5 Ways To Darken Leather Without Dyes (A Step-By-Step Guide)

how to darken leather without dyes

For a really long time, I have not been a fan of dyeing my leather items. I do not know what to call it, probably a phobia of dye stains on my hands or my obsession for stains ruining my clean home. So this sparked some curiosity in me and wanted to know if there was a way to darken my leather shoes, jackets, among other things without using dyes.

My oh my, my experiment yielded some super cool results although a couple of others failed brutally. Not only did I find just one or two ways of darkening leather items without dyes. But 5 easy ways to do it and do it effectively without any issues.

So how do you darken leather without dyes? Here’s how to darken your leather items using coffee;

  • Step 1: Make your coffee and make sure to make it strong and boiling hot.
  • Step 2: Allow the coffee to simmer and cool down.
  • Step 3: Dampen your lint-free rag or towel with the coffee and then begin to rub coffee over the surface of the leather item.
  • Step 4: Apply a couple more layers of the coffee and leave each application to dry. Continue doing this until you get your desired effect.
  • Step 5: Once the leather item is thoroughly air dry, apply your leather conditioner.

Trust me, these experiments were really fun and I was able to achieve some fantastic results. I am happy to take you through a step-by-step process on how to darken your leather items without using dyes. You’re absolutely going to love it.

Method 1: Using UV Light or Sunlight To Darken Leather

Using sunlight is one of the natural ways to darken leather goods if you do not want to use dyes or do not have leather dyes readily available.

So basically it involves putting the leather item outside in direct sunlight for a few hours, and it will darken.

Simply right? But darkening leather this way will come with a few downsides with the most common one being the leather item becoming pale or faded instead of darkening.

The leather successfully darkening will usually depend on the quality of the leather. Low-quality leather will usually darken a lot quicker than those that are of superior quality. But all in all, vegetable-tanned leather tends to darken a lot faster no matter the grade.

This method of darkening leather items without using dyes was the first method I tried as I did not want to start my experiment with something overly complex and end up getting demotivated to do more experiments.

This method is fairly easy and only very few things to get yourself set for it.

What You’ll Need:

  • Sunlight
  • Leather Cleaner and Conditioner


Step 1

  • Make sure the surface of your leather item is prepped.
  • Meaning you need to clean off any dirt or dust on the surface of the leather.
  • You also want to get rid of any lace, flaps, or straps that may be overlapping other parts of the leather items’ surface.
  • If possible, ensure your leather surface is completely clean with some mild dish soap or saddle soap.
  • Make sure your leather item is completely dry before you begin.

Step 2

  • Once your leather item, whether shoes, jacket, belt, hat, etc is prepped find a good spot in the sun where direct sunlight will get to it consistently up to about 3-6 hours.
  • So depending on where you live, you’re going to leave your leather item to tan as soon as it gets pretty sunny.
  • Make sure to come back from time to time to check on your leather item if the sun is still hitting it directly without any shade. Trust me, I learned this the hard way!
  • And more importantly, you want to check on the leather item as frequently as possible especially if you would want your leather item to only darken slightly.
  • Meaning the longer you leave the leather in the sun, the darker it’s going to get just like how our skin gets tanned when we lay at the beach.

Step 3

  • Once you’re satisfied with the darkened effect you’re after, take the leather item out of the sun. If otherwise, repeat the “tan” process a few more hours the following day and see how your leather item becomes darker.

Step 4

  • Next, condition the leather with a leather conditioner and then leave the leather item to air-dry before using the item. Done!
  • The UV light method was indeed one of my favorite methods because the materials it required are things you already have in abundance-I am able to find natural daylight where ever I go.
  • It’s fantastic because not only does this method work really well but it also works with items that don’t have any dyes or need lightening on them as well like old boots!

The last thing I’m going to leave you with on this method is that you must keep in mind that prolonged exposure to direct sunlight could cause damage to your leather goods so think about how long they’ll be out there before setting up the experiment.

Method 2: Using Shoe Or Boot Polish To Darken Leather

I looked around the house and the next thing I tried was using regular boots or shoe polish. Shoe and boots polishes contain ingredients such as waxes, oils, and pigments that help to enhance the color of leather boots.

Meaning this method will be more convenient if you intend to darken your leather shoes, boots, or sandals – although it could also work for other leather items.

For faded leather shoes and boots, using shoe polish to darken them is a fantastic option. The color change and darkening that results from using polish are subtle-and you’ll get the results in just one use.

If you want to darken black or brown leather items, use black polishes or brown polish, while for all other colors, neutral shoe polish will work just fine.

The best part of using shoe polish to darken leather is that it’s an eco-friendly and cost-effective way of darkening leather items.

All you need to do is follow the instructions on your particular product and make sure to buff the application thoroughly. Here’s how you go about this process.

What You’ll Need:

  • Soft Brush Applicator
  • Soft Dry Cloth
  • Neutral, Black, or Brown Shoe Polish


Step 1

  • Load your brush with a liberal amount of shoe polish. Make sure not to load too much polish on your brush or applicator cloth.

Step 2

  • Begin to polish the surface of your leather with the brush. Use small circular motion during your application.

Step 3

  • Make sure the application is as evenly as possible so that you do not have spotted dark patches on the surface of the leather – which might make the leather not have a professional finish.
  • You can apply two coats and your leather surface should darken nicely.
  • You can apply a couple more layers if you’re not satisfied with the darkening effect you get.

Step 4

  • Once you achieve the darkening effect you want, use a dry cloth to buff the surface of your leather shoes or boots. This will help to remove any excess polish and also even out the leather surface.

Step 5

  • Now leave the shoes or boots you have darkened to dry. You can put it on the sun shortly and you’re good to go.

Method 3: Using Coffee To Darken Leather

Another thing I also tried in my series of experiments on how to darken leather without dyes. I tried using coffee and it exceeded my expectation.

I went back to research why coffee could work well as a way to darken leather and here’s what I found.

Coffee contains a type of acid called chlorogenic acid. It is this kind of acid that reacts with the tannins in the leather, which are responsible for giving it its color and make them darker.

Before we get into the meat of this method, let me start by saying you do not need to use your premium coffee imports for this method.

Don’t use your PT’s coffee for this method. Get any cheap coffee and the result will be the same. Trust me, I did the test! The result is simply the same.

What You’ll Need:

  • Coffee (Cheaper coffees preferred)
  • Microfiber Cloth
  • Leather Conditioner


Step 1

  • Make your coffee and make sure to make it strong and boiling hot. Make sure the coffee has boiled for about a minute.
  • Make sure to have the coffee stirred continually to prevent the coffee ground from settling beneath the coffee jar.
  • Now Allow your coffee to simmer so that the coffee is nice and concentrated.
  • And then allow the coffee to cool down.

Step 2

  • After the coffee has cooled down, dampen a lint-free rag or towel with the coffee and then begin to work the coffee by rubbing it over the surface of the leather items to darken it.  
  • Apply only one single layer at a time and then allow enough time for each layer of application to air dry before adding more layers of coffee.
  • Keep applying the coffee over the surface of the leather until you achieve your desired shade.
  • If applicable, submerge the leather item for about 3-5 minutes and then take them out to air dry. You can repeat soaking the leather item in the coffee 2 or 3 more times, rinse away the excess coffee residue from the leather, and finally leave it to air dry.

Step 3

  • Once the leather item is thoroughly air dry, apply your leather conditioner to the surface.
  • This will help to restore any essential oils or moisture that got lost during the leather darkening process using coffee.
  • After applying the leather conditioner, leave the leather item to air dry before use

Method 4: Using Natural Oils To Darken Leather

Cast your mind back to those times when you tried a particular type of leather oil on your leather couch or shoes for the first time and wondered why the leather darkened significantly.

Has this really happened to you before? If it has then bingo! You already know where I’m going with this. But if you’re not following then here’s the deal with this method.

Leather oils when applied to leather items generally make them darker. This usually happens with natural oils like Neatsfoot oil, mink oil, or my favorite, coconut oil.

These oils contain natural substances that do not only allow them to bring out the natural color of the leather but make them darker especially when they are first applied.

To be fair, I only had neatsfoot oil available at home so that is what I used and the results were super duper. But from my research, you could use mink oil and coconut oil.

If you go the coconut oil route, make sure to use the unrefined coconut oil as it results in the best darkening effect on leather items.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to use this method to darken your leather items.

What You’ll Need:

  • Neatsfoot Oil, Mink Oil, or Coconut Oil
  • Microfiber Cloth


Step 1

  • Pour a teaspoonful of neatsfoot oil onto a soft clean cloth. The cloth should be lint-free or microfibre.

Step 2

  • Apply the leather oil in a uniform layer using back and forth motions.
  • Visually divide the surface of your leather item and apply small section at a time.
  • Make sure to add a bit more oil to your applicator cloth from time to time.
  • Cover the entire surface of the leather item as thoroughly as possible.

Step 3

  • Once done, leave the oil over the surface of the leather to set. Do not apply any heat source to the application or put the leather item in the sun.
  • Simply leave the application overnight or give it about 8-12 hours for the oil to get completely absorbed.
  • What you will notice at the point is the leather beginning to darken.
  • If the way the leather has darkened is what you’re after then congrats on darkening your leather without any dyes. Otherwise, repeat steps number 2 and 3 two or three times more.
  • Make sure you wait about 12 hours between each application for maximum results.

Step 4 (Optional)

  • One trick I learned is after applying the neatsfoot oil on your leather a few times and the leather is not as dark as you want, you could put the leather in the sun for a few hours.
  • If you’re not experiencing a lot of suns where you are you can use UV lamps of UV bulbs to gradually darken the leather. Do these after you have oiled your leather with the neatsfoot oil will definitely put the final nail in the coffin.
  • There you have it! Another simple but effective way you can darken your leather without dyes. Keep in mind that neatsfoot oil can weaken stitches and seams of your leather item so you would want to make sure you buff any excess neatsfoot oil from the surface of the leather especially areas around seams and stitches.

Method 5: Using Vaseline To Darken Leather

Vaseline is a petrolatum derivative that is often used as a lip balm and skin ointment. It can be found in the form of oil or jelly at most drug stores and supermarkets.

This is another good alternative to using dyes when you want to darken your leather items. Vaseline after it has been applied on the surface of the leather will oxidize which then darkens the surface of the leather.

This method is so effective that it will even work on leather surfaces that have been finished, protected, unfinished, or sealed. Using vaseline to darken your leather items is a more natural option and it is also inexpensive.

The best part is, vaseline can easily be applied to the leather to darken it by hand rubbing. Here’s how you go about doing it!

What You’ll Need:

  • Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly
  • Microfiber Cloth


Step 1

  • Start by warming up the leather item you want to darken slightly with a hairdryer. You can also place the leather item briefly under the scorching sun for about 15-20 minutes.
  • This helps to warm the open up the pores of the leather and its fibers which makes it ready for the vaseline to seep in easily.

Step 2

  • Without wasting too much time, starts with applying Vaseline liberally to your leather piece so it covers all areas evenly without being too thick or thin on any particular parts.
  • You’ll want to make sure you apply enough for good coverage.

Step 3

  • After you have nicely applied the vaseline on the leather, wait about 20 minutes before wiping off all traces of Vaseline from the surface using a clean rag.
  • It is important to note that the Vaseline needs time to soak in and soften up the leather fibers before it can be wiped.
  • After wiping the leather surface, leave it to dry. You can also put the leather you have applied the vaseline on in the sun.

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