How to Soften Leather Boots Quickly Without Destroying Them

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by  Jon Wadsworth | Last Updated: 

If you follow my guide, you’ll have boots that feel like they’ve been on your feet for years.

There are a few tricks to softening leather boots, especially if you want to avoid destroying the leather. 

It took me a lot of trial and error over the years to find the perfect method, and today I’m going to share how I soften my boots. 

I’ve found that certain leather responds differently than others, so I’ve included more than one way to soften your leather boots. From conditioning oils (you never saw a cow with a bad complexion) to ingenious tricks like freezing your boots, hopefully, you’ll be as happy with the results as I was.

What You’ll Need to Soften Leather Boots

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There are several ways that I’ve found will help soften leather boots to make them more pliable; I’ll go through what you need for each method so you can be as prepared as possible. 

Once you’ve got the necessary equipment, I’ll go through each method step by step, so you know you’re on the right track.

Using the Mink Oil Process (Best Option)

What you’ll need;

  • Mink oil
  • A clean cloth
  • Hairdryer or heat gun (optional)

Using the Boot Stretcher Process (if Mink Oil Alone Doesn’t Work)

What you’ll need;

  • Boot stretcher
  • Mink oil

Using the Freezer Process (Last Resort)

What you’ll need;

  • A ziplock bag that won’t leak
  • Old newspapers or rags
  • Plastic bags to wrap your boot in
  • Freezer space to fit your boots in overnight

How to Soften New Leather Boots: 3 Methods to Try, From Best to “Last Resort”

Soften Leather Boots with Mink Oil

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Using mink oil on your new boots is a great way to soften the leather quickly; it’s also something that you should about every six months if you want your leather to stay as fresh as possible. 

The better protected and maintained your new boots are, the longer they’ll last. To apply mink oil, simply follow the steps below.

This is my favorite method for getting the best out of new leather boots; it softens the leather quickly and makes them more water-resistant. They’re also more comfortable; I rarely suffer any discomfort after prepping my boots before I start wearing them.

Step 1: Clean your Boots

cleaning leather boot with saddle soap

If your boots are brand new, you can bypass this step, just ensure that the boots are completely clean before applying any conditioner to your boots.

Step 2: Apply the Mink Oil

saddle soap vs mink oil 8

Using a clean cloth, scoop a small amount of the conditioner onto the fabric and gently rub the oil into the leather of the boot. If you stick to the mantra “little and often” you won’t go wrong. If you’re unsure of what color the mink oil will turn your boot, use a little oil on the inside of your boot where it won’t be seen. If you’re happy with the color change, you can get started.

I recommend taking the laces out so you can get to every part of the boot, including the tongue. My preference for softening my boots is Fiebing’s Mink Oil Paste; it’s not too expensive and works like a charm at softening leather. 

Fiebing's Golden Mink Oil
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If you want the oil a little softer before you apply it, you can heat it slightly before applying it.

Apply evenly to the leather and rub in the oil in circular motions; you should be able to spot the color change, which helps to make sure you don’t miss a spot. Don’t be thrifty when applying the conditioner, but don’t drown the boot in it either; you’re looking for an even covering that can soak in overnight.

I sometimes borrow my wife’s hair dryer and gently heat my boots for a few seconds. Don’t overheat the boot: you’re just looking to open the pores of the leather slightly. 

If I know in advance that I’m going to condition my boots, I may put them in direct sunlight for a while instead of using a hairdryer.

Step 3: Leave for up to 24 Hours

profile of boot treated with mink oil

You can’t rush perfection, and your boots need time to soak in the conditioner; don’t be tempted to wear them outside. They have to be dry and oil-free before you can wear them again. Feel free to check them in the morning, but ideally, leave the boots to absorb the oil for 24 hours. 

I usually bend the boots before heading out to work; it helps soften the leather and helps with the absorption of the conditioner. By the following evening, you can finish off getting your boots ready to wear.

Step 4: Work the Remaining Oil into the Boots

how to clean clarks desert boots 3

Once you’re satisfied the boots have absorbed everything they’re going to, gently remove any excess mink oil with a dry, clean cloth. Gently wipe the leather in circular motions. You’re looking to get any last bit of oil into the leather’s pores and then clean them down.

Your boots should now have an even-looking color to them and already feel softer. You may need to wear them around the house for a while and maybe even repeat the process one more time until you’re satisfied.

Step 5: Repeat Every 2-3 weeks, and then Twice a Year When Satisfied

Maintaining your boots is incredibly important to their longevity, so ideally, you should repeat this method at least once more within a few weeks just to allow the boots to absorb more moisture from the mink oil. 

After that, try to make this a twice-per-year routine. Your boots will look amazing and last a lot longer.

Using a Boot Stretcher and Conditioning Oil

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I find using a boot stretcher on my new boots to be a lifesaver; after a while, I knew how best to use my booth stretcher so that new boots would feel great as soon as I put them on. 

Not everyone will have a boot stretcher, but they’re an excellent buy if you’re serious about your boot care. 

Once I started to combine conditioning my boots before putting them on a boot stretcher, I never looked back. The softer leather, combined with the boot stretcher holding the shape of the boot while opening up the leather’s pores, quickly gets your boot into the right shape.

If using both methods at once doesn’t appeal to you, you can easily skip those steps and just focus on steps three and four. 

Just using a boot stretcher can be enough, especially if your boots aren’t too far off being a comfortable fit anyway. 

This is my second-favorite method for softening leather boots. Sometimes, I just use the boot stretchers, but more often than not, especially when the boots are new, I find both methods combined give me comfortable, more flexible boots.

Step 1: Clean Your Boots.

As always, your boots must be clean when you’re planning on using oils, soaps, or conditioners on them. New boots won’t need it, but if you’ve worn them outside, it’s a step to remember.

Step 2: Apply the Mink Oil or Saddle Soap 

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Following step two from my first example, apply the oil evenly using a clean cloth. Make sure the laces are removed from your boots so that you can reach every part of the leather, including the tongue. Fiebing’s Mink Oil Paste is easy to apply, will soften the leather, and help to make your boots water-resistant.

Step 3: Insert your Boot Stretcher

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Boot stretchers are simple to use, often inexpensive, and can mean the difference between walking around in agony while your boots adjust to your feet or skipping to work in boots that fit like a glove. I use the FootFitter Heavy Duty Premium Professional Boot Width Stretcher as I find the toe box is often the part of my boots I have issues with. 

FootFitter Heavy Duty Premium Professional Boot Stretcher
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The only downside is it comes as a single unit, but I’m happy to take two days to soften and stretch my boots. If you’re in a bit of a rush, the Unisex Pair of Professional Boot Stretchers is another quality boot stretcher that lets you do both feet simultaneously.

Unisex Pair of Professional Boot Stretcher
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Step 4: Leave Your Boots Overnight

Whether you decide to condition your boots or not, you’ll have to leave the boots in the boot stretcher for at least eight hours, longer if you’ve conditioned them too. 

Even when I just use the boot stretcher, I always leave my boots for 24 hours; you’re making it much less likely that you’ll have to start again.

Step 5: Work the Remaining Oil into the Boots

If you’ve conditioned your boots using mink oil, it’s time to remove any excess oils once you’ve taken the boot stretcher off. 

The bonus to doing both of these methods is that the extra stretching allows even more of the oils to seep into the leather, making them much more pliable and softer to the touch.

Freezing Your Boots to Soften the Leather

I avoided trying this method for years; it felt like a trick I couldn’t figure out. I’ve even read online that some people advocate urinating into their boots to help stretch the leather, but the less said about that, the better. 

I eventually tried freezing some new boots; I couldn’t find my boot stretcher, so I bought a new one, and when it arrived, I bought a shoe stretcher instead. After many tears were shed, I tried the freezing method and was astounded at how well it worked.

I’ve used this method a few times now, and I’m always pleased with the results, although I prefer the look and feel of using more traditional methods such as mink oil. But, in a pickle, this is a superb way to soften your boots. I can see this being ideal if you work away from home, buy new work boots, and need a quick fix that’s not materials-dependant.

Step 1: Fill Two Ziplock Bags With Water

Fill the ziplock bags with water; these will be put inside your boots. When water freezes, it expands; this is a cheap, quick, and effective way to stretch your boots without buying a boot stretcher. Make sure the water can’t escape, or you’re about to find an expensive, boot-shaped ice cube in your freezer.

Step 2: Place a Bag Inside Each Boot

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You may need to remove or add water to find the right size, but once you’re happy, place the water-filled bags into your boots. If you’re trying to stretch the toe box, put the bags there; if it’s the heel or shaft you’re struggling with, well, you know what to do. 

My pro tip for this method is to put an empty plastic bag inside my boot before placing the ziplock bag in. It’s not to cover your back in case the bags burst, but removing them the day after is so much easier. You can simply pull out the plastic bag, and the frozen, expanded ziplock bag just slides out.

Step 3: Stuff Each Boot With Newspaper

Holding the bags in place can be a chore; you daren’t risk anything sharp that can pop the bag of water. You’re also looking to stretch a particular part of the boot out, rather than all of it. I usually wear my boots indoors for a while to see what area is causing me issues. If they fit great, I can leave them alone. If the toe, heel, or vamp is tight, I know I will have to stretch a certain area.

I use old newspapers stuffed into the boot to hold the bag where I need it. If you’re stretching the heel or shaft, fill the toe box with paper, then insert the bag before blocking the boot off with more paper. 

Step 4: Place Each Boot Inside a Plastic Bag

This step is optional; I’ve got into the habit of bagging up my boots, though the one time I didn’t, my feet smelled like chicken nuggets and frozen pizza for days. Separately bag each boot, and then you’re good to go.

Step 5: Freeze Overnight

Put your boots in the freezer overnight, I advise checking on them in the morning to ensure all is well, and then I usually leave them until the evening. Remove everything from your boots, and you should now have softer boots that have been stretched slightly by the frozen bags inside.

How to Soften Old Leather Boots

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A pair of old leather boots are worth investing some time on; unlike a 10-year-old pair of sneakers, boots can look even better with age, so softening the leather can bring new life into your old boots. 

The best way I’ve found to soften old leather boots is to use saddle soap. I use Kiwi Saddle Soap on my old boots to keep them supple and clean looking.

Kiwi Saddle Soap
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Your old boots might have been thrown in a dry cupboard for years, or you live in a humid climate; leather is a skin, and it suffers from excess heat and humidity, and it could just be a case of getting the moisture your boots are desperate for, back into them.

kiwi saddle soap how to use

If you follow my favorite method of softening boots I discussed above, using mink oil or saddle soap, you’ll really help the old leather on your boots. Once you’ve finished, you may find that there are still creases in the boot, especially on the vamp where your foot is prone to bending. 

I solve this by using a damp towel and an iron; first, stuff your boots with paper to fill them out, or use a shoe tree

Red Wing Iron Ranger with cedar shoe trees and leather balm

Once the boot is in the right shape, place the damp towel over the creased area, and then, using a hot iron, gently dab the damp towel (make sure the towel is damp!). Don’t iron your boot; pat the creased area gently, then gently stretch the creased area out.

Feel free to re-apply saddle soap in a few weeks, and if possible, invest in shoe trees such as the Stratton Cedar Western Cowboy Style Boot Tree; the creases and cracks will soon reappear if you don’t continue to maintain your boots. 

Your old boots should now look better than ever, and you’ve probably extended their lifespan by several years, especially if you look after them.

Stratton Cedar Shoe Tree
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Conclusion

The only downside is maintaining the leather to get the best out of it. Softening the leather of your boots, especially using Fiebing’s Mink Oil Paste or Kiwi Saddle Soap, is a habit that’s worth getting into. 

Follow any of the methods above and you’ll make that stiff leather soft enough to sleep in. 


FAQs

How can I soften my boots naturally?

The most natural way to soften leather boots is to wear them as often as possible; the heat from your foot, and the continued movement of the leather, will, over time, soften the boots perfectly. The issue with this is that until the boots are softened, you may feel some discomfort.

Is Vaseline suitable for leather boots?

No, putting vaseline on your boots isn’t a good idea. It will permanently darken the leather and the leather won’t be able to breathe, leading it to possible mold and rot. It will also trap dirt, making your boots gross smelling and nasty to look at.

Is olive oil good for leather boots?

Any oily substance, whether natural or not, will harm your leather boots. Olive oil should not be used to soften or clean leather boots at all. Using olive oil will initially give your boots a nice sheen, but the olive oil will go rancid and become sticky, making your boots smell terrible and attracting dust that is difficult to get off.