The best reason to darken leather is to turn your old boots, mostly tan and brown ones, from looking faded or give them a darker shade and a vintage look.
There are a few methods used to darken leather but not all are good for your shoes, some will ruin your shoes and others will give undesired results. We’ll be going over a few methods that will work well and others that will not, let us have some fun.
Preparing the Leather
Before we begin, we have to prepare the leather boots for the transformation; the different methods will require some basic common methods before starting.
Vacuum or dust the leather
Remove dirt and dust, so it does not scratch the leather or get trapped in the leather by the process, using a brush or vacuum attachment. You will also want to remove your laces at this point.
Wash the leather
Use a drop of liquid, mild dish soap, and non-abrasive microfiber cloth to wash the leather. With a little soap on the wet rag, agitate it till suds begin to form then wring the cloth, a damp cloth is desired for the cleaning process, not a wet one. Wipe the shoe down, with the damp cloth, in small circular motions until you finish.
Wipe away the soap
Repeat the wiping process with a damp piece of cloth without soap this time.
Air-dry the leather shoes
Let the shoe air dry at room temperature and out of the sun. We can begin once they are completely dry.
Prepare the work area
Place newspapers or paper towels around your intended work area, this is important as most darkening chemicals will leave a residue that will damage carpets or floors.
Methods of Darkening Leather
Neatsfoot oil and mink oil, from online stores or shoe repair shops, are specifically made to darken and condition leather and are the recommended oils to use. Mink oil products are slightly better than neatsfoot oil products as they have added waxes and conditioners that work better. for a vegan option, warmed coconut oil may be used.
Mink oil, coconut oil, and neatsfoot oil will have the same application process.
Use a non-abrasive cloth with a tablespoon of oil saturating a small area. That small amount is enough so saturating the cloth is unnecessary.
Evenly layer the oil onto the surface, rubbing the leather shoes’ surface in a back-and-forth motion. Try and apply it in one even layer then leave it to dry overnight when done. Check if it is as dark as desired, if it is not, apply more layers, allowing the leather to dry between coats.
When you get the right shade, apply the mink oil one last time, and allow it to saturate for about 20 minutes. Use a horsehair brush to buff the leather shoes paying attention to eyelets or welts.
Texture variations in leather will affect wax absorption and may cause the color to be uneven. You can use a heat source to melt the wax and newspapers to absorb it to try and even the color shades. You can also decide the aesthetic is appealing and leave it as is.
These are a mixture of animal oils, vegetable oils resins, tree pitch, and other chemicals. They provide the best results for darkening leather while also providing conditioning, waterproofing, and shining properties. The only downside is how expensive it is.
Apply small amounts of the blend using a lint-free or microfiber cloth, adding as you run out. Rubbing it into the leather evenly over the whole shoe. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
Dying the leather
You have the option of using water-based or oil-based dyes, each has its advantages.
Water-based dyes are best used if you have the intention of redyeing your shoes to another color later as it is more easily stripped from leather.
Oil-based dyes are harder to strip from leather and will last longer.
Using a sponge or non-abrasive cloth with your dye applied to it, apply the first coat to your leather shoes in a small circular motion. For a clean finish, apply the dye in as even a layer as possible and get equal coverage. A cloth or sponge will not leave stroke marks as a brush would.
Leave the leather to dry out of sunlight, to avoid cracking. The dyed leather may lighten as it dries, you can apply more layers until you get the right shade. Allow the coats to dry in-between applications.
Another method you can use for darkening your boots is to polish but not shine them. It is a simpler and shorter process.
This process uses wax polish, applying a darker shade using a non-abrasive cloth, sponge, or brush. Work the polish into the leather boot, adding more to the surface until it is fully covered. Buff the shoes until the polish looks even then allow the shoes to dry overnight so the polish soaks into the leather and dry.
Adding new layers of polish after drying will darken the leather boots more.
Methods to Avoid
Some methods you may find online for darkening boots will cause lasting damage to your leather boots. You should make sure to avoid these:
- Do not use vegetable oils like olive oil, canola oil, etc. While they are cheap, easy to find and provide a natural shine to the leather with little effort, they allow bacteria to thrive which may cause the boots to have a terrible smell. They also do not darken leather as well as specialized oils and may cause staining.
- Do not use a hairdryer to dry leather shoes or dry them in the sun, this may cause them to become hard and still which will make them crack or peel.
- Cosmetic creams are also not recommended as care products for leather.
If done properly, it is a process that will save you money as you will not need to buy new leather boots as often. Using higher quality materials will give better, longer-lasting results.