You spend 8, 10, 12 or more hours a day in your work boots. They’re made to be tough and withstand all kinds of treatment and weather. To make sure they last as long as possible, and give you the best wear and comfort, follow these tips. We’ve included instructions on caring for both finished leather and unfinished leather / suede work boots.
Leather Work Boots
#1: Get ‘Em Clean
First things first: You’ll need to get your boots cleaned before moving onto the conditioning and care aspects.
Depending on how dirty they are, start big and then go small: Remove mud either with a garden hose outside, or in a slop sink. Once most of the grime is gone, move on to more detailed work. For this, use a soft brush (you don’t want one that’s hard or has jagged bristles, as this might harm the leather). Brush away dirt, dust, grass, any foreign objects — and pay special attention to where the leather meets the sole. You can also use a cotton rag, or even an old, soft toothbrush.
If you’ve used water, make sure the leather is dry before you proceed. This’ll either mean some good wipes with a rag, or, a longer drying time overnight, away from direct heat sources.
#2: Don’t Forget About the Insides
Since work boots get so much wear, it’s important to keep their insides dry and odor-free. You can use natural products like cedar or lavender sachets, or a sprinkling of baking soda (make sure to shake that out before you wear your boots).
#3: Spot Clean the Exterior
For salt stains, mix up a bath of white vinegar and water, equal parts. Use a q-tip or cotton rag to softly dab away the salt stains.
For oil stains, use cornstarch: Mix some up with water, and then coat the stain. Depending on how large or deep it is, let the cornstarch sit for a bit, and then wipe away with a clean rag.
For ink or tar stains, use rubbing alcohol: Dab it on a q-tip and gently wipe the stain. Since alcohol dries out leather, this method is best on small stains.
For scuffs, use baking soda: Mix it in with water, and rub away the scuffs.
For scratches, use olive oil: Dab a bit onto a q-tip or corner of a cotton rag, and gently buff away the scratches.
#4: Your Leather Type
Work boot care will differ depending on your boot material.
Leather boots will either have finished or unfinished leather. If you’re unsure, check whether there’s a tag inside that lists the materials. If not, examine the leather closely: Finished leather will be shiny and hard to the touch. Unfinished leather is soft to the touch, and is matte versus shiny.
You can also do a water spot test: Dab some onto the leather. If it absorbs quickly, you’ve got unfinished leather, as finished leather won’t absorb the moisture.
#4a: Finished Leather
Saddle soap is specially formulated to clean and treat finished leather, and is a great option for cleaning work boots as it is gentle enough to not wear out the leather. Follow the directions on the container on how much product to use; dab that onto a damp cotton rag and use circular motions to work the product into the leather. Wipe away excess product with a clean, dry rag.
You can then condition the leather with a leather cream or conditioner — this will help with water resistance, and help keep the leather moisturized. Do at least a couple coats, following the product instructions, and buff away remaining product with a clean rag.
#4b: Unfinished Leather / Suede
Unfinished leather generally doesn’t like too much water, so you’re going to try and avoid direct contact with water when cleaning your boots. Get rid of mud and dirt with rags, then use a soft brush to get all the nooks and crannies free of dust and dirt.
Once the boots are clean, use that soft brush to brush the leather in one direction — this’ll give the leather a neat, finished look.
For scuffs and scratches, use an eraser: That’s right, a simple pencil eraser.
For oil stains, use cornstarch. But unlike with finished leather, you’re going to sprinkle the cornstarch directly onto the part of the boot with the stain. Let it sit for a while (at least a few hours), then brush the cornstarch away.
Once your boots and nice and clean, it’s time to think about where and how to store them. You’ll want to keep them away from direct heat sources, which can dry and deform the leather. If you’re looking to get them off the floor of your closet or entrance way, consider a sturdy, purpose built hanging storage organizer. On the other hand, if you have floor space to spare, there are a variety of free standing boot racks available, and relatively short boots will often store just fine on shelves with the rest of your shoes.