You’ve done the important part: you’ve got yourself a stellar pair of boots.
And you’re a smart one, too. You want to take good care of your investment.
But when it comes to the multitude of leather care products on the market, things can get confusing.
To help you out, we put together a comprehensive guide breaking down the difference between saddle soap and mink oil.
Before we jump in, please take note: even though we’re talking about boots specifically (we’re a boot site after all), mink oil and saddle soap can be used on leather bags, shoes, wallets—anything you want to clean and condition. So the following is true for all leather goods.
Saddle Soap vs Mink Oil: Overview
Saddle soap is a cleaning agent that conditions, and mink oil is specifically a leather conditioner. Mink oil helps more with weather resistance, but also significantly darkens leather, too.
You can use both products on the same boot if you’d like. Start by cleaning with saddle soap and condition with mink oil for your toughest leather items.
In our examples, you’ll see we’re using Sof Sole Mink Oil and Kiwi Saddle Soap. Sof Sole is only 5-10% pure mink oil, with the rest being made from a combination of beef and mutton tallow. It’s not the best mink oil on the market, but the price is right.
As for Kiwi Saddle Soap, again, this pick is a matter of ease due to it being readily available in many supermarkets.
For top-of-the-line leather care products, we recommend Fiebings or Bickmore.
What is Saddle Soap?
Saddle soap is a compound made to clean leather first and foremost. Many brands add lanolin and other waxes and oils to help condition the leather after you clean it, but it’s not a leather conditioner.
You can add saddle soap to a cloth or a small circular horsehair brush, dip it in warm tap water, and create a nice sudsing all over your boots. Then you wipe the suds off with a rag and saddle soap’s job is done.
Condition your boots with a different product after you’re done with saddle soap to restore and replenish the oils and waxes you just washed out.
A great all-round conditioner is Venetian Shoe Cream if you don’t want to change the color of your leather too much:
Mink oil also works well for conditioning and adding weather resistance, but it will darken the leather many shades darker.
It’s the best leather cleaner out there.
Easy to use.
You’ll need to follow up with another conditioning product to really care for your leather.
Can prevent some other, more effective conditioning agents from saturating your leather.
What is Mink Oil?
Mink oil is a byproduct from the fur industry and it’s literally made from rendered mink fat.
Most reasonably priced mink oils aren’t pure, though. For instance, SofSole Mink Oil is somewhere between 5-10% mink oil, and the rest is rendered from beef tallow and other oils and waxes.
Mink oil is a solid choice for weatherproofing your boots and layering on extra conditioning and protection for your leather.
Mink oil is excellent for softening and conditioning leather.
Adds a decent amount of weather resistance.
Protects from water and salt stains.
Inexpensive and easy to find.
Darkens the leather many shades, usually for good. Makes your leather feel a bit greasy.
Makes your leather feel a bit greasy.
Saddle Soap vs Mink Oil
If you need to clean your leather boots up, saddle soap is a clear winner here. Take a dab of soap on a rag, add a little warm water, and suds those boots up.
Mink oil won’t wash your leather. If you have a dirt stain on your boots, mink oil will essentially seal the stain in.
So if your boots have stains, use saddle soap first to lift those stains out. Then, if you’re ok with darkening the leather, use mink oil to preserve, condition, and add water resistance to your boots.
Saddle soap has some compounds designed to soften and condition your leather, but mink oil does a much better job overall.
Because saddle soap is meant to clean leather, it also removes some of the waxes and oils that were previously on your leather. So while it adds some conditioning effect, it also removes some.
Mink oil saturates leather with a combination of fats and waxes, so it’s a decent natural weather roofing compound.
One of the biggest issues with mink oil is that it significantly darkens leather, and there’s a good chance you won’t ever see the same color back in your boots.
You can use saddle soap to get some of the mink oil out if you’re unhappy with how much the oil has darkened your boots. Saddle soap is effective at cleaning leather, but the cell structure of leather is far too complex for any soap to fully clean and remove all oils. So you’ll struggle removing all the darkening oils.
If you want to soften your leather without darkening it, try Venetian Shoe Cream. It softens and conditions leather just as well as mink oil, and does a good job at leaving the original color. That said, Venetian doesn’t add as much weather resistance to your boot, so it’s really up to what your boot is going to face in its day to day.
Saddle soap doesn’t offer any weather resistance. Mink oil offers mild water resistance, and that’s mainly because it’s a fat-based compound that saturates leather.
There are several waterproofing sprays on the market that can completely block out water, but these are more expensive and more specialized. They don’t condition your leather, so they’re not a critical part of any boot care regimen.
Still, for most purposes, mink oil can add a solid layer of weather resistance that will keep your weather protected in most situations.
Which Should You Use?
If you’re looking to clean and restore your leather, start with saddle soap. This is a crucial product in every boot care kit. You may not need saddle soap now, but if you wear your boots out in the mud or get salt stains on them, saddle soap does the trick.
But saddle soap isn’t a good conditioner. Yes, it has some conditioning compounds, but you won’t be doing the leather a service with saddle soap alone.
You’ll want to use a leather conditioner on all your boots, even if you’ve used saddle soap on them.
Mink oil does a great job conditioning and softening leather. As an added bonus, it adds a lot of weather resistance to your boot. But the downside is that it will change the color of your boots forever.
If you don’t want to darken the leather too much, try Venetian Shoe Cream instead. It doesn’t have the same weather-proofing effects as mink oil, but it’s just as good as softening and nourishing leather without darkening it.
Is saddle soap bad for leather?
Saddle soap is good for cleaning leather. It does strip away some oils and waxes, so it’s best to use a separate conditioner after using saddle soap. But saddle soap isn’t bad for leather.
Is mink oil bad for leather?
Mink oil helps nourish and protect leather. It also adds a layer of weather resistance that helps your leather go through tough conditions. Mink oil is good for leather, but it will change the color significantly.
Should I use mink oil on new boots?
I don’t recommend using mink oil on new boots because it will darken the leather several shades. Venetian Shoe Cream will condition the leather the same without changing the color much. However, if you’re buying a new pair of boots for work and the color isn’t important to you, mink oil is excellent for nourishing and protecting leather, so in that situation, mink oil is a great choice for new boots.