I like to view tack cleaning as a long process I like to call "The karate kid way" wax on, wax off. Where the kid learns that while the process takes a bit of time and effort the end result is often better than just slapping the wax on the car and calling it a day. And so I take the same approach to my tack cleaning. Todays subject is Red's Camelot anatomical girth.
The items I like to use
Dawn dish soap: I like using this because its gentle BUT at the same time its great getting working out sweat, grime, and old oils that may hinder the cleaning process. It lifts them away and it doesnt hurt the leather.
Olive oil: I find this a great conditioner, when used correctly this can do wonders toold leather that looks like it should be in a dump.
4 way care: I like this to be used after the olive oil, I find it helps preserve the leather which olive oil cant do that well
a soft cloth (or if you cant find one a paper towel)
Time is the most important thing you need in this instance because this can be a lengthy process. Todays subject for example, took me 45minutes from start to finish. But a saddle can take up to 2 hours depending.
The first thing I do is mix the dawn with Hot water, then taking one of my sponges I gently with circular motions work out the dirt and grime with the dawn water mix. With the girth it only takes one round, though with a saddle it may take 2-3 before all of it is gone. Done on both sides, even if the other side doesnt "look dirty"
Once that is through I make sure to wipe off any excess water/dawn before moving on to the next step with the olive oil.
This is really where the karate kid concept comes in, if you put too little it doesnt really help much and the leather doesnt get what it needs and it shows, you put too much and the leather becomes saturated and gummie and if you ever felt gummy leather you know what im talking about it feels NASTY. Not to mention the excess oil slowly leaks out during use. So how to prevent this? Think karate kid, wax on wax off. Its the same concept.
Taking a sponge, you may use the same one you just used with the dawn (make sure you squeezed the excess water/grim out) You put some oil on and working in circular motion work it in evenly, replensih your sponge as needed, once the area you are working on has a cheen of oil on it, count anywhere from5-10, then take your dry cloth, buff it right back out. Doing it this way you are able to let the leather absorb the oil it needs without over soaking it. Depending on the leather this can be done just once, or multiple times (a saddle i got took me 4-6 times before i was satisfied) The buffing process is important, and I always make sure to buff thoroughly and evenly. I did it just once time on the inside of the girth and twice on the outside.
I did ittwice on the outside because while it does not touch the horse , the leather on the outside was mainlymadeto fold inwards not outwards, and going in the opposit direction that its designed (like laying it down on a rack) can cause the leather to strain, so its a little extra precaution to help prevent cracking.
The last thing I do it probably the easiest, which is putting on the 4 way cleaner. I only use one coat of this during the process, and do it was same way I do the olive oil. One even coat across the area im working on, let it set for a count of 5-10 then evenly buff it out.
Once done the elather should feel soft and supple (and if you used the 4 way) you should see water just kind of glide/roll off, I wouldnt suggest it as the enarest water you would have on hand is the dawn mixture and its probably just undo what you did.
I share your faith in the wax on, wax off technique. Less is more, as every ancient zen master knows.
But you and I use different products.
That may the the point: It's about the different steps-- cleaning, oiling and sealing are different phases. Fold those into one as if you were going to a tack cleaning drive through, and your tack will look bad sooner or later.