Some people think black is depressing, but in many circumstances, it can be mature, elegant and even a little sexy. Nothing says high class like a pair of highly polished black boots. It’s a must for tuxedos and a strict requirement in military dress. Black doesn’t look great with navy or brown but it looks good with more black, charcoal and pops with boldly saturated colors such as emerald green or cherry red.
The last color is why Santa is always shown wearing shiny black boots. Like Santa, your belt and shoes must match. Though Santa is known for his joviality, he is also well respected by children who know that they’d better be good when he’s watching.
For the adults to emulate, there’s Agent 007, the suave and debonair James Bond who wouldn’t dare wear brown shoes with a black suit, no matter what fancy gadgets Q hid in them. On the practical side, black is an easily maintained color. Dirt doesn’t show as easily. A little polish and a touch of moisturizer every once in a great while and you’re good to go.
But, somehow or another, you got brown shoes. Brown shoes aren’t terrible. They have their uses. But they are very casual, particularly if they’re a light brown. Or perhaps you have black or dark-colored leather shoes that faded with age and you want the original dark color back.
If you want to look tough like a biker or soldier or elegant like a CEO or landed gentry, (or both like James Bond) you need to have those black shoes. Is there a way to make the leather darker? Yes, there is! Keep reading for do it yourself tips on how to darken leather.
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A Word to the Wise
Use care in darkening your leather. You do not want to do anything that would damage the leather by hardening it or fraying the seams. You don’t want to do anything that might shrink the boots unless they are too big. In which case, that’s another article. You don’t want discoloration, scarring bad odors or worse, the entire boot just falling apart. Follow these directions precisely and you should get the desired results.
Darkening leather is not hard at all, but you want to prepare the boots for the process first. Follow these steps:
- First, wash your boots gently with water and a soft cloth. A drop of mild dish soap may help matters. Dirt can permanently mar the leather if you layer anything on top of it. Use small, circular motions. Wait until your boots are completely dry before beginning to darken them. Drying could take a couple of hours or more if they were recently conditioned. To be very thorough, you can use an attachment on a vacuum cleaner to get rid of every molecule of dust. Wipe it all clean with a slightly moist cloth and air dry.
- Next, set up your work area with some paper towels or old newspapers. Many of the boot darkening chemicals can cause damage to your floor or carpet. Spills are bound to happen no matter how careful you are.
- Finally, you should also wear nitrile or latex gloves when darkening your leather boots. The best of boot darkening products are safe for the most part, but some of them may have chemicals that you do not want in contact with your skin. This is particularly true for people with allergies or skin sensitivity problems. If you are in doubt, read the label of whichever product you select.
Now you’re ready to darken those boots! There are different methods of going about this. Pick which one seems to work best for you.
The Vegetable Oil Method
You could use vegetable oil. Many people swear by olive oil as being best for the job and others say it stains too easily. The canola oil you fry your potatoes in will work just as well.
Coconut oil, considered a miracle oil by many, will work, if you don’t mind your feet smelling like the tropics and waiting a while to see results. Avocado oil works, if you don’t mind the smell of guacamole. Sunflower, safflower, soybean and rice bran oil can do the trick as well.
Vegetable oils are a quick and convenient way to darken leather. While it is not the ideal method of nourishing the leather, it will reintroduce some essential oils. Above all, the oil you use must not be rancid as this can destroy the leather. Whatever is in the oil will seep into your boots.
To keep from staining the leather, it is important to remember not to add too much oil. Start with a light coat and gradually add more until the leather can’t take more. Before the final drying, remember to remove excess oil.
Using the vegetable oil method has good points and bad points. It’s easy to do and fairly inexpensive. You may have what you need in your kitchen pantry. It nourishes the leather, making it more supple. The sheen will look beautiful when you’re done.
On the downside, it won’t get the leather very dark, perhaps only a shade or so darker. Residual oil can bubble up to the surface and cause staining during the darkening process. Also, the smell may make animals think your shoes are good to eat. Train Fido not to chew on shoes or just keep them where he can’t get them.
And now onto the steps on how to do the process:
- Pour three capfuls of the oil or three spoonfuls of a gelatinous oil into a part of your rag.
- Rub the rag all along all the entire leather surface of your boot to completely coat it with oil.
- Work the oil into the leather by gently massaging it using your hands.
- Should you be using gelatinous oil, see to it that it melts thoroughly when it’s massaged.
- Use another rag to take out any visible clumps or drops of oil you find on your boot.
- Allow the leather to rest for up to twenty-four hours to let the oil seep in.
- Apply another coat of oil if you think it best.
- Allow the leather to rest for another full twenty-four hours after the last coat before you use it. A leather conditioner will prevent cracking.
The Animal Oil Method
Some oils like neatsfoot oil, lard or mink oil are derived from animal fats. These are easy to apply as the vegetable oils and can get your boots rather dark. They are more expensive, though. The neatsfoot oil and mink oil can be obtained from any place selling leather goods. Lard was once a common kitchen staple, but now nearly impossible to find unless you own a pig farm.
Be careful not to oversaturate when using animal fat on your shoes. That can cause your shoes to seep oil and leave stains. You should use only a little bit of oil at a time and gradually add more layers.
As with vegetable oil, there are upsides and downsides to using animal oils. After it dries, the leather will take on a nice, dark hue. The leather will not only be nourished but waterproofed. It does take a long time to dry and goes rancid easily. They can also cause stains and not all products will give the same results. The shoes may take on a strong musky odor that will make your vegan cousin cry. (Wait a minute, that could be an upside!)
Here is how you use animal oil to darken your boots:
- Get a heating source ready if you will be applying several coats of oil. A hair drier or space heater set on low will do.
- Use your fingers to grab enough oil to fill a thimble.
- Cover the leather surfaces of your boots by hand until oil no longer seeps into the leather.
- Let your boots dry by putting them near the heating source. You can also leave them outside on a sunny day for four to six hours.
- Apply another coat if you need to once the leather is completely dry.
- Allow the leather to dry for twelve hours before wearing it. Otherwise, dirt may accumulate very quickly.
Blends and Synthetics
We don’t want to endorse any brands but think of an old mother who went to the cupboard to get her poor dog a bone, something that sounds vaguely like “Oh, enough”, what you eat with a burger and when you need more building material for a wall.
These are all specialty boot care products that are generally blends of vegetable oils, animal oils, petroleum oils, tree resin or pitch, and several different waxes. These blends darken leather all through the conditioning process and are the most ideal method for leather boot darkening.
Some of these blends are scented with something natural like pine or honey. They nourish the leather, making it shiny and waterproof. If you use a high-quality blend, your shoes can last a good decade. This method is foolproof as applying them incorrectly will not damage the boots. Do it correctly for the best results, nonetheless.
There are a lot of upsides and only a few downsides to using synthetic blends. The biggest downside is that they cost a good deal and you have to add several layers if you want significant darkness. But the sheen is long-lasting and the leather will be thoroughly nourished.
It smells nice without being too appetizing. (To animals, of course. A person would have to be awfully hungry to consider snacking on a shoe.) It repels bacteria from building up. The hard areas will be softened and the whole shoe will become waterproof.
This is the way to darken your leather with synthetic blends:
- Use your fingers to grab an amount of the blend about the size of a grape.
- Brush those fingers around the whole leather surface of your boot.
- Gently massage the blend into the leather in spots of particular disrepair or hardness.
- Allow the boot to dry for about ten minutes.
- Apply as many extra coats as you like, waiting a good ten minutes between each coating.
- Be frugal. Try not to use the whole canister of blend in just one sitting.
Dying the Leather
There are dyes on the market specifically for leather products. Generally, alcohol-based dyes may stiffen the leather while water-based dyes will soften it. You will have your choice of specific coloring and shading to choose from.
Oil-based dyes and water-based dyes are much like oil paint and watercolors. Oil-based dyes will have a deeper sheen and will be long-wearing. Water-based dyes are good for layering and will be more subtle. Choose wisely.
Commercial dye products often come with instructions and the good ones will come with all the equipment you need. The equipment includes a spray bottle, a paintbrush, a sponge and latex gloves. Your workspace must be well ventilated and covered in plastic sheeting as the chemicals are dangerous if constantly inhaled and can cause permanent stains.
There are upsides and downsides to this method. Some kinds will stiffen or soften leather, depending on what result you want. The overall result will likely be the perfect color and sheen you desire if you do it right. That’s a big if. It is a rather complicated process. It also requires dealing with noxious chemicals. Please use safety precautions and dispose of the waste responsibly.
The dye kit will likely come with instructions. Follow those, but they will generally go like this:
- Start with the leather preparer. Apply it to the outside of the boot with a rag. This will remove the finish on the leather.
- When you have removed all the finish, use the spray bottle to slightly dampen the leather with a fine mist.
- Use a paintbrush and sponge to apply dye to the boot. The paintbrush is for hard to reach areas such as seams and reinforced parts. Rub in small circles and try to get a good, even coverage.
- Once you are done with the first coat, give it a few minutes to dry before adding another coat. You may need three to six thin coats for best results.
- Finally, let the leather dry for a minimum of twenty-four hours. Use a clean cloth to wipe off residue and buff the shoes for that polished look.
- Apply a leather conditioner to prevent cracking or destruction of the leather.
The Shoe Polish Method
Or you could always use the Al Jolson technique which calls for black shoe polish. It’s simple, inexpensive and effective. But it must be done correctly. A sloppy polishing job is a sloppy polishing job no matter what color you use. You should use a shade similar to the one already on the boot. The polishing method is best for leather that has faded or is only a little lighter than you really want. You may have to put on two coats for optimal results.
Not to make an endorsement, but think of a flightless bird from New Zealand. The waxes in this polish are particularly penetrating if you want something permanent. Remember that it is easier to make something darker than to make it lighter so start with a light coat or shade and work your way up until you get it as dark as you want.
Once you have decided which dye color is best, follow these instructions:
- Put a small bit of polish into a soft cloth. Hold this cloth over the top of the bottle of polish and turn it upside down until it leaves a spot of leather polish the size of a quarter onto your cloth.
- Work the polish into the leather in small circles. As you do this, you should notice it begins to darken almost instantly. Keep adding more polish to the surface of the leather until the leather is completely coated.
- Buff over the whole thing with a dry rag. Use a separate undirtied rag to buff over the leather in circles. This will aid in evening out the look of the polish and will make it seep deeper into the leather material. Keep buffing the leather with the rag until the surface of the leather takes on a uniform polish.
- Allow the polish to dry overnight. Give the polish ample time to seep into the leather and dry. If you desire that your leather be even darker, you can apply another layer of polish after it has dried.
The Tea Bag Method
The natural tannins in black tea can eliminate foot odor, but did you know you can use them to dye leather as well? Prop masters have used tea to make paper look aged for film and stage, but it works on the leather too. The process is cheap and easy but lengthy. It is a natural way to color leather without dealing with noxious chemicals.
Besides taking a rather long time, tea bag dying will not make a very strong color. Oiling and finishing when you are done will improve it. This method will make your white shoe tan and your tan shoe sepia but don’t expect any dramatic blacks.
Using tea bags to dye your shoes can be as easy as making yourself a cup of tea. Or, rather, as easy as making tea for a very large party.
- Put anywhere from thirty to forty teabags with the strings and tags removed in a large pot of boiling water. Let them brew for fifteen minutes.
- At this point, the tea should be cool enough to handle as well as well seeped. Remove the tea bags and put in the shoe. Hold it down so that it is completely submerged. If it floats to the top, use something to weigh it down. It must stay submerged for a day and a half.
- Let the boot dry completely then condition it.
Shoes are crucial pieces of clothing to any wardrobe that are often overlooked. They don’t just protect your feet while walking from place to place. They are an important part of anyone’s wardrobe. Shoe color is something that could make or break and ensemble.
It can be a demanding task to put effort into seeing to it that your shoes, or more specifically, your leather boots get the right kind of care they need. You want your shoes to look great for a very long time. Always remember that a splendid pair of shoes can get you the kind of attention you want.
Whatever method you use, always keep in mind that it is easy to darken leather boots several times. However, it is difficult to lighten leather. Select a boot darkening method that you have full confidence in. You can add more coats of darkener as you need. Using too little is much better than using too much.
Just as you would put primer on a surface before painting it, you must also make sure your boots are ready for change. Be honest, proactive and reassuring; perhaps read to them from the junior version of Who Moved My Cheese? Uh, no, on second thought, that’s not necessary. Weigh the costs and benefits of the above methods to help you pick one. You’re sure to find something that will help you.