12 Steps for How to Clean Hiking Boots (Leather)

If you love hiking, you must know how to take good care of your hiking boots. In this article, I will show you how to clean hiking boots made of leather.

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Your hiking boots have seen it all. You use these boots on rough terrains, muddy areas, swampy areas, places with swollen roots and vegetation. That explains why cleaning these boots may not be a walk in the park.

But it is important to clean your hiking boots so that they can give you a long time of service. If you don’t, they will get damaged. Mud will absorb moisture from the boots, leave them dry and make them age faster.

Do you want them clean and ready for your next hiking trip? Here are 12 steps that you can use.

How To Clean Hiking Boots

It is best to clean your hiking boots after a long hike, or when they are dirty. If you have been hiking on paved paths in the parks, you may not need to clean your hiking boots as often as a person who was doing a muddy trail.

Gather the cleaning materials

To clean the hiking boots, you will need a boot brush or a toothbrush to scrape the dirt, water, and soap. For the soap, you can use boot cleaner, mild dishwashing soap or saddle soap.

Remove the insoles and laces

Before you start cleaning the boots, remove the insoles and laces. These will need to be cleaned separately. It is also easier to clean the boots without them since you can reach the inner parts, metal hardware and the lace holes of the boots.

Clean the laces in water and soap, rinse and then hang them to dry in the air. If the Insoles are dirty, put them in a bucket with soapy water and scrub them. Rinse and let them dry.You may also check whether the insoles are machine-washable. That makes the job easier, especially if you are cleaning more than one pair of your hiking boots.

Remove the sticky dirt – how to clean hiking boots

First, remove any loose dirt by banging the shoes together. This should un-stick any dry and semi-dry mud on the shoes.

You can then use a stiff nylon brush to remove stubborn mud and caked dirt from the surface of the shoes. Also, remove mud and dirt that is stuck on the soles. Use a blunt stick or plastic knife to remove any that is stuck inside the treads.

How to wash hiking boots with water and soap

Wash the boots using warm water and boot cleaner or mild dishwashing soap. Make sure the soap you are using is suitable for the boots. Avoid using bar soap and harsh detergents as they can damage the leather.

Only use a few drops of soap in a bucket full of water so that you don’t damage the material. In case the boots have mold, mix 20% vinegar to 80% water.

Use a brush with soft bristles to scrub any stubborn stains away. If the boots only have ordinary dirt, then clean using a wet soft cloth. Scrub the nooks using a toothbrush.

Apply gentle pressure if you are washing suede boots so that you don’t damage them.

Do not clean the boots using a washing machine. It will damage them.

Remove the soap

To get rid of the soap left on the boots after scrubbing, wipe using a wet piece of cloth. Do not immerse the entire pair of boots in the water because it will get all wet.

You can rinse the cloth you were scrubbing with using warm water to get rid of the soap or you can use another piece of clean cloth.

If the cloth gets soapy when you are wiping, rinse it in clean water. Continue wiping until there is no soap left.

How to remove gum and other sticky substances

Maybe you stepped on gum, sap or sticky wax on the hiking trails. To remove these sticky substances, put the boots in the freezer. Just find a plastic box, put the boots inside and then leave them to freeze for a couple of hours. The sticky chewing gum should just fall off.

Waterproofing your hiking boots

You cannot say you know how to clean hiking boots if you do not know how to waterproof them.

If your boots are hide-based, that is, they are made of suede, leather or nubuck; there are a few more things you need to do before drying them.

You will need to waterproof your hiking boots. You see, when you clean leather boots, you open the surface pores and water can seep in easily.

To close these pores and protect the boots, apply a waterproofing spray or wax. There is a specific spray for each material. You can check the website of the manufacturer who made the boots to see the recommended spray. You may even email them for more information.

Remember, you should spray the boots when they are still wet since that is when the waterproofing spray is most effective.

So, every time you wash your hiking boots, make sure you waterproof them using spray or wax. Also, if you are planning to go hiking, spray or wax them a day before the hike.

Conditioning your hiking boots

Waterproofing your hiking boots is not enough. You need to condition the boots so that they can retain moisture. That way, they will not crack or wear out. This is specifically important and true for boots made of full-grain leather, and not for suede or nubuck.

Leather conditioner makes the boots supple, flexible and easier to stretch around your foot. If you leave the leather to stay too dry, it starts to crack.

Use a conditioner or cream that is specified for your type of boots. A good example is a silicone-based conditioner. Avoid mink oil or any other oils meant for industrial boots since it can “over-soften” your boots.

You should apply the conditioner immediately after waterproofing. That way, the conditioner will be more effective.

Apply just enough conditioner to moisten the leather. Too much can damage the boots and they will become too soft.

How to clean hiking boots – Chrome polish for metal parts

How to clean hiking boots also includes knowing how to clean the metal parts. You don’t want the metal around the lace holes to rust. Therefore, use a cotton swab to apply chrome polish to these metal parts.

Let the polish sit for a while and then wipe off the excess using a dry piece of cloth.

Dry the outside of boots

Now that the boots are clean, waterproof and conditioned, dry them. Put them in an open and airy location away from direct sunlight to prevent cracking and discoloration.

The same way direct sunlight can damage your boots so can heat sources. Don’t even think about drying your boots in the oven, campfire, using a blow dryer, radiator, wood stove or dryer.

These will damage the boots, especially those made using hide-based materials. You don’t want to end up with cracked and dried boots because the artificial heat sources harden and damage the outer layer.

Dry the inside of the boots

If water gets into the inside of your hiking boots, dry it thoroughly. Stuff dry newspapers inside and sprinkle baking soda. It helps to remove odors and to help the interior of the boots to dry. Replace the wet newspapers with dry ones until the shoes are completely dry.

Put away the boots

After making sure the boots have dried completely, replace the insoles and the laces. Put them in a box or shoe bag and store them, to await the next time that you shall go hiking.

Store the shoes in a place with normal and stable temperature. Do not store in damp or unventilated places such as the basement, attic or car trunk.

Don’t store them when they are damp or wet to prevent mold from growing on them.


That’s it for how to clean hiking boots. Leather hiking boots are expensive. Therefore, taking good care of them is more economical than buying new. If you like hiking extreme and challenging trails, you need to clean the boots more often. You may use your leather hiking boots for camping in the rain, but remember to give them a thorough cleaning and conditioning when you get back home.