Making Leather (shoes, Etc) Supple

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About: I like working with my hands and making stuff, and I like being efficient because I'm basically very lazy.

Disclaimer: do not use If You Have A Nut Allergy

This is the best way I know to care for leather and soften it up. It's good for the leather,easy to do, smells good and is non toxic. You can cook with the leftover oil.

The answer is peanut oil.

I've done cowboy boots, oxfords, clogs, bags and jackets. They have all turned out well, nicely conditioned, soft and supple with rich color. The woman who taught me this is a horsewoman of long standing and uses it on her saddles and other tack.

Step 1: Color Changes Vs Soft

If you have leather that needs to be softer, tack, shoes, bags, whatever this will work. It will darker the leather. Dark colors will get richer, and tans will get that dark like '40's work boots.

Step 2: Set Up

Set up:
Buy some peanut oil, at your grocery or organic store and pour some in a small bowl. Work over newspaper, with a clean small size brush, like for doing trim, or basting a bird, use a q-tip,clean make up brush, or similar to test.

Step 3: Application Methods

Dip your brush in the oil and paint it on in a thick even coat. Make sure you get down by the sole and do the whole tongue. It should absorb quickly, but it will be quicker on less highly polished leather. Do several coats. As soon as the oil is absorbed, do another coat. You should be able to feel a difference after the first coat or two. The more coats the softer and more supple it will get.

For light leathers the color change will happen immediately, and evens out as you put on more coats.

You can use a rag or cotton balls or similar to apply the oil if you don't have a paint brush.
Clean up by washing the bowl and brush with dish soap, throw out the newspaper and cotton swab.

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    12 Discussions

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    gjcolt85.

    1 year ago

    Is there a limit to the number of coatings of oil? I have applied about four coatings, but although the leather has darkened, it does not seem to be getting softer. Also, the oil seems to be absorbed into the inside of the shoe. Is that supposed to happen?

    4 replies
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    klilisegjcolt85.

    Reply 1 year ago

    There is no real limit to the number of coats, I often apply a fresh coat in lieu of polishing, or before going out on a rainy day.
    You may need to work the leather a bit with your hands to get softer, if it was super stiff to start with. Not sure what you mean by absorbed into the inside of shoe, it should certainly saturate the leather, not just sit on the top of it. I will often "paint" the inside with the oil as well to speed the process, and maybe wear the shoes around the house a while to work the oil through.

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    ClydeSklilise

    Reply 7 months ago

    Not only are you wrong you are giving out BAD INFO saying there is not limit to how much or how frequently a leather item is oiled. Please research this and modify your instructable accordingly. People are going to ruin leather items based on your comment above.

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    kliliseClydeS

    Reply 6 months ago

    Clyde, I have never claimed to be a leather worker or expert. That said, my instructable on softening leather does work. I have been using this on my own personal leather goods for about a decade, and I got the information from someone who has been using peanut oil on leather for 30 years. We both use it on expensive items, like good quality shoes and saddles. I state in the instructable that it will darken certain lighter and less finished leathers, indeed, I use it for that purpose frequently. In my experience saddle soap cleans but does not soften leather, and often leaves it with a sticky residue. I do not recommend any oil besides peanut oil. I am happy for our audience to make their own choices, after reading all these comments.

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    ClydeSgjcolt85.

    Reply 7 months ago

    Yes there is a limit and you can easily ruin your leather item by applying too much oil A couple thin coats is all that in necessary. Addiing oil is gong to darken the leather. If the oil is showing through all the way to the inside of the shoe, you are applying too much. Don't slosh the oil on. Apply thing coats

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    ClydeSalanhoggard

    Reply 7 months ago

    No. You're confusing leather with an edible item. It won't go rancid just as applying it to wood wouldn't cause it to go rancid. The rancid idea is a myth.

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    klilisealanhoggard

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I've never had a problem with that. Nor do I know of anyone else who uses peanut oil to have that be an issue.

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    SWV1787

    5 years ago on Introduction

    I was always taught to use Morphy's oil soap to condition leather boots. I am not saying peanut oil is in anyway bad, but the mental image of a person with a peanut allergy having their feet swell up inside their shoes made me laugh.

    2 replies
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    ClydeSSWV1787

    Reply 7 months ago

    Saddle soap is a better choice for leather

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    kliliseSWV1787

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Murphy's can make the leather sticky, and in the long run it isn't as good for the leather. It also takes longer to make it supple, and you have to work it in hard.

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    ClydeS

    7 months ago on Step 3

    *** READ THIS FIRST BEFORE YOU START OILING LEATHER ****

    You can easily ruin your leather item by over oiling irt. This instructable is misleading and the author's comments below are completely wrong. The author is not a leatherworker and doesn't know what he/she is talking about.

    Fortunately for you I am a leatherworker with 12 years of experience and I do know what I'm talking about.

    First off, there is nothing special or wrong about peanut oil. It is not a superior oil and you can get the same benefits from any plant or vegetable based oil. What you don't want to use is a petroleum based oil.

    Nobody uses peanut oil however, other than this person and the tack lady who shared her triple top oil secret. Leatherworkers use olive oil instead probably for no other reason than that has been the oil used by previous leatherworkers dating all the way back to Ancient Greece. Personally, I prefer another oil known as Pure Neatsfoot Oil which is made for leather and sold to the leather trade. I like it over cooking oils because it is odorless and colorless, but it's not any better at what it does than olive or peanut oil.

    WHAT DOES OIL DO TO LEATHER?

    Oil breaks down fibers and collagen inside the leather. In other words, it weakens the leather, which is why it feels supple instead of stiff after oil is absorbed. Oiling does not benefit the leather making it more "healthy". Instead it breaks leather down, making it less strong.

    ONLY OIL ITEMS THAT NEED TO BE OILED.

    If it ain't broke don't fix it. For the average consumer, there are just two situations where their leather item could benefit from an oiling.

    1. Stiff leather like for example a brand new baseball glove and like this shoes in this instructbable. But even here oiling is questionable because simply using a leather item will make it more supple as the leather stretches through use and from the oils from your sking.

    2. Dry leather items. This is where oiling really makes sense by bringing dried out leather back to life. Oil is a miracle worker in this unique case.

    Other than that, there is no reason for you to oil and if you do you're not likely to be pleased with the result.

    TOO MUCH OIL WILL PERMANENTLY RUIN LEATHER.

    You need to be sparing in the amount you use and how often you apply oils. You can easily over saturate leather with oil and if you do, there is no way to get the excess oil out of leather. Toss it in the garbage at that point.

    As shown in the intractable, a few thin coats of oil is all you should need to make a leather item flexible and to soften a dry leather item. However, later in a comment the author says he applies oil frequently.

    DO NO APPLY OIL FREQUENTLY.

    You shouldn't need to reapply oil for several years after the first application, although if your leather item is subject to extreme use and conditions, you could oil it more frequently

    Personally, I do not recommend using oil. People always over do it and apply more than is necessary under the notion that if a little is good then a lot is better. Then they ruin their beloved leather item thinking they were doing a good thing. I've seen it happen time and time again.

    THINK TWICE BEFORE OILING

    If you don't know what your doing, which means you and anybody else reading this, skip oiling and instead use creamy leather conditioner instead. Don't buy overpriced leather conditioners at the store or the auto parts shop.

    Get this instead -- "Fiebings 4 Way Care".

    For starters it's dirt cheap. You can get a 32 oz bottle for $15 online. You can use it on all your leather items including your furniture and car seats. It does not leave a residue. Anything made by Fiebings is the good stuff -- supplies that people in the leather trade use. You like that conditioner for all sorts of reasons, but I'll be happy just knowing I saved someone the god awful experience of just having ruined their favorite pair of boots or the beloved expensive jacket.