How to Clean Leather Boots the Right Way: 4 Simple Steps

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by  Karlton Miko Tyack | Last Updated: 
How to clean leather boots cartoon top down graphic of boots and leather cleaning supplies

Clothes make the man, right? Sure, but not if they’re dirty.

While we never forget to throw our used shirts in the wash, our shoes can sometimes fall off of our radar.

A handsome pair of leather boots deserves the kind of TLC you’d give any considerable purchase. Even if you’re rocking mid-tier genuine leathers, you’ll get more wear out of them if you keep them clean.

Dirt and grime are leather’s arch-nemeses. Keep your boots spry and healthy by following our four easy steps. This is how to clean leather boots the right way.

What You’ll Need to Clean Leather Boots

  • A bowl of hot water
  • Leather soap or dish soap
  • Clean, tint-free rags
  • Leather conditioner
  • Horsehair buffing brush

The Best Way to Clean Leather Boots: 4 Simple Steps

Step 1: Remove the laces and knock off the dirt

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Shake off as much excess dirt from the laces as possible, then throw them in with your laundry. This is also a good time to evaluate whether or not they need to be replaced. If they were waxed, but no longer are, you might need new laces. If there’s fraying on the body, you definitely need new ones.

Knock your boots together to shake off debris. Then, wipe off any excess dirt using a dry rag. Again, get as much dirt off as possible before you start cleaning. Wet dirt can seep into leather and cause drying, and small sand grains can scratch your uppers during the cleaning process.

Step 2: Apply the soap solution

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If your boots haven’t been cleaned in several months, and you’re looking to restore the leather to good as new, your best bet is to clean with a product called saddle soap. Many different brands make saddle soap, but our favorite is Kiwi. 

Kiwi Saddle Soap
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Pour out a small bowl of hot water, dampen a clean tint-free rag, and lather up a dime-sized amount of saddle soap.

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Clean one boot at a time. In small circles, lather each boot until you’ve covered all of it with the soap solution.

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Step 3: Rinse and Dry

Wipe off the solution with a clean wet cloth, then a clean dry cloth. Don’t worry if parts of the boot look more wet than others. This process is too gentle to damage the leather. If there’s still visible grime on the boots, repeat steps 2 and 3. 

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Once you’ve finished soaping and rinsing, set your boots aside to dry. This might take 24 hours, or even less with a boot dryer.  

Step 4: Condition the Leather

Remember how supple and gorgeous that boot leather was when you first saw it out of the box? You can thank the leather’s natural oils for that, a lot of which is lost after a few months of wear. Restore these oils by conditioning your boots with a quality conditioner like Mink Oil.

Sof Sole Mink Oil for Conditioning and Waterproofing Leather
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Apply your leather conditioner with a clean rag. Use small circular motions just like you do with the soap. Make sure you cover the entire boot.

saddle soap vs mink oil 8

Take your horsehair brush and quickly buff the boots to break up any excess conditioner or soap. Just a few swipes per boot will do. This also helps evenly condition the boot throughout.

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Leave your boots be for about 20 minutes, and come back to see a resuscitated old friend.

How to Remove Stains from Leather Boots

Water Stains

Blot the wet water stain using a white cloth until it dries. If that doesn’t successfully prevent stainage, use a slightly damp cloth and very gently wipe. Start from the center of the stain and move outward to diffuse the discoloration.

Grease or Oil

Blot the grease or oil using a dry, soft cloth. Lift as much of the excess as you can. Dust the stain with talcum powder or cornstarch and let it sit for 20 minutes so it can absorb the oil molecules. Remove the powder or cornstarch using a soft-bristled brush. Repeat this process until the stain is completely gone. 

Ink

You’ll likely have to get a professional to remove a really bad ink stain. If you catch it while it’s fresh though, there may be hope. Quickly blot a new stain using a soft, dry cloth. If you rub or scrub the stain, it will spread the damage, so keep your hand still. If the ink is transferring to the cloth, it’s working. Replace the cloth as needed. 

When the cloths stop soaking up the ink, rub the leftover stain with a dry cloth and a dab of soap. Don’t use any alcoholic solutions because it’ll damage the leather. Use tiny circular movements to ensure you don’t spread the ink. If you manage to get most of the stain off, the rest will fade over time. 

Scuff Marks

To remove scuff marks from leather boots, combine two tablespoons of baking soda with warm water to make a paste. Apply it to the scuff marks then rub the area with a soft cloth.

Using a second damp cloth, clean the paste off. The slightly abrasive properties of baking soda will take the edges off of the scuffs and lessen the visual impact. Repeat as necessary.

You can also use a non-gel toothpaste. Apply the toothpaste to the scuff marks and gently rub it with a damp cloth. Clean off the excess toothpaste with a second, clean cloth. This will sand away uneven surfaces and even do a little polishing.

Other Stains

If you live in a part of the world that has winter (we mean real winter, like New England winter…not that 70-degree Santa Barbara stuff), you may have experienced sidewalk salt stains.

Remove these white tarnishes using a solution made of equal parts water and white vinegar. Very gently and shallowly rub the solution onto the stain, then wipe away with another cloth that’s damp with pure water.

You’ll likely repeat this process once or twice. You can also use this vinegar solution for mystery stains that are light in color.

For mystery stains that are dark in color, use equal parts lemon juice and cream of tartar. Apply the concoction onto the stain and leave it there for ten minutes. Wipe it off with a damp cloth and, of course, repeat as necessary. 

Why Should You Keep Your Boots Clean?

Red Wing Blacksmith 8
Model wearing: Red Wing Blacksmith
  • Hygiene: You don’t know where that dirt’s been or what it’s carrying. Bacteria on your shoes isn’t just bad for the leather, but can make you sick too.
  • Protect your investment: Once that leather cracks open, there’s no going back. By keeping your boots clean, you’re fighting off the dirt and grime that causes dryness and cracking. By keeping your boots conditioned, you’re boosting its immune system and keeping the leather pliant and healthy.
  • Elevate your style: Did you know that neatly dressed men are perceived to be more competent? This perception also opens more doors for them. A clean, supple pair of leather boots is like a nice watch. It’s something you can throw on in seconds to bolster your style and your overall presence.

A Return to Form for Your Boots 

Cleaning and conditioning your boots is literally like giving them new life. After all, you’ll be restoring the natural oils that keep them resilient and attractive.

So if you haven’t cleaned your leather boots in awhile, grab your cloths and get to it. Get those bad boys back to their former glory.

FAQs

What household items can I use to clean leather boots?

Stick to mild dish soap. Avoid harsh surface cleaners or specialty soaps with kojic acid, as they can damage the leather overtime.

Is Vaseline good for leather boots?

Avoid using vaseline on leather boots. It won’t adequately soak the leather to act as an effective conditioner. At worst, petroleum jelly and substances like it can rob the leather of its natural oils.

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