Freshen Your Kicks

Guide to Life: Treat Your Boots Like Royalty

January 29, 2014 Guides & How-To's By Photo by Henry Phillips

You’ve finally done it — you beat the living shit out of your beautiful new boots. Yes, it was painful at first (the initial scuff caused a minor breakdown), but in the end it felt fulfilling, like the right thing to do. Now your beautiful babies deserve the proper care. It’s time to clean and treat your boots properly. Nearly all companies supply directions and even cleaning/treating kits made especially for their boots; follow these directions and use these kits, if possible. But if those aren’t around, you can always follow this basic structure that works for smooth-finished or oil-tanned leather (suede requires a different process).


1 Inspect your boots. Look them over for particularly bad wear, scratches, stains, rot or sole damage. You may need to take them to a shoe repair shop, or you may just find notable spots to hit during your cleaning and conditioning. If your boots are brand new, check to see if they need to be conditioned or waterproofed, as many pairs are sold already treated.

2 Remove the laces. Set them aside or clean them in warm water and leave them to dry. Clear dirt and mud from the sole with a bristle brush, a wet paper towel, or, in dire circumstances, a toothbrush.

3 Clean. First, use warm water and a soft cloth to remove dirt, dust and grime. Pay particular attention to the tight places between the tongue and the upper, where dirt often collects. Allow to dry, then buff with a soft bristle brush. For hard-to-remove stains and dirt, rub in a leather cleaner with the cloth, then buff with the bristle brush and remove with a damp cloth.

4 Condition. What you use — specialty boot cream, leather conditioner, leather oil, mink oil (be careful, as mink oil often over-softens leather) — depends on the leather you’re conditioning (oil-tanned versus smooth-finished) and your personal preferences. This is the trickiest part, but don’t over-think things. Simply match your leather type to the product’s directions. (Our smooth-finished Red Wings used Red Wings’s boot cream.) Many products like Leather Honey should work on most leathers; if you’re unsure, apply a small amount to a small part of the boot like the side of the tongue to make sure it won’t stain your leather too darkly. Apply a solid coat (two if it’s been a long time since you last treated) with the soft cloth, then buff with the soft bristle brush.

5 Protect. Some brands recommend a final waterproofing spray to help ward off water and grime. Place your boots on newspaper in a well-ventilated area and spray evenly.

6 Instagram. #menswear.