5 Best Ways To Darken Leather Without Dyes

How to darken leather without dyes

Are you looking to revamp your leather accessories like bags, shoes, or jackets with a fresh or vintage aesthetic? This guide will unveil five innovative methods to enrich the color of your leather items without resorting to traditional dyes.

Summary of the 5 ways to darken leather without dyes:

  1. Natural Oils for a nourished and deeper tone.
  2. Coffee for a unique, chemical-free darkening effect.
  3. Walnut Hulls for a rich, natural brown hue.
  4. Leather Dressing to condition and darken simultaneously.
  5. Polish for a quick and effective color enhancement.

I must add that while this is a pretty fun process, it may take longer than using traditional water stains or alcohol dyes.

So, if you have some free time on your hands and you’d like an interesting experimental challenge, this article will help you.

Leather Preparations Before Darkening

Over time, leather can fade and look less nice. To make it look good again, you need to clean and prepare the leather before trying any darkening methods we discuss here.

Things Needed:

  • Bristle Brush or a Vacuum Cleaner
  • Mild Dish Soap or Leather Cleaner
  • 2 Microfiber Cloths

Step 1: Dust or Vacuum The Leather! Before you go ahead and darken your leather, the very first step is to dust off or vacuum clean any form of dust or dirt on the leather surface. 

You wouldn’t want any of such debris to scratch the leather surface or get trapped in the pores of the leather during the cleaning and darkening process. 

You can simply use a medium bristle brush or a vacuum to take out all excess or loose dirt, dust, or debris or particles from the leather.

Step 2: Cleaning The Leather! What you will need at this point is a piece of cloth, mild dish soap, and running tap water. Dampen the cloth or rag with the tap water and put a drop or two of the mild dish soap onto the dampened rag. 

Step 3: Still maintaining a dampened rag, agitate the rag so that the suds starts to foam.

Wring out any excess water from the rag. Ensure the rag at this point is completely damp, not wet.

Step 4: Now, begin to wipe down the leather. You will want to maintain a gentle circular cleaning motion when doing this. Make sure to cover the entire surface.

You can rinse out the rag, add another drop of the mild dish soap, and continue wiping the leather if the rag runs dry or if the leather item has too much dirt or grease buildup. This will help to thoroughly clean the leather.

Rinse out the rag and ensure it has no more mild soap. Better still, get another clean rag and dampen it. Now begin to wipe off any mild soap residue from the leather with the dampened rag.

Step 5: Allow the cleaned leather to air-dry at this point. You wouldn’t want to dry the leather on direct sunlight as this can cause the leather to terribly dry up and crack. After the leather is dry, it’s now ready for darkening.

How To Darken Leather Without Dyes – Details

My personal rule of thumb when it comes to darkening leather is that it’s better to incrementally darken your leather with multiple applications instead of trying to take the leather from a light color straight to a darker color. 

Multiple applications of your chosen darkening method, will cause your leather to naturally saturate and return a much nicer darker hue. 

Method 1: Using Oils To Darken Leather

Most leather oils are known to notoriously darken leather when not needed. Well, this time it’s definitely going to be beneficial to you. Leather oils such as Mink oil, Neatsfoot oil compounds, and Coconut oil are made to specially condition, protect, and darken leather.

You can particularly use oils to darken any kind of leather including the very sophisticated suede leather.

These leather oils are easy to come by as there are several brands of them on the market. With your preferred leather oil in hand (I prefer Neatsfoot Oil) let’s now head over to how you can darken your leather with it!

Things Needed:

  • 2 Lint-Free or Microfibre Cloth
  • Oil (Mink oil, Neatsfoot oil compounds, and Coconut oil)


Step 1: Pour a teaspoonful leather oil onto a soft clean cloth. It can be lint-free or microfibre cloth. You will only need to use a small amount of oil on a small section of the leather at a time. This is so that you don’t over-saturate the leather.

Step 2: Begin to rub the oil over the surface of the leather. Your goal at this point is to apply it in one uniform layer. Also, remember to rub only small sections in a back-and-forth motion until the entire leather surface is covered. 

If you realize the oil on the cloth has run out, you can add a couple of drops or another teaspoonful depending on how big the leather item you’re oiling it.

Step 3: After the first layer of the oil is applied, allow the leather to set and dry for about 10-12 hours or overnight. At this point, the leather should be 2-3 shades darker than its original color. 

If you’re not satisfied and would want your leather to be a lot more darker, you can add as many coats of leather oil as you please. But always allow the leather to dry between each layer application.

“A little word of caution: While most leather oils will make your leather darker and supple, over-saturating leather with too many oils will dull up the surface of the leather and cause it to lose some of its strength”

Method 2: Using Coffee To Darken Leather

This is simply the use of brewed coffee to make leather a shade or two darker. Using coffee to darken leather is a pretty natural chemical-free approach and essentially a very easy home DIY since coffee is a very common household item. 

It’s important to note that, how expensive or cheap the coffee beans are wouldn’t necessarily make any difference so I would suggest you go for the very cheap stuff and don’t use your premium or imported coffee for this. So here’s how you do it!

Things Needed:

  • Brewed Coffee — regular or instant coffee
  • Distilled water
  • Sponge
  • Microfiber cloth or rag
  • Leather Conditioner


Step 1: Brew your coffee. Make sure it’s super strong.

Step 2: Set your burner or to a medium-high and bring your coffee to a boiling point for about 2 minutes. Make sure to stir from time to time to prevent the coffee grounds on the bottom of your pan from burning.

Simmering your brewed coffee allows the coffee to have a much much stronger concentration.

Step 3: Remove the pot from the stove and let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes. This will allow it to cool down a bit. 

Step 4: Now that the coffee is ready, you can now simply apply the coffee on the surface of the leather item. Apply a single layer at a time and give it some time to air dry. You can keep applying the coffee on the surface until your desired hue is obtained. 

For most leather crafters, since you would be working with pieces of cut out leather, you can pour the coffee into a bowl and then soak your leather into it.

Allow your leather to sit in the coffee for about 12 – 24 hours. Whether 12 or 24 hours, there wouldn’t be a lot of difference in how dark the leather will be but it’s definitely worth a shot going for the long haul. 

You can now take out the leather from the coffee and then rinse out with clean water or wipe the surface with a damp cloth.

Finally, allow it to air dry!  

Step 5: After the leather is dry, condition it with a good leather conditioner! Conditioning your leather after this method is essential so that the natural oils in the leather that was lost during the cleaning are restored. 

Related Article: Step-By-Step Guide On How To Darken Leather With Sunlight

Method 3: Using Walnut Hulls To Darken Leather

The natural rich brown color that is obtained from black walnut is perfect for darkening leather. So if it will be easy for you to find some walnut hulls in your area, you can put them to good use. So here’s how you darken your leather using walnut hulls.

Things Needed:

  • A pair of Gloves
  • An Apron
  • Walnut Hulls
  • Water
  • Container
  • Strainer or Onion Sack
  • Sponge
  • Rag
  • Leather Conditioner


Step 1: Put on a pair of gloves and apron because this method will stain like a permanent tattoo.

Step 2: Load up your walnut hulls halfway into your container.

Step 3: Fill up the rest of the container with water. 

Step 4: Leave the mixture to sit for about 1-2 weeks. The longer it sits, the darker and stronger it’s going to be.

Step 5: Strain the walnut hulls juice from the container using an onion sack or a strainer. You can dry the walnut hulls for reuse. 

Step 6: There are two ways you can apply the walnut hulls solution to darken your leather. You can either soak your leather into the solution or apply it by rubbing it over the leather.

In any case, you would want to allow enough time between each application for the solution to work its magic on your leather.

Step 7: After you’re satisfied with the out, you can rinse out the leather (in case you soaked the leather in the solution) otherwise, you can give the leather a quick wipe down using a damp cloth.

Step 8: Allow the leather to air dry.

Step 9: Condition the leather.

Method 4: Using Leather Dressing

The leather dressing involves a mixture of Neatsfoot oil and beeswax melted together into a creamy paste. This is a great recipe you can use to make your leather darker.

The resulting darkness is a clean golden tan that’s super water-resistant due to the beeswax ingredient. Here’s how you achieve this.

Things Needed:

  • Neatsfoot oil
  • Beeswax
  • 2 Soft Clean RaHs


Step 1: Melt equal parts of Neatsfoot oil and beeswax together with gentle heat.

Step 2: Once this is done, allow to cool down into a creamy paste.

Step 3: With the help of a soft clean rag, apply the mixture by rubbing and working it into the leather surface. 

Step 4: Leave the leather for about an hour for the application to set nicely.

Step 5: Buff the leather surface with a clean rag to a glowing shine. Viola!  

Method 5: Using Polish To Darken Leather

Using shoe polish to darken leather is particularly a good option for faded leather shoes and boots. The color change and darkening that occurs when polish is used can be attributed to the wax content in the polish. The waxes are penetrating, so causes the leather to darken with each layer of application. Here’s how to do it.

Things Needed:

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


Step 1: Put some polish on your polishing cloth. You would want to put very little at a time.

Step 2: Start to rub or work the leather polish into the entire leather surface of your shoes or boot. You would want to maintain a small circular motion during the application.

Step 3: The leather should begin darkening at this moment. Continue to polish the leather until the entire surface is completely coated. Usually, two coats are ideal to bring your leather to a nice dark color but you can add more until you get your desired hue.

Step 4: With the help of your dry soft rag, buff the surface of your shoes or boots. This will help to remove any excess polish and also even out the leather surface.

Step 5: Allow the shoes or boots to dry overnight. If you want your shoes or boots to be a lot darker, you can put on another layer of polish and allow it to dry again overnight.


In this article, I shared with you 5 best ways to darken leather without using dyes. These methods are relatively simple and easy to DIY at home. My personal favorite is the second method highlighted in this post (You would want to check it out!)

Now that you know all these methods of darkening your leather without dyes, you will now be able to restore the color and shine of your leather without having to invest in new leather items or necessarily buy expensive leather dyes.

Each method we have listed above has its pros and cons, so go through them and decide which one you would like to use.

Related Article: Step-By-Step Guide On How To Darken Leather With Sunlight


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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