Quality leather tack is certainly one of the bigger investments we make as part of our time with horses. So it goes without saying that you’d like your precious saddle, harness, and other leather gear to last for an awfully, awfully…..awfully long time. We’re just like you…always babying your tack, cringing at every scratch and ding, or freaking out every time it gets put away “wrong”. We probably look crazy to non-horsey people, but hey, they’d probably get a little out of sorts too if something that cost them a few dozen Benjamin’s got roughed up.
No matter your discipline, most of the ways you protect your leather focus on addressing environmental or factors external to your leather, as we’ve been discussing the past few months in our 7 Worst Enemies of Leather Series. However, you can also protect your leather by taking into account its actual inherent physical properties.
And this is probably the MOST IMPORTANT, but least known and most ignored factor when it comes to the health of your leather. (It’s ok, you are not alone. We didn’t know this either until we started working on our company and creating our own line of leather care products.) :)
So we’re going to let you in on the big secret that nobody else is talking about by covering this little known fact about leather care in this fourth installment in our series of 7 articles. Just what exactly does the physical make-up of leather have to do with the leather care products you pick, and then how do you make sure you pick the best products that will keep your leather as happy as a cow in clover?
It’s all about two letters: pH
One of the very best ways to protect your leather tack and your investment is to ensure that you care for your leather using products that support the natural pH of the leather. Ok, so what on earth do we mean by natural pH?
The term pH refers to the measure of acidity or alkalinity of a material on a scale of 1 to 14.
On the pH scale...
- Acids have a pH between 1 and 7
- Alkaline materials (also called bases), such as soap and most cleaning products, have a pH between 7 and 14
- Neutral materials, such as water, have a pH of 7
And modern tanned leather has a pH averaging around 5 (give or take), so leather is acidic.
Why does pH matter so much?
Ok, so now it gets super interesting. (Have we mentioned before that we really love science? LOL!)
A chemical reaction occurs when materials of differing pH touch each other. This means that when a product with a pH that is not near the pH of leather is applied to your saddle, your saddle leather reacts just like an elementary school science project volcano. Do you remember adding the vinegar to the baking soda in the volcano and then watching it foam and erupt? This same reaction is taking place in your leather at a cellular level.
The reaction caused by using leather care products not matched to the pH of leather results in damage and premature deterioration to your tack, including:
- Loss of strength
Although this damage may not be immediately visible, microscopic damage is still occurring every time a non-pH matched product is used, and this irreversible premature deterioration will become apparent over time.
However, isn’t leather just like our own skin?
Shouldn’t the leather be able to withstand alkaline products since we use alkaline products, such as detergents and soaps, on our skin all of the time?
Yes, leather is essentially just like your skin (our skin is similarly acidic) and should be treated with the same tender care. However, the difference is that your skin is able to constantly renew and repair itself. Leather is unable to repair itself, so we are the gatekeepers to preventing deterioration of our leather tack. Deterioration is often chalked up to leather “just normally aging”, but often this isn’t really the case and is actually the result of improper care.
One of the challenges to ensuring proper care is to find leather care products that are matched to the pH of leather. Many common leather cleaners and saddles soaps on the market are alkaline, so they will unfortunately react with and damage leather.
Ok, so basically, you’ve gotta just say “no” to alkaline products. Anything “soap” is out for sure. More acidic products like vinegar (pH around 2.5) and lemon juice (pH around 2) should also be avoided.
When searching for leather care products, look for products that are formulated to be the same pH as your leather. Look for wording such as “pH balanced” or “pH matched”. Products with a neutral pH are also a good choice, as these will not react with your leather either. Wondering about our products? This is why Sterling Essentials’ Leather Cleaner is pH matched to your leather and our Leather Conditioner has a neutral pH. With consistent care, using pH matched leather care products will go a long way toward helping you keep your leather in mint condition and lasting for years to come.
**Be sure to keep an eye open for our next and fifth article in our Series coming out next month!
Miss the other articles? No problem! Check them out here: