The Easy Way to Distress Leather

Get a rugged, time-worn look — without all the time.

Assuming you take good care of the stuff, years and years of wear on your favorite leather goods will give you a beautiful one-of-a-kind patina. There's something special about a buttery soft, deeply burnished leather bag, belt, or bomber jacket that off-the-rack options just can't compete with.

But what if you just want to take a shortcut?

Well, good news: you can. Some rubbing alcohol, sandpaper, shoe polish, a lot of elbow grease, and about twenty minutes of your time can turn stiff new leather into a soft, artfully faded version of its former self. Ready?

The Gear

  • 90% rubbing alcohol
  • Rubber gloves
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Shoe polish
  • Shoe wax
  • A buffing brush

The Steps

Put whatever you want to distress — we used a belt — into a bowl. Put on the rubber gloves and splash a generous amount of rubbing alcohol onto the leather.

Squeeze, wring, scratch, and just generally try to beat up the leather. You want to make it look like it's been creased and worn from years of heavy-duty use, so don't be afraid to get aggressive. If your leather is colored, the rubbing alcohol will take some of that off — hence the gloves, to avoid getting pigment all over your hands and clothes.

Once you're happy with the change from the rubbing alcohol, take the leather out of the bowl and wipe it down. Then grab a square of sandpaper and scrub the entire surface thoroughly. You can be pretty rough here; the scratch marks will (mostly) buff out in the next step, leaving behind a subtly beat-up appearance.

Open up some shoe polish of the same shade as your leather (or If you're working with brown leather and want to darken it, use black). Grab a rag or some paper towels and apply the polish generously, working it in as much as possible. Wipe down the excess, then buff with a brush.

Repeat, but with shoe wax instead of polish. This is a one-two punch: the shine helps to mimic a worn-in patina while also adding an outer layer of protection to the leather.

Boom: a hard-worn, beat-up, had-it-for-years belt that actually only took you twenty minutes to break in.

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