How to Care for Leather Boots

Cropped feet view of model wearing the Men's Hillside Boot in Olive.

Leather boots are meant to be used, whether you’re strolling rain-soaked city streets, grass lawns, or dirt paths. 

But they don’t have to get ruined. That’s where careful and proper boot care comes in.

If you don’t know how to care for leather boots properly, that’s more than okay. This helpful guide will cover the ins and outs of prepping, cleaning, conditioning, and storing your boots to maximize their longevity while minimizing any unsightly or unnecessary blemishes from your daily adventures and activities.

Cleaning Your Boots: A Step-By-Step Guide

Curious about how to clean leather boots?There are ways to protect your leather shoes from the onset, but that doesn’t mean you’re free and clear, never to encounter stained leather again. And if your leather shoes are already dirty, the only course of action is to clean them.

Before you jump right in, take a few minutes to collect the necessary materials so you can complete the next boot care steps with ease. You’ll need:

  • Several clean, dry cloths, ideally made from microfiber or another soft material
  • Liquid dish soap
  • A small bowl of clean, warm water
  • A large, clean towel
  • A soft-bristled brush (optional)

Once you have all that, let’s jump straight into the best way to clean your boots:

  • Remove the laces – Sure, your laces may be dirty too, but they don’t need the same TLC as your boots and leather uppers? Don’t be confused about what are leather uppers they are just the upper part of the boot . You can even put your laces in the laundry machine while you get to work on the leather itself.
  • Clean loose dirt – Before we dig in and start deep cleaning, we’ll first take care of the easier stuff. Using a brush or cloth, wipe down the boots and clear away any loose dirt or debris that might be clinging to the leather. This will make the process easier and less messy.
  • Add soap – Mix up a solution of warm water and gentle dish soap. Dip a soft cloth into this solution. Wring out the cloth so there’s no excess solution on it. Now, use that cloth to wipe down your boot, adding more of the solution as needed.
  • Rinse – Grab another cloth. Dampen this cloth with clean water—no soap this time—and use it to wipe down your boot, removing any excess suds. Again, you can re-dampen the cloth if you need to, but avoid using too much water as you don’t want to replace your dirt stains with water damage.
  • Towel dry – Grab another cloth or towel. While the multi-towel requirements can seem like overkill, it’s important that each new cloth is truly clean to avoid accidental damage. Use this towel to dry your boots as best you can. The boots will still be damp after this step, which is totally fine.
  • Air dry – Now, we wait. It may take up to 48 hours before your boots are fully dry. Don’t try to speed up the process. Using heat, like a blow dryer or even just putting your boots in the sun, can crack and damage the leather. 

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Post-Cleaning Care: Conditioning

Boots are a lot like our hair. Okay, so that’s not exactly true, but there is one thing our boots and our hair have in common. 

For best results after cleaning, you need to apply a leather care conditioner.

Conditioning your boots offers a layer of protection against stains, gives them a nice shine, and hydrates the leather to prevent cracking. There are many different types of leather conditioner, but regardless of which one you use, the conditioning process is similar:

  • Once the boots are dry, take a clean cloth (yes, another cloth) and apply a small amount of conditioner. Be careful not to overuse the leather conditioner. A small amount goes a long way, and too much can go too far.
  • Rub conditioner over the entire boot. Be gentle while applying, as leather naturally breathes and will be able to absorb the conditioner without much elbow grease on your end.
  • Once you’ve conditioned the entire shoe, put it back to let it dry. This will probably take another few hours.
  • Once the leather is completely dry, wipe away any excess conditioner. 

This process will help extend the life of your boots and improve the look. Keep in mind that right after conditioning, your boots may look slightly darker. That’s normal, and the color will fade back to what it was (minus the accumulated dirt you may be used to seeing) with time.

Adding A Little Extra Shine: Buffing

So, now we’re done and ready to wear the boots again, right? Almost. There’s just one more step and, while it may be tempting to skip, it’s going to make your boots shine like they’re brand new.

Buffing your boots is relatively simple. Just follow these # easy steps: 

  • First, find a clean cloth (if you didn’t use them all up during your deep clean) or light bristled brush such as a horsehair brush.
  • Apply a small dab of shoe polish or leather wax, depending on the type of leather you’re wearing.
  • Use the cloth or brush to lightly buff your boots until you notice them start to shine.
  • Slip your boots back on and enjoy the nearly crisp, clean look.

Cropped feet view of model wearing the Men's Chukka Boot in Brushwood Brown.

Deep Cleaning, When Necessary: Removing Tricky Stains

Sometimes, a regular old cleaning isn’t enough. You may have a specific, deep-set stain that doesn’t come out with basic care. If so, you may need additional products to deal with it. There are also some home remedies that can help you get rid of those stubborn boot issues.

Removing Grease or Oil Stains

Grease and oil stains are no joke, but they’re also no match for the right deep cleaning process. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Grab some baking soda or corn starch. Sprinkle the stained area with it.
  • Grab a damp cloth and gently rub the powder into the leather.
  • Let it sit overnight.
  • Use a cloth or brush to wipe off the dry residue.

Eliminating Ink Stains

Ink stains aren’t exactly common problems when it comes to shoes, but that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter a toddler with a pen and a penchant for illustration or an unfortunate spill. 

If you find ink stains on your boots, try these steps:

  • Grab some rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover.
  • Dampen a cotton ball with it.
  • Using the damp cotton ball, dab at the ink stains—dab, don’t rub. Rubbing can spread the stain. Continue dabbing until the stain is gone.
  • Wipe the area with a damp cloth.
  • Dry with a towel.

Removing Scuff Marks

Scuff marks are practically inevitable and can easily become a permanent fixture of your leather boots. However, these steps may be able to get rid of those unsightly marks before it’s too late:

  • Grab some toothpaste—a true paste, not the gel variety. 
  • Apply a little bit of toothpaste to the scuffed area and gently rub it in with a cloth.
  • Dampen another clean cloth and use it to wipe away the toothpaste.
  • Dry with a towel.

Not all stains will come out, but these tips and tricks give you the best chance. Remember that stains are always easier to remove the quicker you address them. If you wait too long, you may not be able to do anything about the marks, scuffs, and spills.

Proactively Preventing Unnecessary Stains

After all that, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a better way to guarantee clean shoes: don’t get them dirty in the first place. 

Before wearing your boots out in the world, spray them with a waterproofing spray. At TOMS, we offer Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof™ spray, which will help keep your boots looking new. Simply wet your shoes, apply the spray, then let them dry. Your boots won’t be indestructible, but they will be protected against basic wear and tear so you won’t have to clean them nearly as often.

Storing Your Boots During the Off-Season

Where do you store your boots when they’re not on your feet? In the closet, right? That makes sense during fall and winter when leather boots are practically an everyday staple, but there’s a better way to keep them safe long term.

Before you say goodbye at the start of a long summer without your favorite boots, give them a good cleaning to avoid any existing damage becoming permanent. 

From there, you can prepare a boot hibernation zone for maximum protection:

  • Stuff them to avoid creasing – Wool socks, milk cartons, crumpled paper—pretty much anything will do. To ensure your boots don’t sag and permanently crease, you want to maintain the approximate shape of your foot and calf inside the shoe by filling them to the brim with something relatively sturdy.
  • Create a safe environment for leather – Just like a lot of household foods and medicines, leather holds up best in a cool, dark, dry climate. A standard coat closet or storage area usually works well, as long as the area is protected from the elements like excess moisture or extreme heat.
  • Deodorize your shoes – Before you fill your boots with wool or paper for a long, sweaty summer, you may want to air them out and even deodorize them with a spray or a natural scent-reliever like baking soda. If you have deodorant balls or fresheners, you can put them in the bottom of your boots to ensure they come out at the end of the season smelling clean and fresh.

Clean Your Boots with TOMS

Sure, cleaning your boots properly is a little more complicated than simply tossing them in the washing machine, but your boots (and your washing machine) will be glad you put in the extra effort to do things right.

At TOMS, we want to make things as easy for you as possible. We offer the products you need for a simpler cleaning process. In addition to our Nikwax Proofing sprays, we also offer a full Shoe Care Kit that includes:

  • A foaming cleanser to help remove dirt and stains
  • A refresher to help freshen and deodorize
  • A protector that will repel moisture and stains, making your shoes easier to clean and less stain-prone

Every purchase should come with the confidence that you’ll be able to enjoy your shoes for many years to come. With the right protecting sprays, cleansers, and care tips, you can shop confidently and wear your favorite styles worry-free.

Sources: 

HGTV. How to Clean Leather Shoes and Boots. https://www.hgtv.com/lifestyle/clean-and-organize/how-to-clean-leather-shoes-and-boots 

Outside. How to Clean and Care for Leather Boots. https://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-gear/hiking-gear/leather-boot-care-clean/ 

Molly Maid. Cleaning Leather Boots. https://www.mollymaid.com/practically-spotless/2018/november/how-to-clean-leather-boots/ 

Reviewed By Dan Caves

Dan Caves is the Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at TOMS and has been operating in the digital space for 6 years, writing about the latest trends or styles and helping brands make bold statements with innovative tactics and creative concepts. He's determined to go all the places, see all the things, and pet all the dogs.