Investing in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or sneakers is a smart move. After all, your feet are in almost constant contact with the ground and elements while you’re walking or running. Getting them dirty is part of the adventure, a rite of passage even. But, did you realize you should be putting in some routine maintenance to preserve the waterproofness and materials? Mud can degrade leather by removing moisture, and leftover dirt and sand can actually break down shoe materials through constant friction while you walk. Don’t stress, though. A few minutes can go a long way in extending your shoes’ useful lifespan. Credit: Sarah Quandt
Cleaning Your Footwear
It’s important to keep your shoes clean and free of mud and debris. If you’re like most hikers, you probably change out of those squishy and smelly boots at the trailhead and stuff them in a plastic bag to be forgotten about in the trunk of your car. As tired as you might be after an epic hike or long run, it’s important to not let them sit for more than a day or two. What you’ll need: water, a vegetable brush and/or toothbrush, and a mild soap or cleaner, like NIKWAX Footwear Cleaning Gel How To: Begin by removing the insoles and laces. Next, clap your boots together or against a hard surface outside to remove any caked-on muck and stones or gravel that may be lodged in the treads. If sticky gunk like sap is an issue, throw them in the freezer to harden it, and then pry it off with a dull knife. Next, rinse them thoroughly with water while using a brush to scrub grime out of the tough spots. You can use a bit of soap or cleaning gel, but no harsh detergents that may damage boot materials. For extra-stinky boots, use a 1:2 mixture of vinegar and water. If you encounter dusty or sandy trails, use a vacuum with the hose attachment to remove the fine particles from both the outside and inside of your boot. Lastly, don’t neglect your shoes’ soles. Make sure to thoroughly clear them of trapped debris to ensure optimal traction and to prevent breakdown of the rubber. Credit: Sarah Quandt
Conditioning Your Leather Footwear
Full-grain leather, which looks smooth, is the only leather that requires conditioning. In turn, doing so keeps the material soft and pliable, which then prevents cracking. What you’ll need: cloth and leather conditioner (NO oils like mink) like NIKWAX Leather Conditioner How To: Leather conditioner is typically applied to dry boots, but check the manufacturer’s instructions first. Apply a generous but sensible amount of conditioner. While the conditioner helps keep the leather soft, too much can reduce the support the boot should provide. Use a damp cloth to remove excess, and buff to polish. Credit: Sarah Quandt
Protect and Waterproof Your Footwear
Luckily, you don’t need to re-waterproof your boots or sneakers after every use. You’ll know it’s time when water droplets no longer bead on the surface and, instead, are readily absorbed into the material. What you’ll need: Waterproof wax or application like NIKWAX Waterproofing wax How To: Begin with clean, wet boots with water fully soaked into the material. Generally, you’ll apply the waterproof agent, let it sit for a few minutes, and then, wipe away any excess, but be sure to follow the directions on the packaging. Waterproofing agents come in various forms, such as creams that get dabbed and liquids that get sprayed on. Credit: Sarah Quandt
Drying and Storing Your Footwear
It’s important to let your boots dry thoroughly to prevent mold from forming and materials from breaking down. A low-humidity environment is key, and you can speed up the process by using a fan or boot dryer or stuffing newspaper in each shoe. However, be sure to steer clear of heat, including fireplaces, which can damage materials and weaken adhesives. Dry the insoles separately, and do not put them back into the boot until both are completely dry. Then, store the boots in a well-ventilated area, and avoid garages and attics, both of which are notoriously damp and hot. Credit: Sarah Quandt
When Should I Retire My Footwear?
If you keep up on shoe maintenance, they’ll last forever, right? Not quite. So, how do you know when to toss ‘em? The number of miles a pair boots or sneakers has traveled can be a decent rule of thumb. You can expect hiking boots to get between 500 to 1,000 miles, while running shoes can typically see between 300 to 500 miles. These large ranges account for the many variables that cause wear and tear, such as ground surface and conditions. Visually inspect your shoes every so often for frayed, cracking, or separating materials. Cracking of the sole, compression lines, and worn treads also clearly indicate you’re due for some new kicks. Also, pay attention to your body. If your feet or joints hurt sooner or worse than usual or if you’re starting to get “hot spots,” it’s probably time to retire your boots. Taking a little bit of time to care for and maintain your waterproof footwear ultimately prolongs its use. Following these basic steps will have you and your boots on the trail to happiness for years to come! Leather boots have long been synonymous with hard work. Hard work isn’t always clean, though — and nights on the town aren’t, either. If you scuff your boots during a long day or while out with your friends, how can you clean your waterproof leather boots? You can clean waterproof leather boots by:
- Removing the shoelaces.
- Brushing away the first with a soft brush.
- Cleaning the remaining dirt with warm water and a rag.
That said, some leather boots require more TLC than others. If you want to preserve the softness of your shoes, you can invest in regular leather conditioning. There are even ways to strengthen or replace your boots’ waterproofing seal. The more of these habits you choose to invest in, the longer your favorite pair of leather boots will last. Disclosure: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Whether your find yourself faced with mud, stains, or age, you need to know how to buff your boots if you want them to hold up over time. Leather is a sensitive material. It requires gentle care if it’s going to last. Before you invest in specialized cleaning services or let mud cake up on your shoes, make sure you’re using the best possible techniques to clear the grime off your leather. To clean your waterproof leather boots, you should:
1. Remove The Laces
Your shoelaces may benefit from a cleaning as much as the rest of your shoe, but that doesn’t mean you should lean both at once. It’s in your best interest to remove your shoelaces and clean them separately from the rest of your boot. This makes it easier to clear away grime and allows you to replace a damaged shoelace if the need arises.
2. Clean With A Soft Brush
Before reaching for the hot water, make sure you scrub away what dirt and grime you can with a soft brush. If your shoes have gone through the debris ringer, you should be able to clear away dried dirt and debris with little pressure. That said, leather shoes can stand up to considerable contortion. If you need to apply a firmer hand to your initial brush-down, you can.
3. Apply Water And A Boot Cleaner
After you’ve cleared away as much dirt as possible, you should wet your boots. However, do not let water get inside of your shoe. Instead, run warm water over the outside of the boot and use a clean, soft brush to continue clearing away any additional grime. If you’re still struggling to clean off your boots, you can invest in a gentle boot cleaner. Boot cleaners work as soap does, but you can purchase brands that protect leather and waterproofing seals from undue harm. Follow the instructions on your boot cleaner bottle of choice, and your leather boots will look as good as new in no time at all.
How Do You Dry Leather Boots?
It’s never a good idea to throw your waterproof leather boots in the dryer. The concentrated heat of a residential dryer damages waterproof leather boots on two fronts. The heat can damage your boots’ waterproofing, making them less comfortable to wear when you need to go out in the rain. That same heat can also shrink your leather boots. Too much heat can leave the leather unmalleable and tight around your ankles. If you’re not careful, you could come away from your next adventure with unexpected blisters. When it comes time to dry your leather boots, it’s best to let them air dry. You can sop away any extra water with the help of a rag or towel first. After that, leave your leather boots in a spot that receives a lot of light but doesn’t suffer from much humidity. In most cases, you can expect your boots to be completely dry within 48 hours.
What Cleaners Work Best On Leather Boots?
There are several kinds of leather cleaners on the market today. So long as these cleansers have a pH that suits your leather boots, you should be able to use them on the pair you’ve rinsed with water. Are there certain cleaners that are better suited to a pair of boots? Not particularly. The cleanser you choose to bring home should suit your preferred method of boot cleaning. This means investing in sprays, kits, or even wipes. There are even some leather seat cleansers that you can use on your boots, though make sure you check the pH of these cleansers before you commit to their use.
Should You Condition Leather Boots?
Even if you’ve invested in waterproof leather boots, you’ll still want to condition your pair every three to six months. The more often you wear your leather boots, the more frequently you’ll want to condition them. You can condition your leather boots whenever your pair begins to look faded or dry. To cultivate a specific leather look, you can let your shoes fade to a certain degree. Once your boots have reached your preferred degree of age, you can take the conditioning product and put it to work.
How To Condition Leather Boots
Before your condition your boots, make sure that you’ve cleaned away all the dirt and grime from the surface of your leather. Your shoes should also be dry when you go to condition them. Remove the laces, if necessary, and prepare to store your boots in a dry, low-humidity location. Once you’ve removed all of the dirt from your boots, you can use any manner of boot conditioner to soften the leather. If you don’t have conditioners on hand, you can alternatively use materials like:
- Hair conditioner
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
Note that several cooking oils can change the color of your leather if you don’t quickly wipe it off the surface of your boots. If you’re looking for a simple way to dye your leathers, olive and coconut oil will help you get the job done.
How To Reseal Waterproof Leather Boots
While conditioners and cleaners can keep your boots clean, waxes can restore your boots’ waterproof seal. Some waxes serve both as conditioners and waterproofing seals. These waxes can come in flat pallets or as emergency stick balms depending on your needs. Don’t assume that you can use any old wax on your waterproof leather boots. For example, boots made out of leather and other fabrics may benefit from waterproofing sprays. Using wax on these boots may only result in their faster decay. If you’re unsure what kind of wax or seal might best suit your boots, research the recommended care practices offered through the boots’ manufacturer’s website. Even small businesses selling leather boots can provide you with treatment recommendations when it comes time to replace your waterproof seal.
How To Waterproof Leather Boots
The process of waterproofing leather boots is similar to that of conditioning or even cleaning an older pair. Make sure that your shoes are free from dirt and grime. Remove the boots’ shoelaces. Then, when the shoes are dry, massage wax or a sealant of your choice into your leather. Make sure you follow the seal’s instructions for the longest-lasting application. Once you’ve applied your material of choice, let your boots dry in a warm but dry location for up to 48 hours.
When To Repair Or Replace Waterlogged Leather Boots
There can come the point when your leather boots are too far gone for traditional repairs. It’s not easy to tell when you can still restore your old boots and when you need to purchase a new set. You’ll know that your leather boots are on their last leg when your heels and toes take on excess wear. If your heel is wearing off or your toe has developed a hole, repairs aren’t going to keep water and other forms of moisture from soaking your socks. Similarly, leather that’s gone unconditioned for a considerable amount of time is often too far gone to repair. While you can still wear boots with cracked leather, they won’t be as stable as a newer alternative. You can still try and repair a boot that’s suffered from scuffs, minor cracks, and even small tears. If you don’t feel confident addressing your boots’ condition on your own, you can instead turn to a cobbler in your area. Local professionals can charge you a small fee to restore your old leather while also providing you with a care plan to help you preserve your boots for as long as possible.
To Wrap It Up
It doesn’t matter whether you wear your leather shoes to work or fun. The better you take care of the pair you own, the longer they will last. That’s why it’s best to use warm water, gentle brushes, and equally-gentle cleansers when it comes time to clean the mud off of your boots. If you can condition and waterproof the pair you have, you’ll find that the quality leather becomes comfortable while remaining durable. Leather boots are an investment and proper care is essential to increase the lifespan of your footwear. Even the highest quality leather requires regular maintenance to put off natural deterioration. In an ideal world, you should clean your boots after every instance of wear. Wipe down your boots with a cloth whenever you take them off for the night. Store in a cool location away from a direct source of heat such as a radiator or household boiler. Force drying boots will both crack leather and shrink the waterproof membrane. This would cause it to break and the boots to leak. If a boot is force dried the manufacturing warranty becomes invalid. If your boots are wet, allow them to dry completely before wearing them again. Apply protective treatment regularly using the methods we will go into further here. Grisport boots are treated with appropriate finishes at the last stage of production. However, there can be a stretch of time between production and being taken home by a customer. So, it is wise to check if your boots need a bit of treatment as soon as you purchase them. To test whether your leather boots need a waterproof treatment, drip some water on the leather: if it doesn’t stay in a bead and run off the boot, waterproofing treatment is needed. We suggest Grisport Waterproofing wax. Next, you will need to determine the type of leather on the boot by using the guide below: • Full grain: fully preserved natural marks and strongest type of leather • Nubuck: finer grain, velvet-like, sanded or buffed strong but soft material • Suede: soft, flexible and lighter weight side of a hide Leather can be greatly affected by both moisture and temperature levels. High temperatures and low moisture will dry out and crack leather. Saturated leather will permanently warp and misshape no matter how tough the leather. To maintain a good level of moisture, invest in a conditioning cream. Conditioners seal in a little bit of moisture to prevent cracking and increase flexibility. When applying conditioner pay special attention to areas that crease most such as the flex point of the toes. Then seal with waterproofing spray or wax. We advise using leather conditioner at least twice a year. There are many products available for waterproofing leather boots. We recommend chemical sprays as they are easy to apply and retain the colour of the leather. Oils and Grisport Nikwax are also effective as long as you don’t mind how they darken the leather. Always read the instructions on whichever product you choose.
• Use a shoe brush to remove cakes of dirt • Remove the laces (can be washed separately eg in washing machine) • Use moisturizing soap (eg Saddle Soap) to wash any remaining dirt • Wipe any remaining soap with a damp cloth • Allow the boot to dry naturally, preferably for at least 24 hours • Remove any stubborn grime with Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel • Re-apply oil or polish to protect from future dirt- avoid stitching or laces which can be discoloured by polish. Apply polish in circular movements and remove any excess. • Use polish approximately monthly or when needed. On waxed leather uppers, like Dartmoor, we recommend using Nikwax Waterproofing Wax instead of polish. This waterproofs but also gives a wax finish like the original. • Grisport Protector can be used to protect against penetration of water and oil
• Don’t take them off with the opposite foot as this can cause damage • Remove laces and insoles • Stuff the boots with newspaper and replace saturated newspaper until footwear is dry • Dry boots in front of a none-heated fan or hang them upside down • Do not dry the boots near a heat source as this will crack the leather • When the boots have dried completely, apply treatment
Road salt (or grit) can erode leather over time and leave white stains. If your boots have been exposed to salt or snow, do the following as soon as possible to minimise damage:
• Wipe the boots down with a cloth • Mix 2 parts water with 1 part vinegar • Gently clean the boots with the solution • Use a damp cloth to wipe away the solution • Dry boot surface with a clean towel
• Wear your boots indoors to break them in properly before you take them out into the elements. This is to make sure that they are a good fit for you and that there are no manufacturing faults which should be evident on the first occasion of wear. • Use a shoe horn to assist with putting on your shoes as this helps to keep the heel from losing shape. • Use a boot bag when you travel, to protect your boots • Never use normal soap on leather boots- it will dry out the leather • Store leather shoes using a shoe tree to keep the shape of the leather • Laces do wear out in time and can be replaced with Grisport laces • Insoles absorb moisture and take a lot of punishment. After time they may lose their impact absorption and can be replaced with a new pair. Grisport insoles are made with the same last and will fit our footwear best.
This is a help guide only and any products used to care for boots are at the owners own risk. We cannot be held responsible for any problems that may arise from the application of individual shoe care products. Please take care to read the instructions on each shoe care product that you use.
This article is part of our series: Hiking Boot Basics Hiking trails don’t have a lot of soft edges, so even the most rugged pair of leather boots will eventually look a little ragged. Beyond scuffs and scrapes, boot leather is also susceptible to drying out and cracking. So, to help your boots last longer and perform at their best, you need to clean and condition them regularly. If your boots have a serious gouge (all the way through), then it’s time to take them to a professional cobbler. Some people use Shoe Goo or Super Glue to fill a superficial gouge, but that’s a temporary fix and can degrade leather over time. Your better bet is to clean and condition or waterproof the boots, and to think of the gouges as badges of authenticity. The main steps to conditioning your leather hiking boots are:
- Choosing the appropriate cleaner and conditioner
- Cleaning your boots
- Applying the conditioner
- Drying your boots
Video: How to Care for Leather Boots
Choosing a Cleaner and a Conditioning Treatment
- Footwear products are designed for either full-grain leather or “rough” leathers like suede or nubuck. Read product descriptions carefully before you buy and use a cleaner, conditioner or waterproofing treatment. Note that conditioners, which are designed primarily for full-grain leathers, will also renew the boot’s durable water repellent (DWR) finish, which restores waterproof performance. For rough leathers, simply cleaning and re-waterproofing (restoring the DWR) is sufficient.
- Wax-based leather waterproofing treatments, once the norm, are less common now. And if you want the option of resoling your boots later, avoid them because wax residue impairs the ability of a new adhesive to bond with a new sole.
- If your hiking boots have a Gore-Tex® membrane, or a similar waterproof/breathable membrane, no treatment is needed in those areas. Simply clean the fabric in those areas. You can also find products designed to be used on leather/fabric boots.
Shop Boot Care Products
Cleaning Your Boots
Conditioning and waterproofing products work best on clean, damp boots. You don’t want dirt or grit to compromise coverage and penetration and you need water inside that exterior layer of the boots to help draw the waterproofing treatment fully in. To clean your hiking boots:
- Remove laces prior to cleaning.
- Use a soft brush to gently remove dust and dirt.
- For a more thorough cleaning, add running water and whatever boot cleaner you have chosen.
For more details on how to clean your boots prior to conditioning or waterproofing them, read How to Clean Hiking Boots.
Applying the Conditioner or Waterproofing Treatment
- Make sure that water is soaked fully into the boot leather—applying the treatment immediate after cleaning the leather is ideal.
- If your boots are dry or aren’t wet enough after cleaning, wrap a very wet towel around them and let them sit in a utility sink for a couple of hours.
- Once water is fully soaked into your boots, apply the conditioner or waterproofing treatment. Read and carefully follow the application instructions for your product.
Drying and Storing Your Boots
- Dry boots at normal temperature in a place with low humidity.
- Do not use a heat source.
- For quicker drying, use a fan.
- You can also stuff newspaper into the boots to speed drying; change the paper frequently (whenever it’s damp).
- Store boots where temperatures are stable and normal. Do not store boots in attics, garages, car trunks or any damp, hot or unventilated place.
- How to Clean Hiking Boots
- How to Waterproof Your Hiking Boots
- Breaking in Your Hiking Boots
- How to Lace Hiking Boots
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How to Waterproof Your Boots
Find the right treatment for your boots and learn how to regularly clean them to help keep your feet dry and comfortable. There are few things that can ruin your day faster than a pair of cold, wet socks. Moisture penetrating your boots can cause some uncomfortable situations and can even create the perfect environment for blisters to possibly form. But by waterproofing your footwear properly, soggy feet should be a distant memory. Whether your boots are for hiking, working or just combating the elements, there’s a good chance they came with an initial waterproofing treatment already on them. But to help keep your feet dry for the long term, you’ll need to treat them regularly. How often you’ll need to waterproof your boots will depend on how often you wear them. A good rule of thumb is to waterproof your boots whenever they get extra dirty or when water stops beading on their surface. This may equate to waterproofing them once every couple of months. It’s important to know what your boots are made of before you treat them. Each type of material needs a different product to help waterproof. Full-grain leather — probably the most common material used in boots — may need a different treatment than suede or nubuck leather. Some boots are even made of fabric or synthetic materials. We’ll break this down more below. If you ever doubt what your boots are made of, the manufacturer’s website should have that information for you.
MAKE SURE YOUR BOOTS ARE CLEAN
Before you start the waterproofing process, give your boots a thorough cleaning. Dirt and grime can get in the way of the waterproofing product, causing the treatment to not fully cover the boots. It is always a good idea to keep your boots clean to extend their lifespan. Start by removing the laces and using a brush to remove any dirt or grime. If the soles of the boots are caked with dirt, place them in about an inch of water for a few hours to loosen the crud. Any remaining dirt can then be removed by spraying it with a hose. Leave your boots to air dry, but come back to them while the leather is still a little bit damp. This will help pull the treatment into the material.
THE WATERPROOFING PROCESS
Make sure you have the right product for your type of boots. There are several types of waterproofing treatments out there, and each one is applied in a different way:
- Spray – There are sprays made specifically for leather, suede and synthetic materials. To use, hold the can about six inches from the boot and spray them with a thin, even coat. Check the product directions to see if a second coat is required.
- Wax – Wax best suits leather and suede boots. If you use a wax to waterproof your boots, warm it slightly with a hairdryer and apply it with a clean cloth. Remove any excess wax and buff to shine. Applying wax can be more of a manual process, but it’s great at working its way into more of the nooks and crannies.
- Cream – This is a great option if you have a pair of leather boots. To use a cream to waterproof your boots, apply with an applicator that comes with it or a clean cloth, and rub the product across the entire boot. If you have a boot with a hard-to-reach area, get into the crevice with a clean cloth.
Some products will cause your boots to have a slightly darker tone. Read all labels and test the product in a small area to make sure it is to your liking before proceeding. No matter what type of product you use, make sure to cover the entire boot. Pay close attention to seams and creases. These areas can be prone to leaking from the material being punctured or bending.
After applying the treatment, your boots will need time to dry completely. Place them in an area with average temperatures, low humidity and good ventilation. Never use direct heat, like a hair dryer, to speed up the drying process since this can cause the glue of your boots to loosen or the leather to crack. You should also avoid drying your boots in direct sunlight. You can, however, use a fan to help speed up the drying process. Placing balled up newspaper in the boots is a good way to absorb moisture and is particularly effective in helping to dry the insole. Once you clean, treat and dry your boots, they will be ready for you to throw them on and make a splash. Now throw them on and get ready to tackle all the winding trails, looming mountains and roaring streams you encounter on your next excursion to the great outdoors.
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