How to Make Homemade Saddle Soap
What's in Saddle Soap?
Ingredients that go into saddle soap vary depending on personal preference. However each recipe will contain the following three elements.
- a degreaser - to break down dirt and sweat.
- an emollient or wax - to seal and preserve the leather.
- some perfume - to make the soap pleasant to use.
Traditional Recipe for Saddle Soap Using Lye
There are several ways to make saddle soap but the traditional method uses lye (sodium hydroxide). Lye is a dangerous and caustic alkaline chemical, so make sure the container is closed securely after use. Sodium hydroxide must be handled with extreme care as it causes nasty burns if it makes contact with your skin or eyes. For safety always wear rubber gloves and eye goggles when using lye.
Young kids should never be allowed to use lye. The recipe below can be taught to older children but always under close experienced adult supervision.
The following video shows how to use lye safely. The presenter demonstrates how dangerous and caustic lye is by pouring some onto a chicken joint; the flesh is quickly dissolved away by the chemical.
The video is aimed at people making cosmetic soaps rather than saddle soap, but the principles of soap-making and the safety precautions needed are the same. It is only the type of oils and fragrances used that differ.
Health and Safety When Using Lye to Make Soap
How to Make a Bar of Saddle Soap
Traditional Recipe Using Lye
2 saucepans (made of stainless steel or heat resistant glass)
2 stainless steel or plastic spoons
Some wide mouthed glass or plastic containers for soap molds
1. In the first saucepan (stainless steel or heat resistant glass): mix 6 ¼ parts beeswax, 10 parts pure flake lye (sodium hydroxide) and 10 parts water. Boil for five minutes stirring gently.
2. In the second saucepan: mix 2 parts Castile soap shavings with 10 parts water until melted.
3. Remove from the heat source and slowly blend the melted soap mixture into the lye mixture.
4. Turpentine is flammable, so make sure you keep it well away from any heat sources. Stir in 15 parts gum turpentine to the now cooling soap and lye mix.
5. When all the ingredients are blended pour the saddle soap mixture into the molds. On cooling the mixture will thicken and solidify into bars.
6. To remove the bars, dip the cooled soap-filled molds briefly into a bowl of hot water. The bars should slide out of their molds. The finished saddle soap will keep indefinitely if covered and stored somewhere cool and dry.
The Function of Saddle Soap
Saddle soap has two functions, these are cleaning and preserving. Well maintained horse tack remains strong and supple in use. Saddle soap is a specifically designed for this purpose. This specialized soap contains a cleaning agent that removes dirt and grime from your saddle. It also contains emollient oils which act as a preservative and conditions the leather. Without the application of saddle soap or similar, leather saddles would crack and distort as they dried out.
Do you make your own saddle soap?
DIY Saddle Soap Recipe Made Without Lye
If the thought of using a dangerous chemical like lye puts you off making your own saddle soap, there is an alternative. The following recipe avoids the step where you have to heat lye by using shavings of a commercially made soap instead. I use as I like the fragrance. shea butter soap base
In the recipe below, neatsfoot oil replaces some of the beeswax to make the final product a thick paste rather than a solid bar. However, neatsfoot oil is not suitable for saddle soap if you live somewhere with very high temperatures like Arizona. Some horseback riders have reported that neatsfoot oil can damage leather when it is subjected to extreme heat.
How to Make Saddle Soap Without Lye
This recipe makes approximately four pints of saddle soap.
- You will need 2 saucepans, 2 stirring spoons and some storage containers with lids.
- In the first saucepan, boil 2 pints of water. Reduce the heat and slowly add 24 tablespoons of grated soap (shavings). Stir gently until all the soap has melted.
- In a second saucepan melt 8oz. beeswax and 4oz. neatsfoot oil. Blend together to make a smooth liquid.
- Remove the beeswax and neatsfoot oil mixture from the heat. Slowly add it to the soap solution and stir on a low heat until it thickens.
- Pour into some clean dry containers with lids and allow to cool. It will not solidify into bars but will be a thick cream consistency.
How to Use Saddle Soap
- Use a damp sponge or soft wet cloth to apply the soap to the tack. Make sure your cloth or sponge is well wrung out before dabbing it onto the soap.
- Apply the soap to the leather saddle using firm smooth arm motions.
- Then rinse out your cloth in warm water and remove any excess lather from the saddle.
- Use a second dry cloth to buff polish the leather to a glossy shine.
Tack Cleaning; How to Clean Your Saddle
Don't Use Saddle Soap on Leather Sofas
The recipes given in this article should only be used for cleaning leather horse saddles. Horseback riding saddles are made of strong, sturdy, hard-wearing, very thick leather. Do not be tempted to use saddle soap on leather-covered domestic furniture.
The leather used for three piece suites, sofas, settees and armchairs is a thin and inferior quality animal hide. Often a leather skin of just a few millimeters thick is glued to a synthetic liner to give it the draping quality of a softer fabric. However, this means it cannot cope with the harsh chemicals (like lye) found in saddle soap. Over time, using saddle soap on this type of surface will result in it dissolving and holes appearing in the fabric. To clean leather-covered domestic furniture use either a commercial leather cleaner or wipe it down with a solution of vinegar and water.