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Mink Oil vs. All Natural Leather Conditioner

Red Wing No.0875 treated w/ Mink Oil and worn for about a year. 

What even is the difference? They both have mink oil, and they both purport to be designed to treat oil tanned leathers - so how do I know which to use?

Not to worry - while we ultimately can not tell you which care product to use on your beloved boots, we will very much be making an effort here toward breaking down the differences between these two extremely useful (but arguably fairly similar) products. Let’s not forget - while one is called “Mink Oil,” they both employ mink oil as their base substance.

First - it’s all in the name. One of the biggest arguments for All-Natural Leather Conditioneris exactly that - it is entirely derived from natural sources. Mink Oilcontains silicone, which is an artificial substance - but it certainly has its merit and has hard-earned its position in leather care. Our hope is that our experience with a great variety of care products applied to a great variety of leathers will assist others in understanding the different approaches and potential outcomes - but as with everything in life (and especially with leather), your experiences may vary and you should always apply new care products to a small, discreet area to best allow for demonstration of effect before the proverbial deep plunge.


Red Wing No.877 unworn treated with All Natural Leather Conditioner


 Key Points:

  • Because it is natural, and has a slightly lower viscosity, All Natural Leather Conditioner is more readily absorbed into leathers - this means that with lighter colored leathers, the darkening effect of oil saturation will be more drastic and readily apparent.

  • By contrast, the silicone content and higher viscosity of Mink Oil makes it more difficult for leathers to “accept” - which means it is less likely to quickly and drastically darken the leather, and makes it easier to work onto the surface of the leather.

  • Many of the Oil-Tanned (and specifically the Rough & Tough) leathers have a deliberate and dramatic “pull-up” effect - which means essentially that the leather will show variations in tone as it ages, to allow for a rugged and weathered effect; the lack of finishing materials and heavy oil also makes the leather extremely resilient to permanent scuffing and damage, and surface scratches and dings buff out easily. We have found that All Natural Leather Conditioner best maintains this “pull-up,” and allows the leather to show its naturally varied tone, despite appearing darker upon application; Mink Oil tends to achieve a more uniform, consistent tone with years of application and over time tends to discourage the “pull-up.”

  • S.B. Foot’s oil-tanned hides tend to employ a wax coating in the finishing process - All Natural Leather Conditioner is the most authentic and consistent approach for maintaining the tannery finish. The wax also tends to wear away somewhat more quickly, which allows more natural breathability for the leather itself - but does require slightly more frequency of application, which will inevitably continue to darken the leather further.

  • Mink Oil’s primary component for increasing water resistance is silicone, which is not a natural substance - and which will, if applied to liberally or over-frequently, be detrimental to the long term health of the leather. The presiding opinion is that the silicone creates what is effectively an artificial after-finish, or a light seal, on the surface of the leather. While this is extremely practical for protecting the leather as much as possible and preventing water and moisture from penetrating, it does serve to suffocate the leather, and reduces its natural breathability. This can be an asset, as well as a detriment; but I have found that applied sparingly and infrequently, Mink Oil is superior to All Natural Leather Conditioner in terms of protection and water resistance, as well as in keeping the leather closer to its original color and tone; and All Natural Leather Conditioner is superior to Mink Oil in terms of maintaining the leather’s overall health and in terms of softening and restoration when leather has become cracked or brittle, either from age or use.

In summation:

  • Both substances will darken lighter colored leathers; Mink Oil slightly less so than Leather Conditioner.

  • Both substances increase water resistance; Mink Oil increases water resistance more than Leather Conditioner.

  • Leather Conditioner is easier to work fully into leather; Mink Oil will not penetrate as fully, and will remain more on the surface.

  • Neither product creates a “shine;” Leather Conditioner will create the truest “matte” appearance, while Mink Oil gives a low “luster.”