How to Distress Leather Boots: 5 Surprising Ways to Age Leather

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by  Bradon Matthews | Last Updated: 

Fresh leather is oh so pleasing to the eye.

Sleek, scuff-free cowhide on your boots make you look polished and elegant. 

Still, there’s something deeply intriguing and rugged about a pair of distressed leather boots. Worn leather makes you look adventurous, like you lace up your boots before setting off to see the world.

You may not be scouting the wilds or braving the elements, but still want the quiet ruggedness distressed boots have to offer. If so, you’ll be happy to know there are several ways you can age leather without setting out on an expedition.

This article will show you 5 surprising ways to age your leather with little more than a few household items.

What You’ll Need to Distress Leather Boots

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Depending on the method you choose, you’ll need at least one of the following items:

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Sand Paper
  • Black shoe polish 
  • Rocks

Depending on the level of distress you’re going for, you may want to use multiple methods on the same pair. 

That said, it’s important to note that distressing leather isn’t ideal for your boots’ longevity. Artificial aging almost always damages your boots to some degree. 

The best way to distress your boots is through patience and daily wear. 

How to Age and Distress Leather Boots

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If you’ve decided you want to speed up the aging process, there are a few things you should do regardless of the method you use. 

The first is to be gentle. You can always distress your boots more. You can’t un-distress them though. You don’t want to overdo it and wind up with damaged boots.

The second is to make the distressing look as natural as possible. Look up pictures of distressed boots and try to copy the patterns of wear. This will keep your boots looking naturally worn.

Method #1: Rubbing Alcohol 

Rubbing alcohol ages boots quickly, but it’s also really tough on the leather, so make sure you go easy with this method.. Used sparingly, this alteration helps create creases that lend to a well-worn look. 

To use alcohol to age leather, start by mixing equal parts rubbing alcohol with water. You can do this in a basin, but a spray bottle will be a bit easier to use. 

Once you have your mixture, apply it to your boots. If using a spray bottle, simply spray the leather until it’s slightly damp. If using a bucket or basin, dip a rag into the mixture and gently rub it onto your boots until damp.

After the mixture has been applied, work your leather. Crumble and fold your boots wherever you want creases to appear. 

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The alcohol will help crease your leather, making your boots look well worn even fresh out of the box.

Leave your boots to dry after you’ve worked them to your desired level of distress. If you want to speed the drying process you can use a hairdryer, though this may warp your leather.

Method #2: Sandpaper 

When using sandpaper to distress leather boots, the aim is to wear away the finish. You want to be gentle here, as rubbing too aggressively will damage the leather underneath. While this will definitely look worn, it can veer into ratty territory pretty quickly.

The type of sand paper you use is also important. Using a very low-grit paper will increase the likelihood of deep scratches. We recommend using 220 grit or higher, as this will have a relatively flat surface that will be easier to control.

To use sandpaper to distress your boots, simply take your boots and lightly rub the paper against them. Aim to create natural-looking scuffs.

I don’t recommend using the sandpaper all over your boots. Instead, focus in on the areas that would naturally see the most wear, like the toe and the heel sides. This will keep your boots looking authentic and reduce the amount of strain on the leather.

Method #3: Black Shoe Polish 

A big part of achieving an aged look for your boots is making the finish look uneven. Sandpaper does this by wearing away parts of the finish, but you can also add finish to achieve a similar effect. 

Using black or very dark brown shoe polish on a pair of lighter boots will make it seem like they were once darker. This will trick the eye into thinking your boots are well-worn, even when they’ve never seen the light of day.

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I recommend using this cream shoe polish from Red Moose. It’s designed to repair and maintain leather, meaning it will add a protective effect to your boots. The cream base makes it easy to apply, and the effects will last well into the future.

Red Moose Premium Boot and Shoe Cream Polish
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To achieve a distressed look with shoe polish, add the polish to the areas that are least likely to see wear. These areas are the opposite of the spots you’d hit with sandpaper. 

Avoid the toe, seams, and sides of the heel. Instead, apply the polish to the safer parts of the boots. 

The additional dark polish will make it look like your boots were once a much darker color. By leaving the high-ware portions untouched, you’ll make it seem like the boots have faded in those spots. 

I highly recommend looking at pictures of worn boots prior to applying the polish. This will help you create organic-looking patterns.

You can also combine this method with sandpaper to achieve an even more authentic distressed effect.

Method #4: Bring Nature In (Rub a Rock on It) 

If you don’t feel like gathering up materials to give your boots a distressed look, you’re in luck. One of the most effective ways to distress leather is to use a simple rock.

Rocks allow you to add scuff marks to your leather in ways that very closely mimic natural wear. You naturally pick up marks on your boots from everyday wear. A good rock can let you do this manually and with intention.

The shape of your rock matters a bit here. You want to go with a stone that has some texture to it. Depending on the look you’re going for, you’ll either want a single edge or a somewhat flat surface. 

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If you are going for distinct scuffs, opt for a sharp point. Take the stone’s point and strike it against your boot, moving from the front to the back. Repeat this process until you achieve your desired level of ware.

If you’re going for a more faded look, choose a rock with a flat surface. Take the rock and rub it against your boots, focusing mostly on the toe, seems, and heel areas. This will create an effect closer to what you’d get with sandpaper.

Be careful not to be too forceful. An overly aggressive approach can leave your leather damaged beyond the surface, making your boots look tattered and potentially shortening their lifespan.

Method #5: Soak and Dry

Another easy, low-cost way to distress leather boots is to soak them in water. The water will actually pull moisture from the leather as it dries, leading to an aged look that would otherwise require a good deal of patience.

To use the soak and dry method, start by getting a squirt bottle or a basin and a rag. Fill whichever you are using with warm water.

If using a squirt bottle, spritz your boots until they are damp but not drenched. If using a basin, dip your rag into the water and wipe the water onto the boots, again going for damp but not soaked through.

Once the boots are wet, work them with your hands to create creases. The damp boots should crease a bit easier than they would otherwise.

As they dry, the moisture evaporating from the boots will further enhance the look of the creases. This will give your boots a broken-in look.

You may have to repeat this process a few times, but eventually you should wind up with a well-worn appearance.

Can You Combine Methods?

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You may have noticed that many of the above methods lead to different kinds of aging or distressing. Some focus on making your boots look scuffed while others create creases in the leather.

If you want to achieve the most authentic aging, you may need to combine methods. This can be done without significantly harming your boots.

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That said, it’s important to be very gentle when trying multiple methods at once. Beating your boots up too much can lead to structural problems and may even destroy them completely.

Likewise, overdoing it can cause aesthetic problems. It’s a fine line between aged and trashed. You don’t want to cross it only to realize you’ve ruined a nice pair of boots.

Conclusion

Distressing leather boots can be an easy and cheap process depending on the way you go about it. There are plenty of ways to make your boots look broken-in with items you probably have laying around.

That said, the best way to age leather is always to wear it patiently. Using any artificial means of distressing can damage your boots. If you value your boots’ longevity, it’s best to avoid distressing them by hand. 

If you just can’t wait, be very careful. Start small and go slow. You can always add more distressing to your boots, but you can’t undo any damage if you go too far.

Did you enjoy the article? Which method will you try first? Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more handy boot wearing tips.  

FAQs

How can I make my boots look old?

If you want to make your boots look old, you’ll want to focus on wearing down their finish. This can be done with a high-grit sandpaper. Gently rub the sandpaper against your boots, focusing primarily on the high-wear areas like the toe and the sides of the heel.

How do you rough up new boots?

To rough up new boots in the simplest manner, go outside and find a rock. Take the rock and strike the edges against your boots, moving from the front to the back. This will create scuffs that mirror normal wear, making your boots look like they’ve seen adventure.

How can I make my boots look more expensive?

To make boots look more expensive, your best bet is to focus on the leather finish. Buying a good boot polish like this one from Red Moose can help. Apply the polish to your boots and rub it in until they are evenly coated and shiny.

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