Leather boots are a staple in anyone’s closet and can help them make a fashion statement. Some people like vintage leather boots while others prefer lustrous, high-end, or even cowboy leather boots.
However, just like all leather products, leather boots need the proper care and upkeep to maintain or develop a desirable color hue and glossy finishing. Unfortunately, some dyed leather boots lose their color over time due to prolonged UV exposure from direct sunlight.
In contrast, natural or vegetable-tanned leather boots can darken over time with interaction with different exterior factors and develop a beautiful and highly sought-after patina.
If you would like to quicken the process of developing a lovely dark patina on your leather boots or restore their dark color, you can follow our step-by-step darkening process.
The best way to darken your leather boots is to first ensure that they are clean before applying either mink oil or a specialized leather dye. Lastly, buffing your leather boots after will ensure a consistent and smooth hue throughout.
It is imperative to select suitable materials and dyeing methods so as not to damage your boots. Additionally, we cover some examples of what not to use in our frequently asked questions section at the end of the article!
1. Clean Your Leather Boots
Before darkening your leather boots, you’ll first need to ensure that they are clean. This is important, as you wouldn’t want any dirt, dust or other types of impurities to get trapped between the oil or dye layer and your leather boots.
You can achieve this by using a horsehair brush and then using saddle soap. The horsehair brush will remove any dust and dirt on your leather boots, while the saddle soap will eliminate any tough stains, spots, and dust clinging to the boots.
Another important thing to note is that cleaning your leather boots beforehand will allow the darkening products (oils and dyes) to absorb evenly and effectively into the leather surface of your boots.
2. Apply Product onto Your Leather Boots
There are a variety of leather darkening products and methods available online. However, we will share what we find to be the most effective and safest methods for darkening leather boots: using mink oil or leather dyes.
Using Mink Oil to Darken Leather Boots
Mink oil is one of the most effective products for darkening leather since it penetrates deep into the leather to waterproof as well as seal it. It can also help make your leather boots more water-resistant and protects them against salt and sweat stains.
Moreover, mink oil is less likely to turn rancid as compared to vegetable oils. It has a great shelf life and can stay in the pores of the leather without becoming odorous. Our favorite mink oil for darkening leather is Bickmore’s Apache Creme Oil Restorer.
This product not only renourishes your leather by rejuvenating it with lost oils, but it also darkens it. The soft creme is easy to apply to your leather boots and dries relatively quickly, leaving them with a supple, yet darker hue.
Mink oil can be applied simply to leather boots using a dry cloth, mink oil or creme, a hairdryer, and a sponge or soft cloth. After your leather boots have been cleaned with saddle soap, you could warm up your leather boots lightly using a hairdryer to help in better absorption of the product.
Please only take this option if you are in a winter environment; this step is unnecessary if you live in a tropical climate. Do not use the hottest setting on the hairdryer at any rate as that can possibly dry out the base material of your leather boots.
Similarly, you should also heat the mink oil and rub it on the leather boots with a clean sponge or soft cloth. Begin working from the corners of the leather boot to the complete section until the entire exterior of the leather item has been covered with mink oil.
Wipe away any excess oil from the soles of the shoes and the surface. It is best to allow the oil to seep in and dry overnight to darken them. You can also give the shoes a second coat the next day if you think they should be darker.
The mink oil softens and lubricates the tough leather fibers and adds waterproofing qualities and durability to the product. It also prevents the leather fiber decaying process by softening the fibers and making them more flexible.
Using Leather Dye to Darken Leather Boots
Leather dyes can penetrate the leather and improve the natural coloring and variations of the leather. Aniline leather does not have a finish, while semi-aniline leathers have a light finish.
There are also pigmented leather materials that discolor and wear quickly with use. Therefore, dyeing leather products can be highly beneficial for your leather boots and give them a rich deep-colored darkened shine, provided that you use the correct products.
Leather dyes (our preference is Angelus Leather Dyes) are easy to apply on boots and only require a few simple steps. Firstly, you must ensure the dyeing area has proper ventilation, ample work surface, and the perfect temperature (ideally 72°F with minimal humidity).
You may also need to thin the application dye if the instructions call for thinning with water or thinner. This also depends on how dark you want your leather boots to be. Therefore, read the instructions for your leather dye carefully.
Secondly, you should strip away any existing finish and residue chemicals on the leather with a deglazer. Apply this using a woolen dauber and allow it to dry adequately before dyeing. This step will help the dye to apply better onto the leather surface, making the darkening process more effective.
For dyeing, you can adopt any leather dyeing technique depending on your preference or the instructions on the dyeing product. We recommend using a wool dauber, dry clot, or brush to apply the dye evenly across the surface.
The most challenging part of the leather dyeing process is the shade selection. To choose the perfect match, you can use dye color charts provided by different manufacturers.
If you cannot find the perfect match, you can use a mixture of different primary colors to create the perfect darkened shade to match your leather boots. Lastly, we also advise finding the similar level of shine you need to achieve (semi-gloss, low-gloss, or gloss) for the dye to look its best.
3. Buff Your Leather Boots
Now that your leather boots have fully dried and have darkened, you should consider buffing them. Buffing ensures that they have a nice clean look and also removes any inconsistencies in the texture.
To achieve this, use a horsehair brush to make 5 – 6 large strokes across your leather boots firmly. You can also use a lint-free cloth for this, by using firm circular motions across the entire surface area.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve compiled a list of some questions that you might have when it comes to darkening leather boots. If you have any questions that you would like to have added, please get in touch with us.
Should I Use Neatsfoot Oil to Darken Leather Boots?
No, we advise against using Neatsfoot Oil for darkening leather boots since it can directly affect the quality of the leather. Neatsfoot oil is a thick yellow oil that can stain the leather unattractively and unevenly if used generously.
The oil’s acidity can weaken the stitching on the leather, and its oxidizing properties can crack and deteriorate leather. To darken leather boots, it’s best to stick with either mink oil or a suitable leather dye.
Should I Use Olive Oil to Darken Leather Boots?
Olive oil should not be used to darken leather boots since it can give the boots a tacky and greasy finish. It can also stain the leather and cause unsightly blemishes and spots.
I Darkened My Boots but Don’t Like It. Can I Change It Back?
Darkening leather is irreversible. Therefore, it is always advised to test the dye on a small area before dyeing both boots. We recommend applying dyes and darkening materials on a small surface to find the most ideal effect.
If you are new to the process of dyeing leather, it may be a good idea to try one coat first and then further darken your leather boots if required.
Can The Darkening Process Damage My Leather Boots?
If you use leather-friendly products such as mink oil or leather dyes and apply the methods we described above, carefully and correctly, you won’t damage your leather boots.
You only run the risk of damaging leather if you use incompatible products that damage the texture or fiber structure of the leather.
Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief & Writer At Leatherskill
I’m a leather enthusiast turned artisan. Apart from crafting leather products, I’m passionate about writing in-depth guides and reviews on all things leather!