How to Lighten Red Wing Boots: 9 Methods that Actually Work

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Maybe your Red Wing boots appear darker than you like and you want to lighten your leather boots. If this is the case, you don’t need to think about it anymore.

A few days back, I also tried to lighten my brother’s Red Wing boots, and guess what? I found some of the best ideas to do that. So, I thought I could write an article on it which may help you guys.

If you ask me, how to lighten Red Wing boots? Well, there are several ways- you can use acetone or oxalic acid and this is the most effective way. Also, you can use the saddle soap and water method which is less effective yet safe. 

However, there are other methods as well and I want to show you all of them thoroughly. Let’s dive deep into it, shall we? 

How to Lighten Red Wing Boots?

Most of the popular Red Wing boots are made of oil-tanned leather. Also, you’ll find other variants of leather too. The lightning process may vary but it doesn’t really matter. All you need to do is carefully follow the instructions that I’m going to describe below.

Prepare Your Boots 

Before lightening your boots, you need to prepare and clean your boots first. I mean, what’s the point of lightening a dirty pair of boots?

Anyway, go through the following section to clean and prepare your boots: 

  • Try to perform the job in an area where dirt, debris, and other things won’t bother you. Maybe your garage or store room is the ideal place. Put an old rug or newspaper before you start off. 
  • Remove the laces first and you can put them in the water and detergent solution to clean them.
  • Clean the dirt and debris with a soft bristled brush from your boots.
  • If you have leather cleaner, put a few drops of it on a damp cloth and rub on the areas that need extra care.
  • Now wipe off your boots with a clean and damp towel and keep them in a well-ventilated area to dry.
  • Once your favorite pair of Red Wing boots become dry, you’re ready to go. 

Method 1: Saddle Soap and Water

Saddle soap and water combination to lighten your Red Wing boots is one of the easiest ways. However, it’s not that much effective compared to other methods. If you’re looking for a visible outcome don’t go for it. 

Still, you can try this if you don’t want to damage your boots and want to play the safest role. 

I’d tell you to try this before you apply some of the harsh or treatment-type methods. Stains, dye, and dirt are the main contributor to the dark appearance of your boots and warm water along with saddle soap can remove that. 

Now let’s see how to apply water and saddle soap to your boots:

Things Required


  1. Take the saddle soap and pour a few drops of water on it
  2. Grab the brush and swirl it up on the soap to make lather
  3. Now take some lather and apply it to your boots. Apply pressure while rubbing to make the saddle soap work. 
  4. Rub thoroughly in one direction to get the best outcome
  5. Once you’re done rubbing, take a damp cloth to dry your boots. You can keep your boots dry with sunlight to accelerate the process.

Well, you’re done. However, I know this isn’t the light appearance that you’ve been looking for. Worry not, you chose the safest way. Consistently applying saddle soap once a month and drying with sunlight can bring the result, but it’s a lengthy procedure.   

Related: Red Wing Blacksmith vs Beckman: Unraveling the Best Boot for You

Method 2: Using Acetone and Oxalic Acid 

Using acetone and oxalic acid is one of the most effective ways to lighten your Red Wing leather boots. Acetone will take off the top layer of your boots whereas oxalic acid will lighten your boots.

Moreover, it works well when you want to treat the visible spots on your leather boots. The best thing about this method is you won’t see any unwanted color changes here. 

However, people use bleach or rubbing alcohol to lighten their boots instead of acetone and oxalic acid. I won’t suggest you do that because using bleach is too risky and rubbing alcohol is not that effective compared to oxalic acid.  

In this process, ‘rub gently’ is the keyword otherwise your boots may get damaged. Worry not, a lot of people have done this successfully including me, and a tiny number of people have ruined their boots. 

The lightning process depends on how many layers are on your boots. Usually, it takes 2 to 6 weeks to get the expected result. 

So, let’s see how to use this method:

Things Required

  • Gloves
  • Acetone (known as nail polish remover)
  • Oxalic acid
  • A few pieces of clean clothes 
  • Water
  • Leather cleaner


Step 1: Preparation

  • Hopefully, you’ve already cleaned your boots from debris and dirt
  • Now put on the rubber gloves otherwise chemicals may damage your skin
  • Now take a clean, dry cloth and soak it up in acetone completely
  • After that, wring out the excess acetone and make sure the cloth isn’t dripping wet

Step 2: Applying Acetone

  • Now rub the cloth gently on your boots covering all surfaces. The acetone reacts fast and sooner you’ll notice the top layer of your boots starting to come off
  • Take your time and rub all the surfaces gently. You’ll need more than one clothes to rub since it’ll get dirty. 

Step 3: Drying Boots

  • If you think, you’ve completely removed the top finish of your boots then stop rubbing acetone, you’re done
  • Keep your boots in a well-ventilated area for a few minutes to dry completely before you apply the oxalic acid solution

Step 4: Making the Oxalic Acid Solution

  • Mix oxalic acid and warm water in a 1:1 ratio
  • You can increase the amount of oxalic acid to make the solution stronger. A stronger solution provides a lighter appearance.
  • Don’t pour excess oxalic acid, it may ruin your boots 

Step 5: Rub the Oxalic Acid Solution on Your Boots

  • Now rub the oxalic solution on your boots thoroughly. Make sure you rub all the surfaces
  • You need to put extra pressure while rubbing
  • Rub until you see the expected color. The more you rub, the lighter look you’ll get.  
  • Lastly, you can use leather conditioner if you want to. It’ll restore the oils in your leather boots. 

Method 4: Neatsfoot Oil

Neatsfoot oil can be a healthy solution to lighten your Red Wing boots. The best part is you can apply it on all types of leathers as well.

Before you apply neatsfoot oil, I’d suggest you apply it to a less noticeable area first. It’ll help you to understand whether the lightning ability is satisfying for you. Here’s how to use it:

Things Required

  • Neatsfoot oil
  • A clean piece of cloth
  • Water 
  • Toothbrush or shoe brush


Here are the 3 steps to apply neatsfoot oil to your boots:

Step 1: Preparing the Solution

  • Take 2 cups of water and mix 1 tablespoon of neatsfoot oil with it
  • You need to maintain a moderate temperature because when it dries out the effectiveness is reduced and may damage your leather when it’s overheated. 
  • The solution should be 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Step 2: Applying the Neatsfoot Oil

  • If you haven’t prepared your boots already, clean them first to get rid of grime, dirt, and debris
  • Now take the brush, put it on the solution and apply the mixture to your boots
  • While applying the mixture try to put extra pressure and brush the leather evenly in a circular motion. It’ll help you to penetrate the leather deeply and lighten it up. 

Step 3: Drying Your Boots

  • After applying the solution, you need to keep your boots aside for 5 to 10 minutes to air dry.
  • After that, take a clean cloth to gently wipe off the solution. 
  • You can use a toothbrush or shoe brush if you’re looking for a more lightening appearance. However, don’t brush too hard, it may damage your boots.  

Method 5: Re-Dye With Light Color

I assume you’ve already tried the other methods but the result isn’t satisfying. Well, in this case, re-dyeing your leather boots with the colorant or pigment can lighten your boots the way you want.

This method is effective because it replaces the color of your boots with a lighter shade. Moreover, dyeing your boots is a budget-friendly process.

However, the problem is it could combine with the existing color and the color could be changed. 

You can re-dye in a less noticeable or small area to find out the actual outcome before re-dyeing the whole boots. Cause you never know what it’s going to be and we all know, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Anyway, here’s how to re-dye your Red Wing boots with lighter color:

Things Required

  • Dye solution
  • 2 or 3 pieces of clean cloth
  • 1 small brush
  • 1 large brush


Step 1: The Preparation

  • Prepare the surface where you’re going to re-dye your boots. Cover the surface with newspaper or an old towel so that your floor doesn’t face any mess
  • Now put on your rubber gloves
  • Grab the pack of leather dye and mix the solution according to the instructions provided in the package

Step 2: The Application

  • Take a piece of microfiber cloth and soak it up with the dye solution
  • Rub your leather boots with the wet cloth evenly. Make sure you’re covering the surface of your boots completely.
  • You can also use 2 brushes for re-dyeing, the small one for small surfaces and the large one for large surfaces.
  • If you don’t see the expected appearance, you should add more dye. Different brands have different concentrations, so you may need to undergo trial and error to get the desired outcome. 

Step 3: The Result

  • After applying the dye solution, you need to wash off the solution with a damp cloth so that no residue remains in your boots
  • Leave your boots overnight or 24 hours to see the result. Although 5-6 hours is enough to show the result. But for the best outcome, you need to wait at least overnight. 
  • Well, you’re done and you need to apply a leather conditioner to your boots to restore the natural oils. However, if the result isn’t satisfying you need to apply one or more coatings by following the same procedure.

Method 8: Treatment With Fine Sandpaper

Using sandpaper to lighten your Red Wing boots isn’t a tough task. It’s comparatively easier and takes less time. 

However, the type of paper plays an important role here. My choice is 220 grit or higher paper because they can provide a flat surface and light appearance. 

While using sandpaper you need to be careful as well. Rubbing the sandpaper too aggressively can damage your boots.  

Things Required

  • 220 grit or higher sandpaper
  • A dry cloth


Step 1: Preparing

  • Take your boots and remove the laces
  • Grab the cloth and clean the dirt, debris from your boots with it. Make sure no dirt is left behind.

Step 2: Rubbing the Boots Using Sand Paper

  • Now take the sandpaper and smoothly rub on the surface of your boots. Always keep in mind don’t rub vigorously, it can damage your boots severely.     
  • After rubbing evenly all over the surface of your boots, you’ll notice the top finish of your boots has worn away and they look lighter than before.

Method 9: Utilizing Sunlight

Well, this is a lengthy and natural process. Also, you don’t need to do anything here. 

We know leather gets faded when they’re exposed to sunlight. All you need to do is keep your boots in a place where sunlight comes in. It’ll help to lighten your boots. It’s a natural, effortless and safe process.

However, don’t keep your boots there for more than 3 hours during the hottest days of summer when UV radiation is the highest.  


  1. Can you bleach leather to make it lighter?

No, using bleach isn’t an ideal way to make leather lighter. Bleach can fade and discolor your leather boots if you can’t apply properly.  

  1. Is vinegar bad for leather?

No, vinegar isn’t bad for leather. However, you don’t need to use vinegar to lighten leather.  

  1. How do you lighten leather naturally?

The natural way to lighten leather is by exposing it to the sunlight. 

  1. Will hydrogen peroxide lighten leather?

Yes, hydrogen peroxide has the ability to lighten leather. 

Final Thoughts

Throughout this post I’ve tried to show you some of the best ways to lighten your Red Wing boots. Among them, using acetone and oxalic acid is the most effective way to lighten your boots. Other methods work as well but they’re not as effective as this one.

I’d suggest you prepare an area before performing the job to avoid any mess. Besides, before applying any method make sure you follow the instructions properly. A small mistake can ruin your boots. Take your time and lighten your boots carefully. 


Richard Nelson

Richard is the Head of Content here at Bootpedia. From an early age, leather boots have been a passion for him. So, he thought why not share his knowledge with the rest of the world? 

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