How to Clean Leather Boots: A Helpful Guide

Cropped feet view of model wearing the Men's Ashland Boot.

Ashland 2.0

Leather boots come in all shapes and sizes, this style of sneakers for men is ideal for indoor and outdoor activities, and pair well with a variety of outfits. Yet no matter how sharp they look alongside your jazzy leather jacket, sometimes, they need a good scrub on the leather shoe.

If you find yourself unsure of how to go about keeping your favorite pair of leather work boots in tip-top shape, then read on to get rid of the loose dirt. In this blog, you’ll learn about why it’s so important to maintain leather footwear and how to clean leather boots and leather shoes so that they can age well and keep turning heads for years to come. 

Maintaining Leather and Why It’s Important

You get home and walk through the door after an on-the-go day and you kick off your leather work boots, eager to dive into your favorite form of evening escapism, paying little to no mind to the loose dirt and filth your leather boot may have accumulated throughout the day. 

Instead of immediately turning on the TV and tuning into your latest guilty pleasure, you might want to consider cleaning your leather boot’s grease stain, scuff marks, and excess dirt instead. 

Here’s why: 

  • It’ll keep the leather shoe’s color crisp. Whether you first fell in love with your hiking boot’s chestnut brown or charcoal black color, regular cleanings will help keep your leather boots looking as good as the day you got them. Some fading is bound to occur over time, of course, due to factors over which you have little control such as exposure to sunlight or inclement weather. But if you do your part to wipe away excess dirt, scuff marks, and grime, it’ll keep the color of your work or hiking boots crisper, longer. 
  • It’ll extend their lifespan. Leather is a durable material by nature, but it’s certainly not invincible. When dirt and oil get locked into your boots’ porous surface, it can make them susceptible to cracks, discoloration, and changes in texture. Keeping up with regular cleanings will not only keep them looking sharp but also prevent them from having to retire earlier than you’d like. 

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The Cleaning Procedure

Now that you have a better understanding of why it might be worth it to spend some extra time tending to your boots, follow along to find out how to care for leather boots the right way:

  • Prep your boots – Before you so much as lift a finger in the name of boot care, make sure to clear a space to do the work. You won’t need much room, but you don’t want to risk having to clean anything else, too. Once you’re settled, loosen the laces, pull them off, and stash them somewhere safe.
  • Dust up and wipe down – Brush your leather shoes top to bottom; soft yet stiff bristles work best for a leather shoe brush. Spend some time, but there’s no need to overdo it. Your goal at this stage isn’t to polish your boots—it’s just to remove that surface-level layer of dust and grime.
  • Use a damp cloth – Whether it’s an old damp rag or a T-shirt, the next step is to wipe the rim of the soles, the toe guards (if your boots have them), and the uppers (curious about what are leather uppers? It’s the part of the boot anatomy that rests above the sole).

Boots that toe the line between rugged and urban. Shop Men's Boots. Cropped feet view of model wearing TOMS Men's Boots.

Cleaning Leather with Leather Cleaner

Once you’ve polished off the preliminary phases of cleaning, you might then decide to enlist the help of a specialized leather cleaner. There are practically as many leather cleaners as there are leather boots, but typically, you’ll only deal with two kinds:

  • Leather soaps (saddle soap)
  • Liquid leather cleaners

Here’s how to properly use them when cleaning your boots:

  • First, dampen a soft cloth (don’t soak it)—preferably not the same one you used earlier. 
  • For leather or saddle soaps, rub the cloth against the bar to produce a lather. For liquids, dab the cloth with just a bit in order to get the lather going.
  • Guide the cloth in concentrated circles along the boots’ surfaces, scrubbing every nook and cranny. Depending on the type of boot, you may have to move flaps around or reach behind zippers.
  • Once you’re satisfied with your now clean leather shoes, grab a dry cloth and wipe away any remaining residue, be it a sneaky bit of dust or excess lather. The cleaner will continue to work its magic as the boots fully dry over the next few hours.
  • After your boots are clean and dry, we recommend doing one more thing before you get back to walking in style: conditioning. Using just a pea-sized amount of leather conditioner or leather honey and applying it with a rag in a circular motion will ensure your boots last longer and keep them looking their best. 

Model wearing the Men's Hillside Boot in Olive.

Getting Down to the Squeaky-Clean Specifics

If, rather than a general cleaning, you’re trying to rid your boots of a particular malady, we’ve got you covered there, too. Here are a few common leather shoe care conundrums and how to solve them: 

  • Working around water damage – Damp cloths are the last thing you need if your boots are already drenched. Instead, fill your shoes to the brim with old newspapers, which will absorb the moisture. Once dry, clean the boots as you normally would.
  • Saying goodbye to salt – For salt stains acquired from winter wanderings, an equal-part mixture of water and vinegar works wonders. Dip a cloth in the concoction, scrub away, and wipe down with a damp cloth. You can dry your boots off with a towel, but feel free to let most of the drying happen naturally.
  • Clearing up scuffs – When it comes to scuffs, you can go one of two ways. Use either a wet cloth with baking soda or petroleum jelly. Both have proven effective, and both require drying with a separate clean cloth afterward.

TOMS: Shoes that are Fresh, Clean, and Moving Forward

By following these simple cleaning steps, your leather boots are sure to last you longer than they otherwise would. Put as many miles on your beloved boots as you can but, whenever you feel like they’re too tattered to be revived, shop for a new pair at TOMS

Whether you’re in search of slip-ons or lace-ups, wedges, or flats, TOMS has got just the thing to keep your footwear fresh and moving forward. 

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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.