9 Hide Tanning Solutions From Basic Recipe Ingredients

Tanning hides using traditional and more natural methods is almost always less expensive and does not really add any extra time or work to the project.

Hide tanning is a process requires extensive manual labor and lots of patience. There just are not any true shortcuts, regardless of what type of method you use, when tanning at home.

defurring a cow hide
defurring a cow hide

The cow hide I am tanning now will be used to make multiple pairs of moccasins for Christmas presents. Yes, at the time of publishing, it is only February.

Though an optional step, one of the best ways to preserve your hide is to apply a tanning solution to it, either before or after the process itself. Below you’ll find no less than 9 recipes that use natural ingredients…

Brain Mash Solution Recipe

  1. Mix the brains in only enough water to make a mash that resembles the consistency of runny mashed potatoes. It is roughly a 2 parts brain to 1 part water mixture. I usually do a 2 parts brain to a ½ part water and stir in more water if the mash is too thick.
  2. Heat the brain mixture to warm it through, do NOT allow it to reach boiling temperature.
  3. Rub the brain mash thoroughly over the hide to coat it. Roll up the hide and allow it to sit at least overnight, but preferably about 24 hours.
  4. Unroll the hide
  5. Stretching the hide again is the easiest and quickest way to scrape away the brain mash, but it can be done while laying flat.
  6. Scrape away all of the brain mash and rinse the hide with either warm water or warm and soapy water.
  7. Inspect the hide to make sure all of the mash is gone.
  8. Repeat the brain mash application if the hide turns out too dry and is not pliable enough to work the leather and crack the membranes to soften it.

Brain Daiquiri Homemade Solution

I prefer this brain hide tanning solution recipe because the mash, or brain paste, has a daiquiri or Coke slushee consistency, making it easier to spread. It also seems to coat and adhere to the hide better than the mash recipe, in my personal opinion.

  1. Mix and warm the brains and and water the same way you did to make the brain mash.
  2. Pour the brain tanning solution into your food processor or blender and his pulse for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  3. Repeat the same coating and stretching steps outlined above.

Egg Yolk Tanning Solution

  1. Mix an egg yolk with 1 to 2 teaspoons of water – depending upon the size of the egg. You will need less water with a Bantam chicken egg and more if you are using yolks from a duck or turkey egg.
  2. Spread the egg yolk tanning agent mixture thoroughly and deeply onto the hide – I use a pastry brush or sponge to complete this process.
  3. Cover the hide with a damp sheet made out of natural fibers if working with a large hide or towels if working with a smaller hide.
  4. Allow the mixture to work completely into the hide a full 24 hours – waiting 48 hours sometimes works best.
  5. Rinse the egg yolk tanning solution off of the hide and proceed with the tanning process.

Soap Tanning Solution Recipe

You can use the same Castile soap or Fels Naptha soap you use to make homemade laundry detergent, for tanning your hides.

  1. You must grate the soap like you do when making detergent, to make a natural hide tanning solution.
  2. Mix the grated soap with just enough water to allow it to completely dissolve.
  3. Pour in just shy of an equal part Mink or Neat’s Foot Oil.
  4. Slather the solution onto the hide like your did the brain tanning solution.
  5. Roll the hide up with the solution still on.
  6. Allow the hide to sit in the soap tanning solution for 48 hours before washing it off and proceeding with the tanning steps.

Washing Soda and Alum Tanning Solution Recipe

The amounts in this tanning agent recipe provide enough solution to tan 1 coyote or 6 rabbits.

• Mix together 1 cup of non-iodized alt, 2/3 of a cup of washing soda, and 2 and ½ cup of alum.
• Stir in approximately 3 gallons of very warm, but not hot, water.
• Stir the mixture together until all of the ingredients have completely dissolved.
• Soak the hide in the solution for at least two to three days before removing it to rinse clean and proceed with the tanning process.

Oak Bark Tea Tanning Solution

Using oak bark tea as a hide tanning agent is the prime method of choice by tanners who want a thick and durable leather that can be used to make belts, and horse tack. It often takes up to 100 pounds of bark to tan a cow hide.

• Collect enough bark to fill a 5 gallon bucket – several 5 gallon buckets if doing a large hide.
• Mix the bark with enough warm water to make a solution that resembles tea.
• Clean the hide, or soak it overnight, in the oak bark tea solution AFTER straining the bark out of the liquid – catch the liquid, that has now been diluted by the water sprayed or dumped on it to rinse the hide, in a plastic tub or livestock tank.
• If removing the hair, soak the hide in a de-furring bath of wood ash or lime solution, or a mixture of both.
• Rinse the hide completely again.
• Flesh the hide
• Put the hide in bath with the diluted oak bark tea for 7 days.
• Make another batch of bark tea.
• Remove the hide at the end of 7 days and dump the diluted oak bark tea water.
• Fill the tub with the new batch of bark tea and let the hide sit in it for two weeks.
• Remove and rinse the hide and continue on with the tanning process.

Distilled White Vinegar Tanning Solution Recipe

• Mix together 5 gallons of warm water and 1 gallon of distilled white vinegar.
• After de-furring and/or fleshing the hide, soak it in the mixture for three days.
• Remove the hide and rinse it clean using COLD water.
• You will need to repeat the soaking steps three times to tan the hide.
• The hide will be very still after the distilled white vinegar soak and must be oiled completely to soften the hide.

Lard (or Tallow) and Flour Tanning Solution

I found this great tanning recipe in my husband’s Foxfire books – every homesteader should have a set of those incredible books! The recipe is simple, natural, and barely costs a dime.

• After rendering your animal fat into either lard or tallow, smear it onto a de-furred and fleshed hide, covering it completely.
• Next, pour flour over the lard or tallow, again, coating it completely.
• Roll up the hide, like you would if using a brain tanning agent.
• The Foxfire books say to keep the hide rolled into the solution until the “blood” is drawn out. In my experience, this takes at least two days, but sometimes 73 hours for large or thick hides.
• The hides will turn out pretty stiff. After rinsing them and allowing them to dry almost completely, you will need to oil the leather.

Eggs and Mayo Tanning Solution Recipe

• Mix together equal parts mayonnaise and eggs.
• Stir them vigorously or run them through your food processor for about 1 minute on the pulse setting.
• Smear the egg and mayo tanning agent onto the entire de-furred and scraped hide, coating it thoroughly.
• Now, you can either roll the hide up for 24 to 48 hours, or cover the hide with slightly damp sheets or towel made out of natural materials.
• Rinse the hide and continue on with the tanning process. Oiling the leather is pretty essential when using this type of tanning solution.

Try out different natural tanning agent solutions each time your tan, until you find one that suits your needs best and helps you churn out a great piece of leather.

The amounts of the ingredients in each recipe are estimates based upon either past personal experience, or the experience of homesteading friends who have used the recipes and produced what I deem, in my “unexpert” opinion, as a really beautiful niece piece of leather.

Do you have a homemade tanning solutions we did not include here, or a different variation of one on the list? Share it in the comments section below so we can all give it a whirl, too.

15 thoughts on “9 Hide Tanning Solutions From Basic Recipe Ingredients”

  1. Hey! Loved this article but I have some questions. First of all I had a cow hide that I egg tanned. Not only did some of the hair slip but first of all she dried really stiff so I rehydrated it in a tub of water and worked it over the fork of a tractor, rolled it, stomped on it, hit it with a meat tenderizer and thought finally!…. I have it soft. It wasn’t totally dry so I stretched it out over some pallets. More hair had slipped but I didn’t care I just wanted it soft lol anyway it went crunchy on me again. So I’m assuming I should have oiled it again and kept working it until it was completely dry ? I thought once the hide was broken that it wouldnt harden up again ? Also when egg tanning no one mentions if they damp towel or sheet needs to be kept damp for 48 hours ? I live in Australia so that task is almost impossible. Any invite that you have into my screw ups would be great !

    Reply
  2. Hi
    In the vineagar tanning section after rinsing do you reuse the same vinegar solution or do you have to make a new batch for the three soaks?
    Thanks

    Reply
  3. Thank you Tara for this amazing blog post!! I was able to find plenty of instructions on tanning, but had a really hard time finding any information on smoking! So thanks for putting your knowledge out there!
    Cheers from Switzerland 🇨🇭

    Reply
  4. Please help me to get a clear step by step video for traditional taning of the a hide . Am new to the topic and i want to get into the action

    Reply
    • Self-tanning is very rewarding, but be prepared for a lot of hard work, sore hands and muscles and a lot of time…anywhere from one to two months. I have done at least 2 to 3 dozen white-tailed deer over the last 15 years. I use the alum-table salt method and am fleshing a hide right now, hair on. At this point I just salted the flesh side with NaCl to dry it out… I have it laying open on a plastic tarp in my basement which is around 55 degrees F. The worst part is the stretching at the end of tanning..
      Vile Gluek und Spass!
      Rumplestiltskin

      Reply
  5. Years ago I tanned a hide using oxalic acid. Do you think boiling rhubarb leaves to make a solution might work to tan hides?

    Reply
    • name is Krow Oil….. don’t remember where I got it other than some place on the internet. Works really well but you have to be careful not to use too much. Takes time to soak in. Better to go slow and use less at the beginning. You can always use more later. Is a great product if done well. Good and proper tanning is very important.

      Reply

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