If you're on the eventing board on COTH, you're probably familiar with this....
Higher Standards Soap and Balm
(Use CAMP20 through the end of the day (sorry, should have done this post sooner!) to save 20% on your order!)
The soap is pretty good. I wouldn't say it's OMG the best stuff ever (although I think it's on par with, if not better than, any other product I've ever used--just not like a million times better), but it's a darn good product. It works well with very little effort. Gunk that would normally have me pulling out a butter knife and toothbrush is taken care of with some scrubbing with a sponge (or, if it's stubborn, something with a bit more texture, like a towel). I think my favorite part of the soap is that it's designed to be a conditioning soap and it's good for the leather, so I can be lazy and not worry about rinsing the soap off really well. Actually, I've started just wiping the soap off with a towel, not even rinsing it. It's also nice on your skin. It won't leave you wanting to scrub your hands when you're done. It's not as sudsy as, say, Lexol, which can be deceiving, so don't expect tons of foam.
The soaps are scented, but they're not overwhelming. I have two--vanilla/lavender and citrus/ginger (I'm not a rosemary fan, so not planning to get the rosemary/mint). I'd seen scented saddle soaps in the past and my thought was "why would you care if it's scented? Who cares if the leather smells good?" It doesn't make the leather scented at all, you can only smell it while you're cleaning. IMO, the soap itself is worth the price, so it's not like you're paying extra for a scent. The scent is just a perk. So if you're thinking "oh, I don't like scented things, blah blah blah" don't worry about it. I promise the scent will be very mild.
An 8 ounce jar of soap is about $15. It might seem pricey, but this stuff will LAST. I've cleaned several things with it and I rub the sponge hard on the soap, trying to get a lot on, and I've barely made a dent. Even if you clean your tack every day, I would expect one jar to last at least a couple months. And once you've got your leather clean, you won't need much at all to keep it clean.
To recap the great things about the soap: It works well, it works easily, it doesn't need much (or any) rinsing, it doesn't leave your hands gross, and it lasts.
I effing love this stuff. My love for the balm makes me want to break my resolution to keep my blog more-or-less PG. I want to bust out with profanity to describe how amazing this leather balm is. So as you're reading, insert the f word repeatedly in a way that conveys extreme excitement and enthusiasm.
The balm is more expensive (about $19 for 8 ounces) and won't last as long as the soap. I don't care. I love it. I'd marry it and have its babies. Picture those "what would you do for a Klondike Bar" commercials, only with me and Higher Standards Leather Balm. There you go.
I apply with my hands. It's about the consistency of firm butter or cream cheese, but easily softens and spreads. My method is to rub my fingers on the balm to get a decent coating on my fingertips, then dot the balm onto the leather, then spread it all over and rub it in. It doesn't take a lot (though obviously it depends on the condition of your leather). It rubs in very easily, rather than just sitting on top. I had been using Passier Lederbalsam prior to this, and I found that product always created a tacky layer on top of the leather, rather than really penetrating. I did feel that the leather was a teensy bit tacky for a couple hours after applying, but I think that's because I didn't use a cloth to buff when I was done. But within a few hours, any tackiness was gone. My tack is soft and supple and gorgeous.
One of the best things about this balm? It's not gross on your hands! Neatsfoot oil, Lederbalsam, Lexol, whatever... I finish my tack and immediately go to the kitchen to scour off the product with dish soap. Higher Standards leather balm? I wiped my hands on a towel. It's not gross. It's not sticky or stinky or greasy or anything. It's like a really nice lotion. Love it. The only situation where this balm won't be my go-to product will be really dry leather... for that, I'll still start with a neatsfoot oil dunk. Everything else, though, will be HS balm all the way.
Okay, pictures! I only have one side of my saddle because I had already cleaned one side of it before it occurred to me to take pictures.
AFTER SOAP, BEFORE BALM
AFTER USING BALM
Yeah. This stuff freaking rocks. Go buy some. I just ordered 3 more jars of the balm. The two jars of soap I have will last me quite a while, but I love the balm so much I can totally see myself stealing other people's tack to use it.