How to Clean Work Boots

by James Miller

In terms of durability, work boots can last anywhere from months to years. One thing that they all have in common, however, is that the better you treat them, the longer they will last.

Don’t get me wrong. Work boots are built to be tough. That’s kind of the whole point. But a little bit of gentle care on your part i.e. a few minutes per month, will keep them that way for much, much, longer.

Workers wear them in quite hostile conditions. The boots have to face mud, trash, dirt, dust, sand, wear and tear and what not. And all of this not only deteriorates the quality of your good looking boots but also degrades the quality to a great extent.

How to Clean Work Boots
How to Clean Work Boots

So what to do? You cannot, of course, escape putting your boots through all this, and you cannot avoid these conditions also. Plus, the main reason that leather hunting boots need so much of care is that leather is a natural material. It is also skin. So like our skin, it too will get damaged if not properly cared for.

Let us explore how we can keep our boots look brand new even after years. Just do regular cleaning following the steps and you are good to go.

Hopefully, this article has all the maintenance information that you will need to do just that.

How to Clean Work Boots Carefully

Cleaning Dirty Work Boots

Every stain does different things to your work boots, and therefore each of them must be dealt with differently. Despite which stain you are dealing with, there are steps you need to follow for proper cleaning. In this cleaning, you can use dish soap.

  • Remove the laces- Remove the laces from your boots. You can wash them separately after you have done with your work boots.
  • Gently clean debris and dirt- Using a piece of soft cloth or soft brush, gently go through the boot, cleaning off any piece of dirt and debris in it, especially in the soles. Avoid firm brash as they will scratch the leather.
  • Clean with soap– Prepare a mixture of 50/50 dish soap and water, dip a soft cloth in the mixture, and add some saddle soap with water. Dap off with the solution on the entire outside and wipe it off with another wet cloth and dry the boot with a dry towel.
  • Apply leather conditioner– Leather conditioner helps to make the boot shine and keep the leather hydrated. To keep the leather from drying up, apply the leather conditioner and leave it there for 15 minutes, and then buff the work boots with a soft brush until it shines.
  • Dry- Leave the boot on an open space to dry out. You need to keep your work boot away from heaters or damp areas.

Grease or oil removal from the boot

If you realize that your boot has stains of oil or grease, mix some baking soda and water to form a paste. Rub the paste on the areas with the grease or oil spot with a soft cloth. Let the paste sit in the spot for some good hours before you wipe it off with a soft cloth.

Salt stain removal

Salt can cause permanent damage or form stains on your work boots. Removing these stains requires a careful procedure. You will need to have two pieces of cloths, water, and Vinegar. The steps to remove include,

  • Prepare a mixture of 50/50 water and Vinegar. Dip in a soft piece of cloth and wipe off the salt stains.
  • Rub the work boots using a soft wet cloth
  • Using another soft dry cloth, wipe it to make the leather dry
  • Leave your work boot on an open area to dry naturally. Ensure that the boot doesn’t come across an area with overheat.
  • Once the boots are dry, buff them with a soft dry cloth to make them shine. 

The use of cornstarch to remove grease stains

Ensure that your boots are dry when you want to use this method. Cover the grease stains with healthy cornstarch. Let it stay in the area overnight for it to completely absorb the oil or grease. Wipe off the cornstarch with a soft wet cloth damped on a small amount of dish soap.

If the grease stains do not have been removed, you need to repeat the process; after all, the first use of the method doesn’t guarantee removal. Avoid soaking your boots with water, and wiping should be done using a soft wet cloth. 

The use of Talcum Powder in cleaning stains

Talcum powder is one of the effective substances you can use to remove grease, oil, or other stains from your work boots. The powder is affordable and very convenient in using it. You need to pour the powder into the area with the stains.

The good thing with this talcum powder is that it is all-natural; you will not experience any adverse reaction from it with your work boots. It also has an excellent natural absorbent level that allows it to absorb grease effectively.

Once you have applied the grease, let it stay there for one hour, and then look for a soft leather brush to clean the leather. You can use cornstarch as an alternative product. However, it does not have that solid, absorbing power like talcum powder. This is why most people prefer to use talcum powder over cornstarch. 

The use of alcohol in removing ink stains

Ink stains can make your work boot look awkward. Using a cotton ball, pour some alcohol into it and rub the damped cotton on the ink spot. The rubbing should be in a circular motion. You can apply a leather conditioner to restore the shiny of your leather after rubbing alcohol on the spot. 

Inside Cleaning

How to clean smelly work boots

Once you have removed dirt from your work boots, you will need to go into the boot and remove or get rid of the odor smell from the boot. Work boots are at high risk of developing odor smell if the material is exposed to water every time, and yet it is not waterproof.

Before your start inside cleaning, you need to determine the material the boot has used. If the boot lining is made from leather, you will have to follow the steps highlighted below. However, if the lining is made from other fabric, you need to have another leeway of cleaning. The steps include,

  • Rub the leather lining with a damped soft cloth- Prepare a mixture of water and soap. Dip in a piece of soft cloth to make it wet. Add a few drops on the saddle soap on the damp cloth. Rub the damp cloth gently inside the boot up when it gets foamy.
  • Using another wet, damp soft cloth, rub it again, rub the lining of the boot again gently. Ensure that you get out up to the last bit of soap.
  • Dry- Allow your boot to dry in an open place and not expose them to excessive heat.
  • Wiping with Vinegar and water-Prepare a mixture of water and Vinegar and wipe down inside the boot using a soft, damp cloth.
  • Use of baking soda- To ensure that the odor doesn’t come back, put a knotted sock with the baking soda in the boot overnight. This will be helpful as it absorbs any odor that might be developing. You can sprinkle baking soda also to the boot. 

How to Polish Work Boots

How To Clean Work Boots
How To Clean Work Boots

After cleaning your boot well and ensuring there is no smell, it is an excellent


 time to provide them with good polish. Polishing work boots is vital because it will help to remove scuff marks and scratches as well.  Before polishing, ensure you have kept the laces out and cleaned them well.

  • Get a shoe polish and a cloth- Wrap a clean, soft cloth on your finger and apply a shoe polish to the cloth.
  • Dash the polish onto the boot- Using the smooth cloth, gently dab the polish around the different parts of the shoe. The toothbrush can also work better in this case.
  • Spread the polish around the boot- Using a rag or soft cloth, rub the polish in. Ensure that the polish has been distributed evenly onto the boot.
  • Buff- With a brush or another rag, buff thoroughly the surfaces of the work boot. Allow the polish to dry in an open place, and then look at the shiny boots.

Conditioning of the leather

The conditioning of leather involves essential in helping the work boot from cracking or drying out. After cleaning your boots and dried them, it is good to apply some liquid leather conditioner onto the material using a soft cloth.

Rub the conditioner to the leather in a circular motion. Allow the conditioner to dry and soak in. The good thing with these leather conditioners they come in different versions like gels or wax. Ensure that your boot is dry and clean when applying the conditioner. This is vital because it will ensure that your boot has that shiny surface you will need a work boot.

Work Boots Waterproofing

High-quality work boots are water-resistant. It is, therefore, good to have consistent conditioning of the work boots to ensure you haven’t exposed them to wet or other elements that might affect their waterproofing nature.

You can take extra measures to waterproof your boots by using a wax-based polish after you conditioning or apply a waterproof spray on the leather to make it durable. The question you may ask, can my work boot get wet despite using the protective substances?

Yes, it can be wet, but first, you need to make sure that the work boot is not exposed to heat or fire. This is because high heat can make the leather crack quickly and become vulnerable to water. This makes them not to be water-resistant.


How often should I condition my work boots?

work boots require constant application of leather condition. Applying the condition every month will be good as it will help maintain the boots’ natural oil to make them supple and soft. For those boots that do not experience activewear, you can do the condition after 3 or 6 months.

Is Vaseline suitable for work boots?

Yes, petroleum Jelly is suitable for work boots as it makes them soft and prevents them from cracking. The jelly will perfectly work on patent leather shoes and leather items but not well with those boots with rawhide leather.

How can I moisturize work boots?

Moisturizing work boots is easy; rub the conditioner in each of the boots with a soft cloth or sponge. Apply the conditioner on all the surfaces, and if it looks dry, rub more conditioner on the leather. The condition will soak to the leather as you will be applying and rubbing.


How to Take Care of Work Boots

How To Wash Work Boots
How To Wash Work Boots
How To Wash Work Boots

Insole and Laces

First of all, remove these. The boots must be aired properly and dried after each and every use. Do not leave them damp anytime. Also, it is a good practice if you remove the laces and insoles also when they are drying so that the boots dry up properly.

The reason is that insole absorbs a lot of moisture. Thus, removing it will dry up your boots much faster. Ideally, you should let your work boots dry for 24 hours before you can wear them again and nine times out of ten the first thing to go will be the soles. This isn’t a design defect. It’s the natural consequence of anything being stepped on repeatedly.

If/when this occurs, consider replacing the sole before you replace the boot. This can be done for a fraction of the price (and a fraction of the shopping time) by way of insoles.

It’s also worth noting that insoles may be worth purchasing even before the sole gives out if the soles are naturally thin.

Remove Dirt

Remove Dirt From Shoes
Remove Dirt From Shoes

Dirt has the potential to ruin the color of your boots. Once you remove all the laces and insoles, make a point to remove all the dirt. If your boots are very badly soiled, use a shoe cleaning product. For normal dirt, use lukewarm water. This opens up the pores of leather and then closes them again.

Use Lukewarm Water

Brushing the leather revives its properties. Thus, leather can breathe again. If you do not want to use cleaning products, go for lukewarm soap suds. And then, the leather absorbs all the water. This leaves it in an unprotected state.

Waterproof it

Since wet leather has left your boots exposed and open-pored, you need to do something for it. Else it will hamper the quality of your boots. So to close the pores again, use an impregnating spray when they are still wet. This prevents the absorption of water into the leather, enabling it to keep breathing.

Apply Cream

The boots should be creamed on a regular basis. Water and dirt remove its natural properties. So cream is needed to rejuvenate them. Otherwise, the leather will break and become cracked up. Since hard leather is not flexible, it will be ruined.

Use a hair dryer to melt the cream a little as it stays hard when you open it. Apply it with bare hands. This ensures smooth coat and better stay. Again use a hair dryer to absorb the cream into the leather. Real leather needs external agents to maintain its shape and stay flexible.

Dry the Boots

Dry Boots Fast
Dry Boots Fast

Let it stay at room temperature. The boots will dry on their own. Never make the mistake of putting it near some heating element else it will burn the leather. It will rip it apart and give a bad effect.

Testing the Leather

There are other steps like waxing and oiling. If you do these steps properly, then water will form droplets on the surface of the leather and not get absorbed by it

Break In Slowly

How To Take Care Of Work Boots
How To Take Care Of Work Boots

First off, if your boots are new, have patience when it comes to breaking them in. Some boots are good to go the day you get them. Others will require at least a week of light use before they’re fit for a long shift. We also have article on light weight work boot, click here to learn more about it. 

Rushing the process will obviously lead to painful feet. Most people are surprised to learn, however, that doing so can also lead to lasting damage to the boots themselves.

It is worth noting that the break in period can be safely reduced through the use of conditioner which will naturally soften the boots.

Water Based Water Proofing

If your boots are leather (not suede leather!), the next step is waterproofing. This is a cheap and easy process but it’s also one that’s surprisingly easy to get wrong.

Limit yourself to water proofing products that are themselves, water based. There are multiple reasons for this:

  • Water based products allow your boots to breath. This means that while repelling water on the outside, they will still allow sweat to evaporate on the inside.
  • They’re safer. They don’t contain petroleum which can stretch leather. They don’t require heat to apply which can warp leather.
  • They’re generally more effective.
  • They never attract dirt.

Whatever product you use, maximum results are typically achieved after three coats. The first should be applied when you first get them. The second 2 weeks later. And the third, 2 weeks after that.

Some people recommend repeating this process every couple of months but personally I haven’t found it to be necessary.

Regular Cleaning

Needless to say, even the most durable boots won’t last very long if you never bother to clean them. I’m not talking about daily cleaning either. Who has the patience for that after a long shift?

But a quick scrub at the weekend takes five minutes and will greatly extend the lifetime of your boots, not to mention keep them looking their best.

For all leathers except suede, water based cleaning agents are a must. And a nylon brush is generally the most effective scrubber. For suede, use a pencil eraser.

If you want to clean the inside of your boots, shampoo is fine provided it’s of the low PH variety.

Regular Conditioning

Cream Sole Work Boots
Cream Sole Work Boots

Personally, I apply conditioner every couple of months or whenever I notice my boots starting to stiffen.

The importance of conditioner is based on the fact that leather has a nasty habit of becoming dehydrated. And when dehydration creeps in, cracks tend to follow. The leather also becomes a lot more prone to scratches etc.

Again, watch out for suede. Use conditioner with the word suede literally on the box.

Remove Scratches

Speaking of scratches, no amount of conditioner will make leather scratch proof. If your boots get scratched and you don’t find it stylish, here’s how to minimize the damage. Keep in mind that complete removal may be impossible.

Grain Leather

  • Clean and condition as described above.
  • Smooth over the scratch with additional conditioner i.e. try to point the compress the part that’s been lifted up by the scratch.
  • Dab the scratch with white vinegar, again trying to compress the part that’s been lifted up. White vinegar naturally causes leather to close up.
  • Apply shoe polish.

Patent Leather

  • Clean as described above.
  • Buff the scratch using shoe polish.
  • Cover the entire boot in a liquid silicone finish. This looks almost identical to the lacquer that patent leather is first coated with by the manufacturer. It will help hide the scratch, hide the shoe polish and make your entire boot look new again.

Suede Leather

  • Remind yourself that suede leather is by far the most delicate.
  • Clean using a pencil eraser.
  • Raise the grain around the scratch by gently buffing it with a toothbrush.
  • Condition the scratch using conditioner as described above.

Leather Boot Polish?

Leather Boot Polishing Tips
Leather Boot Polishing Tips

Shoe polish will have absolutely no effect on how long your new boots last. But I’ve decided to include it anyway as it may well affect how long you personally decide to keep them.

Needless to say, again, these tips are not applicable to anything suede.

  • Clean the boots as described above and let them dry.
  • Apply the polish slowly, in small circles, with pretty much anything soft.
  • Use a shoe brush to remove any excess left over.

Three steps, a five dollar can of shoe polish, and now your boots look like new.

Wear as Intended

This should be obvious. But I strongly doubt that I’m the only person to ruin a boot by wearing it where I shouldn’t be.

If you chose the perfect pair of boots for the work week, don’t wear them in opposite conditions during the weekend. If your boots are made of suede, avoid water like the plague etc.

Final thought

Understanding how to clean your work boots at home is vital. The process is not only easy but also crucial in boosting your work boot durability. With so many items used to clean, you might get stuck if you aren’t used to the process. However, with this article, I am sure we have brought food to the table.

Caring for your work boot with cleaning makes it stylish and last for years. Before you start your boot cleaning, it is good to ensure that you have all the items required for cleaning. An excellent cleaning will make the boot look great, eliminate odor smell and improve the overall performance of the boot. 

Cleaning your work boot boosts the durability of your boot. However, if you want your boot to have an excellent long-lasting period, high care level must be applied. To keep your work boot high, here are some of the tips you need to watch out

  • Store your work boots in a dry area. This does not mean that you need to expose them to high temperatures or excess dampness, no. Try to place your boot in a good place from the central area and high heat.
  • Always remember to apply leather conditioner. To ensure you have prevented your boot from cracking, you need to keep them in an area with a proper moisture level for the material. With the help of a specialized leather conditioner, you can achieve this.
  • Cover your work boots with water-resistant wax. Most work boots are designed in a way that you can coat the boots to be able to repel against water and moisture. The material isn’t that durable, but it will be vital to get the boots soaked.

About James Miller

James Miller is a dedicated individual based in the vibrant city of San Francisco, CA, USA. His unwavering passion lies in the realm of construction, where he finds fulfillment in exploring and documenting various facets of construction equipment and processes. A graduate of the University of California Merced, James holds a dual degree in mechanical and electrical engineering, which has equipped him with a solid foundation in technical knowledge.

With a keen eye for detail and a knack for articulation, James has channeled his enthusiasm into writing about the intricacies of construction gear and methodologies. His insightful writings offer valuable insights to both industry professionals and curious enthusiasts, shedding light on the machinery and techniques that shape the built environment.

James Miller's educational background in mechanical and electrical engineering lends credibility to his work, allowing him to delve into the technical nuances of construction with precision. His passion for sharing knowledge and fostering understanding in the construction field is evident in his contributions, making him a respected voice in the industry.

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