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Neatsfoot oil is a yellow oil rendered and purified from the shin bones and feet (but not the hooves) of cattle. "Neat" in the oil's name comes from an old name for cattle. Neatsfoot oil is used as a conditioning, softening and preservative agent for leather. In the 18th century, it was also used medicinally as a topical application for dry scaly skin conditions.
"Prime neatsfoot oil" or "neatsfoot oil compound" are terms used for a blend of pure neatsfoot oil and non-animal oils, generally mineral or other petroleum-based oils.
Fat from warm-blooded animals normally has a high melting point, becoming hard when cool – but neatsfoot oil remains liquid at room temperature. This is because the relatively slender legs and feet of animals such as cattle are adapted to tolerate and maintain much lower temperatures than those of the body core, using countercurrent heat exchange in the legs between warm arterial and cooler venous blood – other body fat would become stiff at these temperatures. This characteristic of neatsfoot oil allows it to soak easily into leather.
Modern neatsfoot oil is still made from cattle-based products, but now, while retaining its historic name, usually is made mostly from lard, which is sold as pure neatsfoot oil. This formulation does darken leather. If mineral oil or other petroleum-based material is added, the product may be called "neatsfoot oil compound". Some brands have also been shown to be adulterated with rapeseed oil, soya oil, and other oils. The addition of mineral oils may lead to more rapid decay of non-synthetic stitching or speed breakdown of the leather itself.
Neatsfoot oil is used on a number of leather products, although it has been replaced by synthetic products for certain applications. Items such as baseball gloves, saddles, horse harnesses and other horse tack can be softened and conditioned with neatsfoot oil.
If used on important historical objects, neatsfoot oil (like other leather dressings) can oxidize with time and contribute to embrittling. It also may leave an oily residue that can attract dust. On newer leather, it may cause darkening (even after a single application), thus may not be a desirable product to use when the maintenance of a lighter shade is desired. Neatsfoot oil is more useful for routine use on working equipment.
Neatsfoot oil is often used to oil sign-writers' brushes that have been used in oil based paint, as this oil is non drying and can be easily washed out with solvent at any time. By oiling the brushes it reduces the build up of pigment in the ferrule, the metal part that many brushes have to hold the hairs in place.
- Dippel's oil, another oil, derived from bone
- Mink oil, alternative leather treatment
- Saddle soap, leather cleaning and conditioning
- Neatsfoot Oil Ingredients | LIVESTRONG.COM
- Active Ingredients - HorseChannel.com
- McCrady, E. (1985) Leather Conservation News 2(1) 7, reprinted from Abbey Newsletter, October 1984
- l "Tack Repair and Maintenance" Accessed August 1, 2009
- "Recommended Leather Care," accessed August 1, 2009
- Canadian Conservation Institute, Note 8/2: Care of Alum, Vegetable and Mineral Tanned Leather