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Your new work boots look great and have all the features you need for your work in a top-notch welding shop. The slip-resistant soles give you great traction and the metatarsal guard is more comfortable than you expected. Your only complaint is that the heel is too snug to fit comfortably. Let’s look at how to stretch work boots without damage.
Should you try to stretch just the heel area of your boots? What method works best to stretch work boots? Will you ruin the fit of the rest of the boot if you stretch the heel?
Updated June 2022 by Maya
How to stretch shoes wider
In this article we’ll cover lots of ways to stretch work boots as we provide 10 easy tips and tricks to make your work boots more comfortable without ruining the leather in them, or stretching a non-leather fabric to the point that it rips.
The focus is on ways that don’t harm the integrity of the boot. The trade-off is that our suggestions may take a little longer and require you to purchase boot stretchers or boot sprays. We believe that the trade-off is worth it, especially since good work boots aren’t cheap.
The biggest potential pitfalls to avoid are:
- 1) purchasing a boot that’s just too small (because it was a fantastic price), and
- 2) being in such a hurry to stretch your boots that you end up damaging–or possibly ruining– your new boots.
How to Stretch Work Boots: 10 Easy Tips and Tricks
- Start with a pair of boots that’s the right size
- Start with a pair that fits your foot
- Wear them
- Avoid methods that require soaking boots in water
- Avoid methods recommending artificial heat
- Invest in shoe stretchers
- Use a metal shoe stretcher
- Use boot sprays designed for stretching
- Follow the directions carefully
- Keep your boots beautiful
Start with a pair of boots that’s the right size
Boot sprays, stretchers and schemes that promise to “stretch your boots fast” can’t magically transform your boots into a pair that’s a full size larger and 2 widths wider. At least, they can’t do so without damaging your boots. Every boot company–Keen, Wolverine, Red Wing, etc.–manufactures each size of boots with dimensions for a specific size of foot.
Start with a pair that fits your foot.
Stretching won’t raise or lower an arch. It will make a sloppy heel even more sloppy. Stretching poorly-fitting boots is likely to make them looser. It won’t correct problems of fit.
Realize that the very best way to stretch a pair of boots is by wearing them. This allows the leather to stretch incrementally and form to your foot like a glove. It’s the only way that doesn’t risk over-stretching areas that fit well.
Avoid methods that require soaking boots in water.
Leather is best treated by applying waxes, sprays, or creams that protect it from the damaging effects of water. Dunking new boots in hot or cold water is a really good way to shorten the life of a pair of boots, whether they are made by Skechers, Nike or Danner. They’ll stretch, but the long-term results aren’t likely to be what you want.
Avoid methods recommending artificial heat.
Heat does cause leather to stretch. It also dries leather significantly. If you want the heat to stretch your new Carhartt, Thorogood, or Diehard boots, then wear them outside on a hot day.
Invest in shoe stretchers
…especially if you routinely face the same problem with fit. Perhaps you’ve broken toes in one of your feet, or developed bunions that have changed the contour of your feet and caused them to rub or need extra room. You can avoid the pain of stretching new shoes by using shoe stretchers right away.
Use a metal shoe stretcher
…to stretch a steel toe or composite toe of a safety shoe. Using a wooden shoe stretcher to broader a safety toe is more apt to ruin the stretcher than it is to widen the steel or composite. One caution is worth mentioning. Safety toes are designed to be sturdy and hard to change. Stretching the steel toe could jeopardize the effectiveness of the safety toe. This applies to work shoes in both men’s and women’s sizes.
Use boot sprays designed for stretching
….the type of material your boots are made from. Some sprays work for full-grain leather only. Some work for Nubuck and suede as well. Others work for non-leather materials. Match the spray to the material you are spraying.
Follow the directions carefully.
Whether you are using a spray or a stretcher, be careful to use the product as it was intended to be used.
Keep your boots beautiful
Know that using a shoe stretcher is the only method that isn’t likely to change the look of your boots. Sprays, soaking, freezing, etc, generally alter the color of your boots. Be prepared.
Leather boots stretch naturally. Giving them the time to naturally stretch and form to the contours of your feet is the very best way to stretch your boots. Non-leather boots are more difficult to stretch. Rubber boots are the most difficult to stretch.
Boot stretchers are a good approach if you need more room to make your boots fit comfortably. They are easy to use, allow you to control the amount of stretch, and don’t discolor or compromise the integrity of the material. Boot stretching spray can also be a good option if it is used as directed and on the materials for which it is made.
We don’t recommend other methods that require dunking or heating new boots. These methods do stretch boots, but they also compromise their quality.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: Do leather boots stretch?
A: Yes, leather boots do stretch. That’s one of the reasons they get more and more comfortable the longer you wear them. As the leather in your boots stretches it conforms to your feet, bulging out a bit in spots where your feet exert extra pressure.
The toe box, heel and shaft of the boots are all likely to stretch a bit as you break your boots in.
Because leather shoes or boots will stretch, you need to make sure that they fit snugly when you buy them so that your feet don’t slide around too much in your boots once they have stretched. They won’t stretch several sizes, though.
Don’t buy a size 8 for your size 10 feet, even if the boots are a great bargain. Trying to stretch a boot too much will ruin the leather.
Q: How much can you stretch leather boots?
A: The answer varies a bit based on the type of leather in the boots. Suede and nubuck leather are tricky to stretch. You should be very careful about artificially stretching boots made from either of those materials.
For full-grain leather boots, the rule of thumb is that they can reasonably stretch from ½ to 1 size larger as you wear them. If you used a boot stretcher, you could stretch them a little bigger.
The larger issue is not whether the boots can be stretched to fit your feet inside them, but whether the boots are made to fit your size of feet. The location of the arch, the width of the toe box and the flex point of the boots need to match your feet in order for the boots to fit you comfortably.
Remember, too, that excessive stretching is likely to damage the leather. It isn’t wise to purposefully buy a pair of boots that’s a size too small and a width too narrow and count on the boots stretching enough to feel comfortable. You could end up with a really comfortable pair of boots that way, but the odds aren’t in your favor.
Q: Would you explain how to stretch leather boots quickly?
A: The very best way to stretch leather boots is by wearing them in your day-to-day work routine, whether you are a construction worker, an ironworker, or a logger. The 2nd-best way is to use a boot stretcher. This device comes in many forms and is designed to stretch the whole boot’s length and/or width.
Specialty boot stretchers enlarge only a part of the boot–the toe box, the heel or the shank.
Using boot stretchers is better than other ways like soaking boots in water or using heat from a hair dryer. Those other methods work, and work quickly, but they are apt to severely damage the leather in your boots. Boot stretchers work evenly, incrementally and overnight. See our 10 Easy Tips and Tricks above.
Q: Can you explain how to stretch leather boots’ toe box only?
A: The tried-and-true way that won’t ruin your boots, if you use it as directed, is to get a boot stretcher specifically for the toe box. Unless you can wait a few days so that you can stretch your boots individually, you’ll need 2 boot stretchers.
Insert these into your boots and expand the stretcher until it puts pressure on your boot. More details are in our 10 Easy Tips and Tricks about metal stretchers.
Another way that’s faster but a bit risky is to put enough water in zip top bags to fill the toe box of your boots. Put the bags into your boots, and put the boots in the freezer, making sure to angle the boots so that the water in the bags flows to the front of your boots. As the water freezes and expands, it will stretch the leather in your boots.
Pull the boots out once the water has completely solidified. Let the ice melt until you can easily remove the bag. Wear your boots as usual. You should find that the toe box is roomier.
Q: Do Timberland boots stretch?
A: Yes, Timberland boots stretch, especially if they are made of leather. Leather boots made by Carolina, Irish Setter and Keen do stretch, too. Stretching is more a function of the leather than it is of the manufacturer.
Leather naturally stretches a bit with pressure from your feet. Slip-on boots that are roomy at the ankle or calf won’t stretch as much in those areas, but the foot of the boot will stretch. Lace-up boots with a moc toe or a square toe will stretch the most at the pressure points.
Q: Would you explain how to stretch shoes for wide feet? My shoes are made from non-leather material.
A: Non-leather materials don’t stretch as easily or as much as leather. You will need to use both a stretching spray and a shoe stretcher in order to see much of a difference in the roominess of your shoes.
First, apply the spray to both of your shoes. Be sure to cover your work area first so that you don’t get overspray onto your table or floor. Spray from the distance recommended on the spray can. Be sure to spray evenly.
Once you have done that, insert a stretcher designed to broaden shoes. Expand the stretchers until you see the fabric being stressed. Keep the stretchers in your shoes at least overnight. Don’t remove them until you are ready to wear your shoes again.
If your shoes still need to be wider, you can repeat the process. Your shoes might stretch some more, but they might not.
Q: Could you tell me how to widen steel toe boots?
A: It’s difficult to widen a steel-toe boot. Obviously, sprays, creams or other means to stretch the leather, won’t be effective on the metal or composite of the safety toe.
Your only real option is to purchase a metal boot stretcher designed to be sturdy enough to actually reshape the toe a little wider. This is a bit risky. Over “stretching” could weaken the integrity of the steel toe. We urge caution here.
Q: Could you explain, please, how to stretch rubber boots?
A: Stretching rubber boots is a much more difficult task than stretching leather boots is. Rubber boots that are made of, or incorporate, synthetic, neoprene or vinyl can be stretched a bit with a boot stretcher or by applying some heat. You won’t find that the boots stretch much. By their very nature, rubber boots want to return to their original state.
Natural rubber boots are even more difficult to stretch than are boots made with synthetic. They tend to return very close to their original size very quickly. The only effective way to get these boots to retain any bit of stretch is to wear them frequently. Stretched rubber eventually loses its ability to return to normal, but it takes repeated wearing.
Q: Can you tell me how to stretch cowboy boots?
A: The first thing to determine is what material your cowboy boots are made from. If they are leather, they will stretch naturally as you wear them. Leather’s ability to stretch is one of its best features and is part of why leather is known to be comfortable and breathable. It molds to your feet as you wear your boots.
If you need to stretch the length or width of your boots, then try a leather-stretching spray. It will work for a square-toe, pull-on, insulated, winter boot, as well as a lightweight, waterproof, pointy-toe boot. One thing to remember is that most sprays darken a boot. Unless your boot is black, you’ll probably notice a color difference.
Q: Would you tell me how to stretch cowboy boots around the calf?
A: Leather-stretching sprays work well for stretching leather around the calf. Follow the directions for applying the spray, and then, as soon as the directions recommend, wear your boots. The combination of the spray and the pressure of your leg on the leather will soften and stretch it. Sprays work equally well for leather cowboy boots made by Ariat, Justin or another company.
Another option is a tall boot stretcher made specifically to stretch the shaft of the boot. These work just like other boot stretchers, but fit into the shaft of the boot.