One thing your hiking boots buying guides never teach you is the extent your boots will get dirty. They are made to keep your feet safe most of all, yet they are designed to tackle muddy trails, and to take them all in your stride.
You will want to learn how to wash hiking boots for two key reasons. You want them to last as long as possible, and second, you want them to be as comfortable as possible.
Although you can have varying types of hiking boots, hiking boots made from leather, Gore-Tex boots, or other materials, much of the cleaning process will be similar and the final stages of care will differ.
Here you will learn from expert advice the best way for cleaning hiking boots, no matter what material they make them.
Why Clean Boots?
It is important to clean your hiking boots because each time they bend as you walk. Small particles of dirt, grit, or sand get into the creases of the materials. These wear at the fabric in the same manner as grit paper on wood.
Mud and dirt will suck moisture from leather boots as they dry, and this makes them stiff and less pliable, thus speeding up their aging.
Items Needed to Clean Hiking Boots
While it is possible to clean your boots in a washing machine, you can find as in any previous article, it can damage them or at least cause excess wear. It is better to learn how to clean them by hand because you don’t often have a machine on a hike with you.
- Boot brush stiff (vegetable brushes or old toothbrushes can be alternatives)
- Soft-bristled brush or soft cloth
- Boot cleaner for boot material type (leather or saddle soap for leather, you can use mild dishwashing soap on synthetic materials as an alternative)
- Olive oil and vinegar (makes a great leather cleaner and conditioner)
- Waterproofing compound for boot types
How to Clean Hiking Boots
Here is the quick guide to clean your hiking footwear.
Removing Stains and Dirt
- You will need to remove laces and insoles first. You can clean these using dishwashing detergents. If they don’t require washing this time, sprinkle liberally with baking soda to help remove odors.If washing laces, do so with dishwashing detergent and then hang to dry.
- Using your stiff brush, brush to remove excess dirt from all your shoes surfaces. Depending
on the degree of dirt, a damp paper towel may suffice on the uppers, yet they won’t be any good on the soles.If you have salt stains on your boots, you may need to soak them for an hour before the next part.
- In this step, you will begin to scrub your boots with your soft brush or cloth and water. Add a drop of boot cleaner (or mild dishwashing soap) for synthetic boots or begin using leather cleaner. Suede boots don’t need too much pressure as this action can damage them when scrubbing.Toothbrushes are ideal on soles where there are tight corners to get into.
- Once you have scrubbed all over, rinse your cloth under warm water to clear out any soaps and dirt. Keep rinsing your cloth under clean water while wiping all the dirt and foam off your boots.Pro Tip: If you have sap or gum on your boots. Wait until they are dry and then place them in a freezer bag and freeze them. Gum and sap can harden, so it is easier to pick off.
Conditioning and Waterproofing
- You will need the right waterproofing compounds for the types of boots you have. On leather, the pores open as you clean so they are prone to soaking up water. You can get leather specific compounds for waterproofing boots hiking, or even any other leather footwear.You can mix 50% vinegar with 50% olive oil and use as a cleaner conditioner if you don’t have the appropriate commercial product. Leather are best treated while damp so the waterproofing soak inside and stops more moisture from entering.
- After waterproofing leather, you need to apply leather-conditioning creams to help boots retain moisture and stay supple. A leather-hiking boot ought to have this treatment while damp to help avoid the cracking of dry leather.Synthetic boots will come with their own waterproofing materials. Many differ from leather treatments because of the Gore-Tex membrane these boots often contain.
- Metal parts can be cleaned with chrome polish to help avoid rust or corrosion.
Once you finish waterproofing hiking boots, you need to be sure they are dry before you store them, or before you wear them.
This stage can be as important as learning how to clean hiking shoes as it can undo all the hard work you have done already.
Be sure to dry boots out of direct sunlight. Rather, choose an area that is well ventilated so you can air dry your boots. You can add baking soda inside or crumpled newspaper in an aid to help them dry quicker.
In addition, a quick cleaning hiking guide is to never dry your boots on an unnatural heat source such as radiators or blow dryers. You can end up with materials that are more prone to cracking as it will dry out all the conditioning treatments you apply.
Quick Tips for Drying and Storing
To end this quick guide, you do need to store your boots in the right environment. Boots are among your essentials for hiking, so you must care for them in every area.
- Let insoles air dry outside your boots
- Dry boots in low humidity areas
- Never use unnatural heat sources for drying. It weakens adhesives
- As a guide, hiking boots should never be stored in attics, basements, or garages where temperatures vary
- Never store boots in sealed plastic bags as this will lead to mold
Read more: How to Break in Hiking Boots