6 Effective Ways To Lighten Leather

how to lighten leather

Do you have a leather item that might a bit darker than you would like? Or do you have a leather article that has notoriously darkened over the years and would like to lighten it? Well, you’re in luck. In this article, I’m going to show you 6 easy methods you can use to make your lighter even if you’re not handy.

How to lighten leather? There are many ways that you can go about lightening your leather items. Some of the most effective ways I have found are;

  1. The Soap And Warm Water Method
  2. The Oxalic Acid Method
  3. The Neatsfoot Oil or Mineral Salts Method
  4. The Re-Dyeing Method
  5. Painting
  6. Fine Sandpaper Treatment

To learn more about how to lighten leather your leather items, keep reading this article.

How To Lighten Leather – Details

1. The Soap And Warm Water Method

Using saddle soap and warm water is a simple but very effective way of lightening your leather items. This method is so easy that it doesn’t even require any treatment or removal of your leather items.

All you need to do for this method is apply a small amount of saddle soap and water onto your item, then wipe the area with a clean cloth until dirt starts coming off from the surface.

The warm water will help break down dyes, oils, and the stains that are giving the leather item its current darkened look. This method is awesome because it is safe. It should definitely be one of the first things you would want to try before attempting other invasive or harsh treatments.

Usually, when leather looks darker, especially than it was, one of the main contributory factors will be the accumulation of dirt, stains, and body oils. So getting rid of them can substantially lighten your leather.

Another way you can try to lighten your leather items using soap and warm water is to clean your leather items with saddle soap or mild dish soap and warm water more than the recommended once every month.

Cleaning your leather items more frequently using warm water and soap could substantially lighten your leather with time. You could make this work a lot faster when you dry the leather item in direct sunlight each time you clean the leather with soap and water.

Although using soap and warm water is going to work best, if you do not have enough time to go through the process of cleaning your leather items with soap, you can simply wipe your leather with warm water and then dry the leather under direct sunlight.

It is important to mention that, you need to condition your leather once you’re satisfied with how light your leather gets.

2. The Oxalic Acid Method

Using oxalic acid is one of the best ways you can lighten leather. This is what I would recommend using if you are not handy but want something slightly tougher than just water and soap.

This is pretty easy and a great alternative if you do not want to mess with anything tricky.

Oxalic acid can be found in most hardware stores or even on Amazon for a really good price so it won’t break your bank when trying this method out.

But the downside of oxalic acid is that there’s little more than trial and error in regards to how much you will need, as leather reacts differently from surface area-to-surface area.

You may find yourself needing many jars of this stuff before getting any kind of satisfying results; however, once you get those desired results then all your hard work pays off! In some cases, you’ll begin to notice the lightness even after one application.

The lightening process with oxalic acid is very easy, but it does take some time to get the desired results you are looking for and then after that, the color will not change any further so make sure this is what you want before starting!

Things Needed:

  • Rubber Gloves
  • Oxalic Acid
  • Water (Warm)
  • Microfiber Cloth
  • Leather Cleaner And Conditioner


Step 1:
  • Put on your rubber gloves to protect your hands from any possible reactions or irritations.
Step 2:
  • Put some deglazer on your and microfiber cloth. Make sure the deglazer is not dripping or soaking wet. You can also use rubbing alcohol or acetone.
  • So do well to wring out the cloth before applying it to your leather.
Step 3:
  • Now begin to apply the deglazer onto the surface of the leather item. You want to do this by gently rubbing the deglazer on the surface of the leather.
  • Continue rubbing until the topcoat or finish starts to come out. This will usually be evident on the surface of your rag.
  • You can continue cleaning and rotating to clean parts of the rag. This is important because, with time, your rag will get pretty dirty or full of color and dye.
Step 4:
  • After you have thoroughly rubbed the deglazer in on the surface of the leather, leave the leather to air dry for a couple of minutes.
Step 5:

Now mix one part of oxalic acid with one part of warm water. This will create a bleach solution that will help strip the leather off some of its colors.

If you want a much stronger solution, you can increase the amount of oxalic acid you mix with the water.

Step 6:
  • With a clean microfiber cloth, rub the oxalic acid and warm water solution over the surface of the leather. You want to be as thorough as possible not to leave any patches behind.
Step 7:
  • After you’re through, leave the application to dry and see the magic happen as your leather lightens up quite nicely.
  • At this stage, you also want to observe so that in case the results are not like you expect, you can repeat a couple of the steps listed above.
  • At this stage, you can also dye your leather if the color does not quite match your desire. More on dyeing leather to lighten your leather later!
Step 8:
  • Clean and condition the leather item. Cleaning the leather item will help to stop the reaction of the oxalic acid solution on the surface of the leather.

3. The Neatsfoot Oil or Mineral Salts Method

Neatsfoot oil or mineral salts are also a great option if you’re looking to lighten up your leather. This is a great organic alternative that will work on any type of animal skin or synthetic material such as faux suede, nubuck, and other manmade materials with the use of an applicator.

Things Needed:

  • Neatsfoot oil or mineral salts
  • A clean cloth
  • An old toothbrush (optional)


Step 1:
  • Mix one tablespoonful of neatsfoot oil or mineral salt in two cups of water for easier application onto the surface area you want to whiten.
  • Make sure this mixture stays between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit before applying it because when it dries out, its effectiveness greatly reduces and could potentially ruin your leather item – due to too much heat.
Step 2:
  • Clean the surface area with a clean cloth, removing any traces of dirt, dust, or grime.
  • Take your applicator and apply the mixture onto the desired surface, using an even circular motion to ensure that it penetrates as deeply as possible into each nook and cranny in order to lighten them up.
Step 3:
  • Allow the application to stay on for about five to 10 minutes before wiping off gently with a dry cloth. You can also use an old toothbrush if you want more intense lightening power – but do not brush too hard!

For suede’s only: rub oil over the fabric evenly until it has been completely saturated; let sit for approximately ten to twenty minutes before rubbing off.

4. The Re-Dyeing Method

Another option is re-dyeing the leather material with an appropriate colorant or pigment- such as white RIT dye – which will also help lighten up the material considerably.

Re-dyeing can help to lighten your leather because it will replace the natural color with a lighter, brighter shade although some dyes may combine with existing colors to form another color.

You should understand what you’re getting yourself into beforehand so that there are no disappointments. This will usually work best if you first use an acidic substance over the surface of the leather before commencing.

You can mix water with an acidic liquid such as vinegar or use lemon juice which will help remove some of the natural oils in the leather material so that it appears lighter overall: but be careful never to leave this on for any longer than five minutes!

Using vinegar or lemon juice will work like bleach; so as mentioned before, always when working with bleach please wear gloves at all times. Do not use bleach near fragile materials like suede or fur. Rinse well after application because leftover residue can cause problems later down the line.

This is a simple but effective way to lighten up your leather without much fuss. What’s even more, dyes are pretty inexpensive. Now let’s get into the meat of this method.

Things Needed:

  • Bleach but Lemon juice or vinegar will work just fine. (be sure to wear gloves and rinse well!)
  • Basic all purpose liquid soap or detergent, such as Ivory dishwashing liquid
  • Water in a spray bottle
  • Rubber Gloves
  • A few drops of any universal color dye you want your leather to be, for example red or blue. You can buy these at craft stores.

If you don’t have a place nearby that sells them just use the lightest shade you can find on internet sites like Amazon.com or eBay.

Just make sure it is either permanent fabric dye or an acid free textile paint!


Step 1:
  • Get some old towels and use them to protect surfaces of any other surrounding materials from being stained by excess dye.
  • You want to keep this process as clean and precise as possible for best results!
  • Also, you want to wear your rubber gloves for this.
Step 2:
  • Mix your leather dyes according to the instructions on the dye package you pick out.
Step 3:
  • Once the dyes are all set, you can submerge your leather item if possible in the dye. You would want to leave it in there for about 5-10 minutes.
  • Personally, I do NOT prefer submerging my natural leather goods into any form of liquid. So instead of soaking the leather item, I will typically load up a soft microfiber cloth with the dye and then rub the dyes on the surface of the leather.
  • If the color is not fading fast enough, add more dye to your piece. Different brands have different concentrations. You’ll just need to experiment with what works best!
Step 4:
  • After soaking or rubbing the dye on the surface of your leather item, remove it and thoroughly wash off any dye reisdue on the leather.
  • If you submerged your leather into the dye, you would want to submerge it once again in cool running water until all excess dyes have been removed. Or you can simply use a damp cleaning rag or cloth to any excesses.
Step 5:
  • Let the leather item dry overnight or a day and notice the difference. Drying time will generally vary depending on how wet the leather was when you dyed it.
  • If you’ve soaked up most of the moisture after rinsing then drying should be faster than if there’s still excess liquid left over.
Step 6:
  • Apply a leather conditioner on the surface of the leather to restore any natural oils that was lost during the dyeing or washing process of lightening the leather.
  • You would want to make sure your leather has thoroughly dried in order to see fully the outcome as leather that’s still wet can be a bit tricky.

5. Painting

Painting is another way to lighten your leather. You can use paint, acrylics and even water colors to re-paint the leather item. While this is not a very ethical way of finishing leather.

This is because when leather is painted almost all the natural grains of the leather will be covered.

So while this technique is pretty effective at helping you achieve a lighter appearance of your leather item, this will not leave it with a natural finish.

How you paint leather is by first applying a primer which should be of the color you want. You can then apply two coats of paint before finally sealing it with clear varnish to protect that finish.

The varnish ensures the leather lasts long.

6. Fine Sandpaper Treatment

The fine sandpaper treatment is probably the scariest approach to lightening your leather. This method actually scrapes away very fine grain layer particles away from the surface of the leather revealing a lighter shade of the leather.

The fine sandpaper treatment method can be done with both wet or dry sandpaper.

Fine grits are used for lightening dark leather items that have not been exposed to water or other substances which could result in color degradation while coarse grits are generally not appropriate.

You would also have to be careful even though the sandpaper grits may be super fine so that you do not mar the surface of the leather too much.

All you do is rub the fine sandpaper as gently as possible on the surface of the leather and bring it gradually to a nice lightened look.

Tips On Making Leather Light

  • If you really need a lighter version of a leather item you have, one easy way is to buy it.
  • One important tip to remember when lightening leather is to make sure to test the dye on a sample of your leather.
  • Removing excess liquid is key: if you’re using dry rice or silica, this can help draw out any moisture in the pores so that it doesn’t affect the outcome of lightening your leather.
  • It’s important to remember when lightening with bleach that if you’re using chlorine bleach, this will not only lighten the leather but it can also cause discoloration.
  • When conditioning your leather to make it lighter, you would want to take care in choosing the right type of conditioner as some may have pigments or dyes that could change the color of your leather.
  • Lightening leather using bleach will remove some, or all, of the oils, resins, tannins, etc that are introduced into the leather during the processing that makes leather from rawhides. This also means that the leather will be more prone to water absorption and may become dry, brittle, or crack.
  • When lightening with bleach, you can use a degreaser to help remove any residue before conditioning the leather.
  • You will have a much tougher time lightening waxed leather will never come out light.
  • Rubbing your leather items with something like acetone may not only lighten your leather item but can also dull up the color. So in some cases, you may need to shine up the leather item again after you have gotten the light look you’re after.


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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