How to Clean Work Boots | Easy Tricks to Dry Shoes & Protect Leather

So you’ve bought a pair of not-so-cheap work boots. They are comfortable, look fantastic and you wish you could wear them forever. With a few minutes of TLC every now and then, you could extend the life of your boots substantially! Do you know how to clean work boots correctly? It will save you buying a new pair sooner than need be. We’ll also discuss effective leather care, restoration and protection.

Updated March 2020 by Maya

how to clean work boots

The Basics: Preparing to wear your new boots

If you take care of your boots, your boots’ll take care of you. These steps are the same for both mens and womens footwear. How to clean leather work boots and make sure they last as long as possible?

Stiff Leather

Brand new work boots are best walked around the house for a day or so to break them in. The leather might feel stiff and uncomfortable. That is normal as the boots have probably been in storage for awhile and need some leather conditioner to bring life back into them. 

As soon as you apply the leather conditioner you will feel a difference in the leather and they should be less stiff and more comfortable.

This will work for any type of leather boots from wood working to iron works to work boots for concrete environments.

Waterproofing

Before setting off to work with your new boots, make sure to waterproof them. Beeswax and mink oil are the most common and effective for this job.

WARNING: waterproofing products could change the color of your boot leather. To avoid any coloring alteration, use a protection spray before waterproofing your boots.

Once the boots have dried fully, they are ready for their first day at work.

How to clean leather work boots

Leather boots needs regular cleaning and conditioning to keep from cracking. The cleaning routine takes a few minutes and only needs to be done once a month. Once you see how good your boots look after a bit of care, you’ll be looking forward to doing it!

Follow these 3 steps for happy boots:

1. Remove dirt and wash 

If you have muddy boots, it’s best to let it dry and then pick bigger chunks off and get rid of the remaining dust with a soft cloth.

The soles can be washed with soap and water. Usually just water from a hosepipe would suffice. Try not to get the leather uppers wet and if you do, make sure to let them dry fully before wearing. 

An old toothbrush is rather handy when cleaning out the boot tread.

How to protect leather work boots

2. Condition, care for and restore

Use a soft cloth and leather conditioner to revive your boots. Take extra care around the seams and any nooks and crannies. Boot conditioners not only keep your boots from cracking but also maintains the soft comfort levels.

Depending on the conditioner you use, application might be needed more of less frequently. A particularly long lasting conditioner is the Obernauf Heavy Duty Leather Preservative. 

This conditioner protects and treats your boot against abrasions, scuffs, mildew and mold. It has a slow release formula meaning that it only needs to be reapplied once every 3 to 6 months to restore your boots to as good as new. 

This frequency also depends on: 

  • if you wear then continuously or if you have a second pair of work boots you alternate with. 
  • Weather conditions: in winter you might need to care for your insulated boots more often, considering the aggressive salt and water your shoes are faced with.
  • Your type of work environment

It takes a little longer to dry than other conditioners but the extra wait is worth it if it lasts up to 6 months.  As it contains beeswax, it does darken the leather color slightly but for most boots, that is not an issue. It is preferable to the color fading some other conditioners cause.

Read the packaging and wipe off the conditioner after the recommended time. Then polish by using the same soft cloth, moving in a circular motion. Wait for the boot to dry completely before moving to the next step.

3. Protection by waterproofing

“I purposefully bought waterproof boots, not to have to do this myself!” You might think. Yes, the waterproofing your boots already have is useful but it’s not as complete as it could be and you want your boots to be completely protected from water, not just some elements of it.

Waterproofing also needs to be done regularly as it wears off after time. You can test when it’s due by spraying a bit of water on your boot and if the water doesn’t bead up and roll off easily and quickly, your boots are due for a waterproofing.

Use a water-based waterproofing product and you can choose between a sponge-on applicator or spray on. This Nikwax brand is recommended specifically to complement gore-tex lined boots to completely waterproof your boots.

And that’s how easy it is, 3 easy steps how to clean work boots, particularly how to clean and protect leather boots.

How to clean leather work boots with household items

There are 3 easy ways how to clean your leather boots with everyday common household items. 

1. Dish soap

Just use a small amount and rub your boot gently in a circular motion. This should remove any resilient grime you werent able to simply wipe off with a dry cloth.

2. Baking Soda, Talcom Powder or Cornstarch

These items come in as a useful little helpers if you need to remove a black oil or grease stain from your leather boot. It’s not easy to get oil or dark grease marks of any kind out of leather. 

If your boots are waterproofed, it wouldn’t be an issue as the oil would form a bead and roll off instead of sinking into the leather. And grease could easily be wiped off without a second thought.

However, one of the best chances of getting the grease stain out, is to treat the affected area with a sprinkle of baking soda, talcum powder or cornstarch.

  • Leave it for a few hours to absorb the oil or 
  • Dab at it carefully with a moist cloth

After cleaning the boot, consider a conditioning, polishing and waterproofing treatment for your boots to avoid oil stains in the future.

3. Nail Polish remover or lemon juice/vinegar mix

Mix equal amounts of lemon juice and vinegar together if you don’t have nail polish remover to had. 

Dip a cue tip in the lem juice-vinegar mix or nail polish remover and dab at the stain carfully without rubbing. This can be used for permenend marker stains or ink marks.

And that’s the best way how to clean leather work boots with household items.

How to dry wet work boots

If you work in a wet environment and often get home with soaking boots, you probably have a boot dryer. But let’s look at other options how to dry wet work boots if you only encounter a wet boot problem once in awhile.

Whatever you do, don’t wear wet boots as that is the perfect environment for bacteria growth, that leads to not only smelly feet and boots but also potential fungus infection. The boots could also be damaged if not dried correctly.

Overall, you need to know how to dry wet work boots for your feets’ sake as well as the boots. If it’s a lace up boot, remove the laces and pull the tongue out to allow the boot to open to the air as much as possible. Remove the insole as well and dry separately. With slip on or pull up boots, remove the insole.

If your boots are dirty, make sure to clean them before starting to dry them. You can do this with a cloth and water or a bit of detergent if needed.

The most effective method

  1. A boot dryer
  2. Non-heated Fan

This is more easily done with lightweight boots. Use a strong fan, as large as or larger than your 2 boots are wide. Laces and insoles should already be removed. Use wire to hook your boots onto the fan housing by the tongue area so that the boot interior is facing the fan. Switch on the fan and leave your boots to dry like this overnight.

Less effective methods include

  • towels
  • newspaper 
  • setting your boots out into the sun

DO NOT dry your boots by using

  • Heaters meant for humans
  • By the fire side
  • Stoves  or ovens
  • Blow dryers (unless they are set on a cold temperature)

Best Boot Dryer for Work Boots

If you do not have time for a fan to dry your boots overnight, you can use a specially designed boot dryer. The 2 best boot dryer for work boots include:

  1. DryGuy Portable Dryer: although it only dries 1 boot at a time, it is small, compact and does the job in under 4 hours. A great portable option with a car adaptor! 
  2. PEET The Original 2 Boot Dryer – is the Best Boot Dryer if you value speed and efficiency. It’s fan based but silent enough and has a convenient timer to set it and forget it. Not portable.

Boot dryers are the way to go, especially in winter when your boots are likely to get wet more often than not. Always make sure to clean your boots before drying them as dirt could get ingrained otherwise and be very difficult to remove later on. This depends on the type of boot material. If its a full grain leather, dirt should still come off easily later on. 

Boot dryers are specifically designed not to damage your boots in anyway. This is done by maintaining a low temperature that doesn’t cause boot shrinkage or other deformation.

The fastest drying boot dryer we’ve found is the PEET Dryer which will dry soaking boots in under 4hours at the longest, Those boots would be really wet to take a full 4hrs for it do dry them! If drying time is important to you, this is the best boot dryer for work boots.

The 2 types of boot dryers

Convection boot dryers

These dryers work by emitting a low warm heat that will slowely evaporate the moisture in the boots. This type of show dryer is slower than the forced air dryer by a few hours. 

Forced air boot dryers

This boot dryer uses air movement from fans to circulate and expel moisture from the shoes. The air is also slightly heated to accelerate the process. This is the fastest drying method you can find for your work shoes.

Can you put work boots in the dryer?

If you value your work boots, DO NOT put them in the dryer. Dryers will damage your leather work boots by drying them out, causing the leather to crack and deforming them with high temperatures. 

If the heat of a hair dryer can cause damage to work boots, a dryer has the potential to annihilate them. Not literally but at least their usability and appearance. 

Can a dryer cause damage to your boots?

  • Shrinkage and deformation
  • Dry out the leather
  • Cause the leather to crack
  • Affect the adhesive used in the boot badly

I hope that answers the question: can you put work boots in the dryer as a clear —No— please don’t put your safety shoes in a dryer. Even if they do not have any leather material. The steel toe, composite toe, square toe or moc toe shoes can still be damaged in the dryer by the heat affecting the glue holding the rubber sole together. This can cause the shoe sole rubber to come unstuck and fall apart before it’s time has come.

If you need to dry your shoes quickly, it’s worth investing in a boot dryer and if you don’t need to dry your boots too often, use the overnight fan drying method described above. That works great for drying boots once in awhile.

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