What is the best Oil for Leather, A Comprehensive Guide from a leatherworker

What is the best Oil for Leather, A Comprehensive Guide from a leatherworker

Hey there leather enthusiasts! Welcome to my page and blog post all about the best oils to use when caring for your leather. If you're a leather worker like me, you know that taking care of your leather goods is essential to maintain their beauty and longevity.

You don’t have to be a leather worker though. If you have leather items like wallets, boots, shoes, belts, at some point they will begin to lose moisture and need to be treated.

There is a lot of conflicting information when you start searching online, and you want to be careful because the wrong oil can really damage your leather. I have tried a lot of different types of oils, natural ones, synthetic ones, and some work better than others.

In this post, I'll walk you through a variety of oils that I have used and some I am yet to try, along with their unique properties, benefits, and a few insider tips. So, let's dive right in!

What is Leather Oil

Leather oil, my fellow enthusiasts, is the secret sauce that keeps our leather goods looking and feeling their absolute best for years to come.

Think of it as a spa treatment for your leather. Leather oils nourish, protect, and enhance the natural beauty of leather items, helping to maintain its supple texture and guard against the elements.

In the following sections, I'll delve deeper into the world of leather oils, exploring various types, how they interact with leather, and how the right oils can elevate your leather care game.

Why Choosing the Correct Oils for Leather Matters

Selecting the right oils for your leather items can make a world of difference. Leather is real skin after all. During the tanning process, the water that naturally hydrates the leather is removed and replaced with tanning agents.

Over time the leather dries out due to the elements, being in a pocket, sitting out in the sun. These oils need to be replaced so the leather doesn’t dry up and start cracking.  

Before it gets to this point, as soon as you start feeling a little stiffness, or you hear the tell-tale squidgy sound when you pull a belt through a buckle it’s time to get the oil out.

Leather is a natural material that needs nourishment and protection to stay supple and resist cracking. You need to use the correct type of leather oil that replenishes the leather and protects it from the elements.

The wrong type of oil used on leather can have pretty bad effects. I remember using olive oil for leather once, and it left an uneven shade on some tanned leather. You don’t want to have too greasy of a finish, or a leather that is too dense.

Prepping Your Leather Before Oiling

Now you don’t just want to schlep some oil on the leather and rub away, you need to take some steps to prepare the leather before you oil it.

I always start with a soft bristle brush, and wipe off any dust and larger particles, then I get a slightly damp microfiber cloth and gently clean the leathers surface in a circular motion to remove any dirt or grime.

Before you apply oil to leather, make sure the leather is completely dry (I would leave it 24hrs). This simple step ensures that the oil is absorbed more effectively for optimal results.

You must be thorough with this process. If you don’t clean the leather evenly, or leave some of it damp, the result will be uneven and can look blotchy.

How to apply oil to Leather

Here are a few simple steps you need to follow from start to finish when you are about to apply oil to condition leather.

  1. First as explained above, clean the surface of the leather to be oiled.
  2. Leave the leather to dry in an open airy space for a full day.
  3. After drying, check again and remove any leftover residue.
  4. Test on a small discreet patch first for any adverse effects.
  5. Once tested, apply a generous amount of leather and allow it to soak in
  6. After about an hour, wipe off any excess oil with a clean cloth.
  7. If needed, add an extra layer of wax or protective coating.

Following these steps, you’ll have the basis to oil your leather with confidence. Over time you gain more experience and get an idea for how much oil you need for different types and thicknesses of leather.

How Often Should You Oil Different Types of Leather

The frequency with which you oil your leather will depend on the type of leather and how often and in what condition it is used.

If you work outside and wear leather boots, jackets, leather gloves, maybe you use some harnesses, these types of leather products need oiling more frequently, like every 3 months or so should do it. You start to get an idea after a while when leather needs oiling and can tell just by the look and feel.

For items that get less use like a leather bag, a leather cap etc, once or twice a year is more than enough. Just keep an eye on your leather goods, make sure they are not drying out, getting stiff, and if they ever feel like it it’s time for some oil.

What happens to Leather after applying oil

The first thing you realize will be the darker tone of the Leather. The surface will be visibly smoother, the Leather will be softer to the touch, more supple and will even weigh more giving it a fuller feel.

The leather will be more vibrant in the light, but if you want a glossy finish, a shine, I would advise using some natural wax, like beeswax. Dab with a clean micro cloth and rub it in softly in a circular motion.

A leatherworking tip here is to not rub a cloth too fast or with too much pressure when doing anything with leather. You know that glossy edge you get on some wallets, that’s from burnishing the leather.

If you rub a cloth too hard and fast on the surface of Leather, you can end up burnishing it changing the texture and appearance of the leather forever. So always remember to be gentle when handling leather.

What oils can you use with Leather?

Let's take a closer look at some of the more popular and readily available oils:

  1. Mink Oil for Leather

What is mink oil? It´s a balm rich in oil that is extracted in a process from the pelts of minks. The indigenous people of the Americas discovered that this worked well to maintain all the leather they used. Ever since, it has been a must have in leatherworkers’ toolboxes.

Mink oil is naturally present in the skin of the animal, so it makes sense that it will work well with Leather. I only use full grain Leather and it’s a very porous material. The mink oil really gets into the leather and is my favorite to use for oiling leather by far.

A good quality oil not only replenishes the leather but can also make some lighter surface scratches disappear. It darkens the tone of the leather and leaves a uniform shade, so any indentations are also much less visible.

  1. Neatsfoot Oil for Leather

You’ll see that many oils are rendered from animals. Neatsfoot oil is taken from the foot and shin bones of cows. It has a distinct yellow color and is thick in consistency. It works really well with Leather and you will feel the difference in how soft the leather becomes.

You must be careful when you use Neatsfoot oil with leather though. It doesn’t cause any damage to leather, but if you have cotton thread or any fabric on the leather this can be a problem.

Neatsfoot oil has some acidity to it, so it can deteriorate fabrics and you don’t want your stitching to just disintegrate after a few treatments. If you apply it carefully and avoid any fabrics, but no matter what, come of it will still manage to seep in.

You can use this for belts, as they are just metal and Leather. You can also use neatsfoot oil if the thread on the leather is of the synthetic kind. This oil is also very rich, so be prepared to have the leather darken quite a bit.

Overall, I would say Neatsfoot oil is pretty good, but I wouldn’t use it on luxury leather goods. I would probably use it more on work boots, leather straps, things that get a lot of regular use or kept outside. Heavy duty leather.

  1. Coconut Oil for Leather: So can you use coconut oil on leather? I use coconut oil as a moisturizer, so you would assume that it would also be suitable for use with leather, but it’s not quite the case. Many people will offer this to you as the natural option to oil leather, but I have found a lot of this is emotion and not fact based.

We know the best oils for leather come from animals, so some will want you to use oil from other sources. Coconut oil will hydrate Leather and even add a little protection, but at what cost.

I tried every single oil I could get my hands on when I started leatherworking, and as much as I love the smell of coconut oil and the feel it gave the leather, the patchy appearance and the sticky feeling it leaves after drying is just not optimal.

Coconut oil also darkens leather quite a bit, and a side note is to keep your leather out of the sun straight after oiling it. It’s skin after all, and it will literally get a tan! So give it a few days for the oil to properly settle before exposing your favorite handbag to the sun.

  1. Linseed Oil for Leather: Linseed oil can be used with leather, and it will nourish the leather enhancing the flexibility and suppleness. It also gives the leather a little water resistance, but there are some drawbacks.

Like coconut oil, linseed oil will darken leather quite a lot. It also leaves a very glossy finish and take a long time to be absorbed and dry completely. Also, don’t get the amount right, and I have had some pieces of leather dry with uneven patches, and it can also leave a sticky feeling to the leather.

I don’t use linseed oil with leather at all. I tried it when I was making a list of oils I can use at the start of my leatherworking journey, but decided to not use it as I never liked the result.

  1. Mineral Oil for Leather: In short, no, do not use Mineral oil for Leather. Mineral oil is a by product of the oil industry, is petroleum based and just not suited for leather. It will soften the leather, but it also seals the leather, and when the moisture cannot escape the leather literally starts to rot away.
  2. Olive Oil for Leather: My Nan used to use olive oil on leather boots, and this is in a village in the middle of nowhere in Cyprus. At the time I’m sure it was the best option She had, but I wouldn’t recommend you go and lather your expensive duffle bag with olive oil.

Olive oil is very rich, and it will soften the leather, but after the leather dries olive oil is known to seep back out. This will leave patches of different shades and also give the leather a greasy look and feel.

If you are in a survival situation and your belt is dried and about to snap, sure, if you can get your hands on some olive oil go for it but keep it away from your wallet!

Remember, each oil has its pros and cons, so choose wisely based on your specific needs and preferences.

Pro Tips and Tricks for Mastering Leather Care

  • Always perform a patch test on a discreet area before applying any oil to your leather items.
  • Use a soft, lint-free cloth or a sponge to apply the oil evenly and avoid saturating the leather.
  • Allow the oil to be absorbed for several hours or overnight before wiping off any excess.
  • Store your leather goods in a cool, dry place to prevent moisture damage.

There you have it, a comprehensive guide to choosing the best oils for your leather goods. But I know you have more questions, I sure did. These are the most popular types of oils you are likely to search for, but I want to tell you about some other oils you can/can/t use with leather.

FAQs – Your Leather Care Questions Answered

  1. Can I use vegetable oil on leather? While vegetable oil can work as a makeshift option, it might not provide the same benefits as purpose-made leather oils. It could also turn rancid over time.
  2. Is jojoba oil suitable for leather? Yes, jojoba oil is an excellent option. It closely resembles natural sebum, making it a great conditioner for leather.
  3. What about saddle oil? Saddle oil is specially formulated for equestrian gear. It offers deep conditioning and waterproofing, making it a top choice for outdoor leather items.
  4. Can I use avocado oil or almond oil on leather? Both avocado and almond oils can work well for conditioning leather. However, they might leave a nutty scent that fades over time.
  5. How long for leather oil dye to dry? To be on the safe side, always let leather dry for 24 hours after any treatment.
  6. What is the best oil for leather belts? My go to for leather belts is Mink Oil.
  7. What kind of oil do you use for leather boots? If you are doing heavy duty work outside, then I would opt for Neatsfoot oil. For everyday boots though I would go with Mink Oil.
  8. Why is Neatsfoot bad for leather? The issue isn’t the leather, but any other fabrics that may be used with the product. So cotton stitching, lining in a bag, the oil is acidic so it can cause damage to materials other than leather.
  9. Best oil for leather jacket? Another time I would definitely go for mink oil.
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