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How to Clean Work Boots

Work Boots are an Investment. It's worth learning how to clean your work boots to ensure they last as long as possible. Cleaning work boots involves minimum effort if it's made with quality materials - for the most part you can just wipe them down with a cloth or rag. In this article, we'll tell you everything we know about how to care for leather work boots.

Below is a quick rundown of how you can increase the lifespan of your boots:

  • Keep your boots waterproofed to prevent water damage to the leather. Drip some water on the leather, and if it doesn't bead up and fall off, it's time to give you boots a waterproof treatment.
  • Leather should stay somewhere in between oversaturated with moisture and bone dry. Rubbing some leather conditioner on your boots once in awhile helps maintain the right level of moisture.
  • Wipe off dirt and/or snow when coming in the house. Both dirt particles and snow treated with salt can quickly deteriorate the leather surface of your boots.
  • Clean stains, spots, and scuffs with a damp paper towel and moisturizing soap.
  • Always break in your new work boots properly before taking them out in the field.

Not all work boots are the same. Even the highest quality boots on the market require regular care to maintain a strong barrier between your feet and the earth below. These days, most work boots are made from leather. Leather is a strong yet flexible material created from cured animal rawhide. There are various processes for creating leather, and each process results in a material with its own unique set of properties.

Types of Leather for Work Boots

Leather is a porous material that is greatly affected by temperature, as well as moisture levels. If left untreated, your boots may be weathered by climates that are either too dry or too humid, but we will tackle that later in the article.

Some types of leather are more durable than other. Keep this in mind when cleaning your work boots. In today's world, most leather work boots are made with full-grain leather. This is because full-grain is the hardiest, most durable type of leather around. Even though full-grain is tough, some of the most comfortable working boots are made of the material.

Some the common types of leathers used for work boots here:

  • Full-grain (not sanded or buffed, the grain is fully preserved making full-grain among the strongest types of leather)
  • Nubuck (sanded or buffed, giving nubuck leather a finer grain, resulting in a strong yet soft material)
  • Suede (unlike full-grain and nubuck, suede is created from the inner side of a hide. The material is known for it’s flexibility, softness, and absorbability)

Leather Boots & The Elements

When caring for any piece of leather apparel, it is imperative to understand the effect that water has on the material—leather boots will dry out and crack without enough moisture, yet saturating leather with water can permanently warp the shape of even the toughest leathers.

The Effect of Water on Leather

Although most boots today are sold pre-waterproofed, regularly used leather boots may need to undergo the occasional waterproofing treatment to prevent water from permeating through the leather. You can compare Magnum work boots to see which ones are sold pre-waterproofed, and which aren't.

How can you tell if your boots need waterproofing? Drip some water on the leather surface. If the water does not bead and slide off the boots, it means water has permeated the leather’s surface. In short, the boots need to be waterproofed.

There are many different products available for waterproofing leather boots. The best products for retaining the color of your leather boots while creating an impervious seal are chemical sprays. Simply dry your boots with a rag and then apply the spray as instructed.

If you prefer a more environmentally friendly approach, beeswax and mink oil are commonly used as natural waterproofing solutions. But heed this warning: oils and waxes may permanently alter the color of leather, especially that of lighter colors like white and beige. For some, a slight darkening of the leather is not an issue, but you may have a problem with altering the aesthetic of your boots.

There once was a time when people thought filling boots up with water was a great way to break them in. However, when water saturates leather, it warps the material. Get the lowdown on the do's and dont's of breaking in work boots.

New breakthroughs in hydro management technologies like Magnum’s i-shield offer water resistant protection, requiring far less waterproofing treatments. But even if you take great care of your boots and waterproof them when necessary, it is more than likely that you will run into a scenario in which your leather boots become saturated with water – but don’t panic!

Simply remove the laces and insoles, then place your boots in front of a fan or hang them upside down to air dry. Make sure you do not place leather in front of a radiator or other heating element to dry, as this may crack the surface. Also, when taking boots off, wet or otherwise, it’s best to generally avoid using the opposite foot to remove a boot, as this common shortcut may damage the leather.

If there is one care tip to remember, it is that boots need to maintain a waterproof seal in order to protect your feet. Prolonged exposure to moisture is a fast track to bacterial infection, and even the smallest infections can rapidly develop into a big problem, impairing your ability to work or even walk.

Leather and Moisture

When skin dries out, it cracks and becomes discolored, leaving a less than favorable appearance. Regularly applying moisturizer helps keep skin healthy and smooth, and maintaining leather outerwear is no different.

To prevent leather boots from drying out, consider investing in a conditioning product to maintain a consistent level of moisture. There are tons of conditioning products that are commercially available, including saddle soap, mink oil, and conditioning creams.

Conditioners not only seal in moisture to prevent cracking, but they also increase the flexibility of the leather. To ensure your boots last, regularly moisturize your leather boots, and make sure to pay special attention to the areas that crease the most. Creases form because of consistent movement, so maximizing the flexibility of these particular areas is of utmost importance when applying leather conditioner.

Under no circumstances should you ever use standard hand soap to moisturize leather boots. Most hand soap will actually have the exact opposite effect and dry out the leather even further.

Salt and Snow

Road salt is commonly used to rapidly melt ice on pavement or asphalt for safety reasons, but salt can eat away at leather surfaces, damaging your boots if left untreated. If you live in a region that receives snowfall regularly, it pays to know how to rid your leather footwear of salt to prevent erosion and unsightly white stains.

After removing your boots, follow this simple home remedy as quickly as possible - time is of the essence. If you are unsure whether or not your leather boots have come into contact with snow or ice, sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry:

  • Wipe away as much salt as you can with a cloth or rag
  • Mix 2 parts water with 1 part vinegar
  • Gently clean boots with vinegar solution
  • Use a damp cloth to wipe away the vinegar solution
  • Dry boot surface with a clean towel

General Care Tips

A good pair of boots is an investment, and it is worthwhile to practice these care tips if you wish to keep your investment in good shape.

Daily Care

The most important rule to maintain your boots is to stay on top of the daily maintenance. Although cleaning your boots after every use may seem monotonous and dull at first, your wallet will thank you for preserving your new boots.

Clean your boots after every instance you expose them to the elements. Dust and debris often clings to the leather, eroding the material and cutting down the lifetime of your boots. As a general rule of thumb, wipe down your boots with a cloth or rag whenever you kick them off for the night. This is a very simple and easy to follow tip that will greatly impact the lifetime of your boots.

Cleaning Boots

Spills and scuffs are inevitable, but most marks can be easily removed. For heavy full-grain leather boots, dampen a paper towel or cloth with a moisturizing soap, and gently clean the problem areas with a circular motion. For caked in dirt or dust, use a brush to remove sediment. If spot treating delicate leathers like nubuck or suede, use a suede eraser and brush.

Sticky substances like wax or gum may seem impossible to remove, but can be treated by freezing the boot. Place the boot in your freezer, wait a few hours, and then chip off the substance with a nail file.

Proper Storage

Properly storing leather boots will ensure the material’s integrity lasts. Store leather boots in a place that is somewhere between bone dry and wet - a partially humid environment is best, as the boot will retain some moisture and avoid cracking.

Don’t Forget

To wrap up, here are a few key boot care tips to remember:

  • Waterproof boots if water does not bead and slide off leather surface
  • Use a conditioning product regularly to prevent leather from cracking
  • Remove road salt with vinegar solution
  • Wipe dust and scrape dirt off boots after every use
  • Never dry leather boots in front of a heating element - air dry or place boots in front of a fan
  • Remove insoles and laces when drying boots
  • Break in boots before taking them on the field
  • Store boots in a mildly humid environment to retain moisture