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How To Darken Leather

27 January 2023

Bet you never thought you'd find yourself here, huh? Scouring the internet to find out how to darken leather so your favourite leather sofa, leather shoes, or leather jacket can be freshened up once more.

If The Leather Colour Doctor isn't your first stop today, you probably already know that darkening leather isn't as easy as it first seemed, right? Oil vs dye vs polish (vs coffee vs walnut hulls - WHAT? More on that later...) - it's all very complex.

Or at least it was, until now.

Here at The Leather Colour Doctor we're proud to take complex leather issues and untangle the mess of the rest of the internet to give you straight up responses you can follow with ease. So, if you're wondering how to darken leather, you're in the right place.

Below we'll talk you through the different methods out there, the best options for you, and tell you all about the different leather darkening processes and darkening leather items you'll need to darken leather and improve the surface of the leather fast.

Ready to get started? Then join us below to find out how to darken your leather.

How To Darken Leather

Darkening Leather Options

Whether it's faded leather shoes, leather boots that no longer have their shine, or a leather sofa that just doesn't look as vibrant as it once did - knowing how to darken leather is important when you have a leather item that can lose its colour over time.

But what are the best ways to darken leather?

  • oils
  • dye
  • polish
  • DIY options (like coffee and walnuts)

All of these options will darken your leather, but not all are suitable for every type of leather you own. So lets take a look at the options in greater depth to understand which leather darkening item is best. You can also check out our article on how to tell if leather is real.

Oils To Darken Leather

There are all sorts of options when it comes to oils for darkening leather - natural oils vs synthetic oils - but what are the best options and how will they affect your leather items if you decide to use them?

Mink Oil

Mink oil is a great way to darken leather. However, it's really important that you note that when you apply mink oil to leather, it's natural shine will be dulled to give a matte appearance.

That's absolutely fine if you want to darken leather boots and don't mind the entire surface being free of shine, but if you want a shine other oils are better here.

If you use mink oil, you may note that the leather darkened significantly, so always try on an inconspicuous patch first to make sure the mink oil isn't too dark for your needs.

For those who are unaware, mink oil is simply a byproduct of the fur industry. Mink oil is full of natural waxes, fats, and conditioning agents, and it's one of the most popular ways to darken leather boots, jackets, and sofas...

Mink Oil

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is another great option. It's natural, it releases a very faint pleasant smell, so it's perfect if you want to darken leather boots, jackets, or other clothing items.

Don't use excess oil here or else the smell will be quite strong, but if you apply coconut oil sparingly, the leather item will become a darker shade.

Using oils may be a time-consuming process as you work out how much coconut oil is necessary to get the shade you want, but applied with a soft cloth, your leather piece should become darker before you know it.

Coconut Oil

Olive Oil

Does olive oil darken leather? Surprisingly for many, yes!

It does leave behind a faint smell, but you'll notice the leather's shine is still very much present and it's a great option for people looking to darken leather on a budget. Olive oil is available in every supermarket and corner shop, and most of us have it in the cupboard anyway.

Olive Oil

Neatsfoot Oil

Neatsfoot oil may not be as readily available as olive oil or coconut oil, but it will make your leather darker.

Darkened leather with this oil should remain darker for some time before another application is necessary. Just make sure the entire surface of the leather is covered in the same amount of neatsfoot oil or else the finished leather item may look patchy or darker in some places after you've finished.

Canola Oil

Canola oil is actually great for adding water resistance to products, so it's perfect if you want to darken leather boots or shoes that need a little protection in that domain.

With that said, mink oil also has water resistant properties and lasts for much longer. Still, as a quick alternative, this oil isn't a bad option at all. It has water resistance, darkening agents, and it's relatively easy to get hold of.

Canola Oil

Vegetable Oils

Besides olive oil (and coconut oil if you want to throw it into this category) there are other vegetable oils that can be used to make leather darker. Even just a bottle of vegetable oil in your cupboard could do the trick.

HOWEVER, you should be mindful of the smell. Almost every vegetable oil has a smell, so make sure you can stomach it before you apply it to the leather surface to darken your leather.

Vegetable Oil

Animal Oils

Animal oil like mink oil is great for leather because the animal fats in the leather require oils to keep them healthy and show them off at their best.

One reason why leather fades is because the leather isn't being treated with the proper care and attention. Imagine a leather sofa sat out in direct sunlight every day. The leather will naturally become dry, and some of the best ways to breathe life back into the leather item is with animal oil.

Mink oil is great, but do some additional research. You might find another type of animal oil besides mink oil that may be better suited to your leather item.

Leather Dye To Darken Leather

Using leather dyes to darken your leather is an obvious choice. You can find a leather dye for almost any product these days, and you can even buy oil based dye that will nourish it as you darken the leather.

We have a wide range of leather dye available at The Leather Colour Doctor that you can match to the shade you would like.

Leather dye may be a synthetic option, but it yields brilliant results quickly. And if this is your first leather craft project, products specifically designed to show you how to darken leather are perfect!

Leather Polish To Darken Leather

When it comes to leather polish, you have two main options: leather polish (specifically designed to help you polish leather and darken it again) or the humble shoe polish (which when applied to a leather surface can darken it too).

Let's look at the different options below in greater depth to see how they will affect leather fibers to make them shades darker and yield the result you're looking for.

Leather Polish

Leather polishes are polishes specifically designed for leather (#obvs). They've been manufactured to work with leather and darken them as they are applied in a back and forth motion to evenly spread the polish to darken the leather.

Shoe Polish

BUT, can you also darken leather using shoe polish? Yes!

Shoe polish on leather boots makes sense, right? But it can also be used on other leather products to darken it too. Brown or black shoe polish will darken leather just as effectively as other leather-specific polishes.

Shoe Polish

How To Darken Leather

Now you know what your options are, let's actually talk about how to darken leather. And depending on the path you choose, you might have to follow a different approach.

What You'll Need

First, let's talk about everything you could possibly need, and then you can decide what you actually need based on the method you choose later on...

  • leather conditioner
  • leather cleaner
  • damp cloth
  • dry cloth
  • mild dish soap (or a mild soap like saddle soap specifically for leather)
  • soft brush (like a horsehair brush)
  • oil
  • dye
  • polish
  • (coffee) - WE WILL EXPLAIN
  • (walnuts) - ALL LATER

Initial Steps

These initial steps apply to every method. We'll explain method specific steps later on.


Any mess left behind before darkening leather will only get trapped during the process. So it's really important that you clean your leather well.

To do this, you'll need some cloths, a leather cleaner (like this one from The Leather Colour Doctor), OR some dish soap or similar soap.

Whichever cleaner you use, make sure you use your horsehair brush to first remove any clumps of dirt. Then apply the cleaner.

If you use our leather cleaner, apply a small amount with a damp cloth to create a foam. Leave to sit for a few minutes. Then wipe away with a clean, dry cloth. Allow leather air dry, before moving on to the next steps.

Leather Cleaning 1


Leather conditioners are so important during this stage, because they nourish your leather to make sure it's healthy before darkening. Once you condition leather, it'll already look and feel better than it did before you started.

You can pick out a great leather conditioner here.

Simply apply a small amount of the leather conditioner with a soft cloth in a small circular motion. Once the product is worked into the leather, you can buff the leather to bring back its shine.

Once your leather is cleaned and conditioned, let the leather dry, and then move on to the 'Darkening leather with...' sections below for your specific application process...

Leather Conditioner

Darkening Leather With Oils

To darken your leather with oils, simply follow these steps:

  1. Pick out your oil - mink oil is popular, but any of the oils mentioned previously will work.
  2. Patch test - apply a small amount of oil in small circular motions to an inconspicuous area of the item.
  3. Leave to dry - leather dries over time, allow for at least 12 hours.
  4. Inspect the results - if the leather looks great and your satisfied with the results, move on to the full application.
  5. Full application - use around 1 teaspoon of oil at a time on a cloth and then work it into the leather evenly. Apply more oil if needed throughout the process.
  6. Allow to dry - leave for 12 hours at least.
  7. Look at finished product - if you're happy, great. If you think it should be darker, apply more mink oil (or whatever you're using) and repeat the process until you're happy.

Darkening Leather With Dye

To darken leather with dye, take these steps:

  1. Pick out the right dye - there is a range of colours out there, pick the one that best suits your ideal finished look.
  2. Patch test - ALWAYS try any product out first in a small, unseen area of the product to make sure it's what you wanted.
  3. Apply dye - use a spray or sponge to apply dye evenly to the leather. DO NOT RUB IN. Apply gently.
  4. Use hairdryer - if you're using one of our dyes at The Leather Colour Doctor, you should use a hairdryer to dry the dye between each coat.
  5. Keep applying dye - keep applying dye and drying between each coat until desired effect is achieved.
  6. Use a sealant - a leather sealant will lock in the dye and protect your item when you've finished.

Darkening Leather With Polish

Here's how to darken leather with polish:

  1. Pick out your polish - whether shoe or leather polish, pick out the right shade and colour for you.
  2. Apply polish - first apply polish to your cloth and then work it into the leather in a circular motion.
  3. Build up the colour - keep applying polish in even layers until you achieve the desired effect.
  4. Buff the leather - use a dry cloth to remove excess polish once you're happy and buff the leather to bring back its shine.
  5. Leave to dry - don't use the product until it has been left to dry. At least overnight.

DIY Leather Darkening Process

As well as the three major ways to darken leather we've discussed today, there are a couple of other DIY ways to darken leather boots, shoes, jackets, sofas, and other items.

Would we recommend them? Not as much as the previous options, but hey, it might work for you.

So what are they?


Yes, you read that right. You can darken leather with coffee. Here's what you do:

  1. Make a brew - brew a strong pot of coffee, and then boil for two minutes until it really becomes concentrated.
  2. Allow to cool - let the coffee cool for at least 20 minutes until you can work with it.
  3. Dip your cloth - dip a cloth into the coffee and work it in even layers over your leather item.
  4. Additional layers - keep building the colour with additional layers to achieve the desired effect.
  5. Let sit - leave alone for at least 12 hours.
  6. Clean and condition - clean the coffee away, condition your leather, and you're good to go.


And yes, you can use walnuts - well, their hulls specifically.

  1. Soak walnut hulls - put in a container with water for 1-2 weeks. The longer you leave it the darker the solution.
  2. Apply liquid - dip your cloth in the liquid and apply to the leather in even layers, building colour between each layer until satisfied. Allow time to dry between each layer.
  3. Allow to dry - allow the project to dry fully.
  4. Wipe down - clean your leather to see finished results.

What Is The BEST WAY To Darken Leather?

There isn't a single best way to darken leather. We would definitely recommend oils, dyes, or polish over coffee or walnuts, but hey, each to their own.

Find a method that works for you and helps you achieve the look you were hoping for. Whatever is easiest for you is the best way.

Where To Buy Leather Darkening Products

If you decide to go for more natural options like mink oil, olive oil, or a polish bottle from your local supermarket, then obviously you can source your products yourself. Shop around and find the best option for you.

But we might also be able to help.

Here at The Leather Colour Doctor, we have a range of products that will help you clean, care for, and darken leather. Such as:

So, if you're looking for products to help you darken your leather, we certainly have a range of options out there for you from leather dyes to darken leather boots, jackets, sofas, car seats, and shoes, to cleaners and conditioners for all your leather items that will keep them well cared for and prep your items before you darken the leather. Perfect!

High Quality Leather Care Products

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