How To Clean Leather Boots – The Ultimate Guide

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leather boot cleaning guide

No matter how functional, fancy and, expensive your boots are, leather boots get dirty. It doesn’t matter if they are summer working boots or zero drop work boots – nearly all work shoes get dirty.  In this guide, we’ve set out a step-by-step method to clean the entire leather work boot, inside and outside.

We’ve also included a list of household cleaning products you can use if you don’t have a leather care kit. If you purchase a commercial leather cleaner and a commercial leather conditioner, make sure it is a quality leather cleaner.

Your footwear takes the most abuse of your entire outfit. No matter how careful you are, your leather boots will get dirty and stained. This guide shows you how to remove stains and scuff marks and how to make your leather boots look new again.

Our Step By Step Method On How To Clean Leather Boots

These instructions will work for the best logger boots or your pair of the most comfortable pull on work boots – as long as they are leather.  Place the dirty leather boots on an old cloth and follow the steps as set out below.

Uppers and Laces

Materials Needed:

  • An old piece of cloth to place dirty leather work boots on
  • Soft brush, horsehair brush, or soft microfibre cloth to wipe clean
  • Clean cloth to apply lather
  • Toothbrush for stubborn dirt
  • Leather cleaning product, saddle soap, or a mixture of dish soap and warm water, and a clean cloth or clean towel
  • Leather conditioner or homemade vinegar-linseed solution, an application brush, and two clean cloths

Fresh Shoe Laces

Remove the laces before you start the cleaning process. Check the laces’ condition and decide if you want to replace them with new laces or wash the dirty laces with soapy water.

  • Wash the nylon and cotton laces with laundry detergent or dish soap. If you wash shoe-laces in a washing machine, don’t throw them loose into the machine.
  • Treat leather laces the same way you clean leather uppers. Do not soak them.
  • Air-dry the laces. Cotton laces can take longer to dry than boots.
  • Roll up the clean laces to avoid them becoming entangled. Set them aside until you completed the boot cleaning process.

Wipe Uppers Clean

Wipe the loose dirt, crusty mud, and debris from your leather boots’ upper and soles; the lathering step will eliminate the stubborn dirt.

  • Use a horsehair brush or soft cloth to wipe off most of the salt particles and dirt.
  •  Don’t use a stiff brush that can scratch the leather.
  • Use a toothbrush to get rid of stubborn dirt around the welt and soles.
  • Dampen a soft cloth with a bit of water and wipe the uppers clean with the damp cloth.
  • Wait for the leather boots to dry before proceeding to the next step.

Lather Boot Uppers

  • Use a quality leather product, saddle soap, or dish soap solution (50/50 warm water and dish soap) with a clean cloth for this step.
  • Rinse out the cloth. Make sure you use a dry cloth; you don’t want the boots soaking wet.
  • Apply the soap solution with a dry cloth to the leather boots’ uppers and soles.

Wipe Off Soap Solution

  • Use a separate fresh cloth to wipe the soap mixture from the boots.
  • Dampen the dry cloth with clean water and wipe off the soap.
  • Take your time with the last two steps and clean the outside thoroughly. Re-apply the soap solution to stubborn dirty areas.
  • Make sure the leather boots are clean before proceeding to the next step.

Apply Leather Conditioners

Leather conditioner keeps boots hydrated and gives them that clean, shiny look. It’s vital to prevent the leather from drying out.

  • Apply purchased leather conditioner or the homemade solution (one-part vinegar and two parts linseed oil) with a clean cloth.
  • When the leather has soaked up enough conditioner, it will become damp.
  • Leave to dry for about 15 minutes.
  • Buff the leather boots with a soft cloth until they shine.

Dry The Leather Boots

  • Leave the leather boots to air dry.
  • Be patient during the drying process, and do not place boots close to a direct heat source, direct sunlight, or furnace vent. Do not use a blow dryer either.

Inside and Insoles

Materials Needed

  • Dish detergent or mild shampoo with low pH
  • A damp cloth and dry cloth for cleaning inside
  • Boot tree (optional) or a way to vertical suspend the boots

Cleaning the Insoles

  • Remove the insoles.
  • Rather hand-wash the insoles than soaking them in the washing machine. Some leather shoes have leather insoles, and often custom-made insoles material is not machine washable either.
  • Use a dish detergent or a low pH shampoo for hand washing the insoles.
  • Allow the insoles to air dry.

Cleaning Inside the Boots

  • Use a damp cloth and mild shampoo; it removes the smell too.
  • Take a fresh cloth and dampen with clean water. Wipe all the excess shampoo residue.
  • Use a dry cloth to wipe off most of the moisture.
  • Let boots dry by hanging them upside down on a boot tree or something similar.
  • Avoid direct heat. Air-dry the leather boots. Drying takes time; make sure there is enough time for boots to dry before wearing them again.

What Household Items Can I Use To Clean Leather Boots?

If you’ve run out of leather care products or are on a tight budget, you can use household items for cleaning your favorite pair of leather boots.

Leather Shoe Brush Alternatives

  • A toothbrush helps remove dirt and grease in hard-to-reach areas.
  • A nail brush cleans off the dirt, and a file could work for getting rid of stubborn stains, especially on suede boots.
  • A white cloth is soft and suitable for wiping off excess dirt, cleaning, and polishing leather boots.
  • If boots get wet, dry the leather boots with a soft cloth or towel.

Cleaning Leather Boots With Household Items

Dish Soap or Leather Cleaner for Cleaning Leather Boots

Dilute dish detergent with plain water. Dip a paper towel or cloth in the diluted solution and soap the leather boot uppers and soles. Then wipe the excess soap with a wet cloth or paper towel.

If you have leather furniture or other leather products in your house, you probably have a leather cleaner. Use a leather cleaner to clean wet leather shoes or boots.

Magic Eraser or Nail Polish Remover for Cleaning Rubber Outsoles

Wet the magic eraser and wring out excess water. Scrub the boot outsole with the damp eraser until clean. Make sure you use the correct color, e.g., a white eraser for white soles.

Alternatively, use acetone or nail polish remover with cotton balls. Avoid getting acetone on the leather material; it will dry it out, resulting in cracking and discoloration. Likewise, avoid getting acetone on your skin.

Get Rid Of Stubborn Stains With Household Items

Vinegar For Winter Salt Stains

First, clean the leather boot with a damp cloth. Then dilute one part vinegar with two parts of plain water. To remove salt stains from leather boots, soak a cloth in the vinegar solution and dab on the stain marks. Use a clean damp rag to wipe off the excess vinegar solution.

Talcum Powder Or Cornstarch For Grease And Oil Stains

Grease and oil stains leave ugly marks on leather boots and shoes. Wipe surface oil and grease off the boot. Cover the oil stains and grease marks with talcum powder so that you can’t see the stains. Apply liberally; you want enough talcum powder to draw out all the oil and grease. Leave overnight.

Alternatively, sprinkle the oil stains with cornstarch or baking soda. Rub gently with a wet piece of cloth. Leave overnight, allowing the cornstarch or baking soda to absorb the oil and grease. Wipe the area with a damp cloth the next day and dry the area with a hair-dryer.

Lemon Juice and Tartar Cream for Food Stains or Paint Stains

Mix equal parts tartar cream and lemon juice and apply the mixture to the stains. Leave it for one hour. Remove the paste with a damp cloth. Dry the boots.

Baking Soda Or Toothpaste for Scuff Marks

Avoid scrubbing leather footwear; instead, use everyday household items like baking soda or toothpaste to remove scuff marks. Dry the boots before removing scuff marks.

Dampen an old cloth and dip the wet cloth in baking soda. Rub the baking soda on the scuff marks. Next, wipe the baking soda off with a damp paper towel. Remove excess moisture with a dry cloth.

Alternatively, apply toothpaste to the scuff marks. Leave it for a minute or two. Apply pressure as you wipe the toothpaste off with a rag.

Nail Polish Remover or Rubbing Alcohol For Ink Stains

Apply either nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol on the ink stain. Don’t rub immediately; you don’t want the ink to spread across the boot. When the alcohol or nail polish remover is almost absorbed, rub off the ink stain with a dry rag. Clean the area using a clean rag and soap and water solution. Dry the wet spot on the leather boot with a hair-dryer.

Hair Conditioner Or Olive Oil for Shiny Leather Boots

Use hair conditioner to polish the leather boots. Apply small amounts and spread it over the uppers with a towel or tissue.

Likewise, olive oil protects leather boots. Olive oil is a common household item and could be cheaper than hair conditioner or leather conditioner products.

Polish The Shine Back Into Your Leather Boots

Polishing your leather boots is not essential, but it does make your boots shine and smooth. You’ll probably prefer not to polish a rugged pair of hiking boots or work boots but would like to polish elegant leather shoes.

Materials Needed

  • Piece of fabric to place boots on
  • Clean, soft rag
  • Shoe polish: wax-based polish and shoe cream polish
  • Applicator brush
  • Soft horsehair brush

Polishing the Leather Boots

Shoe cream polish nourishes the leather and re-colors the leather. Wax shoe polish protects the leather against water and salt and makes the boots shine.

Applying Cream Polish

Make sure you have the right color cream polish.

  • Apply the cream polish with the applicator brush.
  • Buff with the horsehair brush.
  • Let boots dry for 15 minutes.

Applying Wax Polish

The wax polish is the final step.

  • With the soft rag draped around two fingers, dip it in the wax polish.
  • Cover the entire boot using small circular motions.
  • Buff with the horsehair brush.
  • Repeat the polishing until you’re satisfied with the shine.

How Can I Make My Leather Boots Look New Again?

You don’t have to throw away your favorite pair of leather boots or leather shoes because they look old. Here’s how you can make them look new again.

  • First, clean your old pair of leather boots according to the way set out above.
  • Next, use a generous amount of good leather conditioner to soften and repair the leather.
  • Buff the leather in slow movements using a horsehair brush or soft cloth to remove the excess conditioner.
  • Then apply boot cream with a dry rag in a circular motion. Make sure you use the correct color.
  • Leave the pair of leather boots overnight.
  • Repeat the buffing process the next day.

Can You Wash Leather Boots?

Never soak leather boots or wash them in the washing machine. Use dish detergent and water or vinegar and water (in the way shown above) and always dry the boots.

We trust you found the information in the guide helpful. How do you clean your leather boots?