5 Ways Leather Conditioner Darkens Leather (Plus Fix)

Leather conditioner is different in each product that is manufactured, due to different ingredients and formulations in each product. Will using leather conditioner darken leather?

Here Are 5 Ways Leather Conditioner Will Darken Leather:

Some leather conditioners will darken leather and this is due to:
Ingredients: this includes DHA, and natural oils including sunflower oil, olive oil and coconut oil
Beeswax: the wax can darken leather
The Application method that you take: wiping on compared to spray will penetrate the leather more and this may darken the leather
Drying Method: this depends on the type of leather conditioner used and this can affect how the end result looks due to how the conditioner dries.
Brown coloured leather: shows darkening more than other colours.

If you want to know further information about darkening and how leather conditioner darkens than read below. We have also listed brands that will darken your leather, and others that won’t. Thanks for reading.

Ways Leather Conditioner Does Darken Leather:


The leather conditioner does darken leather because it contains ingredients such as DHA (dihydroxyacetone) and aldehyde. DHA tends to react with the amino acids in the leather, causing them to become cross-linked. This process is called covalent bonding, which changes rawhide into tanned leather.

In this process, the dyes react with amino acids on the surface of the rawhide to form molecules of natural colorants called melanoids or chromogens, which give tanned leather many of its characteristic colours, including shades of brown. This reaction also produces aldehydes like vanillin, which account for much of the distinctive aroma that tanneries are well known for.

DHA is used in many products and makes the most sense regarding leather color. Most leather conditioners contain other ingredients which can also darken the leather, but DHA does so more efficiently. Although DHA has a well-known application in leather tanning, it has been used for coloring textiles since before the Neolithic Era.

It is one of the oldest natural dyes we know of, having been found in beads made from desert sand and even cave paintings! Dihydroxyacetone was also used to soften water-damaged hair before other compounds such as sodium hydroxide and phenol were invented to achieve that effect.

Some textiles and leather goods are treated with a form of DHA similar to what is used in “tanning” (such as tanning without tannins). The process is called fuming, most often used on silk to take on a darker hue. With the process taking place at room temperature, trace amounts of the material will inevitably be left behind, which also accounts for the heel darkening you notice in certain leather products.

Some ingredients, including oils, esters, urea, and surfactants, can have a darker hue and add an extra layer of protection to the leather. For example, oils can affect the colour, and esters do as well. That is because they have higher molecular weights when compared with oils or surfactants, which means they stay on top of the surface longer.

The conditioner is spread evenly on the surface of the leather and allowed to soak in over a few hours or overnight. When it comes time to clean, you will want to avoid soaps or solvents that could break down the emollient layer of protection created by the conditioner. That will help keep your leather looking its best for a more extended period.

Wax Including Beeswax

The leather conditioner does darken leather because of wax. That includes beeswax, most prevalent in items labelled as “vegetable tanned” or “natural.” Vegetable-tanned items are vegetable-tanned with oak bark (or other animal hides) and then boiled in oil or another chemical binder. Leather conditioners use beeswax, paraffin, and lanolin to soften the leather. The conditioning materials will add colour to the item and can even darken it.

People often mistakenly believe that a darker colour means better quality. This is not necessarily the case. Darker Leather can be from excessive wax in the tanning process that was not removed properly or darkening in the finishing step. A good leather tanner will ensure all the wax is removed to prevent colour changes caused by residual wax residue.

Application Method

The application technique is critical because it determines how much of a change in shade occurs from either the wet or dry method. If you apply lotion to damp leather and thoroughly wipe off the excess, the product will penetrate deep inside the leather and darken it after it dries.

Note: Darkening will happen quicker because of the lack of barrier created when used on damp leather. If you apply lotion to dry leather, you will create a barrier layer between the oil in the conditioner and your leather. Depending on how thin or thick a layer is applied, this ultimately leads to lightening or softening effects.

The three common application methods are: brush, spray, and wipe. The brush application method is the most traditional. The conditioner is applied to the leather with a bristle brush in a circular motion. That allows for the oils’ penetration into the leather’s pores, but it has disadvantages.

Some brands have inconsistent results since different colour shades absorb oil differently and may not be as effective in protecting against water and dirt. The oil tends to get sticky after it dries, and some lose its colour from being exposed to sunlight. Another disadvantage is that there is no protection against ultraviolet rays, which can potentially cause dyes to fade on darker-colored leathers.

The spray method involves applying the conditioner with a pressurized can like you would use for flowers, but there are some differences. The application of spray conditioner is usually more uniform, and there is nothing left behind on the leather, making it look dull and dirty long-term.

Also, the spray will only get an area saturated with oil; once it dries, it will stick together like glue. That can leave certain areas looking like that areas were never treated. The conditioner is applied in a circular motion leaving the type of uneven coloring on the surface, and other areas may have no treatments as if they were never treated at all. The fact that the product has no water protection can mean the leather will soak up dirt and potentially lose color in sunlight.

The wipe-on method is comparable to spray application but uses cloth instead. The cloth is saturated with conditioner and wiped on in a circular motion allowing for a more even coating over the surface of the leather. The cloth can be used several times before needing to be washed.

The problem with this method is there is nothing to prevent the loss of dyes or dirt from accumulating in the pores of the leather so that even though it may have been treated with conditioner, it will still look dirty and much darker in color than when it was first applied. It also does not offer protection against UV.

Drying Process

Leather conditioners darken leather because of the drying process. Understandably, leather conditioners have a high alcohol content that penetrates deep into the fibers of the hide and dries it out, leaving an oily film on top for UV protection and water resistance. That makes it more susceptible to drying in, which causes darkening from sun exposure after application.

Not all leather conditioner is the same. Some conditioners leave an oily film on leather that air dries faster, and other conditioners dry hard and tend to remain, causing less of a darkening effect. The fastest test is to try it in a small area of your expensive pair of boots or jacket and see what happens. It will usually be fine, but if it darkens, try something else!

Brown Coloured Leather Shows Darkening More Than Other Colours

If you have ever used a leather conditioner, you are most likely aware that brown-colored leather often darkens more than other colours when using a conditioner. That may seem odd, but it is actually due to the tanning process used on the brown-colored leather, which reacts differently to different chemicals.

The leather tanning process is often done with chromium sulfate and tin sulfate; these substances are commonly known to lighten or darken all types of colored tanned hides, depending on the chemical used. As such, this may be why brown-tanned hides react differently when exposed to a variety of chemicals.

If your leather is dyed brown, then this will likely not have much of an effect on the color. However, using a natural hide or simply a very saturated shade of brown could affect the outcome when conditioning.

The primary factor in how dark the leather gets will depend on how long it is exposed to any chemical. For instance, it only takes about 15 – 20 seconds for Brown Leather to reach maximum darkness when exposed to dyes that lighten leather, but it can take up to 3 minutes for Tan Leather and up to 10 minutes for Grey Leather. That is critical in determining how long you should leave the leather in the chemical, as an error of minutes can make a huge difference.

Brands Of Leather Conditioner That Do Darken Leather

Leather Milk

It is a liquid conditioner with a buttery texture that you can use on dry or wet leather. It contains coconut, castor, and jojoba oils. Leather Milk also contains beeswax that helps lock in moisture and keep the leather soft.

Dr. Martens’ Invicta Leather Conditioner

You can use this cream-based leather conditioner to soften stiff leather boots or restore the suppleness of any worn leather items. Its active ingredients include neatsfoot oil, beeswax, and silicone. It is best to apply this conditioner regularly and wipe off any excess-otherwise, the oils will streak in your shoes.


It is a wax-based conditioner specially designed to restore the smoothness and softness of leather jackets, boots, or accessories. Lexol is cooling when applied to hot leather surfaces because it contains menthol. It also contains glycerin that keeps the leather supple.

Leather Honey

Leather Honey’s leather conditioner is famous for nourishing your leather without darkening it. With an incredibly creamy texture and sweet, natural scent, Leather Honey makes a great addition to any shoe collection.

Although its lightweight formula means it will not make your shoes feel like they are weighted down with butter, Leather Honey tends to streak and might leave behind residue on the inside of your shoe if you do not let it dry completely before wearing them. However, if you are searching for an affordable way to keep your boots looking fresh and feeling soft, this is a great choice!

Brands Of Leather Conditioner That Doesn’t Darken Leather

Vegetable-Based Leather Conditioner

The Vegetable-Based Leather Conditioner from Leather Renue is a vegetable extract used to condition and protect the leather. It does not darken the leather. Leather Renue is excellent for conditioning new leather, but it can also be used on old or well-worn leather.

This product has a low odor compared to other conditioners and penetrates easily into both sides of the leather. You need to use a soft bristle brush while applying this product to get even penetration. The level of moisture protection is good too.

Ultra-Lux Leather Conditioner

Ultra-Lux Leather Conditioner is an oil-based conditioner that helps protect and waterproof the leather. This conditioner softens the leather while darkening its original color a little bit. You can use a cotton applicator or a soft bristle brush as you spread this conditioner over the surface of your leather boots.

You can apply Ultra Lux whenever you want, but make sure to clean the boots before you do it, or it will not produce good results. Make sure to apply enough of this conditioner to keep your leather in great shape for many years ahead.

Oak Hill Boot Water Shield

Oak Hill Boot Water Shield Conditioner is another excellent water-resistance conditioner that helps maintain leather’s natural color. This conditioner does not darken leather in any way. The consistency of this product is liquid, so you can use a cotton applicator to spread it over your boots.

The product spreads easily because of its thin consistency and dries fast. Oak Hill Conditioner seals the moisture inside the leather while helping the boot retain its original colour. You can apply it to either new or old leather but clean your boots well before applying this product. It will not work properly with dirt, or other particles stuck on the surface of your boots.

Scroll to Top