Quality boots can be expensive—if you’re like me, you want to extend their mileage for as long as possible.
By following my tutorial, you’ll learn how the quick, easy process of applying mink oil will create a barrier that repairs damage from continual use, seals seams and pores, prevents staining, and replenishes the natural oils that leather needs to remain supple and flexible.
What is Mink Oil?
Mink oil is a type of leather conditioner that’s mainly used as a way to make boots and shoes more water resistant.
On the plus side, mink oil creates a barrier of oils that repel water. But on the down side, it also significantly darkens leather.
As you can see in the image above, when I used mink oil on my boots (the left boot), it darkened considerably. The boot on the right has only been cleaned with saddle soap and is the original color of the leather as it was when the boots were brand new.
It’s very difficult to return your boots to their original color once you’ve used mink oil—there’s a good chance they’ll be permanently darkened. However, you can take steps to return them to their original color, and I’ll cover those a little later.
Where Does Mink Oil Come From?
Minks are small mammals that are closely related to weasels, otters, and ferrets. There are two species that are commonly farmed – the American mink and the European mink.
Different species live in several countries throughout the world, predominantly in woodland areas where they create burrows underground. According to the Adirondack Ecological Center, they tend to burrow near water sources since their diet is often comprised of frogs, fish, crayfish, and birds.
They’ve been processed since the 1950’s for their fur, which is used to make coats, among other goods. Because their lifespan is fairly short, typically less than five years, they’re usually processed between seven months and one year old.
Under their pelt is a thick layer of fat that is collected and rendered to produce oil. When handled, the fat readily melts against the warmth of the skin, and it’s through this experience that mink oil was discovered to be such an effective hide conditioner.
According to the Fur Commission USA, mink farming is a sustainable practice that supplies fur and leather oil, as well as animal feed, bait products for the fishing industry, fertilizers for the agricultural industry, and other types of refined oils used for a variety of purposes.
This oil is preferred for two reasons: first, it’s very close in chemistry to sebum, the oil secreted by the skin of mammals, including humans, that keeps the skin conditioned and moist.
Secondly, it has a very long shelf life. Some types of oil, particularly those derived from animal fats, can turn rancid in a short period of time. Mink oil that is kept cool and sealed can last in storage for at least two years, sometimes much longer.
Oil that stays fresh for longer is better to use than other types that go rancid, such as olive oil. Using oils that have a short shelf life on your boots will lead to a terrible smell over time because it goes rancid shortly after application. This doesn’t happen with mink oil.
As opposed to other types of oils and conditioners available on the market, mink oil can actually extend the life of your boots by repairing damage and drying, and making the leather water-resistant; however, it can’t reverse cracking.
In snow and ice, there’s no better alternative to preventing stains from salt and water than mink oil.
Important Notes About Mink Oil
It’s important to note that the fats in this type of oil tend to darken leather considerably, sometimes by as much as six or seven shades. Boots that are light in color aren’t the best candidates for this process, unless you don’t mind a resulting darker tone.
You may notice that the leather feels a bit greasy after applying a coating of oil, but this is normal. If you don’t like it, however, check out my list of alternatives below for other recommendations that feel cleaner after use.
Another important note, and word of caution, is that adding too much mink oil to your boots can cause permanent damage.
A little goes a long way, and a second coat can always be added rather than risking mold and mildew growing inside your boots.
Wait two to four weeks between applications to avoid mold growth and leave the boots in a dry, well-ventilated area between uses. Since you know just how funky it can get inside a set of boots after a long day on the job site, you might want to invest in a boot dryer to be on the safe side.
Or, you can learn how to prevent your feet from sweating in work boots once and for all.
Mink Oil Alternatives
Even though I recommend mink oil for waterproofing and restoring badly damaged leather, there are some alternatives available if you want to condition or protect your boots differently.
Huberd’s Shoe Grease has been used for over 100 years to waterproof and condition leather boots. It’s made from a proprietary blend of waxes that does not include mink oil and is applied in the same fashion. It also darkens leather.
If waterproofing is your main goal, Kiwi Silicone Waterproofer spray is made from silicone and comes in an aerosol spray bottle. It’s non-greasy, but important to note, however, that this does not provide conditioning and the application process is different.
Bick 4 is an excellent leather conditioner that doesn’t darken the color of your leather boots at all. It doesn’t offer the same weatherproofing or water resistance, but it’ll replenish your leather and keep your boots looking close to how they originally did.
What You’ll Need to Mink Oil Your Boots
As I mentioned, applying mink oil to your boots is quick and easy, taking no more than about 10 minutes. Gather the following things before you start:
- Room temperature mink oil
- A clean, soft microfiber cloth
- Rubber or latex gloves
- Clean, dry leather boots (laces removed, if they have them)
Be sure that the boots are clean beforehand by using a cloth or stiff brush to remove surface dirt and check the seams and welts for caked dirt as well.
If they’re filthy, our guide to cleaning your boots will help you get them clean using saddle soap —but don’t apply conditioner.
Place them on a hard surface in a warm area where they’ll remain undisturbed while the oil is absorbed.
How to Apply Mink Oil to Your Boots
If you’re more of a visual person, you can see how we apply mink oil in the video below:
Step 1: Pull the gloves on and scoop some mink oil out of the can
Room temperature oil should be soft and spreadable but not fluid.
A quarter-sized amount is enough for one average-sized boot. Scoop it out with a finger and dab it onto the boot.
Don’t leave it sitting for too long before you rub it in as it may leave a darker spot behind.
Step 2: Rub the oil into the leather
Use a circular motion to work the oil into the pores of the leather. Pay extra attention around the seams and welts to be sure that the oil is sealing those as well.
The seams are the parts of the boot where the stitches tend to give out over time as they’re exposed to water and dirt, so sealing them will keep the grime out and extend their wear.
Be sure to apply it well to the toe also, since this is the part of the boot that takes the most abuse.
Once all of the oil is rubbed in, sit the first boot aside and repeat the process on the second one. Sit them both aside in a warm area so the oil has time to penetrate the leather—usually for about 10 minutes.
How long do I leave mink oil on my boots?
Leave mink oil on your boots for about 10 minutes to allow time for absorption. If they’re particularly dried out, it may take a little longer.
Step 3: Buff the boots with the microfiber cloth
Again, using a circular motion, buff the surface of the leather to remove excess oil. This step also adds a slight sheen that will remain for several weeks after application. It doesn’t leave a glossy finish like shoe polish, though.
It can take one to two hours for the oil to be completely absorbed after buffing.
For a step-by-step visual tutorial, watch William at work on the Bootspy YouTube channel, showing how to mink oil leather boots—just don’t try squeezing your own marmots at home.
How long does mink oil take to dry?
It can take one to two hours for it to dry completely, but a hairdryer can be used to speed the process up. Use the hottest setting to melt the waxes in most oils so they’re more easily absorbed.
Best Mink Oil for Boots (and Where to Buy Mink Oil)
Knowing how to use mink oil is only useful if you have it to apply, so let’s talk about the best products on the market.
Red Wing has been making boots since 1905. With their century of experience, they know what they’re doing when it comes to leather. Red Wing Mink Oil is widely regarded as one of the best available mink oils around. While some brands cut their mink oil with tallow or other oils, Red Wing’s mink oil is almost entirely pure.
Fiebing’s is another trusted name in leather and boot care for nearly 130 years. Their Golden Mink Oil is one of their best-selling products. It’s also affordably priced for budgeted buyers.
How to Remove Mink Oil from Leather
There isn’t much you can do to completely remove mink oil from leather. Once you’ve applied mink oil, it’s going to permanently darken the leather.
But you can reverse that a bit with saddle soap.
I have a complete guide on how to use saddle soap on your boots here, but the short version is that you suds up the soap with a wet brush and scrub your entire boot.
For mink oil, try to do this twice.
That’ll remove some of the oil, but mink is very good at penetrating deep into the leather, so you’ll still have some darkening in the leather compared to how you got them.
You can also watch how I use saddle soap to remove mink oil (or any grime) in the video below:
Taking good care of your boots is as important as caring for your own body or your vehicle. Neglect leads to additional expenses.
Mink oil is relatively inexpensive as compared to buying new boots, right? Why don’t you give it a try and test out using mink oil on your boots for yourself?
If you’re not sure you’ll like how much the oil darkens your leather, apply some on the back of the heel. It may look overly dark, but it’ll lighten up over a few days.
What does mink oil do for leather boots?
Mink oil is absorbed by the leather. It creates a water-resistant barrier and softens the leather, making it more flexible and often, more comfortable to wear. It can also extend the life of the boots.
How often should I use mink oil on my boots?
If mink oil is the only conditioner you’re using, it can be applied every six months, depending on wear. If wax or another sealant will be applied on top of the oil, one to two times per year is sufficient.
Does mink oil help to break in leather boots?
When leather boots are first purchased, they can be stiff and uncomfortable. An application of mink oil prior to the first wear will soften the leather and make the breaking-in process shorter overall. It also helps to protect them right from the beginning.
Does mink oil permanently darken leather?
After a few weeks, the darker tone may lighten slightly as the leather begins to again dry out. It will never return to the lighter tone completely and will remain permanently darkened to some degree.
Can you apply shoe polish over mink oil?
Mink oil generally leaves a slight sheen after buffing, but it does dull shiny leather considerably. If you want water-resistance, supple leather, and shine at the same time, shoe polish can be applied over mink oil, and it will restore the shine.