In praise of mink oil and maintenance

Whenever I say “mink oil,” I think of a time, long, long ago, when you could buy land in exchange for beaver furs, when there was a bounty on the heads of wolves, when one-road towns really had just one road. I’m glad that when I went to Ireland a few years ago and it turned out to be much colder than expected, I was able to pop into a department store and buy a boy’s jumper for three euros, but there is also something to be said for buying really good quality stuff and maintaining it, too.

Enter the mink oil.

mink oil

(This is “my” brand, not a sponsored ad!)

Mink oil is not useful for preserving, say, peaches, but it will do the job nicely for leather, especially boots.

I never thought I’d be someone who owns multiple varieties of leather preserver, but I did spend most of my childhood sincerely believing I would be a “prairie girl,” so maybe it’s not so surprising. Anyway, I have mink oil because it was one of the kinds of oils recommended as part of the process of tanning rabbit hides (another story for another day).

The good part about mink oil is that it is about $3 for a good-sized jar, certainly worth it to protect hundred-dollar boots! And it does a really nice job. The most important aspect of leather preservation, though, isn’t which leather cleaner/preserver/conditioner you use, but rather how you take care of the boots over time.

Damp conditions will lead to mold and mildew, which isn’t a huge problem temporarily but which really reeks and can start to damage the leather. Dry conditions are ideal, but storing boots in the sun or next to radiators/heat vents can lead to cracking, especially if the boots were wet immediately before being plunked down in a blast of heat. Mud, while not an inherently dangerous thing, will start to eat away at boots, and is especially problematic for its ability to rot stitching.

If possible, it’s a good idea to have a stiff brush (like those used on horses) or at least an old towel somewhere convenient (like by the back door?) so that when you get a lot of muck on your boots, you can knock it off immediately. Later, go back and do a more thorough cleaning with sponge, a little bit of water, and perhaps an old toothbrush to really clean out seams and narrow channels.

Something like saddle soap–just a little bit of water and soap will do the trick, no need to go crazy with suds–will help clean off anything icky like mildew, and then as the boots are half-damp you can apply the leather conditioner and let it seep in while the boots rest in a dry corner. Taking these steps will make an investment–because leather boots are almost always an investment–last longer.

Of course, leather in particular needs a fair bit of care because it was once part of a living beast. We are also living beasts, so the principle of maintenance also applies to ourselves. An unpleasant side effect of boot cleaning is that I always seem to end up with a good deal of mud on myself by the time I’m through. A very pleasant side effect, though, is having a few moments to sit and think and recharge a bit as I work the oil into the leather. A simple pleasure not to be avoided!

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