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How To Clean Leather Boots – Guide from a Leather Crafter

Many people take great pride in washing their clothes when they get worn or dirty, but something that occasionally gets overlooked is leather boots.  They are constantly exposed to dirt and debris and quickly get soiled, but many people aren’t sure how to clean them.  I will discuss how to clean leather boots to keep them looking their best.

Cleaning leather boots is the process of removing soil and debris without damaging their material or appearance.  Depending on the type of leather, boots can be dry dusted with a soft brush or wet cleaned with leather cleaner to eliminate dirt, spills, and stains and keep them looking new.

Do you have a pair of leather boots with stains you would like to remove?  Are you unsure how to clean leather boots?  Let’s check out some tools, skills, tips, and guides for how to clean leather boots to revive their appearance and increase their longevity. 

What is Cleaning Leather Boots

Cleaning leather boots is the process of removing dirt, scuffs, debris, spills, and more from leather while maintaining the fabric’s integrity.  Leather is a complex material that undergoes tanning, coloring, and other treatment processes to make it durable and stable.  Cleaning leather boots should be performed in a way that will not degrade the material or any protective coatings.  

Dirty Leather Boots and a Cleaning Brush - How To Clean Leather Boots - Liberty Leather Goods
Dirty Leather Boots and a Cleaning Brush

Uses for Cleaning Leather Boots

Whether in messy weather, in horse barns, or on streets and sidewalks, leather boots are worn indoors and outdoors, leaving them exhausted and sometimes incredibly dirty.  Over time, exposure to liquids, dirt, food, and soil can leave them with odors, scratches, stains, and even mold. 

It’s best to clean leather boots at first sight of a spill, when you step in mud, or even periodically to keep them looking great.  Uses for cleaning leather boots include:

  1. Everyday wear
  2. Food and beverage spills and stains
  3. Scuffs
  4. Mud/dirt
  5. Exposure to rain or moisture
  6. Mold
  7. Oil
  8. Marks from ink pens or pencils
  9. Smoke
  10. Body fluids
  11. Hair products
  12. To slow aging

Types or Variations of Cleaning Leather Boots

How To Clean Leather Boots Using a Dry Method

Several variations for cleaning leather boots exist, but most are simple.  The first step in any leather boot cleaning is to remove visible dirt and debris using a dry dusting method.  A soft cloth (with or without a leather conditioner), soft-bristled brush, or vacuum attachment with a soft brush and low suction can be used to break away dirt and remove debris gently. 

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Be cautious not to scratch the leather with the brush or attachment, and do not use any dusting sprays or liquid products until you know what kind of leather you’re trying to clean.  Removing the laces can make it easier to access all areas of the boots thoroughly. 

Caution should be taken when cleaning specialty leathers like Nubuck and suede.  They require specialized stiff brushes to restore the surface texture and may darken when cleaned with moisturizers.  In general, Nubuck and suede require specific cleaning methods.

Always learn the leather type you have and what products work best by testing them in an inconspicuous place.

How To Clean Leather Boots Using a Wet Method

Leather Absorbency Test

Another variation of cleaning leather boots is using a liquid leather cleaner.  However, before any wet cleaning can be done, the leather’s absorbancy should first be tested.  Apply a small drop of water on the inside of the leather boots or another inconspicuous area and let it sit for about one minute. 

If the water absorbs into the material or the leather darkens, the leather boots are not protected and should not be cleaned with liquid.  Unprotected leather can usually only be cleaned using a dry method or by a leather cleaning professional. 

Wet Cleaning Leather

If the water beads up and remains on the material’s surface with no dark spots, the leather boots are protected or water-resistant, and a proper leather cleaner can be used.  Protected leather boots can be cleaned using a small amount of leather cleaner on a soft cloth or an old t-shirt.  Let the boots set covered in the cleaner to soak the stains gradually.  Use a product approved for leather boots and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

After about 10 minutes, wet a clean cloth enough to remoisten the cleaner on the boots and gently remove the soil.  Wipe the cleaner off with a clean damp cloth and let the leather boots air dry for about 30 minutes.  You can also use a hair dryer on a cool setting pointed across the leather boots and not directly toward them to speed up drying time. 

Only repeat the wet cleaning process once.  If the leather boots remain soiled after the first attempt, the marks are likely permanent.  The leather may require recoloring to help blend and conceal the stains.  Once completely dry, apply a leather conditioner or protector approved for leather boots to a soft cloth or old t-shirt.  Gently rub the moisturizer into the leather boots, wiping off any excess.

Tools Needed for Cleaning Leather Boots

Few tools are needed when cleaning leather boots.  Microfiber cloths or old t-shirts are best as they are soft, mostly lint-free, and won’t scratch the leather’s surfaces.  Some tools that may be needed for cleaning leather boots include:

  1. Microfiber cloths or old t-shirts (at least four)
  2. Leather cleaner
  3. Leather wipes
  4. Paper towels that don’t shred
  5. Soft-bristled brush or 
  6. Vacuum with a soft brush (be cautious of suction power)
  7. Leather conditioner, protector, or oil
  8. Hair dryer, on a cool setting
  9. Specialized stiff brushes for Suede and Nubuck (different brushes for each)
Brown Leather Boots and a Cleaning Brush - How To Clean Leather Boots - Liberty Leather Goods
Brown Leather Boots and a Cleaning Brush

Skill Level Needed to Clean Leather Boots 

Cleaning leather boots may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t take great skill.  If you keep some key information in mind, you can easily clean the leather properly and keep your boots looking great for a long time.  There have been significant advancements in creating waterproof, oil-proof, and even heat-proof leather, according to researchers Y. Wang, Zheng, Liu, Yue, X. Wang, and Jiang, and these properties should be maintained even with cleaning.  

First, always test the absorbency of the leather boots before applying any liquids.  Absorbent leather should be cleaned using a dry method, and protected or non-absorbent leather can usually withstand a leather cleaner.  Also, never soak leather boots or get them too wet, which can lead to stains and mold. 

Use a proper leather cleaner to avoid disrupting the leather bonds and fibers that hold it together.  Also, always allow the leather to dry completely and apply a leather conditioner.  If you can keep these skills in mind, you can clean leather boots!

How To Clean Leather Boots

So, what does the leather cleaning process look like?  According to researchers Malea, Boyatzis, and Kehagia, cleaning leather is irreversible, and great consideration should be taken of the steps and products used to help preserve leather.  With this in mind, here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Remove dust, debris, and caked-on dirt with a cloth, old t-shirt, soft-bristled brush, or a vacuum attachment.  Be cautious of the suction power.
  2. Do an absorbency test with a water droplet in a hidden place.  Absorbent leather should not be cleaned with a liquid cleaner.
  3. If the leather is non-absorbent, apply a small amount of liquid cleaner to a soft cloth.
  4. Wipe the leather in one direction with the cloth.  Avoid scrubbing.
  5. If the stain remains after a gentle wipe, reapply the liquid cleaner and let it soak on the leather fabric for 10 minutes.
  6.  Use a clean and slightly damp cloth to remove any excess cleaner gently.
  7. Allow the leather boots to air dry (not in direct sunlight).  A hairdryer on a cool setting pointed across the leather, not directly at it, can also be used to speed up the drying process.
  8. If the leather boots remain soiled after drying, only repeat the cleaning process once.  Anything that remains after the second cleaning is likely permanent or requires a professional leather cleaner. 
  9. Apply a leather conditioner with a clean cloth and allow it to dry.
  10. Buff off the extra conditioner with a clean cloth.

Tips for How To Clean Leather Boots 

A few tips for how to clean leather boots and get the best results include:

  1. Always test the absorbency of your leather boots before applying any liquid leather cleaners
  2. Never soak leather boots in water or wash them in a washing machine.
  3. Avoid using bleach, alcohol, or other harsh chemicals on leather.
  4. Always condition leather boots after cleaning and drying.
  5. For difficult stains or advanced leather issues, consult a leather care professional.

How to Get Better at Cleaning Leather Boots

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Perhaps you’re thinking, how can I get better at cleaning leather boots?  It takes practice.  The more you clean your leather boots, the better you’ll get at it.  Always learn the leather type you have and what products work best by testing them in an inconspicuous place.  If you make mistakes — it’s ok!  We all do — it’s how we get better at cleaning leather boots!

How Real People Clean Leather Boots

I asked several friends and family members which methods they preferred most for cleaning their leather boots.  Here is a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll about how people clean their leather boots.

Leather Boot Cleaning MethodTimes Selected
Boot scraper17%
Stiff brush6%
Vacuum11%
Leather cleaner22%
Leather soap11%
I don’t clean my boots22%
I don’t own leather boots11%
Popular Methods for Cleaning Leather Boots

Examples of How To Clean Leather Boots

If you step in mud or spill on your leather boots, the sooner you clean them, the better. Immediately cleaning them can stop the stain from soaking deeper into the fabric.  Not all leather cleaners are made the same.  Different products may be better for finished leather than unfinished leather.  Using the right tools and products will keep your leather boots looking clean and sharp.

Some stains can be permanent or nearly impossible to clean and may require help from someone experienced with cleaning leather.  If the stain cannot be removed entirely, many professionals can reduce its size or darkness or even repair the leather boots.  Some hard-to-remove stains include:

  1. Ink and dye
  2. Oil
  3. Grease
  4. Body fluids
  5. Hair products
  6. Smoke

Here is a great video example of the process for how to clean dirty leather cowboy boots and condition them to keep them looking great.

Related Insights

What is the best soap to clean leather boots?

A quality leather soap is made of water, wax, oil, and soap and is gentle enough not to damage leather boots while providing a small amount of conditioning ingredients. Household soaps should generally not be used to clean leather boots as they can have alcohol, acetones, and other chemicals that absorb permanently into the material, drying and damaging the leather over time.

Can I wash leather boots?

Leather boots can be washed by hand with a microfiber cloth, an old t-shirt, a soft-bristled brush, or a vacuum with a soft brush.  Non-absorbent leather boots can be washed with a liquid leather cleaner, but absorbent leather should not get wet.  More difficult stains may require a leather cleaning professional.

Can you use saddle soap on leather boots?

Saddle soap is made to clean hard, thicker leathers, and in general, is not the gentlest helpful option for most boots. It can clean, yes, though using a gentle cleaner for boots can help maintain the fiber’s integrity over time. Some saddle soaps also include waxes and conditioners that might not be suitable or preferred for cleaning leather boots. 

Will baking soda clean leather boots?

While baking soda can clean leather boots, it is generally not recommended.  Using household cleaners like baking soda can dry out and damage the leather’s finish or weaken the material’s fibers. It’s best to use cleaning products labeled for leather boots.

Final Thoughts

Leather boots are great for many things, from riding horses and working in mud to keeping your feet warm on a cold, snowy day.  Regularly cleaning your leather boots can keep them in great shape and help them last a lifetime.  As long as you have the right tools and a little patience, you can do it!

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