5 Differences Between Saddle Soap And Leather Conditioner

difference between saddle soap and leather conditioner

If you’re a beginner, then it’s quite understandable why you will be scratching your head over the differences between the saddle soap and the leather conditioner. The confusion can largely be due to how both terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the leather care industry. So in this article, I’m going to help you easily distinguish between these two leather care products.

So what is the difference between saddle soap and leather conditioner? The primary difference between the saddle soap and the leather conditioner is that saddle soap contains cleaning agents that help to remove dirt, grease, or grime from leather while the leather conditioner is used to nourish, moisturize, and protect the leather. Generally, the leather conditioner’s application will be preceded by cleaning the leather with saddle soap.

While the above are the primary differences between the saddle soap and the leather conditioner, there are a couple of differences I’m going to shed light on in the remaining parts of this article. Keep reading to find out more!

1. Ingredients

One of the basic ways to differentiate saddle soap from a leather conditioner is by reading the ingredients. Here are a few of the things you’re likely to within the two products.

Leather Conditioner:

The leather care industry is clouded in secrecy when it comes to the kind of ingredients they use for the manufacturing of leather care products.

This is because most of these leather care product manufacturers do not want to give away their longstanding family recipies.

However, there are a few ingredients that are generally consistent with almost every leather conditioner you’re going to pick up from the market.

Generally, any leather conditioner will contain essential oils such as neatsfoot oils, lanolin, or mink oil and waxes like beeswax.

When it comes down to these essential oils, leather care product manufacturers will often choose oils like neatsfoot oil, mink oil, or lanolin and wax like beeswax because they have been used to soften and protect leather for centuries.

These choices of oils are important because an inappropriate leather oil ingredient can become rancid or can leave sticky residue on the leather.

Related Article: 5 Best Non Sticky Leather Conditioners

Saddle Soap:

On the other side of the coin, your traditional saddle soap will come with a fairly different set of ingredients with the most obvious being a cleaning or soap agent.

Unlike the leather conditioner, most saddle soap will come with its chief ingredient being a Cleaning Agent (like Sodium Tallowate) and either or a combination of a Liquid Base, Moisturizer(s) (PEG-100, Glycerin, Lanolin, Neatsfoot Oil), A pH Adjuster, Emulsifier, A Waterproofer, and Preservatives.

Although some saddle soaps will have some moisturizers like those present in a leather conditioner, the amounts vary as you will typically have a lot more moisturizing ingredients in a leather conditioner than in saddle soap.

If you’re interested, you can check out more information about saddle soap ingredients in an article I wrote earlier titled 7 Best Ingredients Saddle Soaps Should Have For Best Results. In this article, I dived deep into all the important ingredients that are often present in saddle soap.

2. What They Do For The Leather

Leather conditioner:

Essential oils are added to the leather conditioner to enable it to be easily absorbed deeply into the leather in order to nourish, restore, and maintain the leather fibers – making it flexible, soft, and supple.

Without these essential oils, leather can lose its natural oil (simply through constant cleaning, through its day to day use, or exposure to the weather elements) and this can cause the leather to lose its flexibility, dry up, and will lead to the leather cracking.

The waxes often contained in leather conditioners are also placed as a key ingredient to provide the leather surface with excellent protection from water and other liquids.

Saddle Soap:

The traditional saddle soap is used to remove any form of dirt, stains, grease, or scuffs from leather without harming the leather.

The saddle soap will go deep into the pores of the leather and remove in form of dirt or grease stuck within the leather pores making the leather clean and exceptionally breathable.

Saddle soap is extremely tough on leather stains, dirt, and grease and very gentle on the leather itself. Saddle soap can be used to clean any dirt from any type of leather product.

So whether it’s your work boots, hiking boots, shoes, aprons, etc, the saddle soap will be able to tackle it.

But one thing you can expect when you use the traditional saddle soap is that it’s a little bit aggressive so it will dry out the leather.

There are, however, some novelty saddle soaps on the market to which have over the years grown in popularity and can in addition to cleaning the leather have additional nourishing ingredients that can help to offset the dehydration the traditional leather saddle soap causes.

A good example of such novelty leather saddle soaps is the Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap. It can effectively clean and fight against leather dehydration during the cleaning process.

3. Effect On Leather’s Appearance

Leather Conditioner:

Apart from the great benefits on the overall structure of the leather, the leather conditioner also has some peculiar effects on the surface of the leather it’s applied to.

The application of a leather conditioner on the surface of leather can result in a nice clean leather surface. It can also give the leather a new and fresh look.

But all in all, one of the most common effects the leather conditioner has on leather is how it darkens leather after it has been applied.

Your leather will definitely be a shade or two, if not darker than it originally was.

While some leather conditioner brands will claim to have the best non-darkening conditioner crown, they will, however, in the first couple of hours or days darken the leather and the leather will gradually return to its original color or a color similar to it.

Nevertheless, the leather conditioner helps to maintain the luxurious look of leather that we all love about natural leathers.

Leather conditioner will also in some cases leave a mild shine on the leather especially within the first few hours or days after the leather conditioner has been applied.

Another common thing you will find with the regular use of the leather conditioner is that with time, the shine left behind by the leather conditioner will gradually build up to enhance the kind of patina that develops on the leather surface.

Saddle Soap:

When saddle soap is applied properly, it will effectively remove any kind of stains, grease, and dirt leaving the leather looking clean and fresh.

Although saddle soap will do such a great job of getting rid of any unwanted foreign materials and stains, it will usually leave the leather highly dehydrated in the process.

In certain instances, saddle soap may also remove the finish, polish, or dye placed on the surface of the leather – causing the leather to lighten with time.

So while the leather conditioner will darken your leather items, the leather saddle soap, on the other hand, will gradually lighten the color of your leather goods.

4. Frequency Of Use

You will also be able to distinguish between the saddle soap and leather conditioner based on how frequently these two leather care products are used.

Saddle Soap:

Generally, the saddle soap will be used less frequently than the leather conditioner. Among almost all of the leather care products, saddle soap is one of the products that is used less frequently.

Ideally, a good rule of thumb will be to clean your leather items with saddle soap about once every 3-4 months if the leather item sees a lot of daily use and once every 6 months if the leather item sees very little wear.

This means that saddle soap cannot be used on a regular. This is because saddle soap is very aggressive and using it too often can actually harm your leather such as promoting rapid wear, dryness that can lead to leather cracking and peeling.

Leather Conditioner

The leather conditioner is always preceded by cleaning the leather with saddle soap. This means that whenever you use the saddle soap, you will have to condition the leather.

However, this is not the case whenever the leather conditioner is used. Meaning, you don’t have to use saddle soap whenever you use a conditioner leather.

Generally, the way you will condition leather will depend on the kind of treatment given to the leather and more importantly how the leather is used.

Typically, you can condition your leather with a conditioner 1-2 times every 3 months especially for leather goods that are often used in the sun or outdoors.

However, there are a lot of leather conditioners on the market today that can be applied on a weekly and daily basis for quick spitshine and daily leather protection.

5. Application

Finally, there’s also another distinguishing factor between the saddle soap and the leather conditioner when it comes to how the leather conditioner and the saddle soap are applied.

Leather Conditoner:

The leather conditioner is applied to the leather item and is allowed to sink into the leather for optimal leather treatment.

Any excess leather conditioner or residue can be buffed off with a dry clean cloth so that the surface of the leather being conditioned can have a smooth and even application and absorption.

One important thing you need to take note of when it comes to applying the leather conditioner is that putting too much conditioner on your leather articles can prevent the leather from breathing.

Also, applying too much conditioner can also cause the leather fibers to become mushy and eventually give in to rot. 

So what you would want to do is to apply a very little amount of leather conditioner to place a very thin layer on the surface of your leather goods.

Saddle Soap:

The main difference between the more traditional saddle soap and the leather conditioner when it comes to the application is that you’ll use a damp cloth to clean any excess saddle soap residue instead of the dry cloth in the case of the leather conditioner.

You will use a damp cloth because you would want to stop the active cleaning agents that get activated when saddle soap is applied. But in the case of the leather conditioner, you will want the conditioning agents to remain active to continually nourish the leather fibers.

Leather Conditioner vs Saddle Soap – Summary

Leather Conditioner Saddle Soap
1. Ingredients Contains large amounts of essential oils and waxes Largely contains cleaning agents and small amounts of moisturizers, preservatives, etc.
2. What They Do For The Leather Deeply conditions the leather Deeply cleans the leather
3. Effects On Leather’s Appearance Leather will usually darken when leather conditioners are applied Saddle soap will gradually lighten the color of the leather
4. Frequency of Use Once every 3-4months Once or twice every year
5. Application Leather conditioner is applied and the excess residue is buffed with a dry cloth The saddle soap is applied and buffed with a damp cloth to stop the activity of the cleaning agents in the saddle soap


Cleaning and conditioning leather items is an intergral part of owning a leather item. This will help maintain the natural look, feel, and smell of the leather for many years to come.

To be able to successfully maintain your leather items for a really long time, it’s essential to understand the differences between the leather care products you will be using so that you will be able to appropriate them using the right ones at the right time and following the right processes.

The key takeaway when it comes to using the saddle soap and leather conditioner to care for leather products is knowing and understanding how to use them in conjunction with one another.

Using saddle soap to clean and regularly conditioning your leather items will help to maintain the rich luxurious look of leather we all love and cherish.

I hope I have been able to bring a little bit of clarity to this topic. Thanks for sticking around.


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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