Darkening leather boots is a minefield. There are a million leather darkening products on the market, and many of them have overlapping purposes. If you’re wondering how to darken your leather boots, we’ll provide actionable information that you can use.
What product should you use in the first place?
Will a particular treatment or chemical ruin the leather?
Are any of the weird tricks on the Internet worth trying, or are they a shortcut to ruined boots?
We have compiled a guide which explains each darkening method in detail so that you can darken leather boots without stress—and yes, we will cover some of those weird tricks.
Not all methods to darken leather boots are created equal
You have to pick the correct method when you darken leather boots. Using the wrong product or applying a product incorrectly can cause some headaches:
- Leather going rancid and falling apart entirely
- Bad odor and rotting caused by bacteria or fungi
- Shrinkage and creasing
- Attracting dust or dirt
- Frayed seams
- Discoloration and scarring
- Increased difficulty of applying future care products
- Seepage into liner or sole
For these reasons, we suggest not using any DIY techniques for leather darkening that you may find on the internet that isn't here. Though these techniques may work, they carry a large risk to your leather and often rely on complicated procedures which just aren’t necessary.
If you are still looking for a quick and easy solution, we have some ideas.
Darkening your boots does not have to be a production. Your boots will absorb the effort you put into them.
Right before you darken your boots
All of the methods require you to do a few things before you start.
First, clean your boots gently with water and a rag. Dirt can scar into the leather if you layer darkener on top of it. Wait for your boots to be completely dry before starting to darken them. Drying could take as long as a couple of hours for recently conditioned boots.
Next, set up a work area with some old newspapers or paper towels. Most of the boot darkening chemicals will damage your floor or carpet, and spills are bound to happen.
Finally, you should also wear latex or nitrile gloves while darkening your leather boots. The best boot darkening products are pretty safe, but the others may have chemicals which you do not want touching your skin. When in doubt, read the label of whatever product you choose.
3 Methods to darken your leather boots
Vegetable oils like coconut, olive, or canola oils can be used to darken and condition your boots. Yes, the tricks you have read about on the internet work. Vegetable oils are not the ideal nourishment for your boots, but they will do the trick if you are just looking to darken them.
Vegetable oils are convenient, quick, and easy to use for leather boot darkening. As a bonus, using a vegetable oil to darken your boots will slightly refresh the leather by reintroducing essential oils, which will help your boots last much longer.
There are a couple of caveats to using vegetable oils to darken your leather boots. The biggest caveat is to ensure your vegetable oil is not rancid before applying it to your boots. Whatever scents and contaminants there are in the vegetable oil will seep into your boots during the darkening process.
Vegetable oils can also stain your leather if you apply too much. Start with a light coat of oil, and stop when your boots do not accommodate any more. Remember to remove excess oil before the final drying.
Required materials: rag, canola oil, olive oil, or coconut oil
1. Pour three caps of oil or three spoonfuls of gelatinous oil into a portion of your rag
2. Brush the rag along all of the leather surfaces of your boot to coat it with oil
3. Work the oil into the leather by massaging it gently with your hands
4. If you are using gelatinous oil, make sure that it melts completely when it’s massaged
5. Remove any visible clumps or drops of oil on your boot
6. Let the leather rest for up to 24 hours to allow the oil to seep in
7. Apply another coat of oil as desired
8. Let the leather rest for a full 24 hours after the last coat before use
- Probably have the materials on hand already
- Easy to apply
- Also nourishes the leather to make it more supple
- Provides a beautiful sheen
- Can’t darken the leather as much as other options
- Rancid oil can destroy the boots
- Residual oil may remain, causing smelliness
- Residual oil may bubble up to the surface and stain during darkening
- May attract rodents
Oils derived from animal fat such as neatsfoot oil or mink oil are specialty leather care products for your boots. These animal oils are easy to apply and can darken your leather quite a bit. Animal oils also cost more than vegetable oils.
Animal oils are a more serious boot darkening option compared to the vegetable oils. There are a plethora of different products, and some have differing suggestions for application technique. Applying an animal oil will also waterproof and condition your boots.
The main caveat to using animal oils is oversaturation. Oversaturation can cause your leather to seep oil and stain. When in doubt, use less oil, and apply another coat later on.
There are many different animal oils for darkening leather boots, so the product you ultimately pick is up to you. Following the instructions of the product you choose will make your boot darkening conclude without a hitch.
1. Setup a heating source if you will be applying multiple coats of oil
2. Use your fingers to grab a thimble’s worth of oil
3. Coat the leather surfaces of your boots by hand until no more oil seeps into the leather
4. Allow your boots to dry by placing them near the heating source or leaving them outside in the sun for 4-6 hours
5. Apply another coat if necessary once the leather is dry
6. Let the leather dry for 12 hours before wearing, or dirt may accumulate quickly
- Darkest hue after drying
- Nourishes leather
- Long drying time
- Strange musky odor
- May go rancid
- May not be child or animal safe
- Can stain clothing or floor if not dried sufficiently
- Not all animal oil products are created equal
Specialty boot care products are typically blends of animal oils, vegetable oils, petroleum oils, tree pitch or resin, and waxes. These blends darken leather during the conditioning process and are the best overall method for leather boot darkening.
Blends offer waterproofing, nutrition, and bright shine for your boots. Specialty blends typically have natural odors like honey or pine as a result of their formulation. Brands like Obenauf’s and Huberd’s are widely lauded for their spectacular effects and pleasant smells.
For leather boots that you want to maintain for a decade, buying a high quality blend is the best choice for boot darkening. Blends will keep your leather supple, and can’t damage your boots by applying them incorrectly. Some people rub entire canisters of boot care blends into their boots.
Boot care blends will be the most expensive option for darkening leather boots, but they will provide the best outcome.
1. Use your fingers to grab a grape sized amount of the blend
2. Brush your fingers around every leather surface of your boot
3. Gently massage the blend into the leather at points of hardness or disrepair
4. Let the boot dry 10 minutes
5. Apply as many additional coats as desired, waiting 10 minutes between each coat
6. Try not to use your entire canister of blend in one sitting
- Provides comprehensive boot nutrition
- Can’t damage boots or be applied incorrectly
- Provides long-lasting sheen
- Smells good
- Prevents rotting via bacteria
- Restores hard points to suppleness
- Won’t darken your boots much per coat
Which method should I use?
It depends, but we suggest that you stick to the methods we outlined on this list. If you have got a DIY flair, the vegetable oil methods are the safest, cheapest, easiest, and most reliable. If you are not afraid of dropping some cash, the blends are good choices because they will come with instructions and provide some extra care to your boots.
Just remember: it is easy to darken leather boots multiple times, but it is difficult to lighten leather. Pick a boot darkening method that you are confident in, then add extra coats of darkener as needed. Using too little is preferable to using too much.
It is our goal to help you get the best outcome for your boots.
Are you confident in your knowledge of how to darken leather boots after this tutorial?
Share your leather boot darkening results in the comments section!