How to care for Red Wing boots
Depending on if your Red Wing boots use Amber Harness, Oro Legacy, Briar Oil Slick or any of their Muleskinner leathers, you’ll need to use a different leather moisturizer. But for universal Red Wing boot care, brush with a horsehair brush and use cedar shoe trees when not wearing.
For individual leathers, use a high wax content moisturizer like Venetian leather balm, and for oil-tanned leathers like Briar Oil slick use Red Wing Natural Boot Oil. Muleskinner leather should only be brushed and not conditioned.
Red Wing offers some of the best leathers I have on any of my boots.
But I noticed that on the Red Wing site, they have the same exact care guides for all of their boots. I know we shouldn’t be putting mink oil on our roughout leather.
So I wanted to share how I care for my Red Wing boots, including my Amber Harness Iron Rangers, Slate Muleskinner Moc Toes, and my Briar Oil Slick Sawmill’s (and I’ll also cover Oro Legacy).
Each of these three leathers require different care products and different cleaning procedures. But before I dive into how to treat each individual S.B. Foot Tanning Co. leather, let’s start with the basics of how to care for any Red Wing boot.
Basics of Caring for Red Wing Boots
Regardless of if your Red Wing boot has the Amber Harness leather or the Oro Legacy leather, there are a few things you can do to keep your Red Wing boots looking fresh.
In fact, this is true of all boots in general, so if you haven’t already, pick up the following:
With just these two items, you’ll be able to consistently care for your Red Wing boots. The main thing to watch out for is getting dirt and mud into the welt, and you also want to avoid letting the vamp sag.
Because Red Wing boots tend to have a larger, more structured toe box, the upper can sort of “give up” and sink, while the toe stays firm and rigid.
A lot of people say this makes Red Wings look like “clown shoes” over time.
That’s why it’s so important to use cedar shoe trees, especially with Red Wing boots.
Brush your Red Wing boots with the horsehair brush once a week or once every two weeks if you want them to stay looking relatively new. You can bump that down to once a month or every two months if you want to develop more of a rugged patina on the leather.
As for the cedar shoe trees, keep a dedicated pair ready to go and slip them into your boots when you take them off for the day.
This will help your boots retain their shape for much longer and it’ll also help you avoid getting mold or mildew in your boots.
Red Wing Amber Harness and Oro Legacy Leather Care
Red Wing’s Amber Harness, Oro Legacy, Ebony Harness, and Black Harness leathers are all oil tanned leathers and they also have a high wax content.
Because of that, they’re really robust and easy to care for. I like to use a waxier leather conditioner for these leathers, and I always want to avoid darkening the leather.
I stick with Venetian Leather Balm for Amber Harness and Oro Legacy leather because it doesn’t darken the leather, adds a bit of weather resistance, nourishes the leather, and it will still allow for a full, rich patina over time.
What You’ll Need to Care for Amber Harness and Oro Legacy Leather
Step 1: Clean with Saddle Soap (Optional)
Remove the shoelaces and clean the leather with saddle soap. I’d only do this step if my boots were muddy or very dirty and I wanted to do a deep clean. I usually skip this and only brush my boots with a horsehair brush to remove as much dirt as possible before conditioning.
But I add this step here in case you want to go all the way with cleaning your Red Wing boots.
Create a rich lather in your saddle soap tin with a bit of warm water, and use the horsehair dauber brush to suds the entire boot. Then wipe off the soap with a dry clean rag.
Let the leather dry out after doing this step—this will allow the leather conditioner to fully penetrate the leather in the next step.
Step 2: Condition with Venetian Leather Balm
Dab a quarter size amount of conditioner onto your finger tips and massage into the leather. Continue to add more as needed, but avoid oversaturating any part of the leather.
It’s better to slowly add more and under condition than it is to pour a whole bunch on the toe and then try to spread it out quickly.
After you’ve conditioned both boots, let them sit for about ten minutes. This will give the leather all the time it needs to soak up the oils and waxes.
After testing 10 of the most popular leather conditioners, Venetian came out as my top pick because it nourishes leather, doesn't change the color, and actually adds a decent amount of weather resistance as well.
Step 3: Buff with a Horsehair Brush
Use your horsehair brush (not the dauber—the bigger one) and buff your boots. This will even out the layer of conditioner and will bring out the very subtle shine of the oil-tanned leather.
Re-lace your boots, add in shoe trees, and your boots are all done!
Red Wing Briar Oil Slick Leather Care
Red Wing Briar Oil Slick is also an oil tanned leather, but I actually like to use Red Wing Natural Boot Oil more for this leather.
Red Wing Boot Oil does darken the leather a bit at first, but because Briar Oil Slick leather is already so dark, I think it refreshes it in a really nice way—it makes my boots look more new.
Red Wing's Boot Oil is a blend of pine pitch and mink oil. It does initially darken the leather a bit, which is why I prefer it on my Briar Oil Slick leather rather than my Amber Harness leather.
All the steps for Briar Oil Slick Red Wing boots care are exactly the same as the Amber Harness and Oro Legacy leathers.
But when you get to the conditioning phase, use Red Wing Natural Boot Oil instead.
Follow the same application method—starting with a little and then going back to get more. That’s even more important with boot oil because if you leave a glob on your boots, it’ll darken that spot especially for a few weeks.
Red Wing Muleskinner and Rough and Tough Leather Care
Red Wing Muleskinner and their Rough and Tough leather need a completely different treatment than their oil-tanned leathers.
I have the Moc Toe in the Slate Muleskinner, but the following is also true of the Hawthorne Muleskinner leather.
For the Copper Rough and Tough and the Charcoal Rough and Tough, there’s really not much you should do—it’s so resilient on its own, all you should do is brush it off with a horsehair brush occasionally.
What You Need to Care for Muleskinner Leather
Muleskinner leather is a roughout leather, which is treated similarly to a suede. Because you’re not cleaning or conditioning the smooth part of the leather, you want to avoid creams, pastes, and oil. Those products will “smooth” over the knap of the roughout and just won’t look good.
Plus, if you use an oil or paste conditioner, you’ll never be able to get that same roughout look again.
So here’s what you’ll need:
- Horsehair brush
- Suede brush
- Suede eraser
- Saphir Rénovateur Suede/Nubuck Spray (neutral)
Step 1: Brush Off Dirt
Use the horsehair brush to brush off any dirt and debris from your boots. You should also remove the laces.
Step 2: Use the Suede Brush and Suede Eraser
In one direction only, swipe the entire boot with your suede brush.
A suede brush is different from a horsehair brush—the bristles are stiffer and will help restore some of the original knap of the Muleskinner leather.
If there are any dark spots on the leather, rub them with a suede eraser in a circular motion. Then brush with the suede brush to remove the rubber. Repeat this step a few times if necessary.
This little kit does the job to bring your suede or nubuck shoes back to life. The handle on the brush is sturdy and well placed and the bristles are just the right level of stiffness.
Step 3: Spray with Saphir Renovateur
Saphir makes a suede and nubuck conditioner that’s sprayable, and that’s the only product I use for roughout leathers (and suede and nubuck leathers, too).
Get the neutral color—Saphir has black and brown versions, but since Red Wing only has the light wheat Hawthorne and grey Slate Muleskinner leathers, neutral is your best option.
Holding one boot in your hand at a time, and holding the Saphir can about three inches away from the leather, spray the entire boot in short bursts.
Once you’ve finished both boots, add in shoe trees, let them rest for 12 hours, and they’re good to go.
I love keeping a can of Saphir Medaille Dor Spray on hand to keep my suede boots protected and looking new all season.
Are Those New Red Wings?
One of the best parts of Red Wing boots is that they really don’t require much upkeep to stay great-looking.
I keep my Red Wing boot care to a minimum—I rarely condition any more often than once every six months, but these boots could all easily go a year or more without conditioning.
But each leather type requires a different product—Amber Harness and Oro Legacy look great with a waxier conditioner like Venetian Leather Balm.
The Briar Oil Slick looks amazing with Red Wing’s Boot Oil.
And the Muleskinner leathers mostly just need a good brushing, but a spray down from Saphir will keep the leather supple.
As for Rough and Tough leather—well, it’s name says it all. I’d just brush those down with a horsehair brush and call it a day.
How often should you oil your Red Wing boots?
It depends on your usage (the more they get wet, the more you’ll want to oil them), but once every six months (or 2-3 times per year) is plenty. If you oil your boots more than that, you’ll reduce the amount of patina they’ll be able to develop.
Should I oil new Red Wing boots?
No, Red Wing ships their boots pretty close to their manufacturing date, so the leather is likely already fully conditioned and ready to go. I like to wear my Red Wing’s for six months or so before I give them their first conditioning.
Does Red Wing clean boots for free?
Many Red Wing stores will clean your Red Wing boots for you if you bring them in. However, cleaning your Red Wings is so easy, it’s worthwhile to learn how to do it yourself. It really takes about 15 minutes.