Neatsfoot oil – preserving leather

A traditional leather preservative with proven merit.

Neatsfoot oil (kloutjiesolie) is a yellow, non-drying oil, used to condition, soften and preserve leather. In the past it was rendered from the digital and shin bones of cattle. Modern neatsfoot oil retains its historic name although nowadays it is made from cattle-based fats, including lard. Fat from warm-blooded animals normally has a high melting point and solidifies when cool.

Neatsfoot, however, remains liquid at room temperature, as the legs and feet of animals such as cattle are adapted to tolerate and maintain a lower temperature than that of the body core. Some oils may be formulated with mineral oils, petroleum-based material and waxes with properties for specific purposes. However, the presence of mineral oils may cause non-synthetic stitching to decay, leading to premature deterioration of the leather.

The prime characteristics of pure neatsfoot oil allow it to soak quickly into leather, even when liberally applied with a paintbrush. A few minutes later, the surface will be dry and non-sticky, soft, supple and waterproof. The same applies to leather insoles and the inside of leather shoes. Soaked in water, leather treated with neatsfoot oil dries out far softer than untreated leather.

If used on leather previously treated with other surface treatments, neatsfoot may not fully draw in, leaving an oily residue that can attract dust. Even a single application may darken new leather, so it may not be suitable if a lighter shade is desired.
Neatsfoot oil is probably better suited to ‘function’ than it is to ‘fashion’, and is commonly used on horse harnesses and other tack, shoes, boots, belts and leather clothing. (It is not recommended for saddles, though.)

As an aside, it is also used in metalworking industries as a cutting fluid for machining, tapping and drilling aluminium, being superior to kerosene and various water-based cutting fluids. Dales’ Neatsfoot Oil is available in three quantities and prices: 500ml for R66, 2,5l for R276 and 5l for R499.

Neatsfoot oil is a yellow, non-drying oil that
penetrates leather quickly and completely
to soften and preserve it.
Courtesy of Craig Rivett