How to Distress Leather Boots

by Joanne Thomas ; Updated September 28, 2017

If you covet the look of old, comfortably worn-in leather boots, you don’t have to wait the years it takes for that look to develop naturally. There are many different techniques you can use to distress even the shiniest, brand-new leather boots. You don’t need any special equipment, just a few inexpensive household items. The same techniques can be used with a heavy hand or gentle touch, depending on how distressed and worn-in you want the boots to look. It is a good idea to start with a more conservative approach, examine the results and adapt your techniques as you work to get the specific look you desire.

Items you will need

  • Newspaper
  • Baseball inside an old sock
  • Hammer
  • Rags
  • Spray bottle of diluted rubbing alcohol
  • Sandpaper
  • Wire brush
  • Brown or black shoe polish
  • Neutral colored shoe wax
Step 1

Stuff the boots with scrunched-up newspaper. If they have zippers or laces, zip or lace them up. Place the boots on a hard, flat surface that can withstand damage, such as a work bench or concrete patio.

Step 2

Hold the end of the sock with the baseball in it and swing it at the boots to beat them up with the baseball. This should soften the leather.

Step 3

Wrap a rag around the end of the hammer and beat the boots around the toecaps and heels and around the sides to further soften the leather in the spots where it would naturally soften with years of wear.

Step 4

Spritz the boots with the diluted rubbing alcohol so that the leather is damp but not saturated. Use the sandpaper to rub the leather around the toe-caps, heels and seams. The leather should start to appear a little scuffed-up. If you want the boots to be scuffed in other areas or all over, rub the sandpaper over these areas too.

Step 5

Spritz some more diluted rubbing alcohol over the scuffed up areas. Take the wire brush and scrub the surfaces again. This will distress the leather more deeply than the sandpaper, so for a lightly-distressed look don’t use the brush, just the sandpaper.

Step 6

Dab some brown or black shoe polish onto a rag. Remoisten the scuffed-up areas with a spray of rubbing alcohol and rub the polish in using small circular motions. If the polish looks too dark or thick, spray some more water on the boots and rub it around to dilute the polish.

Step 7

Repeat all of the above steps until the boots are as distressed-looking as you want. If you want them to look more scuffed, use the sandpaper and wire brush; if you want them to look more “beaten up,” use the baseball and hammer. For a darker, muddier hue, use more polish.

Step 8

Seal and protect the boots with a final application of shoe wax. Buff the wax into the purposely damaged areas.


  • Look for pictures of distressed leather boots that you like and refer to them as you work to replicate the look.

    For a naturally distressed look, concentrate in the areas of the boots that would naturally get the most wear-and-tear, such as the toes, ankles and lower sides.

    Complement your “faux” distressing techniques with “real-life” distressing. Wear the boots when gardening and working outside, hike through some mud or leave them out in the sun for a few hours.

Photo Credits

  • Adrián González de la Peña/Demand Media

About the Author

A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.