Cleaning Leather Boots the Proper Way (It Only Takes 5 Simple Steps!)

Owning a pair of high-quality leather boots is a real investment because, if you take good care of it, you really won’t need a new one in decades – even longer!

The operative phrase there is ‘if you take good care of it.’

Admittedly, this job is time-consuming – you’ll have to set aside your whole Saturday morning for this chore. The good news is it’s not that hard at all.

Cleaning your leather boots can be accomplished in 5 easy steps starting with preparing your boots and the supplies you will need. The subsequent steps include washing it with saddle soap, applying conditioner after letting it dry, and then buffing it to a shine.

Described below is the more detailed process, including the different items (and the possible alternatives that can easily be found in your home as a bonus!) that you will need to accomplish this task.


1. Prep Your Boots

Although considered by some as a pre-step, this is just as crucial as the rest because it makes your job easier and protects your shoes from getting bent and folded while you work on them.

Prep your workspace and everything you need

Cover your intended work surface with an old towel or manila paper so that you don’t unnecessarily soil or stain (when you’re doing polishing) your table or floor.

Here are the must-have supplies

  • Shoe brush
  • Warm water
  • Saddle soap
  • Crumpled paper
  • Old rags
  • Leather conditioner
  • Shoe polish

Start by removing the laces, insoles, inserts, and other detachable parts

If you will do a deep clean, place all these in a bowl of soapy solution (detergent and water) and soak it there for the duration of the whole procedure.

Fill the insides with crumpled paper

Old leather footwear tends to be soft and pliant so doing this keeps the whole structure firm and upright, making the scrubbing and wiping easier.

If you have a shoetree, go ahead and use those. However, many agree that crumpled paper works better for this purpose.

Remove all visible dirt

Turn the shoe over and make sure that the outsole, especially the deep indentations on the heel and ball, is mud-free. Do this by knocking the pair together to shake the debris off. Then, with a stiff brush, get rid of crusted mud and dirt all over the shoe.

Handy Tip:

For hard-to-reach areas and smaller seams (like the midsole and the holes for the laces), try a used toothbrush with soft bristles.

Finally, wipe the whole surface with a damp towel before moving on to the next step.

2. Wash the Shoes with Saddle Soap

Leather shoes should never be washed – as in soaked and brushed in soapy water –because the textile will get saturated and make it brittle once it dries off. The following steps are what must be done:

  • Take a lint-free rag or piece of cloth, wrap a section of it around your finger, and then dip it into a bowl of warm water.
  • With your cloth-wrapped finger, take a bit of the saddle soap from the container, then lather it onto the surface of the shoe in a circular motion.
  • Repeat wetting the cloth and taking a small portion of the saddle soap when it gets a bit dry.
  • Once you have covered every part with the saddle soap, wet a clean section of the cloth and rinse the soap off using the same circular rubbing motion.
  • Repeat all the steps on the other pair.

Saddle soap is the best option for this step because it contains several moisturizers like lanolin and glycerin and waterproofing ingredients like carnauba wax polish that maintain the integrity of the leather.

There are many brands available nowadays although many still prefer the well-renowned Kiwi. But if you don’t have that, the following items – all found in your kitchen – are just as effective:

  • Vinegar

This is an effective cleaner because the acidity of the vinegar can eliminate the salt stains from shoes.

Mix an equal amount of water and vinegar and use this as you would the saddle soap.

  • Dish Soap

Adding a couple of drops of dish soap to a cup of water is a good enough alternative.

Try not to mix too much of this because the chemicals may be too harsh for your shoes.

  • Baking Soda

This all-around cleaner can be made into a thin paste with water then gently scrubbed over the surface.

It is also an effective deodorizer. Simply sprinkle the powder inside the boots and leave it there for an hour or so before vacuuming it out.

  • Toothpaste

Its corrosive ingredients work the same way on scuffs as it would on teeth stains.

Just squeeze out a bit of toothpaste from the tube and directly scrub it over the surface. Once dry, scrub it out with a shoe brush.

3. Let It Dry

You will need to wait several minutes to an hour to allow your pair to dry completely before moving on to the next step. If you leave this step out, the conditioner won’t seep well into the deeper parts of the leather.

4. Apply Leather Conditioner

Leather has natural oils in it, that’s why it looks so smooth and shiny the first time you saw it on the shop’s shelf. But just like most things, these oils tend to dry up due to wear and tear. Restoring this is a must, not just to make it look nice but to ensure that it won’t crack and get damaged in the future.

  • Take a clean section of the rag you have been using (or a new one – that’s fine too), wrap it around your finger, and dip it into the conditioner.
  • Gently rub this onto the surface of the boots in the same circular motion.
  • Once you have covered the whole surface, allow the conditioner to seep in well for 15 to 30 minutes.
  • You can do another layer for maximum protection.

Handy Tip:

Go for a neutral-colored conditioner so that you can use it for many of your footwear. And because some boots are two-toned (the upper and the outsole come in different colors), a neutral-colored polish is more practical since you need to polish the outsole as well.

Mink oil is considered to be the best for this because it also offers water resistance and gives the leather a darker, richer hue, which is helpful for extremely old pairs which have faded in time.

Just in case you don’t have this, here are ‘home remedies’ which can provide nearly the same results as mink oil:

  • Hair Conditioner

This hair care product also contains numerous plant and mineral oils which work just as well on leather.

Use this as you would mink oil.

  • Olive Oil

If you’re in a rush and don’t have anything else to use, this could work. However, many say that this is good only for black shoes as it could alter the color of light-colored ones.

To use, just follow the instructions above.

  • Vaseline

This is another emergency alternative to shoe conditioners because it has softening ingredients.

Take a very small amount of Vaseline and spread it evenly on the boots. Take care not to over-saturate the leather because it could weaken the fibers and ruin its integrity over time.

5. Buff Your Shoes

This final step in the process involves brushing your boots to a shine.

A horsehair brush or any brush with natural bristles is the best for this task because it won’t scratch the leather. You can also go for synthetic ones because these are cheaper, but make sure to choose those with softer bristles.

  • After waiting (again) for the conditioner to get absorbed by the leather, take the shoe brush and vigorously scrub your boots from the top to the bottom.
  • Take your old toothbrush and scrub the welts and the outsole to a nice polish as well.
  • With the dry part of your rag, do a final wipe of the whole shoe. This will show you any imperfections that you may need to continue working on.

If you think you need to apply another layer of conditioner or polish, do step 4 once more. But if you’re satisfied with the results, leave your boots for two to 24 hours before using them.

The Importance of Cleaning Your Boots

Keeping your boots clean isn’t just about keeping your in style or protecting your investment – although that is very important. After all, a good pair could go as high as $500 nowadays.

It also protects your feet, which are the foundation of your body. Frayed leather won’t fit you well and could give you muscle problems in time. Dirty shoes are unhygienic and could be the breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, and other disease-causing microorganisms.

As aforementioned, this is not a difficult task. A quick wipe down every week and a deep cleaning (which is what is described above) once a month, depending on how scruffy your pair gets, will do your boots wonders.