Saddle Soap vs Mink Oil: What Should You Put On Your Boots?

You’ve got an impressive pair of beloved boots that have seen one too many winters, way too much oil and grease, and tons of miles of wear and tear. How do you get them looking halfway decent again?

There are lots of methods and techniques for cleaning and conditioning your boots, saddle soap and mink oil are often on the top of many recommendation lists, but do they work? Or do they damage your boots even more?

[Related: The 5 Best Boot Conditioners on the Market]

 

Overview: Saddle Soap Vs. Mink Oil

Who Should Use Saddle Soap to Clean Their Boots?

  • You have stubborn stains, use saddle soap to clean leather.
  • Men who want a one-size-fits-all solution; saddle soap lightly conditions and cleans, but it’s primarily a cleaning agent.
  • Anyone looking for an inexpensive method for cleaning leather boots.

Who Shouldn’t Use Saddle Soap to Clean Their Boots?

  • Anyone who doesn’t have a leather conditioner available, make sure you condition after washing.
  • Your boots are suede or roughout leather
  • Folks who want to preserve the color of their boots; it’s very astringent and too much can damage leather. Use wisely and sparingly.

[Related: How to Use Saddle Soap to Clean Your Boots]

 

kiwi saddle soap vs fiebings saddle soap

What is Saddle Soap?

Saddle soap is a powerful astringent designed to clean saddles made of thick, well-oiled, and well-waxed pieces of leather. It works by shrinking the body tissues in leather, making it very good at pulling stains out of leather.

But the thinner leather found in boots, the more we want that oil and wax to keep the leather pliable and prevent it from cracking. The conundrum of using saddle soap is that we want to get the gunk out but leave the beneficial oils and waxes in the leather. Saddle leather is tougher than boot leather and people tend to be less invested in their saddle’s aesthetics than they are for an expensive pair of boots.

Is saddle soap bad for leather?

Saddle soap, while it comes with some drawbacks, is very useful for cleaning leather. The key to using saddle soap successfully is to use conditioner afterward, because the detergent will strip away a few of your oils and waxes that are important for the leather’s longevity.

[Pick up some Red Wing Mink Oil here.]

red wing mink oil

What is Mink Oil?

Who Should Use Mink Oil To Condition Their Boots?

  • Anyone who wants to extend their leather’s lifespan.
  • Guys who want a bit more water resistance for their boots.
  • Men who live in cold, icy climates, who want additional protection against salt.
  • You want an inexpensive and easy-to-find conditioner.

Who Shouldn’t Use Mink Oil to Condition Their Boots?

  • Anyone who doesn’t want darker leather.
  • Guys invested in getting a rich patina in their boots; mink oil isn’t fancy stuff.

[Related: Red Wing Boot Oil Vs. Mink Oil – What’s Best for Waterproofing and Maintaining Color?]

american mink
by tsaiproject, licensed under CC BY 2.0

For centuries, Native Americans have used mink oil for its beneficial properties when used to condition skin. This animal fat traditionally comes from the fat around the mink’s abdomen, which is harvested by boiling a mink and rendering its fat.

Mink oil as a leather conditioner was actually introduced in the 1950s. After World War Two, mink fur became much more popular than other types of furs, and many animals were killed for their fat to make it. Manufacturers found a readily available resource and made it into the leather balms that many people use.

Does Mink Oil Go Off?

Mink oil is one of the most stable oils you can buy on the market. It has a high resistance to oxygen, which means it will last for years if kept cool and away from heat.

Should I use mink oil on new boots?

The color of your new boots is just as important to you as their condition. Mink oil will make the leather several shades darker. A great alternative is Venetian Shoe Cream: it won’t change the color much and will still provide a nourishing treatment for fine quality leather. It just won’t waterproof as well as mink oil, which forms a protective barrier around the leather.

Sof Sole Mink Oil before after

Saddle Soap Vs. Mink Oil

Which is best for cleaning Boots?

Saddle Soap does the heavy lifting for cleaning the leather and removing stains. Also, it is easy to clean your leather boots with saddle soap.

How to Use Saddle Soap

What to prepare:

  • A clean horsehair brush
  • Some water
  • A dry paper towel or microfiber cloth
  • A wet sponge or paper towel
  • Your saddle soap

[SHOP FIEBING’S SADDLE SOAP HERE!]

Leather Cleaning

First, brush your boots with a clean horsehair brush.

It’s important to check that your brush is clean of pigment or residue. Check by running a finger over the bristles to make sure that there are no dyes so you don’t discolor your boots.

Then remove your laces so that you can more easily brush the pesky folds around the boot’s tongue. Get out any dirt, dust, or gunk that’s built up inside the boots as you clean them with a soft cloth. As soon as you finish brushing away at those scuffs, put on some rubber gloves for protection.

saddle soap chromexcel

Reapply a small amount of saddle soap to any discolored patches, and rub the saddle soap deep into the leather to lift out the stains. The more you work it in, the more the stains will come out — but the more you risk pulling out pigment and natural oils as well. If you have a tough stain, use the back of the fingernail and push the soap into the leather.

After you’ve removed the nasty stains, give the entire leather panel a quick once over with the well-lathered brush to even out the color.

Wipe all the saddle soap off the boot. This is very important because the astringents in the soap will dry the leather, causing it to become brittle. Just take a wet paper towel, cloth, or sponge and remove the saddle soap. Focus on getting into the stitching and folds, the soap likes to build up in these cracks and wrinkles.

Repeat for each panel of the boot. Let the boot dry overnight.

Last, condition the leather the next day. This is an important step for adding oil and fat back into the boot.

[Related: Bick 4 Leather Conditioner Review]

Leather Conditioning

Saddle soap is great for cleaning leather, but it doesn’t do as well at conditioning your boots. Mink oil does a much better job at conditioning the leather because it also leaves behind protective waxes that will keep your boots looking shiny and new.

The leather’s natural oils are lost during usage and, to an extent, during the cleaning process. Losing oil makes the leather more susceptible to cracking, which may lead to fibers separating and deterioration faster than it should be.

venetian shoe cream how to use

Mink oil will darken your leather, take away the natural shine of your boots and dull the shine of leather giving it a matte appearance. It’s super effective at conditioning and waterproofing, but if you want to maintain that original color on your leathers, then something like Venetian Shoe Cream or Saphir Renovateur is better for you. The best conditioner for maintaining color, we’ve found, is Bick 4.

Has mink oil darkened your boots too much? Saddle soap can actually do a decent job in removing some of the mink oil without too much effort.

[Related: Venetian Shoe Cream vs. Saphir Renovateur]

rider boots wet

Water Resistance

Mink oil is a polar substance and oils are nonpolar. When applied correctly, mink oil fills the pores of the leather, creating an impermeable coat that repels water. The science behind this phenomenon is quite simple: Water molecules are more attracted to each other than they would be to mink oil or any other solid molecule due largely to their positively charged hydrogen atoms attracting negatively charged oxygen atoms in H2O (water).

There are waterproofing sprays that add a coating on the leather, but these can be expensive, bad for the leather, and still won’t make your boots waterproof. You need a Gore-Tex lining if you want the leather to be truly waterproof, but the average person doesn’t need waterproof boots; water resistant is just fine, and mink oil is great at that.

red wing mink oil closeup

Mink Oil vs Saddle Soap: Which should you use?

If you want to clean and restore your leather, use saddle soap. You may not need it now, but if you wear your boots out in the mud or get salt stains on them, this does the trick better than any other product.

 [SHOP FIEBING’S SADDLE SOAP HERE!]

using saddle soap

Wrapping It Up

Saddle Soap Pros

  • Cleans leather
  • Inexpensive

Saddle Soap Cons

  • Drys out leather, need to condition after use
  • Strips waxes and oils

Mink Oil Pros

  • Softens and moisturizes leather
  • Adds some water resistance

Mink Oil Cons

  • Darkens leathers
  • Leaves leather a bit ‘greasy’

Wrapping Up

If you have some beat-up dirty leather boots, give saddle soap and mink oil a try. Just remember to use saddle soap sparingly and clean it off the boot well after you use it. Mink oil works well as a conditioner but can darken your boots. If you’re worried about changing the color of your boots, then try another conditioner like Bickmore Bick 4.

Finally, note that most mink oil products on the market aren’t made with 100 percent mink oil. Sof Sole, Amazon’s most popular mink oil product, is just 10 percent mink oil. If 100 percent mink oil is important to you, grab Saphir’s.

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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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