 9 Best Leathers for Boots]

How to Condition Smooth Leather

  1. Remove surface dirt with a clean brush or cloth.
  2. Clean with Leather Soap if needed.
  3. Apply Shoe Cream or Leather Conditioner evenly with a clean brush or cloth.
  4. Buff with Horsehair Shine Brush
  5. Store with Cedar Shoe Trees

Best Conditioner for Smooth Leather: Cobbler’s Choice

Waxed Roughout/Suede

Waxed leathers have a visible waxed coating and matte finish. The grain or flesh side of the hide may be waxed. The wax coating can be left to age naturally or reapplied as needed.

How to Condition Waxed Leather

  1. Remove surface dirt with a clean brush or cloth.
  2. Deep clean with Leather Castile Soap, if needed.
  3. Suede and roughout dont’ need to be conditioned; instead, you can read our guide to waxing suede or roughout.
  4. Store with cedar shoe trees.


Roughout Leather

Roughout is a full-grain leather that has been processed for use on its reverse or flesh side.

This is an extremely durable material that typically only requires regular brushing to redistribute the natural oils found in the leather.

How to Care for Roughout Leather

  1. Use a wire brush to remove dirt and stains.
  2. Use a suede brush to restore the nap.
  3. Remove remaining surface dirt with damp cloth.
  4. Store with cedar shoe trees

[Learn More: Suede vs Roughout Leather – What’s the Difference?]

alden suede chukkas

Suede

Suede is a leather that has been adjusted on its flesh side to create a uniform texture and soft temper.

It often has a nap or fuzziness to it. You don’t want to add coconut oil or any oil to suede because you will ruin this nappy texture and clog the pores.

How to Condition Suede

  1. Remove surface dirt with a clean brush or cloth.
  2. Use a suede eraser to lift marks and stains.
  3. Use a suede brush to restore the nap.
  4. Apply Silicone Waterproofing Spray to preserve color and texture.
  5. Store with Cedar Shoe Trees.

[Please Don’t Wreck Your Suede: Everything You Should Know About Caring for Suede]

Alden mahogany shell cordovan small
Alden Mahogany Shell Cordovan Norwegian Split toe blucher.

Shell Cordovan

What you need: clean damp cloth and a clean horse hair brush, Shell Cordovan cream.

Shell cordovan is a fibrous layer of horse hide found only on the horse’s rump. It is an extremely durable material with nearly no visible grain and can achieve a glossy finish.

How to Condition Shell Cordovan

  1. Remove surface dirt with a damp cloth or brush.
  2. Apply cream evenly using a clean cloth.
  3. Allow to dry
  4. Buff with horsehair brush.

[Learn More: The 7 Best Cordovan Boots]

Why do some people recommend Coconut Oil On Leather?

First, it’s worth mentioning that plenty of blogs still recommend using coconut oil on leather goods, so you might wonder why.

This is a holdover from 5 to 6 years ago when the Goodyear Welt boot enthusiasts and others on Reddit were experimenting with different leather conditioners. Moderators made videos like this one, and others tried out different leather conditioners. There’s a popular leather care guide that recommends coconut oil, but the mods updated the guide and no longer recommend using it.

That was part of a bigger trend. If you check out the search term coconut oil on google trends, you can see that peak coconut oil buzz occurred in March 2014 and January 2016.

The benefits of using coconut oil are that it’s easy to access. And because of its high saturated fat content, coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so must be heated before it is applied.

Truman boot water

Does Coconut Oil Waterproof Boots?

Coconut oil will add a bit of water resistance, but remember that on a warm day the oil will become soft. If you want boots that will hold up against the elements as well as possible, it’s suggested you go with something more heavy duty like mink oil or Obenauf’s. Just remember that products intended to increase a boot’s water resistance will make them darker. 

[Related: The Right Way to Waterproof Nice Boots]

Homemade Coconut Leather Conditioners: Should You Use Them?

If you really love your boots, I wouldn’t use these. They are fine for experimenting, but the people who make leather conditioners test the heck out of them, and random people on the internet, not so much.

For reference, I looked at a few popular coconut oil leather recipes to get an idea of what’s out there. Here’s one ingredient list:

  • Lemon Juice 2 spoon
  • White Vinegar 1 spoon
  • Coconut oil 4 spoon
  • Essential oil few drops
  • Horsehair brush 1″

Even this blogger recommends against using pure coconut oil, so that’s good, but I would never put something as astringent as lemon juice on my boots and I don’t recommend that you do either. The recipe says that, “Lemon juice and white vinegar will not allow the leather to rot and ad (sic) shine to the leather, while essential oil will cancel the smell of coconut oil and give you nice smelling boots!”

I feel like I need a source saying that lemon juice and vinegar preserve leather and adds a shine. Vinegar is used to clean canvas and nylon shoes but we’re not trying to clean the leather, we’re conditioning it — two very different things. 

Avoid DIY conditioners. 

Wrapping it Up

There you have it, we’ve collected all the info we could find about coconut oil and what’s good for leather. We recommend you skip the DIY hacks like olive oil, baby oil, mineral oil ,and other kitchen oils and invest in some decent leather conditioner.  

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Karl Wasson

Karl is an IT product manager living in South East Asia who gets a kick out of durability and dependability. He believes form and function are not mutually exclusive. When he's not working, he's searching for the best bespoke menswear in South East Asia and beyond.

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