Have I ruined my boots with leather conditioner, or is this how properly-conditioned boots are supposed to feel?
January 10, 2012 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Have I ruined my boots by using Lexol conditioner on them? Is this how they're supposed to look/feel? Or have I done something wrong?

I’m potentially having a problem with boots that I have just applied Lexol conditioner to. Help!

I finally splurged on a pair of Naya’s Saffron boots. Since they were so far beyond my grad student budget, and since I'm allergic to chrome-tanned leather so there's a very narrow range of boots I can buy, I thought I’d go all out with these and take care of them properly (usually I just waterproof spray and be done with it!). Since I’ve never done cared for leather properly before, I did some poking around on the internet, and saw that it’s recommended to clean and condition leather. I figured I’d forgo the cleaning, since they’re new (they also have a lining which I didn’t want to faff with trying to wash). I bought Lexol to condition it, since it seems to have gotten good reviews on Amazon and also got the Metafilter thumbs up.

I applied this Lexol this afternoon, and to put it charitably, I’m ambivalent about the result. The boots used to be a glossy leather that had various brown/grey tones in the color (before pictures: 1, 2, 3). The color was sort of purposefully splotchy and antiqued looking (you can sort of see it on the close-up of the store pic, as well as in my close-up). The boots were sleek and glossy in texture. Post-Lexol, everything is much different (after pictures: 1, 2, 3). The texture feels more velvety rather than sleek, almost like nubuck or edging towards suede. The gloss is gone and they look more matte. And the color is much different. It's darker - almost a wet look - and it doesn’t have all the beautiful nuances it had before: it looks uniform, and flat. You can see the difference especially in the close-up pics. I’m trying to get used to the overall difference in aspect, like a bad haircut, but am having trouble. I miss the way they looked before! I’m wondering whether this is what’s supposed to happen, or whether I did something wrong.

Here is what I did, in case the cause is my own methodological incompetence. I sprayed a generous amount of Lexol on a microfiber cleaning cloth. I took the boots, which are new so presumably reasonably clean, and massaged them with the cloth, trying to get the Lexol into the leather rather than just a thin wipe on the surface. After letting them sit for a few minutes, I then took a clean microfiber cloth and rubbed them over, absorbing any excess moisture in the new cloth (the instructions said to “buff”, and I’m assuming that’s what they meant). I then stuffed the with newspaper, put them in a warm room, and have let them dry all afternoon/early evening, so about 7 hours. I thought maybe in the process of drying they’re regain their old color and texture, but no cigar.

Did I use too much Lexol, and that’s why the color/texture changed? If so, is this permanent? Does it simply take a while for all of it to absorb and for the boots to return to normal, and I just haven't waited long enough? Or will it return to normal with wear, after a few months? Or will it never return to normal? Or maybe the antiqued-look of the boots was actually bad for the boot and the Lexol fixed it? Do the boots actually look much better now, post-conditioning, and I'm just being delusional? Maybe I simply have no idea what properly-conditioned boots should look/feel like? Should I in fact be pleased? Help!?!
posted by UniversityNomad to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think a couple of things:

1. That with air and wear and use, they'll shine up—or at least richen-up—again over time.

2. I think they look most handsome now!

What happens if you take a non-linting cotton cloth and vigorously rub a spot on the boot? Does it get more matte, or shinier?
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think they look even awesomer!
I'm not a leather expert. I do what you did to your boots to our Natuzzi couch every six months or so and it's got a warm and buttery patina, lo these eleven years later. I think you may get used to it.
posted by mimi at 6:51 PM on January 10, 2012

You can buff your boots which should bring back the shine. You can do it with a soft polishing clothe and basically rub the boots briskly back and forth, while it may not end up super glossy you will get a shine to the finish. The leather darkening is what happens when you condition it, I think buffing it a little too might help hilight the colour differences more.
posted by wwax at 7:10 PM on January 10, 2012

A shoe repair shop owner told me to buff with silk. The friction heats the silk, and in turn the leather responds with a nice shine. Go to a thrift shop and find some silk scarves.
posted by jgirl at 7:38 PM on January 10, 2012

Yeah like above, I think you need to properly buff your boots with a soft cloth. My dad used an old t-shirt.
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:50 PM on January 10, 2012

I don't think you've ruined the leather of the boots but you may have permanently changed the color. I think that any leather that would change like that would probably darken with use anyway. From talking with people about caring for leather bags I've gathered that generally conditioning should not be needed on new items - just a coat of some rain and stain spray. If it does return to the original with wear just remember to test anything you apply on some small mostly hidden spot. This is what I use to condition leathers that darken easily.
posted by oneear at 8:05 PM on January 10, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for talking me down from the ledge, guys! I was rather panicked (worried I'd ruined $200!) but I'm feeling a little calmer now. I'll try the buffing idea and get back to you. In answer to RJ Reynolds, when I was rubbing with the microfiber cloth, it seemed to get more matte than shinier, but maybe I need something a bit less terry-like. Silk is a great idea, jgirl - I'll give that a go. Oneear - point definitely taken; I definitely should have spot-tested, but I was so puppy-dog excited to take care of these boots properly. Fool me once...
posted by UniversityNomad at 8:09 PM on January 10, 2012

Also I'm pretty sure I've seen warnings on leather conditioner that it will darken the leather. My old hiking boots definitely changed colour when I treated them but it was worth it for them to be waterproof (if only I hadn't worn through the heel).

And those are gorgeous boots by the way.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:29 PM on January 10, 2012

You did the right thing. Almost every leather I've treated/oiled has changed color, most of those that did never went back to the exact same color as before.

This is not a bad thing unless you're super picky about having that original look preserved. The thing is the only way to keep the original look intact is by not treating them, which means they will not last as long. Oh and did I mention that wearing them, especially untreated, will probably make them look different in the short-medium term anyway. So you picked the better path in every regard.

Lexol is good stuff, real leather is good stuff. Combined they make for great-wearing, long-lasting goods.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:45 AM on January 11, 2012

The before picture shows boots without a good finish... the distressing was pretty fake looking and plasticky. In essence, you corrected a botched polish job, which the manufacturer used in lieu of better ways of giving the leather character. The after picture shows happy, healthy leather that will last years and years, and acquire its patina honestly.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:40 AM on January 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, all - very much appreciate all the advice and help!

One final question: so I've just about managed to make peace with the new color and texture, especially knowing it's much better for the leather. However I'm wondering whether it's possible to get the shine/gloss back. I've done my best buffing job, but the leather still looks very nubucky - a sort of velvety matte look. This is only on the shaft, and not on the foot part, oddly enough (I think they're made of two different types of leather? That's what it looks like anyway). Is there a clear oil or gloss that I could put on the boots, both that would be good for them and that would make them more shiny but not change the color? Also, I'm thinking about applying a good water repellant. Anyone have any advice? I'm thinking of either the Nikwax leather creme or a spray on; thoughts? Thanks so much for all of your answers!
posted by UniversityNomad at 1:44 PM on January 11, 2012

The product is still probably a bit uncured; it will dry out at least some. I polish my shoes and boots, and a very light mist of water helps them shine right up. You may not get back the same nuance, but your boots will last longer, and be much less likely to stain. I live in the Northeast US and salt ruins many beautiful boots, so I always treat mine.

Those are gorgeous boots, and I didn't think the before and after were that dramatically different. Enjoy them.
posted by theora55 at 6:48 PM on January 11, 2012

I'm not a leather expert, but possibly the boots were shipped to you with a thin layer of wax, which the Lexol lifted off. You could apply 'neutral' or similarly colored wax polish, and buff it, to get the gloss back.
posted by Hither at 11:13 PM on January 11, 2012

Lexol is, in my opinion, a bit crappy and low-end in terms of leather products.

If you'd like to prevent further darkening, the best leather conditioner I've found that does not (in my experience, which is with saddles and bridles rather than boots, so YMMV) darken the leather very much if at all is Skidmore's Leather Cream. It's sold in round tins in saddlery shops, and I've had great success using it on chestnut and caramel colored leather where I wanted to prevent them from gradually turning to deep chocolate, as most leather will with much use and conditioning.

What you've done is you've stripped the wax finish from the top layer of the leather, as Hither says-- thus the loss of the "glossy" look and the new "velvety" texture, and the evening of the colors. This is standard, and to be expected; most quality leather products will be the same. Yes, the color change is irreversible, but over time and with use the "antiqued" look will probably develop naturally again, and will look better because it's not artificially created.

I can't really offer advice on regaining gloss, because that's never been something I've aimed for in my leather care, sorry. What I would say is be very cautious in applying waterproofing agents, as many of them will severely darken leather (mink oil, I'm looking at you). Unless you are getting them very wet on a regular basis, though, your conditioning should do a fine job of protecting them, unless you think the dye in the leather might bleed. When they do get wet, just make sure they air dry without heat, then condition them before wearing again.
posted by po at 2:15 PM on January 12, 2012

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