How to Clean Dirty Leather Boots

Updated on April 5, 2019

Leather boots are one of the most durable pieces of footwear you can own. The only problem is that they can get really smelly really fast, especially if you have a pair of work boots. In this article, I will go over some ways to clean your leather boots and remove the smell while keeping your boots looking fresh which you should consider before throwing your trusty old leather boots away. They can be re-purposed for yard work or any dirty job where leather boots would be useful.

Keep in mind that you have to be careful with how you dry your leather boots as you do not want the leather to crack. Exposing the boots to extreme heat, for example, will cause the leather to crack.

Cleaning Dirty Leather Boots

Here are some steps to follow to clean off the dirt and grime from your leather boots. While you can use dish soap, I recommend getting saddle soap as it is specifically made for use on leather products.

  1. Remove the laces: Take the laces out of the boots. You can either wash them separately or replace them with new laces once you're done with the cleaning.
  2. Gently clean dirt and debris: Take a soft brush or cloth and gently go over the boot, cleaning off any big pieces of debris, particularly on the soles. Try to stay away from using a brush that is too firm as that will scratch the leather.
  3. Clean with soap: Make a mixture that is 50/50 water and dish soap and dip a soft cloth in the solution, or mix some saddle soap with water. Baking soda can also work well if you do not have any dish soap to use. Go over the entire outside of the boot with this solution and then wipe it off with another wet cloth. Once you have wiped all of the soap off, dry the boots with a towel.
  4. Apply leather conditioner: Using a leather conditioner will make your boots shine and keep the leather hydrated. Leather is made from the skin of animals, so it is important to keep the leather from drying out too much. Apply the conditioner and let it sit for about 15 minutes. After that, buff the boots with a soft cloth until the leather shines.
  5. Dry: Let the boots dry out in the open air. If the conditions allow it, put the boots outside to air dry. Keep them away from damp areas or heaters as that will cause the leather to crack.

How to Remove Grease or Oil Spots

If your boots have grease or oil stains on them, take some baking soda and mix with a little bit of water. Rub the paste onto the spot with a cloth and let it sit on the boot for a couple of hours.

How to Clean Smelly Leather Boots

Now that you have cleaned the dirt off your boots, you will want to clean the insides and get rid of those nasty odors. Keep in mind that you need to determine what kind of material is on the inside of your boots. If the lining is leather, you can follow some of the same steps from above. If the lining is made of some other type of fabric, you will have more leeway with what you can use to clean it.

  1. Put soap on a cloth and rub the boot: Take a damp cloth and put a few drops of saddle soap on it and rub in around the inside of the boot until it gets foamy.
  2. Rub the boot with another damp cloth: Take another wet cloth and wipe down the inside of the boot, making sure to get every last bit of soap.
  3. Dry: Let the boots dry and air out in a place that is away from the heater or oven.
  4. Wipe down with vinegar and water: Make a mixture of vinegar and water and wipe down the inside of the boot.
  5. Use baking soda: To help prevent odor from coming back, place a knotted sock with baking soda in the boot at night. Doing this will help absorb any other odors that come up. You can also just sprinkle some baking soda in the boot as well.

Household Items That Can Be Used for Cleaning

There are some household items that you can use that will have similar effects as buying leather care products. I have listed them below. Keep in mind that while these household items can work well, it is worth the investment in some leather care products, especially if you own more than one pair of leather boots.

Household Items for Cleaning Leather Boots

As a brush
This can work quite well for those hard to reach spots.
Baking Soda
To remove odor and remove oil/grease stains
Using it as a powder helps remove odors and it is very useful for removing stains when mixed with water.
Dish Soap
As a cleaner
Useful for cleaning the surface of the boot and mild enough so that it will not damage the leather.
To remove scuffs and scratches from the boots
It works, just not as well as a normal leather shoe polish or leather conditioner.
To remove odor from the inside of the boot and salt stains from the outside
It works quite well for cleaning and deodorizing, just be sure to dilute it with water.
Talcum Powder
To remove grease stains from the boot
When mixed with a little bit of water and left to sit on the stain, it works quite well. Just be sure to wipe it all off the boot when you are done.

How to Clean Suede Boots

Suede is a special kind of leather made from the underside of the animal, giving it a soft, "napped" feel. To clean suede you have to be extra careful, and you cannot let the boots get wet as that will damage the leather. Getting a few drops of water will not wreck the boot, and shoe companies now make water-repellent suede, but you still have to be careful. Here are some steps for cleaning suede boots.

  1. Brush out the dirt: I recommend getting a special brush used for cleaning suede as that will make the process easier. Use the brush and gently take out the dirt and grime. Try to avoid any vigorous brushing as that can mess up the suede.
  2. Go over the boot with a bath towel: Take a soft bath towel and go over the boot, gently scrubbing the remaining dirt out.
  3. Use an eraser to remove stains: If you have stains on your boots, use a special suede eraser to take out the stains. A pencil eraser can also work in a pinch as well.
  4. Use small amounts of white vinegar: If the marks still won't come out you can try using a little bit of water and vinegar. Be careful, especially with darker boots, so that you don't mess up the coloring. Apply a little bit of the diluted solution onto a cloth and gently rub it into the spot.

Why Is It Called Suede?

The term originates from the French phrase gants de Suède, literally meaning "gloves from Sweden," to characterize Swedish leather gloves that were popular in France in the mid 19th century.

How to Polish Leather Boots

Now that you boots are all clean and no longer smell, take the time to give them a good polish. Polishing the boots will help remove scratches and scuff marks as well. Keep the laces out of the boot and make sure that you have cleaned it recently.

  1. Get a cloth and shoe polish: Wrap a clean cloth around your finger and apply some shoe polish to the cloth.
  2. Dab the polish onto the boot: Take the cloth and gently dab the polish around different parts of the boot. You can use a toothbrush as well, that tends to work better in the nooks and crannies.
  3. Spread the polish: Use the rag to rub the polish in. Be sure that the polish is evenly distributed onto the boot.
  4. Buff: Use a brush or another rag and thoroughly buff the surface of the boot. Let the polish dry and take a look at your shiny boots!

How to Take Care of Leather Boots

Cleaning is one thing, but if you want your boots to last you are going to have to take care of them. Here are some tips for how you can preserve your leather from prematurely wearing out. If kept in good condition, leather boots can last for a very long time.

  1. Store them in a dry location: Don't expose your boots to extreme temperatures or excessive dampness. Try to store your boots in your house away from central air and heating.
  2. Use leather conditioner: Keeping the leather from cracking means you have to keep the proper level of moisture in the material. Using a specialized leather conditioner can help greatly with that.
  3. Cover your boots in water-repellent wax: Many companies make products that you can coat your boots with to help repel moister and water. Keep in mind that this barrier won't last forever and it won't be much help if your boots get soaked.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Darlene Matthews


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    • Elearn4Life profile imageAUTHOR

      Darlene Matthews 

      15 months ago

      Thanks for the suggestion and reading Ryan.

    • profile image


      16 months ago

      Thanks for posting, but I wouldn't recommend putting shoe laces loosely in your washing machine. If you need to wash them you can tie them at least once and they wont slip through the holes in your washer.


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