Quality leather tack is certainly one of the bigger investments we make as part of our time with horses. One of the 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. 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) have a pH between 7 and 14
- Neutral materials, such as water, have a pH of 7
And modern tanned leather has a pH around 5, so leather is acidic.
Why does pH matter so much? 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. When searching for leather care products, look for products that are pH balanced or pH matched. This is why Sterling Essentials’ leather care products are pH matched to your leather. 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.
The Northwest Horse Source is an independently owned and operated print and online magazine for horse owners and enthusiasts of all breeds and disciplines in the Pacific Northwest. Our contemporary editorial columns are predominantly written by experts in the region, covering the care, training, keeping and enjoyment of horses, with an eye to the specific concerns in our region.