How To Clean A Saddle

How To Clean A Saddle: Step-By-Step Guide

There are so many good reasons to keep your saddle clean and in tip-top condition. It can be tremendously therapeutic for one. Cleaning your tack is also an excellent time to check that everything is in good working order. Regular cleaning also helps extend the longevity of your equipment.

If you wipe the saddle with a clean, dry cloth before and after riding sessions, it will go a long way to defer the need for a deep clean. Take your cloth and rub it across each section of your saddle, shaping it in your hand to wipe down the stirrups, seat, skirt, knee rolls, flaps, and other parts.

If you’re riding a few times a week, sweat and dirt is going to accumulate and you’ll have to give your saddle a more comprehensive clean every few weeks. To help you embrace this exercise with enthusiasm we present a simple, friendly 9-step guide on how to clean a leather horse saddle.

How To Clean A Horse Saddle – Your Cleaning Kit

When considering how to clean horse tack, it’s useful to start with a list of the cleaning materials you’ll need to get the job done.

There are a few essential items you’ll require to clean your saddle so that it’s show-event-worthy.

You won’t need all these materials every time, but for proper cleaning and winning results, it’s worth having the following readily available:

  • Soft brush or cloth– to remove loose dirt, dust, and debris from the saddle.
  • Small bucket or decent-sized bowl.
  • Damp sponge or cloth – to apply water and saddle soap to clean the leather. I use both a cloth and a sponge but generally prefer a cloth.
  • Bristle brush – to give stubborn dirt a gentle scrub.
  • Saddle soap – to clean your saddle and remove grime and sweat residue. Choose a saddle soap specifically formulated for cleaning leather.
  • Clean, damp cloth – to wipe off saddle soap residue after cleaning the saddle surface.
  • Small towel or drying cloth – to remove excess moisture from the saddle after cleaning and rinsing.
  • Leather conditioner – to apply after cleaning to keep the leather supple and prevent drying or cracking. Choose a conditioner suitable for your type of saddle leather.
  • Conditioning oil – to aid the protection and treatment of your leather saddle.
  • Buffing cloth – to buff and polish the leather to enhance its shine and appearance.
  • Toothbrush – to clean out the grooves and crevices of your leather saddle.
  • Metal cleaners – to clean metal fittings and trim and stirrup irons. White vinegar can also be used to clean metal.

Important tip: Spot-test your cleaning products before use. It’s best not to assume that all saddle soaps and leather cleaners and oils are compatible with your saddle. I always recommend you test the product on a small, concealed area before applying it all over. This way you ensure products won’t cause discolouration or damage when you clean your saddle.

Also, be guided by your saddle manufacturer’s cleaning instructions and the information contained on product labels.

Western Saddle

A 9-Step Guide To Cleaning Your Saddle

Get your saddle ready for cleaning by positioning it so that you can easily and conveniently access all sections. If you have a saddle stand that’s even better. Alternatively, you can fashion a makeshift rack from a small table or clothes rack or even two solid old chairs placed back to back.

Set up the saddle on the ‘rack’, gather your tack cleaning materials together, and jump in.

1. Strip the saddle of attachments

Remove the stirrup leathers, irons, and girth from your saddle. Sure, they are essential component parts when you’re mounted but to be honest they get in the way when you’re cleaning your saddle.

It’s also easier and more practical to clean these parts separately. So set them aside to clean later. Or clean them first if you prefer – it’s entirely your gallop.

2. Remove dirt and debris

To start off, wipe your saddle with a dry cloth to remove dust, hair, bits of loose grit, and other debris.

Next, you’re taking the plunge and getting water on your fine leather saddle. But aren’t leather and water mortal enemies? True, water can damage leather, drying it out and causing stains. But we’re using water in moderation. It’s a necessary power for good in this case; there’s nothing to fear.

Soak a clean cloth in a bucket of lukewarm water then wring it out to remove excess water. Use the damp cloth to remove all dirt, grime, sweat and hair. Work systematically through all sections of the saddle’s surface, both top and underside.

Clean gently but firmly. Sometimes accumulated grime is stubborn as a mule. Rinse the cloth and repeat as necessary.

After cleaning with your cloth or sponge, you can give your saddle an additional gentle scrub with a stiff brush. Be sure to get into the grooves and those areas where dirt tends to collect like the curves near the buckles and trim, under the flaps, and in the stitching.

3. Tackling the hard-to-reach areas

Here’s where a toothbrush comes in handy. Take your toothbrush and with firm careful strokes clear out buildup in hard-to-reach sections under the cantle and the seat, around the stitching, and in crevices that may have formed over time.

Be sure to use a clean toothbrush. That’s not to say a brand new brush every time. Just rinse the implement in hot water and clean it well between uses.

4. Apply soap to all surfaces

Dampen your cloth with lukewarm water. (Use a sponge if you prefer). Wring out your cloth to remove excess water. Apply a small amount of saddle soap or leather cleaner to the cloth and create a nice lather.

Now gently rub the soapy cloth over the entire surface of the saddle, really getting into areas with stains, dirt, and sweat marks. Use circular motions and distribute the lather all over.

5. Rinse off the soap

Dampen another clean cloth or sponge with water.

Carefully wipe down all surfaces and grooves to remove the soap. You want to ensure you wipe thoroughly so no soap residue is left behind. Soap residue on the surface isn’t too clever as it can spoil the leather over time.

Here’s where it’s a good idea to clean your saddle in sections. I like to apply the soap to the seat, and then ‘rinse’ it off before the soap has a chance to dry on the leather. Once the seat is done, I move on to the knee rolls and other sections.

6. Dry the saddle

Give all surfaces a good wipe down with a clean dry towel to absorb water from the saddle. Check thoroughly that there is no dampness left in any nooks and crannies.

You can use a microfiber cloth to dry delicate detailed areas or particularly fine pieces of leather.

Then allow the saddle to air dry naturally. Place it in a well-ventilated area. Whatever you do, avoid direct sunlight or other heat sources.

This is absolutely not the time to pull out the hairdryer or use artificial heat sources. Hairdryers and heaters will only spoil your tack causing it to become brittle and possibly crack over time.

7. Condition the saddle leather

It’s inevitable that regular cleaning will gradually strip away the leather’s natural oils.

This is why you should now apply a leather conditioner or oil to restore moisture and maintain the suppleness of the leather. But only do this once the saddle is completely dry.

A bit of saddle oil does wonders to keep the leather in top nick. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific oil product you use.

I like to apply the oil with a paintbrush, brushing in horizontal back-and-forth strokes across every section of the saddle. Watch the oil soak into the skin and then let the saddle air dry for 20-30 minutes

If the leather conditioner product is safe to apply with your hand, this is a tactile way to show your saddle some love. Apply conditioner with your hand, rubbing it gently into the leather in a circular motion.

Alternatively, apply leather conditioner with a clean cloth. Unless the leather is dehydrated, you don’t need to use too much conditioner. A little goes a long way. Always go for a non-detergent product.

8. Buff and polish your leather saddle

After applying the conditioner, wait a few minutes. Then use a soft, dry cloth to buff the saddle, removing any excess conditioner.

Give it a final buff. You’ll be amazed at how these few easy steps dramatically restore your saddle’s natural shine.

9. Reassemble the saddle

Once the leather is shining anew, clean the attachments you removed from the saddle earlier.

  • Follow the same steps of applying soap and conditioner to clean the stirrup leathers, then dry them.
  • Clean the metal fittings and wipe them with a dry cloth to remove any excess cleaner.
  • If your saddle has silver buckles or trims, applying a quality silver polish is an excellent way to keep everything looking sterling.
  • When you use a metal cleaner, take care it doesn’t get into the leather.

Now your saddle is clean, dry, and restored to its natural shine with all attachments sparkling like new pins!

It remains only to reassemble everything. Take a moment to admire and take pride in your handiwork. Then store your reassembled saddle away safely.

Below is a really good video from Milestone Equestrian on how to clean tack

How To Properly Store Your Saddle

You should always store your leather saddle in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. Keep it out of direct sunlight and heat sources. Avoid spaces that are excessively humid, damp, or prone to extreme temperature fluctuations.

Cover your saddle with a breathable saddle cover or bag to protect it from dust, dirt, and debris. Choose a material like cotton that allows airflow to prevent moisture buildup. This will keep your saddle dry. Keep away from plastic covers, as they can trap moisture and cause mould growth.

It’s definitely worth investing in a sturdy saddle stand or rack to properly support your saddle. This will help the saddle keep its shape and prevent warping. Hanging your saddle from a hook or nail is not ideal. Stress points and deformation can result when you leave it hanging about!

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t stack heavy items or other saddles on top of your stored saddle. Unreasonable weight on your leather saddle can cause pressure marks and even structural damage.

How To Clean A Horse Saddle Made From Synthetic Materials

If you have a synthetic leather saddle, the same approach to cleaning applies though you can get away with a less strict cleaning regime.

  • If you find yourself without proper saddle soap, you can use a gentle unscented dish soap (though you shouldn’t make a habit of using household soap).
  • You can also use water more generously when cleaning and rinsing your synthetic saddle.
  • You don’t need to apply oils and conditioners to preserve the saddle’s condition either.
  • If your saddle has suede components, you may need to use specialised cleaning products or follow specific care instructions. Don’t use conditioners and oil on suede as these finishes are likely to damage your suede. Suede and roughout leather typically respond better to cleaning with a brush because the material doesn’t enjoy soap and water.


How often should you clean your saddle?

How often you should clean your saddle depends on how often and how hard you ride. If you ride daily you should try and do a clean with soap and water every week. If you only ride a couple of times a week, keep an eye out for accumulated dirt and grime, and look to clean thoroughly once a month or so.

Can you use glycerin saddle soap to clean your saddle?

Glycerin saddle soap is popular and effective when cleaning leather saddles. It’s recommended that you always follow the specific directions on the glycerin soap product to determine how much water you should mix the soap with.

How do you get mould out of a saddle?

Use a brush or toothbrush to flick off loose mould spores. If the mould is deeply embedded in the saddle or in hard-to-reach areas, you can use a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment on light suction to remove the spores. Mix a solution of warm water and mild soap or a leather cleaner to clean the mouldy areas. Don’t use glycerin soap when cleaning mould because it encourages mould growth.

Similar Posts