How to Clean Leather Boots

10 Tips on How to Clean Leather Boots to Improve Durability and Longevity

A good pair of leather boots can cost you an arm and leg, so learning how to clean them and preserve them is crucial to getting your money’s worth.

Different types of debris, dirt, and water damage can destroy the appearance of your favorite boots–not to mention ruin their lifespan and durability. Thankfully, there’s tried and true methods to cleaning leather boots to keep them beautiful for years to come.

Key Point: In this guide, we provide 10 tips on how to clean leather boots and condition them so that they will last you a lifetime.

Before You Clean Leather Boots, Protect Them

How to Clean Leather Boots to Improve Durability and Longevity

Before we tell you how to clean your leather boots, let’s first talk about ways to protect your leather boots before you even go outside. 

Breaking In Your Boots

Prior to putting anything on your boots, it’s important that you wear them around the house and break them in.

This process can take from several days up to a week.

To speed up the process, consider using a leather boot conditioner, which will help make the material a little softer and more flexible.

Your boots don’t need to be cleaned right out of the box, so first focus your energy on making sure they’re comfortable before you fully invest by getting them dirty and making them unreturnable.  

Waterproofing Your Boots

After your boots are broken in, it’s time to waterproof them. Even if you’re now fully committed to the shoes you’ve bought, you want to keep them as protected from the elements as possible.

Plus, this will make the cleaning process easier for the long run. However, ironically, we do suggest you quickly clean the boots prior to waterproofing them.

This might be nothing more than a quick dust off or lint roll since you haven’t worn them out of the house, but it’s best to do it all the same. 

We suggest using a water-based cleaning agent and a nylon brush–an old toothbrush will do. Make sure any excess residue of any kind is completely removed by carefully brushing the seams of your boots.

How to Apply Waterproofing to Your Leather Boots

Next, apply a water-based waterproofing agent. There’s a few reasons why it should be water-based

  • It’s breathable

It’s important to keep your boots breathable because otherwise, if you clog the pores of the leather with a non-water-based waterproofing agent, your sweat will have no way to evaporate. This can damage the leather, and make wearing your boots uncomfortable.

  • It’s versatile

Water-based agents can be applied to wet or dry boots.

  • There’s no petroleum

Petroleum-based products can contribute to leather stretching out over time, which can affect the fit of the boot.

  • No heat is required

Water-based products do not require any heat in order to penetrate leather, like some other waterproofing agents. Too much heat can damage leather.

  • You can’t use too much

It’s impossible to use too much of a water-based waterproofing agent.

  • It won’t attract dirt

Using another agent might waterproof your boots, but will end up attracting dirt.

After waterproofing your boots, you may want to repeat the process every two or three weeks, and up to times times for maximum protection.

Types of Waterproofing

best way to clean leather boots

Waterproofing agents can come as a spray, a wax, or a powder. Which one you choose to use will depend entirely on your own personal needs–how much you use your boots, what environments in which you will be wearing your boots, and so on. 

  • Spray

When waterproofing your boots with a spray, hold the bottle about six inches from your boots and cover the entire surface with a thin coat. Multiple applications may be required.

  • Wax

Warm the wax with a hair dryer before applying the product to the surface of the boot with a cloth. Remove excess wax, and be sure to buff in order to make the boots shine. 

  • Cream

Using a cream is probably the best choice for leather boots. Many cream waterproofing agents come with an applicator. If so, use the applicator, but if not, a lint-free cloth works just fine. 

After applying a waterproofing agent to your boots, it’s important to let them dry before using them.

We recommend using a stand up dryer or let the boots sit in any well-ventilated area with average temperatures and low humidity.

Don’t use a device like a hair dryer to speed up the process, or let your boots dry in direct sunlight.

You can, however, use a fan to help dry your boots or stuff balled up newspaper inside them to help absorb excess moisture.

How to Clean Leather Boots

best way to clean leather boots

All this to say, the best way to extend the lifespan of your leather boots is to clean them on the daily. Whether your boots are dirty with grease, oil, dust, dirt, or some other kind of stain, or if they’re just a little dirty after walking around town looking fly, we have your answers how how to keep them looking like new.

When researching this useful guide, RAVE Reviews wanted to keep it simple. Our only goal is to help you clean your leather boots, as cheap and easy as possible.

So, we listened to the advice of boot and shoe experts, leather boot junkies, DIY-mavens and how-to wizards. 

We broke cleaning your leather boots down into the following:

  • Supplies needed (What will you need to buy? What will you likely have around the house?)
  • The step-by-step process of cleaning your leather boots
  • Reasons your boots are dirty (Dust, grease, dirt, grime, ink, or oil) and how best to clean those kinds of substances off your boots

Cleaning your leather boots really isn’t rocket science. After reading our easy-to-understand guide, you’ll know everything about how to clean leather boots. So, let’s get started.

Step 1: Remove and clean those laces

Before cleaning your leather boots, remove the laces. If they’re dirty too, put them in the laundry, or try the following steps to clean them:

  1. Add soap or laundry detergent to warm water in a sink or bowl
  2. Using your hand or a brush, remove all loose dirt or other debris from the laces
  3. Let shoelaces soak for a few minutes
  4. Scrub laces with an old toothbrush
  5. Rinse laces in clean water
  6. Air dry

Step 2: Get all loose debris outta there!

Using a cloth or a brush, make sure your boots are clean of all excess dirt and debris.

Step 3: Get ‘em soapy

Dip a cloth into a solution of warm water and dish soap, wring out the excess water, and wipe down the exterior of your boots only. Warm water and soap is really all you need to get rid of the majority of scuffs and stains.

Step 4: Wipe ‘em down

Get another damp cloth or old rag to wipe off any excess soap. Dry the boots with a towel.

Step 5: Condition your boots

Now it’s time to condition the leather. You can use a store-bought conditioner or make your own. Here’s how:

  1. Mix 1 part vinegar with 2 part linseed oil
  2. Using a cloth, apply the solution to the leather
  3. Leave the boots alone for about 15 minutes. (Maybe get a cup of coffee?)
  4. Using a soft cloth, Buff the boots until they shine

Step 6: Let ‘em dry

The best way to let your boots dry is to just let them sit in the open air, au naturel. If you’re in a hurry, use a stand up dryer. 

Never use a hair dryer, or put the boots in direct sunlight or next to a heater. This can cause the leather to fade and crack.

How to Clean Leather Boot Stains

best way to clean leather boots

Sometimes your boots have some especially persistent stains not able to be removed by soap and water. Here’s how to handle especially tough stains on your leather boots.

Remove Grease and oil stains from Leather Boots

Here’s how to get those ornery grease and oil stains out of your leather boots with items you probably have around your house:

  1. Sprinkle cornstarch or baking powder on the grease stain or oil spot
  2. Rub with a damp cloth
  3. Let sit for a few hours or even overnight

Remove Ink Stains from Leather Boots

Your new leather boots have a tough ink stain? Here’s how to clean them:

  1. Lightly apply some nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol on the spot with a cotton swab
  2. Blot gently until the stain is removed
  3. Wipe with a clean dry cloth and dry with a towel

It’s important to gently blot ink stains. Rubbing too hard will make the ink stain spread.

Remove Scuff Marks from Leather Boots

You can get most scuffs out of leather with non-gel toothpaste. Simply squirt a bit on the scuff, and rub it down with a soft cloth. Presto! You now have clean leather boots. 

Other stains

But what about all other types of stains on your leather boots? Here’s a home remedy for when your leather boots just won’t come clean.

  1. Mix equal parts lemon juice and cream of tartar sauce to create a paste-like mixture
  2. Apply mixture to the stain and let it sit for about a half an hour
  3. Wipe paste off with a cloth

Since lemon juice and tartar sauce have a mild bleaching effect, it’s important to use this approach on light-colored leather boots only.

FAQ – How to Clean Leather Boots

best way to clean leather boots

In this section, we’ll answer some common questions about the upkeep and cleaning of leather boots.

Just click on the question in blue for a drop-down answer!

How Long can Leather Boots Last?

Many people have been pondering if leather boots could last a lifetime, especially since high-quality leather does not decay. However, leather boots are not expected to last between 5 to 10 years. Additionally, its life expectancy will depend on several factors, such as:

  • how often do you use your boots, and what activities do you do with it
  • the material and quality of your leather boots
  • the maintenance you perform and how often you do it

Regardless of the quality of your leather boots, your upkeep will significantly affect their lifespan. Even the highest quality leather boots won’t last a year if frequently exposed to extreme weather conditions.

To make your leather boots last long, you need to wear them with care and perform regular maintenance. With proper upkeep and caution when wearing a pair, your leather boots can last up to 7 years.

Do Expensive Leather Boots Last Longer?

Yes and no.

Yes, expensive leather boots last longer. However, expensive leather boots will only last longer if they are made from high-quality leather materials. High-quality leather boots will outlive cheap, low-quality leather boots.

So, before you buy expensive leather boots and think that it’ll last longer, ask about the type of leather used and keep an eye on its craftsmanship. Don’t automatically assume that expensive=high-quality. Often, expensive leather boots are only expensive because of their name.

Although you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a pair of leather boots, you should be willing to invest in a pair that is high quality, or else there is really no point in buying.

Which Types of Leather are More Durable?

Full-grain, top grain, and genuine leather are three of the main types of leather used to make boots. While these three are considered top-notch materials, full grain leather is #1. Top grain, on the other hand, is the most common, and genuine leather is the cheapest.

Full-grain leather is disguised by its smooth and beautiful surface that could only have few to zero faults. Full-grain leather boots maintain their natural markings, meaning their flaws have not been sanded, polished, or rubbed off the surface. And since the grain is still intact, the leather fibers are stronger and more stable.

Full-grain is also the most breathable leather for boots. Any prolonged touch leaves less moisture in the leather. This kind of leather does not easily deteriorate. Instead, a thin layer called a patina forms gives the leather a beautiful appearance while shielding it from wear and corrosion.

Conclusion: Keeping your leather boots clean is really as simple as that. You can spend money on fancy cleaning agents, but everything you need to keep your boots clean is probably around your house.

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Randy Brangman

Randy Brangman is a Licensed Physical Therapist and Exercise Therapist and a former long distance runner. He is the founder and Lead Exercise Instructor at Trinity of Wellness. Spending more time in running shoes than flip flops, he travels the world while going through pair after pair. He is currently writing a book about joint therapy.