Red Wing Boot Oil Vs. Mink Oil – What’s Best for Waterproofing and Maintaining Color?

Don’t make the same mistake I did.

Don’t lose your Red Wings to the wrong conditioner.

Take a look at these Red Wing Iron Rangers, perhaps the most beloved American heritage boot on the market. This is what they looked like when they arrived on my doorstep versus how they looked after applying a conditioner that blocked the pores and made them very water resistant — but darkened the leather a ton.

red wing new vs old
Credit: Steven Walling, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

[Love the look? Pick up your own Red Wing Iron Rangers here.]

Now, they’re still terrific boots. The leather hasn’t been damaged. But I confess that I was looking forward to the rich patina that a lot of guys on Reddit like to show off in their old, well-aged Iron Rangers.

So what’s the best product for taking care of your Red Wings? It depends on how you wear them and what you want out of them. Today we’re taking a deep dive into the best products for conditioning Red Wing boots. I spoke to no less than six Red Wing representatives at a variety of different stores and I confess I was surprised by what I learned.

[Read my review of the tough as nails Red Wing Iron Ranger here!]

Why Red Wing Boots?

Red Wing is an enormously popular brand of both work and heritage boots, so popular that the term “red wing boots” receives about as much search volume on Google as just the words “men’s boots” — more than Wolverine, Frye, and Alden put together. At this point, they’re more or less the default boot: when a guy makes his first step into grown up, tough, Goodyear welted boots, his first purchase is usually a pair of Red Wings. (Mine was.)

In fact, they’re so popular that they have their own tannery, SB Foot Tanning Co, out in Minnesota, which produces about 6 million linear feet of leather per year. Now, Red Wing makes a ton of very high quality work boots and among the more fashion-inclined, they’re perhaps better known for their Heritage line. While Heritage boots are extraordinarily well crafted shoes, they’re a bit more focused on the look and appeal of old-fashioned boots than the kind of footwear that’s resistant to electrical current, or acid, oil, and other things people look for when they need to outfit themselves for certain blue collar jobs.

Red Wing moc toe featured

[These are my first boots — don’t miss my review of these Red Wing Moc Toe boots in the Rough and Tough leather.]

Almost all of their Heritage boots are made with oil tanned leather. While you might hear different advice for their shoes made from roughout, suede, or their fancier smooth finished leathers like their teak featherstone,  everyone I spoke to at Red Wing said you don’t need to use different products on different Heritage boots. I’m aware that some leather snobs might disagree with this, but one hundred percent of Red Wing’s representatives I spoke with said that whether you’ve got their famous Amber Harness or their Charcoal Rough and Tough or a different Heritage leather, if it’s oil tanned then this article applies to you.

[Related: My list of The Best Boots for Men]

Why Use Mink Oil?

Mink oil is made by the rendering of fat that has been removed from mink pelts that are destined for the fur industry. It’s unusual among animal fats because it’s super high in unsaturated fats: 75 percent of it is unsaturated, but it has better stability than other unsaturated fats like vegetable oils. So mink oil is a lot less likely to go rancid and it has a long shelf life — it can stay in your boots for a long time without going bad.

red wing mink oil

Red Wing Mink Oil vs. Boot Oil: Ingredients

Red Wing’s “Mink Oil” isn’t actually just mink oil: it also contains lanolin, which is a wax secreted by wool-bearing animals (typically sheep), and silicone, a synthetic polymer made from silicon and oxygen and some other elements.

[Pick up some Red Wing Mink Oil here.]

Red Wing’s Boot Oil is also made from mink oil, but it’s silicone-free and has added pine pitch. That’s made from the sticky sap in pine trees, which are known for being pretty darn tough and weather resistant, as far as trees go. Pine pitch has had many uses over the years, including as a popular topical ointment for eczema and other skin conditions, but it also has a long history of being used as a preservative. On boots, the idea is that it helps to provide a barrier to the elements.

[Shop Red Wing Boot Oil.]

red wing boot oil closeup

Red Wing Mink Oil vs. Boot Oil: Effects

Now, I actually used Obenauf’s Leather Oil on my Iron Rangers, which is a mixture of beeswax, propolis, and oils. It darkened them a ton and over the years I’ve often said to myself, “If only I’d use mink oil then this wouldn’t have happened.”

But that’s not really the case.

Mink oil will darken your boots a good two or three shades, maybe more. The reason for this is that mink oil penetrates the leather deeply and clogs the pores, forming something of a weather resistant layer on the outside. You’ll often see it recommended for boots that are very hard wearing: serious workboots, militaries often recommend it for their soldiers, the sorts of jobs where the patina and lustre of a boot is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

I need to emphasize again that darkening doesn’t mean you’ve damaged the leather. It does indeed condition it and makes it more resistant to the elements. The way one employee at Red Wing HQ put it: “We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with it, but we’re finding other products that work better.”

[Further Reading: Saddle Soap vs Mink Oil and When to Use Each]

red wing boot oil vs mink oil

So should you use Boot Oil? Probably not if darkening is a big concern of yours, because the Boot Oil still contains a big dose of mink fat.

I’m afraid that everyone I spoke to was pretty split on what the difference is as far as the effects of Mink Oil and Boot Oil go. Some said the Boot Oil is more ideal for dry climates, others said there’s no real practical difference. Something you do often hear about pine pitch is that when it’s combined with mink oil it helps the mink oil to stay in the boot for longer, which is why it’s said to be a tad better for conditioning while also meant to make the boots more able to withstand extreme temperatures. Boot Oil doesn’t seem to require as many reapplications.

If I were to summarize all of my research I’d say that the Mink Oil is more about waterproofing while the leather oil is more about waterproofing and conditioning, but both products are pretty heavily geared toward weather resistance and both will darken the leather.

red wing neatsfoot oil

How to Maintain the Color of Your Red Wings

If you just want to condition and moisturize your boots without them darkening, you might think about using Red Wing’s Leather Conditioner, which is a paste with ingredients that are pretty much the same as the Boot Oil with a little beeswax added to it for even more weather resistance. So it’ll still darken the leather, it’s not all that different to the Boot Oil.

If you want something more gentle, something that will maintain the color, get you a nice, rich patina, and keep your boots from winding up like mine?

red wing leather cream

Red Wing’s Leather Cream is what you want to go with. Made with neatsfoot oil — that’s the rendered shin and feet bones of cattle — it’s specifically designed for Red Wing’s fancier Heritage boots. It conditions and moisturizes the leather, helping it to last for as long as possible, all without coloring the leather or penetrating as deeply as the other products. Grab your own tub of it here.

Note that because it doesn’t moisturize quite as profoundly, it may require more frequent applications. (Perhaps every month or two depending on how hard you wear them and how much you care about all this.)

red wing boot oil leather cream and mink oil

Wrapping Up

That’s my discussion of Red Wing’s best leather care products for their Heritage boots. Mink Oil and Boot Oil are great for toughening your boots to the elements but if you want to maintain your color, Leather Cream is definitely your best bet.

Do you use other products from other companies on your Red Wings? Let me know in the comments below.

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Nick English

By day: Manhattan-based journalist with reporting experience on four continents, published in Vice, Men's Health, Popular Science, and a bunch of other places.By night: ravenous consumer of anything and everything related to high end men's boots.Stridewise is where I nurture a maniacal obsession with footwear and share my findings. Say hey: [email protected].

29 thoughts on “Red Wing Boot Oil Vs. Mink Oil – What’s Best for Waterproofing and Maintaining Color?”

  1. Really helpful, thank you. Just bought a pair of Blacksmiths in the Copper Rough & Tough and absolutely do not want to sabotage the coloring they have–I’ve seen on another pair of oil-tanned Red Wings how much the mink oil darkens leather over time. Glad to know about the leather cream, thanks for putting this out there!

  2. Hi Nick, thank you for taking the time to write up a review. I found it super helpful in making my boot conditioning choices. I do have a question though. When you say the mink oil, for example, “darkens”, what exactly do you mean? Do you mean permanently and forever, or only temporarily darken until the next saddle soap wash and strip down? I guess the question is, can I try one boot leather conditioner, and if my results aren’t consistent with what I was looking for, can I saddle soap wash and strip and then try a different product? If using any one product will permanently and forever change the finish of the boot leather, then I would definitely not use it until I see the results of someone else make that mistake first.

    • Mink oil darkens permanently, I’d say. It’ll lighten up over the ensuing weeks and months but it won’t get back to where it was. I haven’t tried saddle soaping out the mink oil myself, but I’ve been meaning to try that on these Iron Rangers and report back.

      • I did the exact same thing as you Nick, turned my boots black brown with huberds shoe grease. Lexol leather cleaner managed to draw out lots of the grease and really lightened up my boots. From then on use Bick 4 Leather conditioner, it wont darken your boots but it is not a very durable conditioner, it washes out easily if your boots get slightly wet.

  3. Hi Nick, thank you for the helpful information. I just bought my first pair of Iron Rangers and I hope that with use I can develop a nice patina. Do you recommend using the RW Foam Leather cleaner prior to the Leather Cream? I’m scared that scrubbing my boots with water cleaner will cause damage to my boots. And do you also recommend finishing off with the leather protector? Thanks in advance.

    • I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using the leather cleaner before conditioning. I use Cobbler’s Choice leather spot cleaner myself, it’s pretty gentle. I don’t think you need a leather protector with this kind of leather to be honest, might not be great for the patina, especially if it has silicone.

  4. Hi Nick
    recently discovered your Youtube channel while researching my first purchase of “proper” boots, Ive found your reviews very informative albeit dangerous for my credit card! Ive settled on 2 pairs for now, Red Wing 1907 rough and tough and am waiting for a pair of brown Wolverine 1000 miles. I’m not 100% sold on the Wolverines but i got them for a steal so I should be able to move them on without much of a hit. Someday when my ship comes in I’ll get a pair of Alden Indy’s lol. Meantime, I’ll get the neetsfeet cream after reading this. Thanks for all the advice!

    • Glad you like the videos Neil, my apologies to your credit card! Great choice with Red Wing and 1000 Miles, if you can get the 1K Miles for cheap then go for it. The leather sole is comfy, after all. Just not super durable. Your trifecta of Red Wing, Wolverine, and Alden is classic!

  5. Hi Nick,

    I have a bought a pair of Blundstones that came with NikWax (UK).
    I read the packaging and apparently NikWax won’t clog pores allowing the leather breathe while still waterproofing. Good if you have Gortex leather boots which I do.

    Anyways, it seems wax is the way to go. Some of the other brands using a mixture of wax and oil would clog the pores and I guess the solvents are for aesthetic reasons? Smoothing out the abrasions on the leather surface?
    Also, wax doesn’t soften the leather, it this not a good thing as the leather will soften from wearing?

    Anyways, all seems very confusing on what some of these products actually do.


    • Hey Jake, honestly, if the manufacturers recommend NikWax it’s probably worth just going with them. I know this is all very confusing. Some types of wax (Venetian Shoe Cream has like six of them) can soften, others are better for shine, etc. If you want to smooth out abrasions etc. I’d suggest Venetian Shoe Cream, if you’re conditioning to waterproof them I think you can use Cobbler’s Choice which does a good balance of weather resistance and conditioning

  6. I wish they had the Leather Cream when I bought my Iron Rangers in the Copper Rough & Tough. I used their beeswax product as recommended by Red Wing and the color darkened significantly. I’m going to by some of the French stuff for my 1000 Mile boots and see how the Red Wings like it as well.

  7. Hi Nick,
    Nice info. I just used Cadillac Select premium leather lotion. It only richened the brown color. Stayed just a shade darker. Feels great. Now I was thinking about going over the boot with Lincoln stain wax, Neutral shoe polish. Good move or not?
    I used the leather lotion on my wife’s purse. It darkened it to a beautiful Pantene.
    Thank you.

    • Great to hear you like Cadillac Select, Frederick! It’s always scary putting something new on your boots. Neutral shoe polish sounds like a great idea that will help deepen the patina. Good luck! Say hi to your wife’s purse for me 🙂

  8. I just got my self a pair of Iron Rangers over here in the UK … the break in was no where near as bad as some of the fear mongering suggested, which I was very pleased about 🙂

    I can’t wait to give them a good dose of mink oil to make them go that gorgeous rich darker brown but I am being patient and waiting for them to fully break in and actually require a conditioning.

    Love your site and channel, both defo helped me decided to pull the trigger on these boots and add a tin of mink oil to my order at the same time.

    • That’s good! Yeah sometimes RWs are brutal break ins and other times they’re not. Good luck on those boots, they’ll lest forever! Glad you commented Charlie.

  9. Hi nick, good write up. Noted regarding leather cream instead of mink oil & boot oil. How about for the finishing touch or final step using RW leather protector?is it doing any good?
    Thanks and cheers buddy.

    Btw, I’m a proud owner of RW1907.

    • Thanks Nick! I avoid leather protectors personally, if it’s something like silicone it clogs the pores and can affect patina. But that’s just me, most people don’t care so much 🙂

  10. Thanks for all the videos! I have been combing your site for examples of how much or little certain products will darken leather. I recently got a pair of Alden 405s and I like the sort of brick red color, but I would like to darken them slightly without losing that reddish undertone. Obviously, with the price of these, I don’t want to screw this up. Would you recommend mink oil for this, or any particular product? Or should I just be patient and allow them to darken over time. I have Venetian shoe cream that I plan to condition them with, which might do the job, but take longer. Saphir renovateur might be a good choice as well, since it is a mink oil blend. Your thoughts are welcome!

    • I recommend Bick 4 if you’re worried about darkening, but if you want to darken just a bit without losing the color much I think Venetian Shoe Cream would be a good bet? It does darken ever so slightly.

  11. Hello Nick, I really like to read your posts about boots. I’ve bought recently a pair of RW’s Iron Ranger in Copper Rough & Tough Leather. I rather don’t have posibility to get RW care products, I have others like Saphir, Tarrago for my other boots. These RW are my first pair with this kind of leather. What do you think about using Saphir or Tarrago leather cream which bases on bees wax and other natural oils?

    • Hey Tom, no problem that you can’t get RW products. I like Cobbler’s Choice, Saphir is also great, Venetian Shoe Cream always works, if you’re really worried about color change go with Bick 4. All are here!

  12. Hey Nick, I follow your YouTube channel religiously and love your style and in-depth reviews.
    I just ordered my first pair of Iron Rangers (8111 Amber) and my number one priority for conditioning is to absolutely not affect the coloring. Ideally, I’d like to use conditioners or protectants that don’t affect the color AT ALL. I’m not nearly as concerned about the actual amount of protection provided and it’s no big deal having to reapply them as much as necessary. My top priority is to not change the original color at all…. not even a little. I only want a natural patina and I don’t want any unpredictable color changes due to oils or creams or protectants.
    What would your recommendation be for a product? Or am I being unrealistic? I’m hoping to find something that does not affect the color even a little.
    I have a few pair of Thursday Captains and have used Saphir Renovateur spray on them and that does not seem to affect the color at all, which is nice. However, those leathers are closer to a nubuck (none of the boots are smooth leather…. mostly rugged and resilient).
    Not sure if the renovateur spray would do much for the Iron Ranger leather and I’d be a little nervous to even give them a spray and take a chance that they would darken permanently before I even get a chance to wear them.
    Thanks for any advice!

    • Hey Dean, glad you like the channel my man! Appreciate your kind words. I definitely sympathize with your drive to not darken the boots, I’d say Bickmore’s Bick 4 is best if that’s the priority.

  13. I always have saphir renovateur in for my shoes. When I got some redwings I defaulted to that and 3 years in haven’t had cause to use anything else….maybe it might be my imagination but by redwings leather haven’t darkened or deteriorated over the years.


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