Does Neatsfoot Oil Darken Leather? (9 Factors & 8 Hacks)

Does Neatsfoot Oil Darken Leather?

There’s a lot of debate surrounding the use of neatsfoot oil on leather. Some say it leaves a beautiful, rich patina; others maintain that it darkens and degrades the leather over time.

So, what’s the truth? Does neatsfoot oil really make leather darker? In this article, we’ll take a look at the science behind neatsfoot oil and see what the evidence has to say about its effects on leather.

What’s Neatsfoot Oil?

Neat’s foot oil is a natural product made from the feet and lower legs of cattle, primarily cows.

It has been used for centuries as a leather dressing because it imparts an attractive patina to leather that makes it look soft, supple, and well cared for.

In addition to this, neat’s foot oil also helps prevent the leather from drying out, which can cause it to crack and split.

Does Neatsfoot Oil Darken Leather?

Neatsfoot oil as a matter of fact darkens leather. Among all the oils used in nourishing leather, neatsfoot oil darkens leather the quickest and most noticeably. This is why it is not recommended to use neatsfoot oil on light-colored leathers.

How does neatsfoot oil darken leather? Neatsfoot oil contains a number of different compounds that react with one another in order to form the final product we know today as “neatsfoot oil.”

These include lanolin (which gives the oil its distinctive smell), fatty acids (which give it a soft and supple texture), glycerides, cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids.

Because of these components found in neatsfoot oil, leather treated with this type of dressing will become darker over time. This is because the oil will seep into the leather and, as it reacts with the natural tannins in the hide, will cause it to become darker.

In addition to this, neatsfoot oil can also lead to a build-up of oils on the surface of the leather over time. This can make the leather look greasy and unclean.

Factors That Determine How Much Neatsfoot Oil Darkens Leather

While the answer to the question above seems straightforward, it’s not clear-cut. There are still certain factors that can affect the end result of using neatsfoot oil on leather and how the leather darkens over time. Some of the major factors include;

1. How Much Neatsfoot Oil Is Used

One of the first things that influence how dark the leather will become is the amount of neatsfoot oil that is used. Naturally, if more oil is applied, the leather will become darker.

On the other hand, if less oil is applied, the leather will not darken as much. So it is important to find the right balance when using neatsfoot oil – too little and it might not have the desired nourishing effect, while too much could lead to an undesired outcome.

2. Type of Leather

Another factor that affects how dark the leather becomes when neatsfoot oil is applied is the type of leather. This has to do with the way each hide absorbs and releases moisture, which greatly influences the outcome.

For example, cowhide and suede will show a more drastic change in color than sheepskin if they are both treated with neatsfoot oil.

And, as mentioned previously, this is because cowhide and suede are thicker hides that absorb the oil more thoroughly than sheepskin.

3. Condition of Leather

The condition of the leather before treatment with neatsfoot oil is also a major factor in how dark it will become after application. If the leather is dry and brittle, it will absorb more of the oil and become darker.

If it is wet or has a high degree of moisture, then less oil will be absorbed and it will likely not change color as much.

4. The Time Neatsfoot Oil Is Left On Leather

How long you leave neatsfoot oil on the leather is also a determining factor in how dark it will become. The longer the oil remains on the surface, the more likely it is to cause the leather to darken.

5. The Age Of The Leather

The age of the leather plays a crucial role in how neatsfoot oil darkens the leather. When you apply neatsfoot oil on old or well-aged leather, it will definitely darken the leather. However, this effect is sometimes less noticeable on new leather.

This is because the older the leather, the more porous it becomes. This is due to the natural oils and fats that are lost over time. As a result, neatsfoot oil will penetrate deeply into the leather, making the darkening effect more pronounced.

6. The Thickness Of The Leather

How thick or thin the leather is also determines how much neatsfoot oil darkens the leather. The thicker the leather, the more neatsfoot oil it can absorb.

And as we all know, neatsfoot oil darkens the leather. So if you have a thick piece of leather, expect it to become quite a bit darker after applying neatsfoot oil.

7. The Color Of The Leather

Leathers come in different colors, and this too will affect how neatsfoot oil darkens the leather. If you have darker-colored leather, the neatsfoot oil darkening effect may not be as obvious as if you have light-colored leather.

This essentially means that while both the dark-colored leather and the light-colored leather will darken almost the same way, it will be a lot obvious on the light-colored leather.

8. The Drying Time

Another thing that influences how neatsfoot oil darkens the leather is how fast or slow it dries after application.

Generally, you get to control this when applying your neatsfoot oil. You can decide to apply a lot of coats so that the drying time will be longer than if you had applied fewer coats.

The fact is that while neatsfoot oil darkens leather, it will not do so as quickly on a slow-drying leather as on a fast-drying one.

Also, how the leather is dried after the oil has been applied impacts the darkening effect. If you apply the oil and leave it to dry in sunlight, it will be darker than if you air-dry the leather overnight.

9. How The Neatsfoot Oil Is Prepared

Here, I am talking about how your neatsfoot oil is prepared before application. You may have a neatsfoot oil that has been prepared in different ways, and this will also affect how the leather darkens.

Some oils are made from fresh cow hooves while others are made from old or dried cow hooves. The difference here is the level of tannin in the oil.

Tannin is what gives the leather its color, and the more tannin in the oil, the darker the leather will become.

Therefore, if you have an oil that is made from fresh cow hooves, it will not darken the leather as much as one that is made from old or dried cow hooves.

Tips On How To Use Neatsfoot Oil Without Darkening Leather

Now that you know all of the factors that determine how neatsfoot oil darkens leather, it is important to know how to use the oil without causing any unwanted effects. Here are some tips:

  • Do not apply neatsfoot oil too frequently.
  • If you do not want the darkening effect to be obvois, only use neatsfoot oil and other types of oils only on dark-colored leather.
  • If you have a thick piece of leather, do not apply more coats of neatsfoot oil to ensure that it absorbs enough oil and does not become too dark.
  • Apply the oil in thin coats instead of one thick coat. This will give you better control over the darkening effect.
  • If you want to prevent your leather from getting too dark, dab a little bit of neatsfoot oil on it and leave it for 24 hours before applying another coat. When the time is up, inspect the leather and determine if it is good to go or not. Do not saturate your leather in one coat. It will darken.
  • This way, you can apply as many coats as needed without worrying about darkening the leather too much.
  • Dry your leather in the shade or leave it to air-dry overnight. This will prevent too much darkening of the leather. If you dry it under direct sunlight, it will be darker than if you let it air-dry for 12 hours indoors.
  • Buff immediately after applying the oil. This will help to spread the oil evenly and reduce the darkening effect.

Final Thoughts

Neatsfoot oil is a good product for leather but it can darken the leather. However, this will not always be the case if you’re able to mitigate the factors that cause leather darkening.

I hope this article has been helpful to you, and if you think it will be useful to someone else, please share it on your social media platforms. Thank you!


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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