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Saddle Cleaning: A Comprehensive Guide

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I was cleaning my saddle when my grandson came over and asked why I was doing it. I explained the importance of taking care of our tack, so it lasts a long time and is safe for riding. Leather saddles, in particular, must be cleaned regularly and thoroughly.

Your saddle needs cleaning every few weeks, depending on how often you ride and before competitions. Saddles should be cleaned with soft rags or sponges and soap to remove dirt. When the saddle is clean, apply a maintenance conditioning cream that will maintain the quality of the leather.

Saddle cleaning is essential for both its appearance and performance. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through how to clean your saddle properly – from removing dust and dirt to conditioning the leather. We’ll also share tips on caring for your saddle, so it lasts for years.

Picture of a person cleaning a saddle.

Cleaning A Saddle: Step By Step

It’s essential to clean your saddle regularly if you want it to last a long time. Here is a list of the items you’ll need to do the job properly:

  • Soft rags or sponges
  • Bucket with warm water
  • Saddle cleaner
  • Saddle conditioner
  • Soft-bristled brush 
  • Toothbrush

Note: No matter which style of riding or discipline you participate in, the cleaning process is the same, whether English saddles or western saddles.

Follow these simple steps to keep your saddle in pristine condition.

Step #1: Strip It Down

When doing a deep clean of your saddle, it’s essential to strip the harness down and remove your stirrup leathers, girth, and any other attachments on the saddle, to be able to get into all the hard-to-reach spaces.

Step #2: Wipe It Down

Wipe your saddle down with a damp sponge. Remember to wring the excess water out as too much water is not suitable for the leather. 

Excessive water on leather can cause it to harden, crack and become brittle. If the leather is very wet, allow it to dry in a well-ventilated covered area.

Wipe the entire saddle down using a damp sponge, removing dust and sand that may have accumulated. Remember to wipe the saddle under all the flaps, skirt, and girth points.

Picture a woman cleaning an English saddle.

Step #3: Soap It Up 

Always use good leather soap formulated for the leather tack to wash your saddle. Avoid detergents and non-leather soaps, as these can damage the leather. Remember to use minimal water while applying the soap. A damp sponge is more than enough to clean the saddle.

When cleaning your saddle with a sponge, remember to rinse your sponge often to avoid spreading the dirt across your saddle. The aim is to wipe an area with a soapy sponge to lift and remove the dirt, rinse the sponge and repeat until your saddle is clean of sweat, dirt, and saliva.

I prefer the spray on leather soaps where you do not need to use water, which makes cleaning easier. Spray the saddle a section at a time and gently wipe your saddle over with a sponge; keep the bucket to rinse the dirt off your sponge.

Use this time to carefully inspect your saddle as you clean each part for any damage or broken points that may need repairing. You can use a soft toothbrush to clean the hard places like the stirrup bars under the skirt and also to clean any embossing or remove hair from stitching lines.

Step #4: Rinse

Some soaps must be rinsed off, so make sure to read the instructions carefully; if you need to rinse the soap take a soft, damp rag and wipe the saddle down of any excess soap on the leather to allow the cream to be able to penetrate the leather.

Again, this is why I like the spray on soaps, as you don’t need to rinse the saddle, preventing excess water application. 

Step #5: Condition

Take your soft rag, and use a small amount of cream at a time, gently rubbing the cream, in circular motions, into the leather. Make sure to cream the whole saddle, even the underneath the saddle flaps, your girth points, and saddle panels.

Don’t use too much cream as this will remain as excess residue on the saddle, attracting dust and smearing off all over your clothes; a small amount goes a long way.

Use a dry soft bristle brush to brush out any part of your saddle that is suede; usually, these parts are the knee pads and saddle seat. Do not use water or conditioner on these parts, as this will make the suede smooth and remove its intended purpose.

Step #6: Rest

Picture of three clean saddles

What Is The Best Cleaner For Saddles?

There are many different soaps and cleaners that you can use for cleaning your saddle. In my opinion, I find these three products the best as they clean the saddle, remove grime, sweat, and dirt without changing the PH balance of the leather, and keep the original color of my tack.

Lexol leather cleaner is a PH-balanced cleaner that comes in a convenient trigger spray bottle. It gently loosens and lifts dirt and grime without any added oils and waxes and can easily be wiped dry.

Sterling Essentials leather cleaner comes in lavender, eucalyptus, and floral scents, which are said to have calming and refreshing effects on you and your horse; specifically formulated to match the PH of leather and comes in an easy spray-on application bottle.

Erreplus leather cleaner is a PH regulator to effectively remove dirt and thoroughly clean your saddle while maintaining the quality of the leather. It comes in an easy spray container, and there is no need to rinse the soap with water.

These three products also have conditioning cream that you should use to restore, hydrate, and maintain the suppleness of your saddle. Always condition your saddle after a thorough clean to prevent the leather from becoming dry and brittle.

Lexol has convenient wipes to remove dirt and sweat to protect the leather for a quick and easy wipe down your saddle after every use.

Picture of a man cleaning a western saddle.

Is All Saddle Soap The Same?

When we think of soap, we don’t believe there is a difference. I mean, soap is soap, right? However, not all saddle soaps are the same. 

Everything has a PH level, and finding a suitable soap to match the PH level of your saddle is essential to maintain and prolong the life of your tack.

Modern tanned leather saddles have an acidic PH balance of 4.5-5, while soaps usually are considered alkaline with a PH of about 9-10.

  • Acidic PH ranges between 1-7
  • Neutrals such as water have a PH of 7
  • Alkaline PH ranges between 7-14

So what happens if the PH is different? 

The leather on your saddle will constantly change as the PH changes to conform to the soap you are using. This change is a slow process, but using a product that does not have a matched PH can result in premature damage and deterioration of your saddle.

  • Hardening of the leather
  • Causing brittleness
  • Darkening the leather 
  • Weakening of the collagen fibers of the leather
  • Loss of strength

All these factors can shave off some years of usage to your saddle or tack, for that matter. So, when you buy your following leather cleaner, look for words like PH matching or PH balanced.

Then there is the combined cleaner and conditioner in one for a quick and easy clean that conditions your saddle in one step. Sorry, but it doesn’t make sense!

The soap needs to clean the dirt and grime from your saddle, and the combination of soap with the conditioner diminishes the effectiveness of the soap for cleaning. If you think about it, the soap is constantly dissolving its oils, rendering its ability to properly clean and remove dirt, sweat, and grime virtually impossible.

Soap should be used alone to clean the saddle while the conditioner treats and maintains the leather.

Picture of a western saddle.

How Much Does It Cost To Clean A Saddle?

Saddle cleaning does take some time and patience to do, and if you have to balance your day to get in some riding time, then cleaning your tack is the last thing that you want to do, but it is something that must be done, to maintain the life of your tack.

Finding someone to clean your tack seems to be an easy option to get your tack spotless for the next show, but it does come at a price and depends on who you find to clean the tack and should typically include a clean with soap and treatment with conditioning cream.

Here is what you can expect to pay to have your saddle cleaned:

Comparison table of saddle cleaning cost.

Conclusion

If you want to prolong your saddle’s life and protect your investment, it is vital to clean your saddle regularly. Leather can become brittle and dry, and the leather’s integrity can damage if not correctly cleaned, so cleaning with a good quality leather soap and applying a leather conditioning cream is a ritual every rider goes through.

Below is a helpful YouTube video to help you further understand how to clean saddles properly.

FAQ

Should you clean your saddle after every ride?

You don’t need to do a thorough cleaning after every ride. However, wiping it down with a soft cloth after each ride will help keep your saddle clean and in good condition.

How often do you need to clean a saddle?

How often you clean your saddle depends on how often you ride and what discipline you participate in. For example, endurance and eventing riders may need to clean their saddles more often than your pleasure or dressage riders. 

References