How to Clean a Saddle Without Saddle Soap?

Photo of a girl cleaning a black saddle. How to Clean a Saddle Without Saddle Soap?

If you’re looking to clean a saddle, the first thing you’d naturally reach for would be a saddle soap, right? Right. But what if you don’t have it? Here’s how to clean a saddle without saddle soap.

Cleaning a saddle without saddle soap is much more common than you think. The steps include wiping down your saddle thoroughly, then choosing your cleanser of choice (which I’ll elaborate on below) and preparing it. Use your microfiber cloth to apply the cleaner, then grab a stiff brush to get at those hard-to-reach places. Once you’re done, thoroughly rinse the saddle with warm water and let it air dry. Make sure to condition your saddle after, too! I’ve got more info on that and more below!

Key Takeaways:

  • Cleaning a saddle without saddle soap is possible and quite common, involving the process of wiping down your saddle thoroughly, choosing a cleanser, applying it using a microfiber cloth, scrubbing with a stiff brush, rinsing with warm water, air drying, and finally conditioning.
  • Saddle soap, while traditionally used for hard-worked saddles, is not an essential cleaning item. Modern horse enthusiasts often go with easier alternatives.
  • Alternatives to saddle soap for effective saddle cleaning include Dawn dish soap, vinegar, dubbin, mink oil, a mixture of lemon juice and cream of tartar, toothpaste, and Murphy’s Oil Soap.
  • The process of cleaning a saddle at home involves wiping off grime with a damp cloth, mixing and applying your cleanser, using a brush to scrub textured areas, rinsing thoroughly, air drying, conditioning, and wiping off excess conditioner.
  • While using only water can clean off light dirt, over time, it can lead to grime build-up and damage the leather. Thus, a proper leather cleanser and conditioner should be used.
  • Soap and water are great choices for regular saddle care, especially Dawn soap or a mixture of dish soap, vinegar, and water. However, detergent-free soaps are recommended to preserve the leather’s finish and avoid drying out.
  • Cleaning your saddle regularly is crucial as it helps check your gear for aging, prolong its lifespan, ensure safety, and improve riding comfort. Regular conditioning protects the saddle from wearing and aging.

What makes saddle soap special?

With such a clear, focused name, it seems logical that it’d be the right choice specifically for cleaning saddles, as I mentioned. The thing is, that is how it was designed originally! Using harsh chemicals to break down grime, sweat, and oils, saddle soap was designed for hard-worked saddles. 

Saddle soap can reach deep into the leather and pull out heavy stains and soilings that can age and break down leather if not treated properly. 

Fun Fact:

Many will rely on saddle soap, specifically when they need a heavy-duty cleaning option for leather that needs rescue! 

While it would have been used regularly with saddles back in its heyday, modern horse enthusiasts and leather lovers often will go with easier alternatives for use and in the actual chemical ingredients.

Do you have to use saddle soap on a saddle?

You already know the answer to this since you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve said. You don’t have to use saddle soap, and you’ll find other leather cleaning options to be better for regular use and care! 

If you use saddle soap rarely and in small amounts, it’ll achieve your goal of preserving your leather saddle. But you’ll want to rely on alternative cleaning options (more on that next) to help you keep your saddle looking and feeling its best regularly.

Alternatives to saddle soap

Without further ado, let’s take a close look at just what alternatives are for effective saddle cleaning. I’ve listed them in order of preference just for your convenience:

  • Dawn dish soap
  • Vinegar
  • Dubbin
  • Mink oil
  • Lemon juice and cream of tartar
  • Toothpaste

Dawn dish soap

Mix a small amount of this with some warm water, and apply. It’s easy, convenient, and fast, and most of us always have a bottle around the house for dishwashing or general cleaning. It’s also a cost-effective choice, which can factor into some people’s needs. Plus, it does smell lovely! Make sure you rinse thoroughly, as soapy residue can be a problem sometimes. 


You can mix this with a bit of dish soap or just use it with water. Personally, I prefer using it with dish soap since vinegar’s acidity can create a problem with sensitive leather, sometimes, and the dish soap also cuts the vinegar smell!


This is more of a conditioner than a cleanser, but it’s one of the best for saddles. It’s a deep-reaching moisturizing agent that will help keep the entire saddle well-maintained and moisturized, even if you are a heavy user.

This is also a historical product that isn’t used quite as often as it used to be since there are other options out there to condition your saddle.

Mink oil

This is another conditioning choice that is widely used in leather care. It offers lightweight conditioning for when you’re looking for it, and it’s also going to be great for offering resistance to UV rays, water, and the elements. This is a great perk for those who use their saddles in bad weather.

Lemon juice and cream of tartar

This blend is great for when you want stain-fighting and deep cleaning power. The cream of tartar is perfect for breaking down stubborn grease and dirt so that you can easily wipe it off without scrubbing too hard. The lemon juice may stain lighter shades of leather, so make sure to use this with darker shades!


It seems strange to use toothpaste on leather, but it’s a typical hack that will offer you a minty fresh finish, too. It’s dedicated to stain removal and will be fantastic when you’re specifically looking for an option to break down heavy grease and dirt. Just keep your application light since it can be somewhat abrasive at times!

If you need something hefty duty but still want to stay in the alternative sector, I recommend going with Murphy’s Oil Soap. This is a popular brand of soap for your saddle that is particularly helpful for cleaning up and caring for filthy, grimy saddles that need a lot of TLC.

How to clean a saddle at home without saddle soap step by step

I talked generally about the cleaning process of your saddle, but let’s take a moment to look at the step-by-step process! The steps include:

  • Manually wipe off as much grime as you can with a dampened cloth or a wipe
  • Mix your cleanser (from the list above)
  • Use a cloth to wipe it liberally onto your saddle
  • Use a tough brush to scrub at the textured areas so that every inch is well washed
  • Rinse the area thoroughly, including those hard-to-reach areas
  • Air dry for 30 minutes or longer
  • Condition your saddle thoroughly and allow it to set in overnight
  • Wipe off excess conditioner 

It’s pretty straightforward when you see it like that, right? I’ll also talk about how often to do this a bit later.

Can you use water to clean a saddle?

Water is often a great first choice to clean a saddle in a pinch. It can help clean off grease and light dirt. However, you’ll still want to use a proper leather cleanser and conditioner to get the debris out of the leather. Over time, using only water can lead to grime build-up, and the leather can break down and lead to premature aging!

As I’ll discuss in more detail below, wipes are a wonderful choice for quick options to help clean off surface dirt and debris. 

Can you clean a saddle with soap and water?

Soap and water are great choices for regular saddle care, especially if you use the Dawn soap I suggested, and add in some vinegar for better cleaning power. Many leather enthusiasts use soap and water as their go-to through yet gentle choice!

If you do opt for this, just make sure you choose a detergent-free soap. Detergents break down the leather’s finish and can dry out the leather itself.

Can you clean a saddle with baby wipes?

It seems strange that something so simple would be so effective in cleaning, but the answer to this is a definite yes! They’re meant for sensitive baby skin, so they’re effective at helping keep your leather clean without stressing it out! 

Another perk to using baby wipes is that they are a bit cheaper than classic purpose-designed leather wipes, so it’ll help you save some money!

What is the best product to clean a leather saddle?

Is there such a thing that you can label as “best”? It depends. KMSHA explains that daily cleaning of your saddle will differ from deep cleaning your saddles, so you have to fill your toolbox accordingly.

Generally, though, you’ll often find that your best cleaning products will be purpose-designed leather cleaning products. Of course, you can get ones intended specifically for saddles, but general leather cleaners are great, too.

If you want to go with an all-natural option, however, most will opt for the dish soap, vinegar, and water combination for the right blend of convenience and ingredients! Plus, it does tend to smell nicer than the commercial choices!

One of the most important details in “proper cleaners” for your leather is the importance of a reliable, regularly applied conditioner! This protects the saddle from wearing and aging, so ensure that you always condition it after washing your leather!

How do you make homemade saddle soap?

If you love the concept of using saddle soap but are more interested in making your own so that you can know what’s in it, there is a recipe for you to follow! The ingredients are:

  • 1/4 cup (59 ml) of glycerin
  • 1/4 cup (59 ml) of grated castile soap
  • A small amount of baking soda or white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons (44 ml) of water (distilled works best)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of neatsfoot or mink oil

This will help you create a saddle soap that you can use safely. However, you’ll still want to use it sparingly and rarely since it can still be too intense for your saddles regularly.

Why is it important to clean saddles?

It’s a simple question but a logical one, right? There are quite a few reasons to clean your saddle regularly, and Equine Wellness Magazine highlights the main ones to help you see its importance:

  • It helps you check your gear for aging, breaks, etc.
  • It gives you more lifespan out of your gear
  • It protects your and your horse’s safety
  • It makes riding more comfortable

You can get away with not cleaning your saddles, but it’ll feel and look gross after a while, and it means that you could potentially be putting everyone’s health and safety at risk. It’s a good idea to make time for cleaning your saddles!


Remember that you don’t have to clean your saddle every time you use it, just once a month or so!

FAQ: How to Clean a Saddle

How often should I clean my english saddle tack?

How often you clean your saddle depends largely on how frequently you use it. If you ride every day, you’ll want to clean your saddle as frequently as someone who rides once a week. As a general rule, it’s good to wipe down your saddle with a dry towel or cloth after every use to remove sweat, dirt, and grime.

Do I need special cleaning tips to care for my leather saddle?

Not necessarily. Simple supplies like a damp sponge, toothbrush, and leather conditioner are often all you need. Use the sponge and toothbrush to get into the nooks and crannies where dirt can accumulate.

What should I avoid when cleaning my saddle?

When cleaning a saddle, avoid making the leather too wet. You don’t want to clog the pores of the leather by using too much soap or water, which could potentially damage the leather. Also avoid any product that could darken the leather unless that is your intended result.

Can I use a toothbrush to clean my saddle?

Yes, a toothbrush is a great tool to help clean the hard-to-reach areas of your saddle. Just be sure to use it lightly to avoid scratching the leather, and always in small circular motions.

How can I clean the suede parts of my saddle?

Brush the suede with a dry towel or cloth to remove any dust or loose dirt. If you need to wipe the saddle, make sure your cloth is only slightly damp, never soaking wet.

How should I clean synthetic tack compared to leather?

Synthetic saddles are much more forgiving than leather ones. You can use water and soap without worrying about damaging the material. However, always dry the saddle thoroughly after cleaning to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

How can I protect my saddle when it’s not in use?

If your saddle is exposed to harsh conditions or left unused for a long time, cover it with a saddle cover. This can help prevent dust accumulation and damage from exposure to sunlight.

My saddle needs deep cleaning. What should I do?

For a more thorough clean, use a leather conditioner, applying it in circular motions with a damp sponge. Leave it to penetrate the leather, then wipe off the excess. Certain oils, like neatsfoot oil, can also be used to condition your leather.

Can I clean a western saddle the same as an english saddle?

Generally, yes. The biggest difference between these saddles is the material, with leather being more common in english saddles and synthetic materials in western saddles. The cleaning process is similar, always wipe the saddle dry after and don’t allow the leather to get overly damp.

After cleaning, my saddle looks too dry. What should I do?

Over-cleaning can sometimes make the leather appear too dry. In this case, a conditioner applied with a damp sponge can restore the leather’s natural sheen and protect it from future damage. Always allow it to air-dry, and never apply heat directly as it can damage the leather.

Learning how to clean your saddle without saddle soap is as simple as rubbing down the saddle with a wipe or water, then choosing your cleaning method to apply cleanser, scrub thoroughly, and rinse. From there, you’ll want to let it air dry, then condition it for the best protection of your time, effort, and investment.

If you know someone looking for advice on cleaning their saddle, share this with them to help them get in the know!

Andre from

Andre is a passionate leatherworker who spends his spare time working with leather. He loves the smell and feel of leather, and he takes great care in selecting the right pieces of leather for his projects. Read more here.