Leather is made of fiberous tissue connected and kept flexible by tallows, keratin and elastin. Mold feeds on the tallows, elastin keratin and other oils. It grows in the absence of light, in still air, at moderate temperatures. Mold grows where the spores land. It is imperative to keep the tack room clean and free of dust. Keep tack clean, don't just clean it once in a while. Even tack that isn't regularly used, clean atleast once/month to keep moist. Cover clean tack in a sheet to prevent mold spores from landing on it. Also keep the air moving in your tack room in the warmer season, or with weather changes to dissuade quick mold growth.
Now for the kicker: NEVER use alcohol or other distillates to kill mold on leather. Alcohol breaks down the oils, tallows, elastin and keratin which holds the fibers together with flexibility. Think of what gasoline does when dripped on asphalt--You are left with gravel because the gasoline breaks down the goo which holds it all together. Such is the same with alcohol, listerine, ether and the like on leather--it destroys it.
The only way to safely treat leather for mold is to:
1. Clean properly after EVERY use with clean water, clean cloth or sponge, glycerine, or oil soap and clean hands. Never put wet tack away without air drying (under a sheet in moving air if you're worried about more spores) Sunshine also kills spores, but, again, at the cost of the quality of your leather. And never put tack away dirty. Just like you wouldn't put sweaty underpants back in the drawer without a good rogering first.
2. Make a solution of 9 parts water and one part white vinegar, and wipe every part of your tack with it. This creates an environment mold CAN NOT grow in. I use this treatment twice a year as the seasons change from hottest to coldest, and coldest to hottest (spring and autumn), or if I notice mold arising. I wipe down every piece of tack I own, so I know it has all been properly treated. (mold smell and stains never entirely disappear, but can be managed to not get worse.) Only grease your saddle or other leather if it has dried out, and then you have washed to be moist, (just as a lady would only moisturize when damp after bathing). This is the place where oil and water mixes, to help keep moisture and lubrication of these fibers without rotting. Keep all stitching clean, as dirt serves as tiny knives to wear the stitching to breaking point.
3. Do not use motor oil, neatsfoot compound, vegetable oil or other substances which could be harmful to you, your horse, or rot the leather. Hand apply saddle grease, and DO NOT HEAT any hotter than the friction of your bare hands can create.
4. Not as much getting rid of mold, as creating a tack maintenance program in your barn. I wash EVERY time it's used, and keep my tack safe and clean in a clean, cool, air circulating room separate from the air in my barn. My tack room is clean enough to live in and walk barefoot, and NEVER sees a cat, coon, rat or other varmint. Vacuum, dust, mop regularly with bleach solution, (as bleach kills mold spores, too, but not safe for leather.)
The proof? I ride a 60 year old Blue Ribbon Officer's saddle, which is still a rich light brown, original linen stitches, and has been kept moisturized so well, I have re-stuffed it for two different horses, since I bought it almost 20 years ago. I also wear the same chaps I made in 1985. My boots are from 1982, and are clean and supple(polish only outside of boots, or polish will end up on your mount!). Please don't hesitate to ask me directly for tips on preserving the valuable assets you have in your barn. It beats buying new, (or old for that matter,) with a stick!!!
Saddle grease--meaning a thicker preparation for replenishing oils and wax lost in the process of riding, raining or washing. Friedelka's formula, Bear Grease (brand), Saddle Food, etc. A person can make it at home using Bee's wax and Neatsfoot oil, warming th wax to melting, (without scalding) and blending in the oil so when at room temperature, it is solid, yet melts in the warmth of the friction of hands rubbing together. (The consistency of lard or Orvis shampoo when solid). Not to be used more than needed to maintain supple and strong leather. After washing tack, and tack is tacky and moist, but not wet, with the hands, rub it in and the warmth of the hands helps deliver it into the leather. A great way to store tack you are unsure of the next time it will be used. It works better in warm weather, less effective when tack is frozen, I do it in Spring and Fall, or if rained on, over washed, or if I am trying to resurrect a piece of petrified tack someone needs a repair on, I simulate use by washing, greasing, washing, washing, washing, greasing, once or twice/day, until it becomes useable tack again. (it becomes clear quickly if this method is working, or if the leather has already been compromised, and begins to break down in your hands.) I do tack repairs, restorations (if worthy). I keep a host of older tack around for reference, and feel compelled to keep it all as clean and 'ready for use or show' as I can. Be careful, though, that older English seats not become waterlogged and dried out, as the seat stitching will tear from the quick drying part, and the seats will split. So glad to share--let's preserve it to deserve it!!! (A&K Taxidermy's motto) Best to all, Lisza
To ask Lisza more leather questions you can email her at: