Even if most real leather boots usually require a minimum of daily cleaning, you will still need to consider different options for cleaning your cowboy boots most effectively.
DIY leather cleaner with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar only works to some extent. They seem too weak against stubborn stains like oil stains, colored paint stains, or colored salt stains. You will probably need something more robust.
Lots of my friends recommend using saddle soap to clean stubborn stains on leather cowboy boots. This type of cleaner can really clean the most concentrated stains. But my father had no sympathy for him at all. He was a shoemaker after World War II, and at that time, saddle soap was widely used in any shoemaker’s shop. They were used as high-grade leather shoe cleaners when people at that time had nothing better to use.
My father said that saddle soap is not as good for real leather as people think. Even if you clean real leather every week with this compound, you will notice the thickness of the boots is getting noticeably thinner and thinner.
There is nothing to argue here because of the fact that saddle soaps are known to be soap and are alkaline (PH greater than 7). As a result, they often corrode organic compounds in the same way that soap makes the skin of our hands rough.
However, you should not underestimate saddle soap because it is capable of handling the longest and most stubborn stains.
Let’s dive in to figure out the best way to clean leather cowboy boots with saddle soap.
1. Saddle Soap Composition and Use:
Saddle soap, a mixture of soap and leather conditioners like oil and lanolin, is effective for removing various types of stains from leather cowboy boots, including ink, grease, paint, water, and mold stains.
2. Cleaning Process:
The cleaning process involves initially removing dirt, using a small amount of saddle soap with warm water, brushing the leather gently in a circular motion, wiping away the foam, and letting the boots dry for 24-48 hours.
3. Conditioning and Caution:
After cleaning, it’s essential to moisturize the boots with a leather conditioner or mink oil.
However, saddle soap should be used cautiously, as its alkaline nature can dry out and potentially damage leather if not followed by proper moisturization.
It is recommended to use saddle soap on cowboy boots at most once every three months to avoid discoloration or wrinkles.
When do you need to use Saddle Soap on Cowboy Boots?
Saddle soap is a mixture of soap (with an alkaline active ingredient to help remove stains) and leather conditioner ingredients such as oil and lanolin.
The secret behind this recipe comes from the 19th century, when perhaps at that time, the manufacturer thought that mixing soap and oil could both clean real leather and moisturize the leather at the same time.
Although there is pretty much a debate about whether saddle soap is really good for leather cowboy boots, this active ingredient is still capable of removing some stubborn and long-standing stains, including:
- Ink stains: Ink stains can form from many things, but they are very stubborn stains, especially permanent inks. Fortunately, the surface of the leather is usually smooth and less prone to chemicals, which allows saddle soap to work well to remove these stains.
- Oily and grease stains: saddle soap contains oil and soap in which the alkaline component has a greater concentration. Alkaline chemicals have the ability to dissolve oil. Therefore, there is no theory to say that saddle soap cannot cleanly handle grease stains that penetrate deep into the leather surface. These stains may include food grease or industrial grease that adheres to the surface of the leather cowboy boots.
- Oil-based paint stains: Like grease stains, oil-based paint stains have the ability to stick on the leather surface longer because their oil component will be absorbed into the pores of the leather. Saddle soap with high alkalinity has the ability to dissolve oil along with removing residual color stains.
- Water stains: These are pretty basic stains. You don’t even need saddle soap for a perfect clean. But if this is your only option, watermarks can also be cleaned effectively thanks to saddle soap.
- Colored stains: These are colored stains from coffee or greasy sauce stains on cowboy boots. They do not stick firmly but cause odors and dark stains on light cowboy boots. Saddle soap works effectively to remove both odors and color stains from leather surfaces.
- Moldy stains: Thanks to its high alkalinity, saddle soap has the ability to remove mold fibers, their spores, and other bacteria that nest in organic leather fibers. This active ingredient is also capable of removing musty odors from mold. Patchy traces of mold can be visibly erased.
How to use Saddle Soap on Cowboy Boots?
Let’s see what you can do to clean all stubborn stains on leather cowboy boots with saddle soap.
Keep in mind that this method is likely to damage suede, nubuck or split leather. It works best for sleek leather only.
What you need to prepare:
- Household mild acid cleaning liquid (optional)
- 2 soft cloths
- 1 professional leather brush
- 1 bowl of warm water
- 1 box of saddle soap of any brand
- Leather conditioner/mink oils
Step 1: Clean the dirt thoroughly
You should never start applying saddle soap immediately to your leather cowboy boots. Tiny dust particles accumulated during previous use can create unwanted scratches on the leather surface.
If your cowboy boots don’t have too much dirt or mud stains, you can use a soft cloth to rub the entire boot upper until there are no more obvious dust particles on it.
If your cowboy boots have mud stains on them, you may need some household mid-acid cleaning solution like a solution of water + fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in a ratio of 3:1.
In this case, you need to let the cowboy boots dry completely before moving on to Step 2.
Step 2: Take saddle soap on the brush
You need to use a leather brush to take a small amount of saddle soap and quickly dip it in a bowl of warm water. Keep in mind that warm water will activate the compound more quickly.
Large amounts of soap can dehydrate the leather and the oil excessively. Therefore, a small amount of saddle soap is sufficient. They will foam later on.
In addition, you should use a leather brush with a small and round brush instead of a brush with a wide brush area when you do not need to get saddle soap on the entire brush.
Step 3: Clean the leather
After your cowboy boots are ready to be cleaned, put the duo from Step 2 on and brush the entire surface of the leather cowboy boots.
Keep in mind to brush in a circle instead of horizontally or vertically. This move will not scratch the sleek leather surface.
If you brush horizontally or vertically, you will definitely see scratches afterward.
You can brush multiple times into areas containing colored or stubborn stains. In addition, you should not brush vigorously, as this will also scratch the leather.
You will see layers of foam appear each time you brush, and the stains will be pushed out by the foam.
Besides, you can also brush around the embroidery and stitches due to the fact that dust often gets stuck there.
Step 4: Wipe the foam away
Cleaning leather cowboy boots with saddle soap does not require rinsing with water afterward, although this is also a type of soap. You use the remaining soft cloth to wipe off all the foam on the surface of the boots.
Thoroughly clean the nooks and crannies of pulled straps, decorations, and threads.
Step 5: Dry the boots
You will likely need to dry your cowboy boots for between 24-48 hours with either air-dry or with a fan.
Keep in mind to not let your boots come into contact with water or high humidity during this time. Otherwise, you may see watermarks appear afterward.
Step 6: Conditioning
Finally, you just need to moisturize your leather cowboy boots comprehensively. Once the cowboy boots have dried, you may notice some dryness in areas that have been cleaned with saddle soap.
That’s why you need to moisturize your leather with leather conditioner or mink oil.
Is Saddle Soap Bad for Leather?
For quite a few people, including leather professionals, saddle soap has been used to clean stubborn stains on cowboy leather boots for centuries.
However, there are some truths behind that that make you cautious when using these products for your pricey real leather cowboy boots. Otherwise, it may damage your leather goods quite heavily.
In fact, saddle soap is a combination of soap (yes, soap) and other oil-based emollients. They have as long a history as cowboy boots as people were used to using them in the tanning process around the 1900s to remove stains and the natural fishy smell of rawhide.
However, people quickly noticed that the skin texture became drier and more brittle after that. Therefore, they decided to soak leather in oil-based solutions to enhance its softness and moisturization.
Overall, saddle soaps are technically nothing but alkaline compounds and oils in their chemical structure. I know this is sort of confusing for many chemists.
Soap is alkaline with a PH greater than 7. The degree of alkalinity depends on the concentration of the chemical, which can vary.
When oil-based solutions are added to soap, as in the way they make saddle soap, the oil will be partially or completely dissolved into the alkaline chemical.
If the oil component accounts for a larger amount than the alkali in the saddle soap, they have almost no alkaline cleaning ability and only provides moisture from the oil component in it.
On the contrary, if the alkaline composition exceeds the amount of oil, the mixture is able to clean stains pretty well but can easily cause brittle leather.
This is due to the fact that alkaline chemicals will attract oil and water from inside the leather. You may see your cowboy boots fade, wrinkle, and wear out if you do not rehydrate and re-oil the leather immediately afterward.
Besides, foaming when using saddle soap on boots can clog the pores of the leather. This occurs when you did not thoroughly remove the dust and dirt prior to cleaning with saddle soap. This significantly causes decreased breathability of the material.
To sum up, the best thing you can do is to wash away the dirt on the leather surface all the way out before doing any cleaning with saddle soap. Never forget to moisturize your boots with mink oil at the end of the process.
This can prevent unwanted side effects when it comes to using saddle soap on your real leather cowboy boots.
Some last words
Overall, either way, saddle soap is really effective for removing stubborn stains from leather cowboy boots.
However, you should only use them for your boots at most once every 3 months. Also, you should always moisturize and oil your leather after the saddle soap application.
Otherwise, your boots can quickly discolor or develop deep wrinkles.
Howdy y’all, and welcome to From The Guest Room, your ultimate guide to all things Western! I’m Jay Gatz, a lifelong cowboy boot enthusiast with over 5 years of experience in the Western style world. I’m excited to share my knowledge with you and help you discover the perfect cowboy boots and western gear to elevate your style. Let’s explore the rich history and timeless appeal of Western fashion together!