Leather may be used for a wide range of purposes, but it’s important to remember that this material is in fact skin. Just like our own skin, it is packed with natural fats and oils to keep it flexible, supple, and resistant to water. Over time, leather’s natural oils can evaporate, leaving it dry and brittle and prone to damage.
It’s recommended that you use a leather conditioner to avoid this, but there are many different kinds that are suitable for different purposes! Here is our guide to popular leather conditioners and their best applications.
What is a Leather Conditioner?
A leather conditioner is a waxy, oil-rich product that replenishes the natural moisture of your leather. This keeps it soft and supple, restores its shine, buffs out minor scratches and scuffs, and keeps the hide water resistant as well. If you need a way to bring your leather boots, bags, belts or furniture back to life, a good cleaning and conditioning session should be just the ticket.
As mentioned above, the best time to condition your leather is straight after cleaning. This allows the conditioner to be completely absorbed. How often you condition your leather depends on how it is being used and how often you use it too. Boots, for example, should be cleaned around once a month, especially in hard-wearing conditions.
Other items that are worn or used less often should be conditioned every 2-5 months. As a rule, you should condition your leather whenever it feels dry and looks ‘thirsty’, when it has come into contact with water or salt, when it starts to show superficial cracks, or when a strong cleaning agent has been used on it. Remember to give the conditioner time to soak into the leather too; you can always play some popular pokies machines while you wait.
The Most Effective Ingredients
Leather conditioners may vary widely in price and branding, but they usually contain one or more of a few effective ingredients. There are 2 categories for these products too; conditioners and waterproofers. Conditioners typically contain oils and solvents, while waterproofing products are made from wax bases. These are the ingredients most commonly used in the best products:
- Lanolin. Lanolin is wool grease extracted from sheep’s fleece. It is a very effective conditioner, and can also be found in skincare products for people. Lanolin is very moisturising to leather, but can have trouble soaking in completely and sometimes leaves a residue behind. This makes it ideal for situations in which your leather needs extra nourishing care.
- Beeswax. Beeswax is all natural, and acts as both a conditioner and a waterproofer. This kind of conditioner can help to diminish scuffs and scratches while creating a breathable, waterproof barrier. This substance is best suited to hard-wearing leather items like work boots or horse riding gear.
- Mink oil. Mink oil is extracted from the fatty layer of mink skins, and creates a good waterproof barrier and a shiny gloss on your leather. This oil does also tend to darken leather, and can leave an oily residue on it that acts as a magnet for dirt. Again, this makes mink oil best suited to hard-wearing leathers and items that are exposed to the elements.
- Silicone. Silicone is an excellent waterproofer as it bonds to leather and seals it well. However, be aware that this product can kill the breath-ability of a hide and lead to lacklustre leather later down the line. Silicone is commonly added to leather conditioners as it is stain and water-resistant, but should be used mainly on items that are often exposed to water for best results.
- Coconut oil. This is an uncommon leather conditioner ingredient but has become a popular DIY choice. Coconut oil is great at nourishing leather of all kinds, but can leave discolouration if too much is applied. Remember, less is more if you want to avoid oversaturating your leather!