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Tack Cleaner -- have I been doing it wrong all these years?

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  • Tack Cleaner -- have I been doing it wrong all these years?

    I was scrolling through Facebook this morning and saw a sponsored ad talking about pH balanced/matched tack cleaner. In my 30+ years of riding/showing/working within the horse world, this has never entered my mind. But it makes sense. I currently use castile or glycerine soap on my tack, but this article/ad mentioned that soap is too alkaline for leather which has a pH of 4.5-5.5 or there about. Lexol does have a pH balanced leather cleaner -- anyone tried it? Trying to find what the pH is on saddle soap is not an easy task either, unless it mentions it specifically.

    Anyone else gone down this rabbit hole?
    When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

  • #2
    I take the less is more approach. With taking care of tack, you need two steps:
    • cleaner - to remove dangerous grit, sand, moisture, slobber that will erode leather;
    • conditioner - to restore flexibility and moisture
    I personally think a lot o people over soap their tack. If you use your tack regularly, you are better off using a clean damp cloth to wipe the dust and grime off. Maybe sometimes a little bit of Castile soap to remove gunk, but you’re better off wiping with a clean cloth. I might use soap once or twice a month to get goop off the flash or figure eight. Also nice for wiping down the rubber reins.

    The conditioner step is more important. You want to restore moisture and keep leather supple. I love the effax lederbalsam which is perfect in our area. Enough conditioner to keep things supple (this may depend on your area - more humid or drier areas may like different conditioners). This works for me and is also in accordance with my saddle makers recommendations.


    • #3
      I haven’t used pH balanced soap but over the years I’ve noticed that if I buy very good quality leather it can take all sorts of abuse compared to cheap. I have a bridle that’s over 15 years old that won’t die and has been cleaned very sporadically. And I’ve been through lots of tack that I cleaned and cared for meticulously yet always looked cheap and died at the first opportunity.

      So spend the $ on quality tack and worry less about cleaning product? Unless it’s Horseman's One Step in which case throw that crap away!


      • #4
        There's totally a science behind it -- but, every leather manufacturer will tell you only to use THEIR soap and conditioner. Use what you like.

        I've used Lexol, it's a decent line. It's not my favorite on the shelf but it's very usable. I've used it to restore some really old / neglected tack, because it works and it's relatively cheap and tack restoration usually requires a fair bit of product. I've gotten some really good results putting almost desiccated tack into a bag with some Lexol and keeping it in that bag for a week.

        I'm with Mouse&Bay that one thing that really keeps the longevity of your leather is wiping down with a barely damp cloth every other ride or so. You don't have to clean it every ride -- and you actually shouldn't, because then the residue build-up collects dirt and such. I think the non-balanced soap only becomes a problem if used all the time.

        Of all the saddle soaps/conditioners made with leather pH in mind I think my favorite is the Belharra line from Devoucoux. It is expensive, but it is excellent at giving a very gorgeous patina, and I don't find my strap goods mold as much when in storage.

        Stubben and Passier both have bridle cleaners with appropriate pH as well; I use the Passier Bridle Cleaner for my daily-used tack and it keeps them glossy and new looking.
        AETERNUM VALE, INVICTUS - 7/10/2012


        • #5
          First off saddle soap is the last step in cleaning a saddle. Anything with glycerin is a sealer and should be used last.

          The best way to clean tack.

          Daily: very slightly damp rag to keep dust off. Dust/dirt/ and sweat are leather killers. If your horse sweats though the saddle pad, don't forget the panels.

          When the leather feels dry, after cleaning the dirt, use conditioner. This is different timing depending on the environment. Over conditioning actually weakens the leather fiber causing the structure of the leather to weaken and break down faster. Yes use the reccomend conditioner of the brand. It can make a difference depending on how the leather is tanned.

          After the conditioner is applied, use the saddle soap to seal the leather conditioner into the leather.

          Hope this helps!
          Jacobson's Saddlery, LLC

          Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Fitter


          • #6
            Complete non sequitur.
            Why would you want the pH of the cleaner to match the pH of the leather? Soap (All kinds of soap) have a pH over 7 (neutral). That is part of how they clean.

            chief feeder and mucker for Music, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now). Spy is gone. April 15, 1982 to Jan 10, 2019.


            • #7
              I do think the pH of a saddle soap (however it is used) had something to do with black tack fading to that weird greeny-brown or not. I have been very careful with my old, but museum-quality Stubben saddles to use their pH neutral soap. Otherwise, I have never had a problem, not even with younger black tack like bridles.
              The armchair saddler
              Politically Pro-Cat


              • #8
                Will one of you tack experts weigh in on the use (or overuse) of 100% neatsfoot oil? General question out of sincere and general interest.
                * -- Virginia hunt country's best Bed-and-Breakfast-and-Barn.


                • #9
                  I'm hooked on ReitSport Saddle Soap from They gave out samples at their Equine Affaire booth when it first came out. It's not like anything else I've tried. It's made with goat's milk and has a nice scent. I've never been able to find a word to describe it. The suds are different, kind of light and creamy in a way, not soaking wet. I use a wet tack sponge to clean, then a damp towel to remove it. Buff with a dry cloth. I keep a jar with my tack. I touch up dusty spots and spruce up my boots. I don't need to deep clean very often and haven't used leather conditioner in a long time.

                  They have free shipping and a 100% satisfaction guarantee so you can return for a refund if you don't like it. If you are a fan of HorseTech, it's one of their typical high-quality products. I don't know if you get cookies. I included it in a supplement order.

                  "With hardly any other living being can a human connect as closely over so many years as a rider can with her horse." Isabell Werth, Four Legs Move My Soul. 2019


                  • Original Poster

                    Originally posted by Janet View Post
                    Complete non sequitur.
                    Why would you want the pH of the cleaner to match the pH of the leather? Soap (All kinds of soap) have a pH over 7 (neutral). That is part of how they clean.
                    The point made in the article/ad was that it causes micro-damage and since leather is no longer able to repair like skin, that micro-damage becomes visible damage over time. I've heard this with face washing (humans) too -- washing with oil to prevent damaging your skin.
                    When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Hunter's Rest View Post
                      Will one of you tack experts weigh in on the use (or overuse) of 100% neatsfoot oil? General question out of sincere and general interest.
                      Not that I am an expert... I had always heard that neatsfoot oil rots stitching. I have used it sparingly when reconditioning very dry leather.


                      • #12
                        Nowadays tack is sewn with spun polyester thread, not linen, so it doesn’t rot. But there has been a trend to douse/soak/dunk tack in oil and that puffs up and weakens the fibers.

                        Tack should only be oiled after it’s gotten wet, or it you live in a very dry climate and the leather is cracking or feeling very stiff. Glycerin saddle soap is humectant (attracts water) so it’s plenty to keep tack feeling nice day to day. Nice meaning pliable, not floppy. Buttery, not greasy.


                        • #13
                          The green leather is a different issue. It was because of new environmental regulations that caused them to have to change the ingredients used in tanning. They have gotten that sorted out now. It really is only for a certain age and type if leather as they figured out it out.

                          You should never dunk or over use oil. It weakens the fibers in the leather which reduces the life of it.
                          Jacobson's Saddlery, LLC
                          Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Fitter


                          • #14
                            Rerider - Neetsfoot COMPOUND rots stitching. Not neetsfoot oil.
                            * -- Virginia hunt country's best Bed-and-Breakfast-and-Barn.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Hunter's Rest View Post
                              Rerider - Neetsfoot COMPOUND rots stitching. Not neetsfoot oil.
                              And that is natural fibers, not synthetic.

                              I've used a fair bit of Lexol over the years. Still have my Passier and Circle Y going strong. The Passier I bought new in 80 something, the Circle Y in the 90's. It sure won't damage leather in my experience.
                              ~~Some days are a total waste of makeup.~~


                              • #16
                                Wait-- y'all mean to tell me that petroleum products rotting polyester? Or oil rotting linen?
                                The armchair saddler
                                Politically Pro-Cat


                                • #17
                                  Here in Florida my bridle gets sweaty around the ears, slobber dries around the bit and reins.... a damp cloth won't clean it. I spray with water after every ride (just enough to get the crap off), use soap once a week or so, and use effol conditioner ever now and again. I usually use either a hard leather soap (a variety of brands) or the spray-on kind, depending on how motivated I am.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Xanthoria View Post

                                    Tack should only be oiled after it’s gotten wet, or it you live in a very dry climate and the leather is cracking or feeling very stiff. Glycerin saddle soap is humectant (attracts water) so it’s plenty to keep tack feeling nice day to day. Nice meaning pliable, not floppy. Buttery, not greasy.
                                    In my experience, tack that's cleaned (maybe) and then given a coat of glycerine to "seal" it and which creates that nice, soft, glowing patina on it ends up being very stiff and would crack if you bent it.

                                    There's a difference between trying to inject water into the middle of a tanned hide (via a humectant) and trying to put fat or oil back in there. I think the oii is what the tanning process as well as "life" crucially removed from it. Also, I think it's the oil in the hide that makes it pliable and strong.
                                    The armchair saddler
                                    Politically Pro-Cat


                                    • #19
                                      mvp that’s weird - it must depend on your leather and climate. Growing up in the U.K. we only ever used glycerine bar soap and strap work was wonderfully supple and long lasting. We used oil maybe every few months after tack had been soaked out hunting etc, and we applied only a thin coat. I’ve used the same game plan for the last 20 years in CA and I’ve found the only difference for me is sometimes I add a conditioner in dry weather.


                                      • #20
                                        I think leather care depends on local conditions since leather is a natural material. It also depends on how it was tanned.

                                        Here in the UK, with a moist climate, a quick wipe with a damp cloth and then clean with glycerine soap keeps British-made tack in good condition when in daily use. My Spanish leather riding boots, however, are happier with Belvoir brand leather balm.

                                        I've riden in deserts where I thought the tack really needed some oil or balm to soften it and stop it drying out.

                                        Keeping tack in hot, humid conditions must be a real challenge as I suspect mildew and other fungus must be a constant battle.

                                        Where ever, over oiling generally makes the leather too stretchy and floppy so stitching can pull out. Talking to my local Master Saddler, he said modern leathers do not need neatsfoot oil. Always oil from the rough side was his other take home point.
                                        "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths