Friday, June 19, 2009

Why Not Use Saddle Soap on my Leather Sofa?

Over the years we've heard countless times that consumers have been using saddle soap on their leather furniture. After all, it seems like the right thing to use as certainly saddles are made from leather.

Despite what it seems like, it’s a mistake! You see, leather intended for saddles and leather intended for furniture are processed very differently.

Saddles are made from heavy-duty belt grade leather which is processed using vegetable tanning. The hide is "veg-tanned" so the leather can tolerate the harsh environment of the outdoors. Vegetable tanning produces toughness and durability. To a rider, this means the saddle is hard and uncomfortable. Saddle soap was originally chemically engineered to help soften saddles. It accomplishes that goal because of its alkaline nature.

The significance is that leather is acidic on the pH scale. Its pH is 4.5 to 5.0. (Water is neutral at 7.0. Any pH higher than 7 is alkaline and lower than 7 is acidic.) Saddle soap is up around 9 or 10 on the pH scale. When you apply it to a saddle, a chemical reaction occurs within the leather that breaks down the fiber structure, softening the leather. Because vegetable tanned leather is so durable, it can withstand the chemical reaction without turning the leather to mush.

Upholstery leather is processed differently. Using chromium chemistry, this tanning process imparts soft and supple characteristics and not the same toughness as veg-tanned leather. However, the leather's pH is still around 4.5 - 5.0. Saddle soap introduces alkalinity causing a chemical reaction with the acidic nature of leather which weakens the fiber structure and reduces durability. Your leather furniture will not hold up like a saddle. Saddle soap is chemical warfare attacking the leather's structural integrity, shortening the life of your fine leather goods.

Think about your own skin. Would you wash your face with a strong alkaline household cleaner like 409? Certainly it would clean your face, however the effect it would have on your skin is not desirable, particularly with repeated use. The same is true for upholstery leather.

To prolong the life of your leather (furniture or automobile) it’s important to use leather cleaners that are chemically engineered (pH balanced) specifically for upholstery leather. If you would like more information about appropriate upholstery leather cleaners and conditioners, visit the Leather Care page at

Just remember, as the name implies, saddle soap is for saddles, not furniture. Keep it in the barn where it belongs.

Copyright 2009, Kevin Gillan

1 comment:

  1. Saddles are no longer hard. There is substantial use of calfskin, especially for seats and knee pads, as well as other leathers. The only downside is that saddles now wear out.