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How To Clean and Care for Your Leather Boots

A good pair of leather boots protect your feet and look good doing it. They're rugged and durable but also stylish and some can even transcend from workwear into formal wear. However, that durability can make it easy to overlook the small steps necessary to maximize the lifespan of your boots. Just like your skin and hair, leather needs to be clean and moisturized to look and function its best.

We put together this easy step-by-step guide on how to clean and care for your leather boots. Even though your boots can take almost anything you can throw at them, it is important to provide the proper care for them once you get home. Following these simple steps will ensure that you and your beloved leather boots have a long and happy relationship.




15 minutes

What You Need

  • Scrubbing Brush or Shoe Brush

  • Old Toothbrush

  • Rag or Used Towel

Before getting into the step-by-step process, it is important to note that you do not have to go through the entire process every time. Proper boot maintenance often only requires brushing and wiping off residue. If you get dirt on your boots, just brush them off when you get home then put them away. This is especially important with salt in the winter as ice melting the salt can ruin your leather, so it is important to wipe them off as soon as you get home if salt gets on them. With a little care here and there will cut down on the frequency of full cleanings.

If you wear your boots every day or a few times a week, you should do a full clean every few months. If you wear your boots less frequently then will only need a full cleaning once a year or less.

how to clean leather boots redwing moc toe
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Dry Brush Off Dirt and Debris

Start by using a dry scrub brush to remove as much dirt and debris as you can. It is a common mistake to start with a wet towel or brush as adding water first will make any dirt on your boots muddy and can cause the dirt to seep into the leather, making cleaning more difficult.

You can buy a horsehair brush designed specifically for cleaning leather. They look nice, with a wood handle and textured bristles, and last a long time. However, a cheap plastic scrub brush will do the job just fine and can be purchased anywhere that sells home cleaning supplies. Chances are you own one already but make sure not to use one that has any residue on it.

For spot cleaning, an old toothbrush works perfectly. Some boot cleaning kits come with a similar-sized brush for spot cleaning. These are great if you have one but if you don't just go with the toothbrush.

Step 1: If your boots have laces, remove them for easier access to the tongue area.

Step 2: Use short, quick brush strokes to remove as much dirt and debris as you can from the exterior of the shoe. Make sure you get under the sole and along the tongue.

Step 3: Using an old toothbrush or smaller cleaning brush, sport clean all the stitching and crevices in the leather. The smaller bristles are more effective on the stitching. The smaller brush size will fit anywhere the larger brush does not.

how to clean leather boots kiwi saddle soap
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Scrub with Leather Soap or Cleaner

After you've removed as much dirt as you can with a dry brush, it is time to use a leather soap to scrub away anything that remains and help condition the leather. There are plenty of leather soaps and cleaners available but Kiwi's Saddle Soap is hard to beat and easy to find.

Step 1: Using a rag or old towel, dampen your saddle soap in the can. Then rub you brush around in the saddle soap a few time until a lather covers the bristles.

Note: If you are using a liquid cleaner then you can apply it directly to the brush as directed on the container.

Step 2: With your brush lathered, scrub the leather of the boot in small concentric circles. Scrub each panel of leather on the boot individually.

Step 3: Once your brush has run out of lather, quickly wipe away any soap remaining on the boot with a dry towel. You want to remove excess soap before adding more to your brush because it can dry unevenly on the leather and leave discoloration.

Step 4: Repeat above steps with each panel of leather, including the tongue, along with the sides of the soles until both boots have been scrubbed entirely

how to clean leather boots chamberlains milk
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Condition the Leather

After your boots have been thoroughly cleaned and given time to dry, you want to condition the leather to prevent creasing and cracking. Just like with cleaning products there are many good leather conditioning products available and it really comes down to preference. For the most part, they come in a creamy liquid called a leather milk or a clear liquid called a leather oil or mink oil. Chamberlains Formula No. 1 Leather Milk is a great option.

Step 1: Place a few drops of leather milk on the exterior of your boot, about the size of a dime. Then gently rub the milk in using your finger or a clean, dry rag. Repeat this process until all leather on the boot has been covered, including the tongue (yes, we keep mentioning it because the tongue is always overlooked).

Step 2: After the entire leather exterior has been covered in conditioner and thoroughly rubbed in, gently wipe them down with a clean, dry towel one more time to make sure all cleaning product residue has been removed. This rub down doubles as a buffing process to add a bit of shine to the leather.

It can be easy to grow a fond attachment to your favorite leather boots. By design, they're reliable and stick with you for a long time. Just like with any relationship, you have to put in the appropriate care and maintenance to keep it going for as long as possible. If you take care of your boots with a proper cleaning routine, they will take care of you. Remember, you don't have to go through the entire process every time, just as needed. Following the steps above will ensure that you and your leather boots will live happily ever after.

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Brad Lanphear
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Brad spent a decade on the front lines of New York's fashion retail industry. He did time with Abercrombie & Fitch, Rugby…
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