Op-Ed: You Use Too Much Leather Conditioner

What do salt, perfume, and shoe polish have in common?

Too much salt ruins an otherwise good batch of cookies, overdoing it on the perfume or cologne is repugnant, and too much leather conditioner, designed to help protect and waterproof your favorite pair of boots can actually oversaturate the leather. However, a dash of salt, a spritz of perfume, and a thin layer of wax go a long way, and often less is more.

To elaborate on the salt analogy, consuming too much can lead to hypertension, yet we cannot survive without it. The right amount can make an otherwise bland dish spectacular. It’s all about a delicate balance – the sweet spot lies somewhere between too much and not enough.

The same train of thought holds true for your shoes, boots, and other leather goods.

waxing boots with armstrongs all natural

Learning the Balance

When leather comes into contact with dirt and debris, the oils in the leather which help keep it supple are sucked out and stripped away, causing the fibers of the leather to become weakened, as they no longer have the lubrication they need to stay flexible. In turn, this causes the leather to dry out and become brittle.

On the flip side, when leather comes in contact with too much moisture, if the leather is not protected, that moisture finds its way into the pores of the leather, which if left unchecked for too long will cause the leather to rot, shortening the lifespan of the leather.

This is where the balancing act comes in. Too much leather conditioner will actually hold in too much moisture in the leather, leading to oversaturation, whereas absence of any leather care means never giving the leather a chance to recoup the oils it loses over time due to environmental effects such as wind, dust, dirt, and that guy stepping on your shoe in the subway.

People develop their own rituals when it comes to cleaning, conditioning, and protecting their leather goods, but a good rule of thumb is:

  • to use a high quality horsehair shoe shine brush to remove surface dirt after every wear (to avoid a gunk buildup), and
  • to rotate in and out of shoes and boots so that you’re never wearing the same pair two days in a row.

This will allow your footwear time to dry out, which will also discourage anaerobic bacteria from seeking refuge in your boots, which not only leads to leather rot, but also the infamously unpleasant stinky shoe syndrome.

[Related: The Right Way to Waterproof Nice Boots]

armstrongs all natural

How Often Should You Condition Your Boots?

How often you condition is going to depend on how frequently your leather is being used and what conditions it’s being exposed to.

Some folks like to “spot treat” their leather more frequently, applying conditioner to small areas as scuffs and visible dry patches develop, while others prefer to condition less often, but working the whole piece over in one go.

It is difficult to give an exact time frame for how often one should condition their boots, as it is going to vary wildly depending on the type of leather, use, and environment, but a good rule of thumb for most leathers and most situations is to condition when the leather begins to look dry. This could be every couple of weeks to every couple of months. Vegetable tanned leathers generally need to be conditioned more frequently than chrome tanned leathers. The best thing to do is to observe and to go with your gut, because if the leather looks dry, it probably is.

Finally, a touch of polish (aka boot wax). There are a few reasons for using a wax/polish. Some people will use a wax polish for aesthetic reasons, to shine the leather, but it plays a functional role as well. A high quality wax polish, will have loads of naturally occurring protective waxes, such as beeswax and carnauba wax, which will help waterproof the leather, and keep it protected. This acts to keep the beneficial oils in and the harmful moisture out. Boot Wax works especially well on chrome tanned leathers.

armstrongs all natural conditioner

Wrapping Up

Taking care of and protecting your leather will help it last, but applying too much product will lead to oversaturation and have the opposite effect, so don’t overdo it. When your boots start to look like they are drying out, they probably are, so start with a dab of conditioner and a thin layer of wax, bearing in mind that a little goes a long way.

Try using half of what you think you need. Like salting a dish, add a bit and assess. You can always add a bit more.

David Armstrong is the founder of Armstrong’s All Natural.

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David Armstrong formulated his own leather wax polish for personal use while living in Brooklyn and working as a furniture maker, eventually launching Armstrong's All Natural in 2014. He still hand-pours his products himself in the Hudson Valley and personally ships out every order. When not mixing up a batch of boot wax, David enjoys making sculptures, building furniture, experimenting with ferments, and foraging for wild mushrooms.

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