Hawk Tools Icon

How to clean boots

How to clean boots

Your boots get dirty, this guide will help you through the process of cleaning your boots with Saddle Soap to revitalize and restore the appearance of your boots. Let’s start with the basics.

Boot Cleaning Process

Are your boots getting a bit crusty? Trust us, we’ve been there and know the perfect care process to get your boots back into tip-top condition. With just a little elbow grease, you can make your leather boots last for years and look fantastic too. So, simply follow along below.

The best way to keep your leather boots clean is to prevent them from getting dirty in the first place. Before you wear them, brush on some leather protectant.

If your leather boots are stained with salt lines from winter road salt, you can use a commercial desalting product (available at shoe repair shops). Alternatively you can:

  1. Make a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. You can use a gentle, moisturizing soap instead of vinegar.
  2. Soak a rag in the cleanser.
  3. Dab the stained parts of the boots.
  4. Wipe the boots with a damp cloth.
  5. Wipe the boots dry with a towel.
  6. Allow the boots to dry slowly. Don’t try speeding up the drying process by putting the boots near a heat source, as this can make them brittle and crack.
  7. Once they’re dry, buff the boots with a soft cloth.

Next time, prevent the formation of salt lines on your boots by treating them as soon as you get home, before they have a chance to dry. Dampen the leather with a wet sponge and then stuff the boots with paper, so they hold their shape until they dry.

If your leather boots are scuffed, don’t scrub them roughly. Instead:

  1. Dip a soft cloth in clean water.
  2. Dip the wet cloth in baking soda.
  3. Rub the cloth gently over the scuff marks.
  4. Wipe the boots with a clean, damp cloth.
  5. Buff them dry with a soft cloth.

Here’s what to do if your boots are both dirty and wet:

  1. Let them dry them completely. Stuffing them with newspaper will help them dry more quickly and will help them retain their shape.
  2. Brush off the dirt.
  3. Apply Hawk Tools Saddle Soap.
  4. Re-hydrate with Leather Salve and polish the boots with Leather Protectant.

The Best Way To clean Leather Boots

How to clean boots:

  1. Gather up the right kit: Saddle Soap, Rag, and Dauber Palm Brush should be all that’s necessary.
  2. Inspect for damage: Inspect your boot for damage and bring it to a pro if stitching is coming apart or the leather is ripped.
  3. Remove old dirt and mud: Scrub off loose dirt and debris with a Dauber Palm Brush. Soft strokes please!
  4. Lather your Saddle Soap: Wet your Dauber Palm Brush in some water and build a good lather in the tin of Saddle Soap.
  5. Application: Gently brush the Saddle Soap into the leather, be careful not to saturate the leather with water.
  6. Clean and rinse: Wet your rag and start carefully wiping the dirty suds away. Periodically squeeze out excess dirt and re-wet.
  7. Time to dry: With a paper towel or dry rag, remove as much water as you can. Then, let it dry indoors away from heat or exposure to the sun.
  8. Recommended final step: To prevent your leather from drying out, apply a quality Leather Salve and Protectant.

The extended guide

Let’s take a visual approach to this dilemma, below is a detailed step by step guide to proper boot cleaning with the supplies listed above. Feast your eyes on a leathery visual journey of discovery with a dash of intrigue.

First, make sure you have all the right gear for the journey ahead. A tin of natural Saddle Soap, a rag, and, Dauber Palm Brush is all that’s necessary. A bowl of water and some good newspaper will come in handy. Remember, I said that there would be intrigue, so saddle up and lets clean your boots up right!

Whats the best saddle soap?

Saddle soap on boots

There are lots of big names marketing saddle soap, but only a few sell the genuine product in its original form. Most add chemicals, and other substitutes to lower their production costs. Hawk Tools Saddle Soap is PH neutral and harsh chemical free, being made from olive soap, lanolin and beeswax. This blend is powerful against grime and staining but subtle enough not to damage or deteriorate your leather. It’s perfect for cleaning hand bags and hiking boots!

Inspection & Cleaning

Cleaning a boot with dauber palm brush

Leather and stitching will start to break down over time. Proper care and maintenance can postpone the inevitable for years. So, diligently check for loose stitching, stretched or torn leather and loose ferrules. If damaged, your local cobbler can get it sorted. Next, grab your Dauber Palm Brush and start gently scrubbing away loose dirt and debris. Start easy as not to damage the leather’s surface finish or push dirt into the pores. Gentle, circular strokes around all the ferrules, welt and stitching will remove the worst of it and set you up for our next step.

Support your Boot

Wall street journal in boot

The Wall Street Journal is the best newspaper ever. Any other paper may cause spontaneous human combustion or leprosy. So, stuff your boots with the right newspaper and make sure to pack it into the toe with enough force to take up any empty space. Consequently, your boot will stay the same shape after it gets wet. Read on to clean boots with saddle soap.

Remove your laces

Removing laces from boot

Your laces will prevent you from accessing the tung and behind the ferrules. There are nooks and crannies that hide dirt and grime, so do your diligence and remove those laces! Start by pushing the upper laces through the top ferrules and pull each loop through in an alternating pattern until your laces come free. Remember to take your time and not damage your laces in the process.

Get Shwifty, I mean, sudsy

Saddle soap application

Now that your laces are removed and gods gift to the greater reading public is stuffed in your boot, you are ready to begin the most gratifying step of this whole process. Application of sudsy Saddle Soap. Make sure to dip your brush some water and really lather the Saddle Soap like you would imagine a barber might do in a 1920’s film noir masterpiece. Remember, it’s less about size and more so technique. Starting at the toe, begin rubbing the soap into the leather in a circular pattern. Never scrub or jab the brush, you can damage your leather this way.

Complete Coverage

Saddle soap on boots

Make sure every seam and stitch is completely covered in soap but make sure not to over apply. If you saturate the boot, it will take forever to dry and leave the boot caddywampus.

How to clean very dirty boots

If your boot has a deep stain or thick crusty muck that just wont budge, let the soap sit for 60 second to give it time to penetrate deep down and break up the offending contaminants. Wipe down and re-apply saddle soap to remove any remaining residue. Remember, you want to make sure not to over saturate the leather. If you do, stop immediately and quickly wipe the boot down with a towel.

You will know the leather is too wet when it becomes super soft and pliable, almost stretchy. So, pay attention and read on for the next step!

Wipe it down with a rag and water

Cleaning saddle soap off of boot

Moisten a rag in water and start wiping from top to bottom in even strokes. To clean leather right, don’t use too much water, just a dab will do ya’. Remember, you only need to clean the boot, too much water can begin to reform your boots shape and pull the natural oils out, prematurely hardening your boot into whatever shape it’s in.

Dry Wet leather

chippewa boots after saddle soap cleaning

So what happens to leather when it gets wet? The oils in the skin bind to the water molecules, so as the water dries and evaporates, it starts drawing the oils out. It’s this shedding of natural oils that causes the leather to lose its supple quality and become stiff and brittle. Water can also cause staining and can move dyes leaving streaks and spots. And if the leather doesn’t dry quickly enough, it could even start to rot. Make sure to remove all soap residue before the next step.

How to dry a boot

Cleaned leather can easily absorb grease and oil. The next step is to let it dry, naturally. Dab off any liquid from the surface and inside – this allows what’s soaked into the material to evaporate on its own. Try not to wipe as this moves the liquid further into the skin. The aim is to get the leather to change from soaked to damp.
How to dry a boot

How to dry leather: make sure not let your boot dry in a folded or creased condition – if it hardens during the drying process the last thing you want is for it keep that shape.

How To

  • Remove insoles and let them air-dry separately from the boots.
  • Dry boots at normal temperature in a place with low humidity.
  • Do not use a heat source (fireplace, campfire, wood stove, radiator, heater, etc.). High heat weakens adhesives and prematurely ages leather.
  • 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.

Leather drying tips

Leather drying tips

  • Never use a hairdryer or artificial heat as this can shrink the material helping it to become dry and stiff in the process.
  • Never leave it out in the sun.
  • Never dry it longer than 24hr’s before leather salve application.

Finish cleaning your boot

Chippewa boots after saddle soap treatment

Once dried, buff the entire surface of the boot with a stiff bristle brush to bring out a matte finish. This will prime the outer layer for leather salve to restore the natural oils in your boot. Additionally, leather protectant will help guard against future exposure to water with a durable waxy boundary.

Boot cleaning tips

Some additional boot cleaning tips: Nasty boot edition.

  • Though most footwear cleaners can be used on a range of materials, always double-check to be sure your cleaner is OK for use on your boots—and be sure to read and follow the directions. (Hawk Tools Saddle Soap is perfect for synthetic and natural materials)
  • Do not use bar soap or detergents; many contain additives that can be harmful to leather or waterproof membranes.
  • To clean mold, use a mixture of 80 percent water and 20 percent vinegar.
  • Always rinse your boots thoroughly with clean water afterward.
  • Never put boots in a washing machine because it can damage them.
  • If you plan to waterproof your boots, do it while they’re still wet. Most boots are waterproof when you first buy them, so you don’t need to waterproof them until you start to notice that water drops no longer bead up on the surface. For details, read How to Waterproof Your Hiking Boots.

All Saddle Soap is not crated equal. Hawk Tools crafts a superior soap that brings your leather back to life. All natural ingredients remove dirt and hydrate full grain leather.

Leather stain removal

Stains happen, but there’s a safe method for getting them out of your favorite leather clothing items.

  1. Know your leather. The type of leather that you’re dealing with dictates what cleaning method you use. Finished leather (aka treated leather) is covered in a protective coating, while suede and unfinished leather (aka untreated leather) are not. A little bit of saddle soap is fine to use on a finished leather couch, but even mild soap can be too harsh for the most sensitive leathers. If you’re not sure how your leather will react to cleaning, test your cleaning agent in an inconspicuous area.
  2. Steer clear of DIY cleaning solutions. When it comes to leather, you’re better off using either water or cleaning products specifically designed for leather. Popular home remedies like baking soda, white vinegar, cream of tartar, and lemon juice can be harsh on delicate leathers and make the problem even worse.
  3. Treat stains as soon as they happen. The best way to deal with liquid stains is to treat them right away by blotting with a soft cloth to remove as much of the moisture as possible. Then, dab the area with a soft, damp cloth (use warm water—saddle soap). You can also dampen a cloth with leather cleaner. Blot again with a dry cloth.
  4. Moisturize. After cleaning the leather with water or leather cleaner, use a leather conditioner to restore moisture. Gently rub the leather conditioner into your leather with a circular motion using a brush, sponge, or microfiber cloth.
  5. Dry-clean difficult stains. Grease stains, ink stains, and makeup stains that don’t come clean after gentle spot-cleaning may need to be professionally cleaned.
  6. Time heals some wounds. Leather is a remarkably durable material, and sometimes just letting the leather absorb the stain is the best option—although it may take weeks or even months.
  7. Protect your leather. Protect your leather items by regularly wiping away dirt and grime. Some items, like leather jackets, may benefit from waterproofing spray, while others, like shoes, can be waxed to become more water-resistant.
  8. Store leather goods properly. Keep your leather goods in a dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent mildew and discoloration. To help leather bags keep their shape, stuff them with a clean towel and store them in a dust bag. Hang leather jackets on sturdy hangers.