15 Epic Tips For How To Clean Boots (And Other Boring Grown-up Activities)
After a long hike, you have a smile on your face, mud on your boots, and you are ready to put your feet up. Or, you've spent all day at work, and your boots look as beat up as you feel. You've earned that rest, but what about your boots? Cleaning your boots is a chore, and really, does it matter? Tomorrow or the next day, you are going to do the same thing and pile on more dirt. Well-worn boots are dirty boots, pure and simple. Why worry about it? As you will see, for lots of reasons!
Here are 15 professional tips for how to clean boots to make sure that your favorite ones last as long as possible
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Why Clean Your Work Or Hiking Boots?
Learning how to clean boots is essential because:
- Mud, stones, and grit blocking the treads on the outsole remove the benefits of grip and traction.
- Areas of the upper perforated for ventilation don't work when clogged with dirt.
- Leaving wet dirt on your boots creates a perfect environment for mold to grow.
- You need to maintain a waterproof finish to keep your feet dry.
- Clean, well-maintained boots last longer, look, and perform better.
Regular, efficient cleaning and maintenance of your boots mean you also check for wear and other issues. You can replace frayed laces before they break at the most inconvenient moment. Like a service for your car, work boot care and maintenance gives you plenty of advanced notice of future issues. Boots protect your precious feet, and the best work or hiking boots are a significant financial investment. Cleaning your shoes keeps them in tip-top condition to last longer.
Quick Cleaning Guide For How To Clean Boots
The three steps to boot maintenance are:
- Remove surface dirt – brush or micro cloth.
- Clean – damp cloth or cleaning products.
- Proof – restore any waterproofing as necessary.
You may not have the time on a long hike or after a busy day to perform the entire three stages but make a habit of wiping your boots clean of surface dirt when necessary. Even on a long trek, pack a brush or cloth and do a quick wipe over your boots at the day's end.
When is the Best Time to Clean Your Boots?
Never leave your boots dirty; putting away muddy boots shortens their useful life and makes them less pleasant to wear. As annoying as it might be, the best time to clean your hiking or work boots is when you take them off your feet.
It may not be convenient or necessary to apply a boot cleaner or do a full treatment cycle on your boots every time you take them off. But you can use a boot brush on the upper and outsole to remove surface mud and debris trapped in the treads. Think of it as the equivalent of brushing your teeth, a regular habit that has obvious benefits.
Applying a waterproofing treatment is best done when you find your boots are:
- letting in water;
- regularly used as work boots; and
- before a hiking expedition (if hiking boots).
How often you apply a boot cleaner and waterproof your work boots depend on your working conditions and how frequently you wear them.
Boot Cleaning vs. Waterproofing: How To Clean Boots
Products that clean are different from those that waterproof. Companies like Nikwax specialize in producing a complete system of cleaning, conditioning, and waterproofing products for outdoor gear. Even Gore-Tex® boots need maintenance to keep your feet dry without losing breathability. However, make sure you check the manufacturer's instructions before you do anything.
Nikwax Cleaning And WaterProofing
Cleaning products restore the finish and remove stains, whereas waterproofing products restore your waterproof layer and protect the boots from water damage. Most waterproofing products work by encouraging the water to bead and roll off the surface of the upper. You can tell it is time to reproof your boots when water starts sitting on the surface.
Cleaning the Outsoles
The advantages of washing the outsoles immediately upon removal include:
- Drying the boots is one step instead of two. There is no guarantee that the mud will come out quickly if you leave them to dry.
- Tread is ready if you end up wearing the boots the next day before you've had a chance to clean them.
- Your vehicle or house remains clean as you leave the dirt outside or down the drain.
Brushing out the dirt with a boot scraper has the same advantages and the added benefit of keeping the work or hiking boots dry. But you may find you need water to help scrub away all the mud.
Tools To Clean Outsoles
Old toothbrushes, nail scrubbing brushes, or a specific nylon shoe cleaning brushes are helpful tools for scrubbing the outsoles clean.
Use a wooden or plastic chopstick (or similar) to dislodge stones and other debris wedged in the tread. Avoid using any implement that may cut or damage the outsole rubber. Your Swiss army penknife may have a handy tool for taking stones out of horses' hooves, but you risk cutting and damaging the rubber on the outsole if you use a sharp metal tool.
A boot scraper or a stiff bristle brush outside your backdoor acts as a visual reminder to knock off clumps of mud and dirt before entering your home, but they won't clean your treads thoroughly. These are excellent for removing the bulk of the mud and debris on your boots with minimal effort. You can get cute ones, like a boot scraper in the shape of a hedgehog or some practical ones that look like mini carwashes for your boots.
When you wash the outsoles, try to avoid getting the uppers wet. It is unnecessary to use bleach or dish soap to clean the outsoles, but if you have stepped in something unpleasant and wish to disinfect it, you can. Always dilute bleach by using a small amount in plenty of water. A quick way to reassure yourself of outsole hygiene is to wipe over the clean outsoles with a disposable floor cleaning cloth or sterile wipe.
Cleaning the Uppers
Whether you have a synthetic upper or a leather one, the first step is to get a boot brush and wipe away all dried mud and dirt. Plus, you want to remove laces and insoles (if possible) and set those aside. Often, brushing is enough to restore your boots to pristine condition. More stubborn stains may require the use of a boot cleaner.
How To Clean Leather Boots
Generally, you want to avoid getting leather wet because it distorts when it dries out. However, waterproof leather keeps your feet dry, and leather boots have been tramping through wet and challenging terrains for centuries – the issue arises with waterlogged leather. If you need to use soap and water to clean the uppers, you must let them dry naturally before applying any leather oil or other treatments. The exception is some waterproofing products that you apply directly to damp boots – always check the product instructions.
As for synthetic uppers, unless the boot manufacturer says otherwise, you can scrub them as much as you want.
Cleaning Leather: How To Clean Boots
Your leather uppers must be dry before you start using products on them. Do not force dry the leather as this causes cracking and distortion – air drying is best.
Applying shoe cleaning products to leather uppers is mainly about preserving suppleness (leather is a natural material and needs "feeding"), enhancing appearance, and waterproofing.
The approach is to start with clean, dry boots and work in a cream-based product with a boot brush, sponge, or soft cloth, allowing it to soak in and then buff to a sheen. The alternative is to use a custom spray product – typically with suede uppers that won't buff.
Before spraying suede uppers, you raise the surface (or nap) with a suede brush to get that characteristic brushed look.
Cleaning Synthetic Uppers: How To Clean Boots
After cleaning, the boots need to dry – avoid radiators and hot cupboards because synthetic materials can shrink and distort as easily as leather ones.
You may think that synthetic uppers don't need any further treatment. Still, if you want to maintain waterproofing (and breathability), you need to impregnate the textile upper with a proprietary product to restore the waterproofing. There are plenty of silicone-based waterproof sprays that work on leather and textiles but check the boot manufacturers' recommendations, particularly when dealing with a breathable, waterproof membrane.
Cleaning Laces and the Inside Of Boots
Always tap out anything that has made its way into your boots. Tears in the waterproof membrane from small stones or untrimmed toenails impair your boot's performance.
Most boot laces are washable, and you can leave them to dry alongside the boots. Applying a conditioning wax (beeswax is excellent) to your laces waterproofs them and helps them glide effortlessly through the eyelets.
Removable insoles let you swap them out for freshness and hygiene, and some versions are washable. Ideally, you shouldn't wear the same work or hiking boots every day because you want the inside to dry thoroughly and reduce the build-up of fungal spores.
In an ideal world, you alternate wearing a couple of pairs of boots, but if this is not possible, alternating the insoles achieves a similar freshness.
How To Clean Inside Of Boots
Occasionally you may need to clean the inside of your boots – blood stains from a blister or rubbed area. Hydrogen peroxide as a spot treatment is effective at lifting fresh and old bloodstains. Work from the outside of the stain to the inside and dab rather than rub.
One technique for cleaning the inside of your boots is to fill the boot with warm water and liquid soap for 12 hours (overnight) to remove sweat and odor. The boots will need 48 hours to dry before you can wear them again. You can help speed the drying process by stuffing them with kitchen or cloth towelling. Don't be tempted to use a hairdryer or other heat source as it may cause cracking and damage the leather.
Often, you want to deodorize the inside of your boots rather than clean them. There are plenty of proprietary products for this – powders, sprays, and washes. Where possible, get an enzyme-eating formulation as these deal with the bacteria causing the odor rather than covering up the smell. Eliminating the issue is a more effective solution.
If you wear your boots every day, consider these deodorizing bags for overnight use. They absorb moisture as well as restoring freshness and are reusable for a long time.
Storing Your Boots
Waterproof bags for your boots are excellent in keeping dirt out of your vehicle but not ideal for long-term boot storage. Wet boots become moldy boots, and one of the best things you can do for your boots is to allow them to dry with natural airflow. Use your waterproof bags to get your boots home and then get them into a dry airy environment after cleaning off all the visible dirt and debris – if you didn't do that before putting them in the bags.
Keep your boots out of sunlight, away from hot radiators, damp rooms, and out of direct contact with heated floors. Heated floors damage rubber outsoles by drying them out and creating brittleness. Ideally, store your boots on a slatted rack in a warm (not hot) space with airflow.
What About Putting Your Boots in a Washing Machine?
Does your washing machine have a hiking boot setting? Doubtful. The amount of effort and precautions you would need to go through to wash your boots in a washing machine is not worth it. Plus, you run the risk of damaging your washing machine and your boots. Most manufacturers will strongly advise against the use of a washing machine because it will wreck the waterproofing and the durability of your boots.
Long Live Clean Boots
Put together a compact shoe cleaning kit for travel and home use because clean boots are more durable and perform better. Once you get a regular boot cleaning routine, you will benefit from having the smartest boots at work or on the trail and the satisfaction of getting more wear for your money.
Last Word For How To Clean Boots
Spending a few moments to clean your work or hiking boots after a long day on your feet is the last thing anyone really wants to do. But, for the few minutes that it will take and the long term benefits, it should be a something you do without hesitation.
A good pair of boots that has lots of cushion, support, traction and maybe even specialist features like composite toe or insulation against the cold, normally costs a lot of money. Making sure the uppers are cleaned properly and waterproofed regularly, and the outsoles are kept debris-free means that you will extend the life of those boots and keep your money in your pocket for other things.