How to Darken Leather Boots: Avoid These 3 Mistakes

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William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Oct 25, 2020
How to Darken Leather Boots  Clarks Desert Boots with Mink Oil and Saddle Soap Next to Them

We know the feeling: you love your boots, but wish they were just a tad darker. 

The good news is that darkening your boots isn’t just easy: with the right materials and technique, it’s actually good for the leather.

In this guide, we’ll break down exactly how to darken leather boots the right way. You’ll learn what products to use, how to use them, and what you can expect to find after you’ve treated the leather. 

What You Need to Darken Leather Boots

To darken your leather boots, you need a leather conditioner. The best products we’ve used for darkening leather are mink oil and neatsfoot oil. 

mink oil sofsole how to use

Both mink oil and neatsfoot oil are animal derived fats that saturate leather fibers and produce a rich color. As a bonus, when you use either of these oils, you’re also adding a layer of weather resistance. 

Many folks use mink oil and neatsfoot oil to condition their leather to keep it from cracking, so it’s also a great product to have on hand when you need to condition your other leather items. 

Mink oil is a byproduct of the fur industry, though many of the popular products only contain 10-20% mink. Products like SofSole blend mink oil with other fats, conditioners, and waxes to help protect your boots against the elements. 

Sof Sole Mink Oil for Conditioning and Waterproofing Leather
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Neatsfoot oil is a byproduct of the beef industry, with the oil being extracted from the shins of cattle. This also saturates your leather to protect and condition your boots. 

Bickmore 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil 8 oz - Leather Conditioner
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Of these two products, we prefer mink oil. Neatsfoot oil products don’t have the same added waxes and conditioners as many mink oil products, so mink oil is a little more well-rounded for boot care. 

How to Naturally Darken Leather Boots Without Damage

Step 1: Brush your boots and remove all dirt

how to clean clarks desert boots 14

Before darkening your leather boots, remove your laces and knock loose any dirt. Take a close look around the welt, as mud tends to stick there. 

Use a microfiber towel or a horsehair brush. If you have both, use them both.

Kiwi 100% Horsehair Shine Brush
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The reason you’ll want to get as much dirt and dust off as possible is because a small grain of sand can scratch the leather as you’re darkening it, creating a light “gash” across your boot. Most often you can buff the scratch out, but it takes extra work and you might not get a perfectly even treatment. 

Also, dust on the surface of your boots prevents the oils from fully saturating the leather. This can also lead to an uneven treatment and splotchy looking boots. 

Buff™ Microfiber Cleaning Cloth | Black (12 Pack)
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Step 2: Apply mink oil

applying sofsole minkoil to leather boot

We’re using mink oil for this example, but this step is the same if you choose neatsfoot oil. If you’d like to go vegan, you can also use coconut oil, but make sure you’ve warmed it up before applying. 

Dab a teaspoon of mink oil on a microfiber rag and work evenly into your boots in a circular motion. Try to create as much friction as possible to warm the mink oil up as you work it into the leather for deeper saturation. 

You may need to go back and pick up more mink oil to ensure you have an even spread across your boots. 

After you’ve coated your boots, they’ll have a slick shine to them with excess oil on the outside of the boot. Use a microfiber rag to wipe away the excess. Don’t worry about buffing the leather yet.

Sof Sole Mink Oil for Conditioning and Waterproofing Leather
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Step 3 (optional): Apply mink oil, again

If your leather is dry and hasn’t seen a conditioner yet, you’ll want to apply a second coat of mink oil. This helps drive nourishing compounds deep into your boots and helps restore damage done from excessive dryness. 

Repeat step two if you’d like your boots another shade darker or if your leather needs a little extra love. 

Step 4: Let mink oil set, and buff with a brush

darkening leather with sofsole mink oil

Allow the mink oil to saturate your leather for 10-20 minutes. Use a horsehair brush and buff out the leather. 

Be sure to pay special attention to any eyelets or welts where oils gather. A horsehair brush is much more effective than a microfiber rag at getting into small crevices and evening the tone of your leather. 

What if I Don’t Want to Darken My Leather Boots That Much

This gif shows how much mink oil darkens your boots:

saddle soap vs mink oil differences

If you’re thinking that’s way too dark, there are other options. 

There are many leather conditioners on the market that only darken your leather slightly. One of our favorites is Venetian shoe cream. 

DaLuca Venetian Imperial Leather Balm
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While mink oil darkens your leather boots five or six shades darker, Venetian will only take it two or three shades darker. It’s an excellent product for conditioning and keeping your leather supple and nourished. 

how to clean clarks desert boots 19
Venetian shoe cream before and after

We recommend having both products in your leather care arsenal, as each has its own specific uses, but both are good for darkening leather. 

How Not to Darken Leather Boots

In researching this article, we came across several methods of darkening your leather boots that will cause lasting damage to your footwear. We want to call those out now to prevent you from having a boot disaster.

  • Don’t use olive oil to darken your boots. Olive oil is low in saturated fat and goes rancid relatively quick. If you use olive oil, you’ll have sour, stinky smelling boots in a month or less.
  • Don’t use canola oil. Yes, it will add some water resistance, but it’s nowhere near as effective as mink oil or other dedicated boot care products. Really, what you’re doing is creating a barrier so that all your future boot care is less effective. 
  • Don’t use baby oil. It’s for babies. 

Ready to Get Started?

Darkening your leather boots is easy. Even better, it’s good for your leather. 

So if you’ve been waiting to add rich, dark tones to your leather, now is the time. Mink oil is fairly inexpensive and does wonders at darkening, conditioning, and weatherproofing your leather. 

If you don’t already have it in your boot care tool kit, we recommend you pick some up today.  

For more boot care guides and reviews, check out our YouTube channel, where we post new reviews and guides every week, like this one:

And if you gave mink oil a try and added some depth to your boots, let us know in the comments below!

FAQs

Should you oil new boots?

Oiling your boots will darken the leather significantly. If you enjoy the color of your boots as you bought them, we don’t recommend you oil them. But if you’re only concerned with weatherproofing and conditioning the leather, oiling your new boots is a great way to protect the leather throughout its lifetime.

Does boot oil darken leather?

Boot oil darkens leather significantly. There are products available that don’t darken the leather as much, such as Venetian shoe cream.

Does olive oil darken leather?

Olive oil will darken your leather, but we don’t recommend you use it as a leather conditioner. Olive oil is low in saturated fats, so it goes rancid quickly. If you use olive oil on your boots, they will smell sour and strange within two weeks.

Can you stain leather shoes darker?

You can dye your leather shoes a darker shade if you’d like, but using mink oil to naturally darken your leather boots is a much cheaper, easier, and safer way to get the job done.

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