How to Clean Work Boots

Mens lace up work boots are a tool, a critical piece of equipment that allows you to do your job the right way. They keep you dry, comfortable, and safe. They’re probably the most important piece of equipment you have since you use them on a daily basis.

Good boots can take you great places. And by taking care of them, they’ll return the favor in droves.

Buying a fine pair of boots is a worthwhile investment—so long as you regularly maintain and clean them. Now, they don’t need to be looking spotless and pristine (they are work boots after all), but the attentiveness you give them can extend their lifetime by years.

Want to know how to clean leather work boots with household items? How about nylon work boots? Let’s review all the different types of boots and how to clean them.

How to Clean Work Boots of All Types

After the common question of “How should boots fit?”, the next question is “How do I clean work boots? Work boots come in a variety of sizes and styles. They often share some similar features, including steel toes, slip-resistance, and waterproofing. Where they tend to differ is the material they’re made with. Common materials used in boot making include:

  • Leather

  • Suede

  • Nubuck

  • Nylon

  • Rubber

Each of these types of boots requires different cleaning processes and maintenance. For instance, nylon and rubber boots can often just be thrown in the washing machine or given a firm scrubbing.

However, for a leather, nubuck, and suede boot, you’ll have to be a bit more meticulous with the cleaning process.

Cleaning Leather Work Boots

A leather boot is made for heavy-duty work. They’re durable, water-resistant, and can be extraordinarily comfy when they finally get broken in.

But when should you clean leather boots? First, you need to consider what they are dirty with.

For example, if they are dirty with an acid like barnyard manure or an alkali like concrete, those affect the PH and can dry a leather out quickly. Or, dirt, like sand can work its way into the collegian fibers and not only dry them out but cut and grind the fibers. What's really important is that debris "that can damage" the leather be removed as quickly as possible.

But, most importantly is that the leather be conditioned w/oil so the fibers aren't dry which can be abrasive to each other.

Now, it may seem somewhat burdensome to clean them every single day, especially if you’re working construction or some other trade where they’re regularly exposed to harsh conditions. That said, the longer you let dirt and grime sit, the harder it will be to get them clean.

Waiting to clean your boots can lead to stains, discoloration, and other long-term changes that impact the leather’s overall look and quality. Regardless, you may not have the time to clean your boots daily, or maybe even weekly.

So, at the very least, you should clean your boots once per month if you want them to last.

How to Clean Leather Work Boots

For general maintenance and cleaning of leather boots, there are typically four phases:

  1. Cleaning

  2. Conditioning

  3. Polishing

  4. Waterproofing

Standard Cleaning

To clean your leather boots of everyday dirt, grime, and mud, follow these steps:

  1. For starters, remove the laces (they will be cleaned separately in the wash).

  2. Use a stiff brush or damp towel to brush the shoes, removing all the excess dirt, mud, and debris.

  3. Once that’s done, use a leather cleaner and a soft cloth to clean the leather thoroughly.

  4. Leave the boots to sit and dry.

  5. After they’ve dried, you can use a leather conditioner to “condition” or soften including all the crevices and cracks. Take a dry cloth and rub in the conditioner using a circular buffing motion. Wipe off the excess oil with a clean soft rag.

  6. If it is polished leather you can use a horsehair brush (which is very soft) or a leather polish and soft rag to buff and polish to a shine .

  7. Once you’ve finished, waterproof the leather using a waterproof product of your choice.

Cleaning the Insides

Let’s be real, work boots can get stinky. Sweat, water, and other elements combined with time rarely result in a pleasant smell. In fact, if you’re not careful it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus.

How do you ensure that your leather shoes are as fresh on the inside as they are outside?

To deodorize your boots, follow these steps:

  1. Add a ⅓ cup of vinegar with ⅔’s of a cup of preferably distilled water to a standard spray bottle.

  2. Liberally spray the inside of the boots with the vinegar-water mixture.

  3. Let the boots sit and dry. This can take up to 24 hours.

  4. After they’ve dried, pour baking soda into the boots and let it sit overnight.

  5. Shake the boots out to free the baking soda.

Additionally, consider not wearing boots w/cotton socks that hold the moisture inside the shoe but to wear a wicking sock to vent moisture out of the top and through the leathers.

Treating Scuffs

If your boots are what we refer to as a “naked leather”, skuffs and wear are part of the aesthic. Having the wear gives it a deep rich character like warm wood.

For polished leather however, it’s normal for leather to get scratched and scuffed over time. But there are ways to minimize or prevent them from turning into cracks and to keep it pretty and shiny.

To treat light scuffs on polished leather, follow these steps:

  1. Put a small dab of plant-based oil (castor, avocado, olive, or sunflower) onto a soft cloth and rub gently until the oil soaks thoroughly into the leather.

  2. Buff the leather using the soft cloth.

  3. Let them dry and you’ll see that smaller scrapes and scuffs are less visible.

To treat medium scuffs, follow these steps:

  1. Purchase pure lanolin cream (if you don’t already have it).

  2. Rub a soft cloth in the lanolin and buff out the scrapes.

  3. Be sure to buff in the direction of raised edges, going with the grain instead of against it.

  4. Repeat the process until the scuffs have become less visible.

To treat deep scratches, follow these steps:

  1. Take a pin or toothpick to lift and flatten loose sections of leather.

  2. Apply a leather pigment touchup beneath the surface using a fine paintbrush.

  3. Flatten the loose sections, pressing them down over touch up.

  4. Put leather shoe polish and buff it into the scratch.

Treating Salt Stains

If you work in salty conditions, you’ll need to treat your leather boots more frequently. Salt is corrosive and can easily damage leather, especially if left for long periods of time. The very least you should be doing is wiping your work boots down with a wet cloth at the end of the day to remove the excess salt.

But how do you treat a more significant salt stain? Follow these steps:

  1. Create a mixture that is half water and half vinegar.

  2. Using a soft cloth, dip it into the solution, and gently wipe the boots.

  3. Set the boots out to dry.

If you don’t want to use vinegar on the outside of your boots, you can also use saddle soap. Saddle soap is a cleaning soap used for cleaning, protecting leather products.

Treating Grease Stains

If you’re a mechanic or in a similar field, you’re all too familiar with a grease stain. A grease stain can cause significant discoloration and damage, so it’s best to treat a stain immediately.

How? Follow these steps:

  1. Remove the excess grease by gently blotting with a cloth.

  2. Sprinkle a half teaspoon of baking soda, cornstarch, or talcum powder on the spot.

  3. Rub it in gently using a warm damp cloth.

  4. Let the solution sit overnight.

  5. The next day, wipe off the powder using a soft dry cloth.

If that fails to fully remove the stain, repeat the process.

Treating Stains on Lightly Colored Leather

Do you have work boots that are tan or a lighter shade? If so, stains and discolorations tend to be far more visible.

To treat lightly colored leather, follow these steps:

  1. Mix equal parts lemon juice and cream of tartar into a paste.

  2. Apply the mixture to the stained area and let it sit for 30-45 minutes.

  3. Take a warm damp cloth and gently wipe off the paste (which lightly bleaches the leather).

Because this can have a bleaching effect, don’t overdo it. You can always repeat the process at a later point.

Treating Ink Stains

If you’ve ever stained your clothes or shoes with ink, you’d know that it needs to be treated immediately—at least if you want to get it out.

To treat ink stains, follow these steps:

  1. Dip a cotton cloth into a high-quality nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol.

  2. Gently blot the stain (without rubbing).

  3. Keep blotting until the stain lifts.

  4. Wipe the stain with a clean, warm, and damp

  5. damp cloth and then dry with a towel.

How to Treat Suede and Nubuck Work Boots

Although leather is the king of the work boot, there are other types of materials that are popular and that need cleaning as well.

Suede leather and nubuck aren’t quite the same things. Suede leather is simply sanded on the skin's inner layer, whereas nubuck is sanded on the exterior of the skin. Nubuck tends to be more durable since the outer layer of skin is tougher, but both require more maintenance to prevent staining and scuffing.

To clean workboots of either material, follow these steps:

  1. Using a self-clean sponge or a suede brush, gently brush the dirt and grime from the boot.

  2. If there are serious stains, rub magic gum gently into the area and then brush the boot.

  3. Take suede cleaner (like combi foam) and rub it onto the boot.

  4. Use water and a soft cloth to clean it.

  5. Dab to dry with a fresh towel or cloth.

  6. Spray the boot with a nubuck or suede protector.

  7. Polish the shoe using a soft brush.

Squeaky Clean with Boot World

Treat your leather or suede boot well and it will last you a long time. But what do you do if you’ve worn yours out? You’re in the right place.

Boot World is an industry leader, providing all types of footwear both casual and work-related. We carry featured brands, including UGG, Timberland, Dr. Martens, and many more—all at unbeatable prices.

Have you been searching for your next pair of work boots? We have you and your feet covered.

Read further to learn more about lace up vs. slip on work boots in order to help you during your next shoe purchase!

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