The Do's and Don'ts
of
Motorcycle Leather Care

Everywhere Bikers collect, Leather Care, for their Motorcycle Saddle Bags, their Chaps, and their Motorcycle jackets eventually comes up in the conversation, and I gotta tell you... some of what I've heard makes me go nigh on to cross eyed, from trying to keep my mouth shut... and people begin to wonder how come my tongue is bleeding.

... Oh and one lil' pet peeve of mine...

Having Cowboyed for a goodly number of years... Chaps AIN'T pronounced with a CH like in Choo Choo! it's said with a soft Ch... like in shaps!

Aaaaaarrrgh! It makes my live quiver when I hear it wrong! :-)

Your lips get chapped... Your butt gets chapped... your legs wear chaps ("shaps!")

Anyhoo... when it comes to Leather Care... there's one hell of a lot of B.S. and gas that gets passed around... so I thought I'd do what I could to set the record straight!

What makes me so expert?

How come I think I'm in the know when it comes to Leather care?...

Well... for a number of years... nigh on to ten... I ran a Custom Leather shop...

I repaired and built Chaps, saddlery bits and pieces... fancy albums and mostly high end gun leather for Cowboy Action Shooting...

I've tried most everything, and learned what worked and what makes for trouble.

my old leather shop

That combined with Cowboyin' from the time I was 14, 'till just before 2000, taught me the Do's and Don'ts of Motorcycle Leather Care.

My 25+ year old cowboy saddle

I had that saddle built in 1986. Cowboyed in it until about 2000 and took this picture in the spring of 2014... It's weathered (with my care) hail storms, Colorado blizzards and the Arizona desert for all those years...

Now, when it comes to Leather Care... everybody has their own lil' 'secret formula'... and I gotta tell you... much of it is gonna RUIN your leathers... and I don't just mean; Not do a good job... I Mean do actual damage to your motorcycle leather; shortening its' life by years.

Don't know about you... but when I spend a few hundred bucks on a quality motorcycle jacket... or even $75 bucks for a cheapie set of chaps... I don't want my effort at Leather Care to be the worst thing that happened to 'em... I want my efforts at leather care to maintain my leather... not ruin it.

There's a lot to run down here, so I'll try to keep it as organized as I can... so it can make some sense.

There are a lot of leather care products out there to choose from... so many leather care products that the number of options can get confusing. I'll work to help you discard some... right off the top, so you don't waste any time even thinkin' about 'em.

Ok... Saddle Soap... sounds like the perfect thing for leather don't it? well, for its' intended purpose... it is... Only its' purpose is CLEANING... NOT... leather conditioning. It IS a part of proper leather care... in its' proper place... but... listen carefully here... SOAP is CAUSTIC.

That is why it can clean... About the only time you'll need to use Saddle Soap... is if your Saddle Bags, Chaps, Jacket or whatever... gets really, really, filthy... then... and only then... clean the piece with Saddle Soap...

Otherwise... don't bother... you're wasting your time and money... and the leather don't need it.

What your leather will need is Leather Conditioning... replacing the Tanning oils that dry out with use and exposure... and... replacing the lubricating oils within the leather, to maintain its' pliability; so the fibers bend and flex; rather than crack and tear.

BUT first... if you do feel the need to Saddle Soap your leather... you have to do that - Properly - or you're gonna do heavy damage to your expensive motorcycle leather... and take a huge amount of its' life away...

So... using water and your Saddle Soap... work up a good lather and scrub the piece... that's easy enough... But, now you have a clean, but soggy, soap saturated piece of leather... If you leave it like it is, to dry... what you are doing is leaving it saturated with CAUSTIC soap... and it will - ROT.

The answer, for proper Leather Care, is... Rinse out the Leather with clear water... Rinse it until you KNOW all the Saddle Soap is gone... then... set it aside, out of the sun, away from heater vents etc. and let it slowly dry down.... Don't worry...Getting wet ain't gonna hurt your leather... horses and cows have been getting rained on for a few thousand years without injury!

It's letting your leather dry without proper care... and then trying to use it... that ruins most leather.

So... before it is completely dry... which will make it get stiff and hard without treatment, (not a good thing)... start working in your Leather conditioner while the leather is still slightly damp.

If you just can't get to it before it goes completely dry, don't despair... just don't use it before you condition it. Take your leather conditioner and gently work it into the stiff, dry leather. As you work, you'll see that flexibility and pliability returning...

It is best to get the stuff in there before the leather dries from cleaning... but all is not lost if that just proves impossible. (and on the road... working in some conditioner in the evening, after a wet day, and before the leather dries, only takes a few minutes, and will serve you well)

Now right here is another place where you can go wrong... way wrong. And this is where that confusing pile of options hits you... There's all sorts of Leather Conditioners you can smear on. Some good... some not so much.

Some are just topical finishes... some are oils... some are MADE from Oil... YUCK! some are grease... some are wax... some use solvents (NOT good for leather) to carry their 'active ingredient'... and in total... the array is confusing, when all you're tryin' to do is proper Leather Care!

Here's a quick lil' rundown... and my comments on 'em...

Leather Conditioners

  • Neatsfoot Compound - FORGET IT - In my book, it's Junk. the 'compound' is a petroleum distillate... used to cut the cost... it actually damages leather and tends to decay nylon stitching. Its' Best use is to lubricate dumpsters!
  • Neatsfoot Oil - Ok... It is pure oil... but risky... first it tends to stay oily and tends to attract dirt, which you don't want. Used in proper amount it lacks durability and dries out too fast, leaving your leather dull and lifeless looking... if you put it on juuuuuust a lil' too heavy, you're left with a leather that gets an oily stain on everything it touches... Your lady is NOT going to be happy with stains on those fancy, new, $85 designer jeans! I stopped using it YEARS ago.
  • Mink Oil - real similar to Neatsfoot in my mind... just too 'oily' for my taste and always leaves me with the sensation of holding a greased pig.
  • Castor Oil - I've heard of people using this. It seems that folks think, taking anything 'oily' and smearing it on leather is a good thing... NOT!
  • Olive Oil - I have used this on leather. Its' ONLY use is for color. I used to mix it 50/50 with Neatsfoot Oil... and apply VERY lightly to new, light, tooling leather to 'stain' it to match some OLD leather saddles/gunbelts that I was commissioned to build custom accessory pieces for... It is NOT for conditioning.
  • Skidmore's Leather Cream - BINGO! THE Cadillac of Leather Conditioners. I used to send along a lil' 2 oz. sample jar of this when I shipped $500 pistol belts.
  • The Balance? - Most are OK... but also, really just 'topical' finishes or light oils that wear out or dry up fast... They just don't have the durability or lubricating qualities that satisfy me.

My Personal Recommendation? Skidmore's Leather Cream ... available at smarter Tack and Saddlery Shops. Skidmore's is a cream that gets worked in with your finger tips. Just a lil' dab, and rub it in well... both sides if they're accessible... Let it dry for 45 minutes or so... then wipe off any excess that hasn't 'soaked in'... and let it continue drying.

I've found that setting the leather, somewhere warm, helps the leather conditioner to penetrate completely. I've taken water hardened reins, belts, boots and whatever other abused leather I found... gently worked it with Skidmores, and returned the piece to pliable, functional, use. It doesn't make the leather soft...It simply maintains the proper pliability... there is a difference.


It can't heal cracks or red rot... but Skidmore's is the best Leather Conditoner I've found in more than forty years of using, working, and maintaining leather with proper leather care... and boys an' girls... I've rode a lot of leather off a saddle!

Once it's completely dry, take a soft cloth and buff the leather to a nice soft lustre... and THIS is where this conditioner really shines. Although it penetrates and replenishes, within the leather, all the oils and lubricants that have dried out... the surface dries to a hard but flexible condition... The leather has a nice, pliable 'hand'... and 'polishing' it gives you not a hard 'gloss'... but a soft, attractive 'sheen'... while the leather maintains its' deep rich lustre. It's tops.

... and UNLIKE some of the other leather care creams and oils... there is NO OILY RESIDUE... Have a genuine leather saddle on your Bike? ... this WILL NOT have you looking like you sat down on an oil can!

Chaps shouldn't have to be replaced ever' couple of years 'cause they dried out and cracked from getting rain wet... I rode my last set of chaps for thirty years...

Didn't loose 'em till I forgot about 'em and left 'em sitting in my leaky saddle bags for a few days... after a rain... there was just no recovery from THAT mildew... The point is, they lasted for THIRTY YEARS... with proper Leather Care...

Now I Ain't sayin' that proper leather care can make 'cheapie' chaps or saddle bags, built with low grade leather, last forever... but it will keep 'em goin' a lot longer... and if you spend the money up front... for Top Quality Leather... Then give it Proper Leather Care... It should outlast you!

A Summary of the Do's and Don'ts of Proper Leather Care:

  • DON'T Leave wet leather to dry 'till it's Hard and Brittle...
  • DO apply conditioner BEFORE it is completely dry - if conditions don't allow you to get to it before it dries... don't despair!... just, gently, work in a good conditioner (Skidmore's!) until you regain lubrication and pliability
  • DON'T Use Saddle Soap... Unless the Leather is Sweat Soaked and Filthy... if you must soap your leather...
  • DO Rinse out the Saddle Soap - COMPLETELY... and then - Properly - dry and condition the leather
  • DON'T Use NEATSFOOT COMPOUND - It will do the opposite of what you want... and leave you greasy in the process!
  • DO leave that crap in the store!... if you use PURE Neatsfoot... use it sparingly... or you get an oily mess.
  • DON'T Leave Wet Leather in any sort of container... It will Mildew... and THEN it is pretty much Ruined...
  • DO lay it out to dry properly out of the sun and away from heat sources.

Now... with properly cared for leathers... Grab Your Handles and RIDE!

***Just a Note*** I am not affilliated in any way with the Skidmore's company. I am just a very satisfied customer and it is simply the best Leather Conditioner I've ever found. I've used 'em all... and this is THE conditioner I use on ALL my leather... It is the ONLY conditioner I'll use... Including on our furniture and truck seat!... at least when I had a truck with a leather seat!

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