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Effective Methods To Clean Your Leather Boots

How To Clean Leather Boots featured image

Leather boots have been a staple for men’s and women’s fashion starting from the 1800s. Today, leather shoes are still being worn for many occasions. You can wear it for work, school, formal wear or casual wear. They are comfortable, durable, and reliable. If they are made correctly, they can last up to five years.

Incredible, isn’t it?

However, for our boots to last a lifetime, we have to put in some work in taking care of them. In this article, I will outline the steps on how we can maintain our leather boots.

Performing Routine Cleaning

Let’s start with the steps that should be done regularly.

Choose a Good Spot

Before we begin the cleaning process, we need to find a perfect location to polish and wipe our boots. It must be a place that has good ventilation since some of the cleaners contain chemicals that are harmful when inhaled.

Also, you should choose a location where you can get dirty. If you are still worried about the mess, you can put some old newspapers on the floor so you can easily clean up after polishing your shoes.

My go-to location for doing it is in the garage. There, I would have adequate airflow, and I don’t have to worry about the mess I will create.

Remove the Laces

Usually, the laces trap and hide dust and dirt. So to completely clean the footwear, what we have to do is to get rid of the laces.

To do this, you need to untie the laces, remove them from the footwear, and roll them up until you are ready to wash them separately.

Brush Off Dirt with a Soft-bristled Brush

Take a soft-bristled brush and lightly brush the dirt and dust off the shoes. Remember to pay attention to the sides of the heels, the area surrounding the zipper, and where the laces were.

If you don’t have a soft-bristled brush, you can pick up one at your local store or purchase online for a seriously low price.

If you are allergic to dust, I advise you to wear a mask or create a make-shift cloth to cover your nose and mouth.

Use an Appropriate Cleaning Agent

Most leather boots can be cleaned with a general leather cleaning agent. You can pick this up at your local store or buy it online.

Some brands of cleaning agents that I recommend are Simple Shine Premium Leather Cleaner and Apple brand Leather Care Kit Cleaner and Conditioner. Both boast great reviews on Amazon and eBay.

On the other hand, certain brands of leather boots will require you to use their own recommended leather cleaning agent, which you ought to take into account.

Moreover, please keep in mind that these cleaning agents should be used on leather and not suede boots. Suede boots require a different way to deal with dust and dirt.

Use a Special Brush to Clean Suede Shoes

For suede boots, you have to use a special brush that can remove the dust and dirt effectively. The proper way to clean it is to brush the boots in a circular or back and forth manner.

But listen keenly, never, ever let the water soak your suede boots. If, unfortunately, there is an accident and your suede boots got wet, simply reach for a towel to dry the shoes. After that, leave them to dry naturally. Do this before attempting to brush it with a special brush.

Dampen a Cloth or Soft Brush and Clean

So after acquiring the cleaner and brushing off excess dust and dirt, we will first dampen a soft cloth and then apply the leather soap that comes with some leather cleaning agents.

Realize I said ‘damp’ and not ‘soak wet.’ Sometimes, the leather cleaning kit comes with a soft cloth, but if none was provided, just get an old cotton shirt, cut it to a suitable size and use that.

Dip the damp cloth in the leather soap and use your hands to lather the soap. After this, gently wipe the shoes with the lathered-up cloth until the shoes are absolutely clean.

Pour Liquid Leather Cleaners Onto the Damp Cloth

Some cleaning agents come in a soap form while others come in a liquid form. For the liquid form, you need a damp, soft cloth to which you will apply a generous amount of liquid cleaner.

Try not to use too much because some liquid cleaners leave a residue on the shoes, which may be difficult to remove. I advise you to consult the packaging to see the recommended amount.

After applying the liquid to the cloth, rub the cloth in your hands to create a lather.

Rub the Cleaner into the Leather

After applying the cleaning agent, take the lathered-up cloth, and gently wipe the entire surface of the shoe. Make sure to wipe the crevices and hard-to-reach places where dirt and dust may be built-up.

Wipe in a circular or a back and forth motion, similar to that when brushing the shoes. Pay special attention to the surrounding areas of zippers and where the laces were located.

Wipe the Shoes Down with a Dry Cloth

Lastly, you should not wash off the cleaning agent because the sole aim of the agent is to be absorbed into the leather. Instead, I suggest that you take a dry, soft cotton cloth and remove any excess residue.

Do not use the same cloth you used to clean it because this will be counterproductive. Also, by wiping the shoes with a dry cloth, you will leave your shoes with a nice sparkle.

Removing Stains or Scuffs

shiny leather boot image

Repeat Cleanings with Leather Soap on Tough Stains.

After you have followed the steps that I have provided for routine cleaning, and there are still hard to remove stains and scuffs, there is still more to be done.

For one, you can repeat the steps above, but this time, supplement it with a conditioner because too much cleaning can dry out and damage the leather.

As I have stated before, do not use leather cleaner on suede shoes. They have their own special spray that you can use to maintain that specific type of material.

Remove Stains with Dish Soap and Water.

If the above tip did not resolve the problem, you could opt to remove the stains with dish soap and water.

To prepare this, you need to dampen the cloth and apply a small amount of dish soap to the cloth, then lather. Rub the stain vigorously with the lathered cloth. Follow that by wiping the shoe with another damp cloth, after which, dry it with a dry cloth. Have you got that?

However, please note that dish soap can be harmful to your leather shoes, so to prevent any regrettable damage to your shoes, I advise that you test the soap on a hidden area of the shoe. Then give it a few minutes to dry. After that, check the results.

Use Petroleum Jelly for Scuffs and Scratches

Petroleum jelly is such a versatile tool. It can be used for sealing in moisture for protection from the sun, and now it can be used to remove any scuffs on your shoe.

Before attempting this, make sure that the shoes have been cleaned first. After that, take a soft dry cloth and dip it into the petroleum jelly. Rub the petroleum jelly on the scuff or scratches. Finally, using a dry cloth, buff the area where you applied the petroleum jelly.

Be careful not to use this method on suede shoes, or your shoes will suffer permanent damage.

Remove Salt Stains with a Vinegar Solution

For this type of stain, we will employ the use of vinegar.

First, mix one tablespoon of vinegar with 1 cup of water to dilute the acidity of the vinegar. Take a stain-free cloth and dip it into the mixture. Wipe the area that has the salt stains. After this, take a dry cloth and scrub off any excess residue.

This method works because vinegar melts and absorbs salt, hence removing the stain from the shoe.

Use Cornstarch to Get Out the Grease Stains

Cornstarch is a cheap ingredient that you can find in your kitchen cupboard. It is also great at removing grease that is set into both leather and suede shoes. Yes, this method can also be used to remove tough grease in suede without inflicting permanent damage.

What you’ll need is cornstarch, a soft cloth, water, and dish soap. To start, make sure that the shoes are completely dry. Cover the stain completely with the cornstarch. Leave the cornstarch on the shoe for at least 30 minutes to overnight so that it can have enough time to absorb the oil stain. Then take a damp cloth and pour a tiny amount of dish soap on it, lather up and wipe the cornstarch off the shoe.

If this does not work the first time, repeat this method a couple of times until you achieve the desired results. If it doesn’t work, try your luck with talcum powder, some people swear it works better.

Try Removing Ink Stains with Rubbing Alcohol

It is a well-known fact that alcohol is a powerful solvent for ink stains. Hence, making it the go-to solution for annoying ink stains that spoil our perfect leather boots.

To carry this out, we have to conduct a spot test to make sure that there will be no detrimental effect on our beloved shoes. To do this, select an area on the shoe that is out of sight, dab it with alcohol and leave it for 15 minutes. After this, check the results. If everything is fine, then we can proceed.

Take some rubbing alcohol and pour a little on to a cotton ball. If you don’t have any cotton, an old cotton T-shirt will suffice. Rub the cotton in circular motions on the ink stain until the stain disappears.

However, please be warned that the alcohol can have a drying effect on the shoes, so I advise that you condition your shoes with a conditioner to restore any lost moisture.

Visit a Cobbler for Really Stubborn Stains

Finally, if the above methods were futile in removing the stain from our shoes, then the next step is to visit our local cobbler.

They are professionals who can tell us the cause and the treatment options that will be used to solve our shoe problem. If we are faced with a huge wall, rather than banging our heads against it out of frustration, we should seek help from a person who has more experience on the matter.

Conditioning the Leather

polished leather boots image

Apply the Leather Conditioner

Conditioning is necessary for your leather boots to prevent them from drying out and cracking. To start, we have to make sure that the shoes we are conditioning are completely clean and dry.

After that, apply a small amount of liquid leather conditioner (it also comes in a wax and gel form) to a dry, soft cloth. Use circular motions and rub the conditioner into the shoes. Allow the shoes to dry and the conditioner to soak in.

Use the Shoe Polish for Smooth-polished Shoes

For extra shine and sparkle, I suggest you reach for the shoe polish. Shoe polish comes in a variety of colors. You have to select the one that fits perfectly with the color of your shoe.

Take a soft cloth and smear some polish on it. Then rub the polish onto the shoe using small circular motions until you get that smooth finish.

If you aren’t able to source any polish online or at your local store, a great alternative is an olive oil. To use it, apply it as you would do with the shoe polish by using a dry cotton cloth.

Don’t Condition Suede Shoes

Unlike leather shoes, suede shoes should not be conditioned. This will only destroy the material of the shoes. So what we use instead is a special suede protector spray.

After the shoes are brushed with the special suede bristle brush, spray the entire shoes with the special suede protector. Then leave it to dry.

What To Do If Your Boots Are Dirty and Wet

Dry Completely

Before I outline the strategies that should be taken to take care of dirty and wet shoes, we should learn how to avoid making our shoes wet and dirty in the first place.

However, if we could not prevent this from happening, we should allow the shoes to dry completely. We can either stuff the shoes with newspapers, put them in the sun or a combination of the two.

Remember, if you choose to put it in the sun, try not to put it in direct sunlight because this can ruin the leather.

Brush-off Dirt

When it has completely dried, brush off the dirt with a soft cloth. If the dirt is tough to remove, simply dampen a cloth and wipe it off.

Apply Leather Cleaner

Using one of the aforementioned commercial leather cleaner mentioned will be enough to clean the shoes. Also, refer to the step by step procedure above to see what I do to clean and maintain my leather shoes properly.

Apply Saddle Soap

After cleaning the shoes, you can use saddle soap to give you that well-polished finish. Saddle soap has been used for ages to clean, condition, and protect leather shoes. Like all the other products I have recommended, these can also be bought at the local store and even online.

However, as a warning, try to avoid the products that contain the high caustic compound, lye. Lye can dry out your leather shoes leading it to crack. Also, since lye is an alkaline compound, its high pH can cause your favorite pair of leather shoes to darken and harden.

So, it is wise to stay away from saddle soap with high amounts of lye and instead create your own or buy it at the farmer’s market.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Clean Leather Boots with Household Items?

As stated before, certain household items can be used to clean leather shoes, hence increasing their lifespan. These items are usually a cheap alternative to the leather cleaning agents, so consider these when you are on a tight budget.

1. Talcum Powder/Cornstarch

Talcum Powder has many uses, which include keeping your body dry. It can also extend to the lifespan of leather shoes.

If your shoes were unlucky to get some grease on it, don’t sweat it. Just sprinkle some powder onto the area, allow it to do its magic for at least 30 minutes, then take a wet cloth and wipe away the powder.

Cornstarch is also another option that you can consider. However, some people say it is not as effective as talcum powder

2. Hair Conditioner

A hair conditioner is a common product that you can find in almost everyone’s bathroom. It helps to keep the moisture and shine of your hair.
But did you know that it can do the same for your darling leather boots?

Just apply a small amount on the shoe and use a clean cloth to rub it in. What’s even better is that you don’t have to use an expensive brand. A cheaper option can also give you great effects.

3. Toothpaste/Petroleum Jelly

We all know that toothpaste is needed to keep our teeth strong and healthy and to protect against cavities. But that is not the only purpose toothpaste has. It can also remove pesky scuff marks that plague our leather shoes.

All you have to do is lather the toothpaste on the area, leave it on for around 30 minutes, then take a clean cloth and wipe it off. If you don’t have any toothpaste, then consider using petroleum jelly. Either is fine.

4. Baking Soda

If your leather shoes have any oil stains, like the talcum powder and cornstarch, you can also reach for the baking soda.

To get this to work, you will have to sprinkle a small amount of baking soda on the oil spot and with a damp cloth, gently rub the baking soda in.

Remember to rub it gently because if you are aggressive with the rubbing, the baking soda can damage your precious boots. After that, simply leave it overnight to suck up the oil, and in the morning, simply wipe it off with a damp cloth.

5. Dish Soap

Just like the dishes, dish soap can also be used to remove dirt on leather.

It's simple. Just remove any laces, if your shoes have any, then lather up the damp cloth and the dish soap and softly swab off any dirt and dust that is on the shoes. Next, you will have to take another damp cloth to wipe off any soap residue. Afterward, finish off by drying the shoe with a paper towel or dry cloth.

6. Olive Oil

If you want that shine that can last for a while, but you have no cash, then go to the kitchen and search for the olive oil. With this common cooking ingredient, you can polish your prized leather shoes so you can be the talk of the town.

To do this, pour a small amount of olive oil onto a cloth and rub it on your shoes. Then, voila! You have shiny shoes that you can see your reflection in.

How To Clean Smelly Leather Boots?

Now, we have cleaned the exterior of our shoes. However, can we eliminate the smell that is coming from the interior? If the lining of the inside of your shoes is also leather, then look back at the tips I gave, it will be able to help with the problem.

If the interior is lined with a different material, then follow the advice I impart below on how to get rid of that awful odor wafting from the insides of your shoes.

1. Wipe the insides of the shoe with dish soap

Take a damp cloth, add a small amount of dish soap and lather. Then wipe down the inside of the shoe. After this, take another damp cloth and remove any soap residue. Leave it to dry in an open area, away from any heat sources like an oven, which will just dry it out.

2. Wipe the insides of the shoe with vinegar and water

After the shoe has completely dried, take one tablespoon of vinegar and 1 cup of water, mix well and apply it to a cloth. Using that cloth, wipe the inside of the shoe.

3. Baking Soda is key

After that, to make sure the odor does not return and our efforts be in vain, place some baking soda in a sock and tie a knot at the top. Take this sock and place it in your shoe overnight, so it has ample time to absorb any scent that left. If you are not able to get a sock, just sprinkling the baking soda in the shoe is fine.

How To Remove Motor Oil From Leather Boots?

Motor oil is very heavy oil, so getting this on your leather boots can be considered a disaster. If this happens, I have developed some simple strategies on how to tackle this greasy problem.

1. Grab hold of that cornstarch or talcum powder

Whether you go with cornstarch or powder, this is one of the easiest ways to remove motor oil from your leather shoes.

You have to sprinkle the cornstarch on to the oil stain and gently rub it in with a cloth. Leave it to soak up the oil. After that, wipe it off with a cloth.

If this doesn't work the first time, feel free to repeat it a second or third until the oil stain is gone. Use this same method when using the powder.

2. Leather De-greaser

If the household items above didn’t produce the results you wanted, you could opt for the alternative, leather de-greaser. With this, you can get rid of stains, especially heavy oil stains.

To start, make sure the shoe is clean before you use the de-greaser. Apply a generous amount to a cloth and circularly rub the shoe.

Also, greater pressure will improve the removal of the oil, so make sure you put your back into it.

3. Leave it to the professionals

According to American Leather, if you leave the oil in the leather for a long time, the oil will seep through the material and become more difficult to remove. That is why I recommend sending the shoe to the dry cleaner or cobbler quickly, especially if the above tips did not work.

4. Prevention is better than cure

Last but definitely not least, why not safeguard our shoes from oil damage by using a protecting spray? It will save us money, time, and resources by using a spray to prevent the motor oil stain from ever happening.

All you need to do is spray your leather shoes after polishing them and reapply the protective spray every three months. Ensure that you follow this up with the application of leather lotion. And there you have it, total protection from any incoming motor oil spill.


It is safe to say that leather shoes are a necessary aspect of fashion. The reason why we love it so is that it is versatile, durable, and reliable.

To maintain the health of our leather shoes, we have to clean and care for it regularly. Furthermore, if our shoes were unfortunate enough to be marred by any stain, whether salt, motor oil, or ink, or scuff marks, we have plenty of day-to-day household items to tackle that problem. If that doesn't work, we can bring out the big guns and send the shoes to an expert.

All in all, we have to show our leather shoes the love and care that they need so that they can last us a lifetime.

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