There are numerous ways to darken leather boots. Vegetable and animal oils are among the easiest, most cost-effective methods. Not only do they darken the boots, but they help refresh the material and provide a stunning sheen.
Leather is skin. And like our own, when it ages, it doesn’t always look as “perfect” as it once did.
And, like our skin, leather is sensitive. There’s copious information online about how to darken your boots, but not all take into account the sensitivity. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with ruined boots.
We’ve found five tested and attested methods that won’t ruin your leather boots—here’s how to darken leather boots.
Five Best Methods for Darkening Leather Boots
Before we get into the methods of how to darken leather boots, follow these tips:
- Clean your boots before darkening.
- Protect the floor with towels or a plastic sheet in case of spills, and avoid working on carpet.
- Wear gloves in case of toxic substances.
- If possible, wear old clothes you don’t care about.
Once you’ve done the prep work, you can learn how to darken leather boots.
1. Vegetable Oil
Chances are you already have vegetable oil in your home, whether it’s regular old olive cooking oil or coconut oil, for its many uses and benefits.
Oil can also inject some life into old, faded, or patchy leather.
Not only is this method quick and easy, but it’s inexpensive and beneficial. The oil will lace the leather with essential oils, expanding its lifespan.
But beware—vegetable oil can stain, so start with light layers and never force it in when your boots reach saturation point.
And if the oil is rancid, it can ruin the boots.
Here’s how you do it:
- Acquire coconut oil, olive oil, or canola oil, and a rag.
- Dip part of your rag in the oil, not to saturation point, and squeeze it out.
- Gently wipe down your leather boots with the rag.
- Massage the oil in, using your hands.
- Wipe away drops and clumps.
- Wait 24 hours before the next coat.
- After the last coat, wait a day or more before wear, to avoid shoes gathering dirt.
- Inexpensive materials you may already have at home.
- Safe materials.
- Adds shine to the leather.
- Makes the leather boots more supple.
- Not as effective as the other methods.
- Using harsh or old oil can ruin your boots.
- Oil doesn’t smell very nice.
- Can stain your boots.
2. Animal Oil
Animal oil can be as refreshing as coconut oil on leather boots and is often used in leather care.
These oils are also more effective than vegetable oils, darkening the boots more.
However, if you go overboard, the oils can stain. So get your mink or neatsfoot oil and apply with caution.
- Coat your boots in oil by hand, and massage it until it stops seeping in.
- Dry off excess oil.
- Wait 6 hours for the oil to dry near a heat source.
- Apply more coats as needed.
- Wait a day or preferably more to wear after the final coat, to make extra sure it’s dry.
- Not too expensive.
- Can darken more than vegetable oil.
- Makes the footwear waterproof.
- Unpleasant odor that lasts.
- Can become rancid.
- Stains surfaces easily.
- Can be toxic if accidentally ingested.
3. Synthetics and Blends
If you want to go slightly less DIY, there are synthetics and blends made for darkening leather boots. Many also have nutrition, shine, and waterproofing elements mixed in.
Synthetic blends also smell incredible—they can have natural scents in them, like honey. Oils don’t share the pleasant odor.
So, although this method is the more expensive one, you’re going to get a better smell and outcome.
But beware, the outcome will take longer than with oils. Each coat only darkens the leather a fraction. This may take as long as using animal oils, despite the shorter drying times.
We recommend Huberd’s shoe oil for this method.
- Brush the blend on with your fingers.
- Massage your chosen blend into the hardest parts of the boot.
- Wait 10 minutes for the boot to dry.
- Apply more as needed, with 10 minutes between coats.
- Wait 10 hours before wearing, after darkening.
- Highly effective.
- Conditions the leather and makes it supple.
- Impossible to damage the boots with small mistakes.
- Often boasts a pleasant odor.
- Won’t rot.
- Softens hard areas.
- Can provide shine.
- Waterproofs the footwear.
- Can be costly.
- Will require more coats than with oils.
The most effective way to darken leather is by dying it.
A benefit of dyes is that you can choose the outcome of your color, as long as it’s darker than the original leather.
And although dyes are usually full of toxic chemicals, if you shop smart, you’ll get the opposite. Water-based dyes help make the leather supple and pack moisture in.
Avoid alcohol dyes; they have the opposite impact.
You should also be sure to prepare your leather boots in advance and care for them well afterward. Many dyes will come with instructions and materials to help with this.
The dyes may not provide a sponge for painting the dye on and a spray bottle for wetting the leather.
An excellent leather dye is this Tandy Leather Eco Flow, but a cobbler will be able to recommend one based on your specific needs.
- Apply leather prep solution, if provided.
- Wet the leather until it’s moist, not wet.
- Apply the dye using a sponge and a paintbrush if you have one.
- Cover the boot until the entire surface is slightly darker.
- Wait about 20 minutes.
- Apply a second coat and more (between drying) as needed.
- Wipe off any remaining dye a day after the final coat.
- Highly effective.
- Can condition the footwear.
- Waterproof your boots.
- Easy to apply.
- You don’t need too many coats.
- Easily stains other surfaces if you spill.
- Some dyes require a prep solution.
- Not safe for animals or kids—keep the shoes out of reach as they dry.
This method works well on boots with the need for a subtle touch-up—polish can be a fantastic leather darkener.
Some shoe and boot polish naturally stains or tints your boots darker after use.
For this method, avoid clear polish and find a polish that doesn’t match the color of your shoe. The darker you go, the better this method will work to darken your leather boots.
- Clean your boots.
- Apply shoe polish with a polishing cloth over the entire surface of the shoes.
- Wait for the polish to dry.
- Apply more coats as needed.
- Buff your shoes.
- Creates an incredible shine.
- Conditions and nourishes the boots.
- A good habit to get into.
- Only for subtle changes.
Risks When You Darken Your Leather
As you may have discovered with other searches on how to darken leather boots, not all methods were created equal. Some of the cons of these methods prove that, too.
The first few risks here are more for oil methods. But many may occur with any technique of darkening leather—it’s easier to ruin leather than you think.
Here’s what can happen:
- Your shoes may rot and fall to pieces.
- Offensive odor.
- Bacteria and fungal growth with oil.
- Leather creasing and shrinking.
- Hardening leather.
- Acquiring debris and dust when wet.
- Damaged seams.
- Staining and discoloration.
- Difficulty applying products for care in the future.
- Oils can seep into the sole or liner and damage the material.
Tips for Darkening Leather
Because there are so many risks, let’s counteract it by looking at some tips to help you darken your leather as safely as possible:
- Use commercial products, not oils, to avoid shoes rotting.
- Remove the inner liner if possible.
- Wrap the sole in cling wrap.
- Never saturate your leather and wipe off excess.
- Stay with your shoes as they dry for the first few minutes so you can wipe off any bubbling oil.
- Only use high-quality products.
- Condition your boots after a darkening session.
- Ask a professional for help.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Make My Leather Boots Darker?
There are many ways to make your leather boots darker. If you want to know how to darken your leather boots without specialized materials, use oil. But you can also use synthetics, dyes, or polish.
How Do You Darken Leather Naturally?
The most effective way to darken leather naturally is by using oils. Try using a natural oil, like coconut oil, when learning how to darken leather boots. It’s gentle and smells better than other vegetable oils and all animal oils.
How Do You Darken Leather Boots With Olive Oil?
You can darken leather boots with olive oil by gently massaging the oil into the leather. Wait for it to dry, and keep applying oil until you reach your desired color. If the boots become saturated before you achieve this, then stop immediately. You run the risk of damaging your leather boots.
Does Boot Oil Darken Leather?
Some boot oils and shoe oils can darken leather. Oil is often used in darkening leather, and boot oil falls into the category of synthetic blends for the darkening process.
What Oil Is Best for Leather Boots?
- Mink oil.
- Specialized shoe or boot oil.
- Coconut oil.
- Neatsfoot oil.
Will My Results Be Permanent?
If your boots are old and need a new look for the rest of their life, permanence is a factor to consider.
It depends on the product if you use synthetics, but blends and oils are not permanent.
Results will vary depending on:
- Frequency of wear.
- How dark you made the boots.
- Quality of materials.
- How much product the boots can hold.
On the other hand, with shoe polish and dye, the results may be permanent.
Avoid polish and dye if you simply need to darken your boots for an evening or a few days of wear.
Also, be aware that the polishes and dye may also not be permanent—but will last the longest. They may also eventually become permanent after repeated use, but again, it depends on the shoes and products used.
There’s no sure way of knowing, but use caution.
Darkening Leather: The Final Result
Once you learn how to darken leather boots, you can turn all your old shoes new again. It’s a simple process, once you find the method you like.
Darkening leather saves money spent on a new pair of shoes or boots. So make sure you do it properly, or you’ll need to acquire new footwear anyway.
Always use high-quality materials when darkening leather boots, and say safe.
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