Leather saddles, tacks, boots, and other equestrian gear see a lot of wear and tear. That’s why keeping leather goods properly conditioned is key to performance and longevity. Many equestrians swear by saddle soap—a rich, conditioning bar used to clean leather and replace lost oils. While quality commercial saddle soaps are readily available, die-hard horse owners may want to try their hand at crafting homemade saddle soap bars to get that fresh, customized formula.

Why Make Your Own Saddle Soap?

Crafting saddle soap at home lets you control exactly what goes into the recipe. You can experiment with natural ingredients like coconut oil, beeswax, and essential oils to create custom blends to suit your needs. Homemade soaps also avoid harsh detergents and chemicals found in some mass-produced soap bars. And whipping up a batch of DIY saddle soap costs just a fraction compared to buying commercial cleaners. Once you get the basic technique down, the possibilities for customization are endless!

Key Ingredients and Supplies

Concocting a basic homemade saddle soap only requires a few key ingredients:

Oils/Fats: The base oils act as emollients to condition leather. Popular options include neatfoot oil, coconut oil, lanolin, and animal fats like tallow.

Lye: Also called sodium hydroxide. This reacted with oils to create soap through saponification. Handle Lye carefully with gloves and eye protection.

Liquid: Water or a water/alcohol blend helps control the curing process.

Essential Oils: Add unique scents like eucalyptus or cedar for an extra touch.

You’ll also need supplies like a kitchen scale, silicone molds, mixing bowls, a stick blender, and eye protection. Use heat-resistant glass or stainless steel containers to prepare lye solutions.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Once you gather ingredients and supplies, clear some counter workspace. Making a small (2–3 lb) test batch is smart for first-timers.

  1. Calculate your lye-to-oil ratios using a saponification calculator. Aim for a superfat percentage of around 3–8%.
  2. Safely mix lye and water in a well-ventilated space until fully dissolved. Allow it to cool.
  3. Melt base oils together in a separate container until liquid. Cool slightly.
  4. Combine and blend the lye and oil solutions, blending until thickened to the trace stage.
  5. Add any essential oils or other mix-ins like lanolin, tree resins, or loofah powder.
  6. Pour carefully into silicone molds, jars, or wax paper-lined pans.
  7. Cure bars for 2–6 weeks until they are hardened. Flip bars periodically to prevent soda ash.
  8. Unwrap and store cured soap bars in a cool, dry area away from light. Bars will last 6–12 months.

Follow basic soap-making safety precautions, like wearing gloves and goggles. Make sure to run any new ingredients by a soap calculator first as well. Getting the balance right takes some trial and error, but after some practice, you can dial in the perfect bar!

Using Your Handcrafted Saddle Soap

Get the most out of your homemade saddle soap bars with proper application techniques.

Applying the Bar: First, wipe any loose dirt or debris off your leather goods using a dry towel or horse brush. Next, dampen a clean sponge or soft cloth. Rub the wet sponge or cloth directly on your cured saddle soap bar using a firm, circular motion until a light foam forms.

Lathering & Wiping: With a lubricated sponge or rag, gently scrub the leather item in small circles to lift dirt from the pores. Take care not to over-scrub delicate leather. The saddle soap will dissolve grit and condition the leather.

Rinsing: Once soap is massaged thoroughly over the surface, rinse the leather extremely well with clean water. You may need to wipe a few times with a wet rag to remove the suds.

Drying and Polishing: After rinsing, pat the leather dry with a soft, absorbent towel. Rubbing too vigorously can damage some leathers. You can apply a light leather conditioner once the surface is dry.

Use Frequency: Clean the leather tack every 1-4 weeks, depending on exposure and use. Frequent saddle soaping can dry out leather over time. Listen to your specific target’s needs.

Storage Tips: Allow bars to fully cure for 1-2 weeks after molding. Then store the cured bars in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from light. Homemade bars will keep for 6–12 months when stored properly.

Saddle Soap Recipes

Start with a simple 3-oil saddle soap recipe, then customize to your liking:

Basic Recipe:

  • Coconut Oil: 50%
  • Olive Oil: 30%
  • Castor Oil: 20%
  • Lye: amount varies; calculate for 3-5% superfat.
  • Essential Oils: 1-2% (optional)

Variations:

  • Substitute neatsfoot oil for half the coconut oil.
  • Add lanolin, beeswax, or shea/mango butter at trace for extra conditioning.
  • For soft leather, use superfatting oils.
  • Add pine tar for its conditioning effects.

Experiment with different oil blends to achieve your ideal bar!

Handy Tips and Troubleshooting

Follow these handy homemade saddle soap tips:

Safety First: Wear gloves and goggles when handling lye. Have vinegar on hand to neutralize spills. Work in a well-ventilated area.

Get the Texture Right: Blend to a thick trace for molded bars. A thinner trace makes more liquid soap.

Customize It: Substitute various vegetarian oils to change the bar’s properties. Or add bee propolis tincture for extra antibacterial action.

How It Compares: Homemade soap is free of mystery ingredients found in commercial cleaners. But you have more control over the precise formula of homemade saddle soap.

Important Warnings

Keep these warnings in mind when making soap:

Handle Lye Properly Sodium hydroxide can cause nasty chemical burns. Work carefully with appropriate eye, skin, and respiratory protection. Have vinegar on hand.

Curing Time: Allow your molded saddle soap 2-4 weeks minimum to fully cure before use. Cutting this short can result in sticky, soda-ash-prone bars that perform poorly. Practice patience for hard, quality bars.

FAQs About Homemade Saddle Soap

Is making saddle soap safe? Yes, with proper handling of lye and protective equipment, making homemade saddle soap is safe. Start with small batches and work carefully.

What’s the shelf life of homemade bars? Bars cured for 1-2 weeks will easily last 6–12 months when stored in an airtight container in a dark, dry location.

Can I customize or tweak the recipes? Absolutely! Once you master a basic oil and lye formula, experiment with adding ingredients like lanolin, tree resins, aloe juice, essential oils, etc. The options are endless.

How does homemade saddle soap compare to commercial saddle soap? Homemade lets you control the exact ingredient list, avoiding mystery additives in store-bought bars. But you can certainly buy quality saddle soap as well.

Conclusion: Craft Your Own Conditioning Saddle Soap Bars

Whipping up conditioning with homemade saddle soap has many advantages for equestrians. You can control the precise formula based on your tack’s specific needs and avoid harsh chemicals present in some commercial cleaners. And making your own soap bars costs just pennies on the dollar.

With a bit of practice, the basic soapmaking technique allows unlimited customization potential. Tweak oil blends, superfat levels, and additives until you craft the perfect bar for keeping leather supple. Then store your saddle soap properly between uses, so handmade bars maintain peak quality for months on end.

For those passionate about quality leather care and natural ingredients, few things beat the satisfaction of rubbing down a well-loved saddle with your own custom-formulated saddle soap creation. The simplicity, personal customization, and foolproof leather cleaning power of homemade saddle soap make it too rewarding to resist. Give it a try; your trusty leather tack will thank you!