How To Break In Work Boots? (7 Tricks I’ve Used to Soften Tough Leather Work Boots)

If you’re new to work boots and you just bought a pair of work boots that feel a bit stiff don’t worry, that’s normal.

two pairs of new leather work boots that might need breaking in before wearing for a full shift at work.

In this article, I’ll share with you a few tips and tricks I’ve used to break in my own work boots over the past decade working in construction.

Editor Note

Before you go ahead and apply any of these methods of breaking in your new work boots there’s one thing you must do first. Make sure the boots are actually the right size and width for your feet.

Having the right size and width of the boot it’s important because if they’re the wrong size, they simply won’t fit (no matter what we’re going to do to our boots).

And trust me, you don’t want to do any of the things I’m sharing with you below to your new boots and later realize the boots are not your size. Simply because after you’ve done some of the things mentioned in this article, you won’t be able to return the boots!!!

Not all the tips I’m sharing with you below are going to fit your purpose. Some are better than others based on the different situations I found myself in when I needed to break in a new pair of work boots.

So check them all out and then choose the one that seems to fit you best!

1. Use mink oil to break in work boots

a bottle of mink oil that I've used to break in my work boots

In my opinion and personal experience using mink oil is the best and the fastest way to break in new leather work boots. You can apply mink oil to your boots and go to work the next day wearing them if you want to.

But if you want to avoid blisters as much as possible (who doesn’t) you can apply mink oil to your boots and then leave them at home and let the mink oil do its magic. 

Make sure to put some paper, an old towel, or a boot stretcher inside the boot to help the boot maintain its shape as the leather becomes softer.

How to apply mink oil for breaking in your boots?

  • Step 1: make sure the boots upper is clean of residues
  • Step 2: Take your bottle of preferred mink oil (I use this one)  and start pouring the oil over the boots. 

Massage the leather and spread the oil well so it can get to all the parts of the boot, including the stitches where the upper and the sole are meeting.

This will not only soften your boot’s leather but also will moisturize it and make it water repellent.

  • Step 3: Place something inside the boot to help it keep the shape and leave it overnight somewhere where it’s nice and dry. 

There’s no harm in doing this process so repeat it as many times as you want until the boots are soft enough for you. 

2. Use leather conditioner

a bottle of leather conditioner I've used to smoothen my leather work boots.

The next best thing to use to break in your work boots is a leather conditioner. This is better than using mink oil especially if you buy work boots that are yellow or any light color for that matter.

That’s because mink oil does darken the leather of your boots whilst the leather conditioner won’t or at least not as much as the mink oil.

For this method all you need is

How to apply the leather conditioner to help break in your new work boots?

  • Step 1: clean the boots a little bit. Even if it’s just dust.
  • Step 2: Apply the leather conditioner to the boots. 
  • Step 3: wear them around a little bit and bend and flex as you would do at work.

Repeat the process until you’re happy with the level of comfort of your new work boots.

3. Break-in your new work boots by wearing them around the house

putting on my new Caterpillar Outline leather work boots to wear them around my home trying to break them in and make them comfier.

This method of breaking in new boots is not the fastest one for sure. But it’s the most common way to do it and you don’t have to buy any additional products as it’s the case with the other methods.

This method is recommended if you buy your work boots in advance. I usually don’t wait for my current boots to break down in order to replace them with new work boots. As soon as I see some signs of damage in the sole or the upper, I’m shopping for a new one pair of work boots.

If this is your case as well then simply wear your work boots at home for an hour or two every day for a few weeks until you feel they’re flexible enough to wear them for a full shift at work.

This is also the case if you buy handmade work boots. These boots usually have very high quality, thick leather that’s very tough to break in.  So it’s better to buy your work boots in advance and wear them at home. 

Some work boots such as White’s, Hoffman’s, or Nicks can take (in some cases) months to become pain-free and comfortable to wear for 10plus hour shifts.

Additionally, as I’ve mentioned above, a good reason you want to wear the boots inside your house first is that you don’t want to damage them in any way. Stores won’t accept work boots that looked that have been worn outside. So keep that in mind!

For this method all you need:

  • your new work boots
  • a pair of thick socks (or 2-3 pairs of thinner ones)

How to break in work boots by wearing them at home?

Put your thick socks on and then wear the boots whilst you’re doing your household tasks and see how they feel. Make sure you do some bends and flexes to spot if there are any possible pain points or hotspots.

If they don’t feel comfortable, just send them back and get a new boot with a different size or width (or both) until you find the work boot that’s most comfortable for you.

4. Use alcohol to break in work boots

a bottle of alcohol isopropyl I've used to break in my work boots by mixing it with water.

Some websites out there forgot to mention that you MUST NOT use pure alcohol to break in work boots. That’s because the alcohol will strip the leather from its natural oils and fats and it will damage it.

Personally, I use alcohol isopropyl to stretch out and also to shrink work boots but it’s not 100% concentrated alcohol. I mix it with water in a percentage of 30% water – 70% alcohol isopropyl.

For this step you’ll need:

  • Tap water
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Bottle sprayer

Here’s how to use alcohol isopropyl to break in work boots

  • Step 1: Prep your homemade water + isopropyl solution (water 30% – alcohol 70%)
  • Step 2: Place the solution in the bottle sprayer
  • Step 3: Apply the solution in abundance
  • Step 4: You can either put a boot stretcher in the boots, some towels, paper, or simply wear the boots around the house for 5-10 minutes until the alcohol dries up. 

Again, do some bends and flexes so the leather fibers break up a little bit and make the leather smoother. Do this until you feel the boots are comfortable enough to wear for a whole 10 hour plus shift.

5. Use boot stretching alcohol to break in new work boots

a bottle of rubbing alcohol that I've used on my new pair of leather work boots trying to loosen them up a little bit.

If you don’t want to mess with making your own solution at home, you can find ready-made rubbing alcohol to buy online or at your local store. 

There are two commonly used concentrations and both are good for this purpose.

  • Water 20% – Alcohol 80 %
  • Water 30% – Alcohol 70 %

The process of applying it is the same as the one above in which I’ve used alcohol to break in my work boots.

6. Use boots stretcher to break them in without wearing them

a wooden boot stretcher I've used on my timberland pit boss work boos trying to make the leather less stiff.

If you want to break the boots without wearing them and avoid blisters for the first few days have a go at using a boot stretcher like the one I’m using.

This will stretch the leather and in the process, it will become more flexible and comfortable.

For this method, you’ll need:

  • A pair of boot stretchers 
  • Liquid mink oil or leather conditioner

Here’s how to use a boot stretcher to break in your work boots

  • Step 1: Apply the mink oil or leather conditioner to your work boots (abundantly)
  • Step 2: Place the boot stretcher inside the boot and start expanding it until you feel the boot stretcher making some light pressure against the upper of your boot.
  • Step 3: Next day release the boot stretcher and repeat the process

Personally, I recommend you to wear them for a few minutes per day as well when you come back from work for example. Even if it’s just to do a few bends and flexes.

This is something the boot stretcher can’t do for you and it’s one of the most important things to do since a new boot will give you a lot of pain around those flexing points.

Editor Note

Do not make too much pressure against the upper since this might actually stretch out your work boots instead of just breaking them in.

Some of the work boots I’ve bought and used were too wide and the boot strecher would not open enough to make any difference. In those cases I put some thick socks on the boot strecher as if it was my foot and afterthat I’ve placed it inside the boot. That helped!

7. Apply some heat to the leather to make smoother

a hairdryer I've used on my work boots trying to make them more comfortable before taking them to work.

Applying heat to your leather work boots will make the leather softer and maleable.  But it’s not the most recommended way to break in your work boots since applying heat to the leather it can damage it if you’re not careful.

That’s why I left it at the end. You can try it as last resort. Personally I did this many times and never had any problems.

Just apply heat from a safe distance and keep moving the hairdryer. Don’t point it in one place for too long to avoid damages to the leather and the boot in general.

This step will require :

  • a hairdryer 
  • some kind of leather conditioner

Here’s how to apply heat safely to help break in your work boots

  • Step 1: put your hand inside your boot and start applying heat with the hairdryer whilst spinning the boot with the other hand.
  • Step 2: As soon as you feel the leather is all warmed up and it’s softer, it’s time to apply the leather conditioner.
  • Step 3: put the boots on and start to walk with it for 20-30 daily.

Do some bending and flexing to soften those points that are usually tougher to break and that are going to cause you pain most of the time. Those are: 

  • Around the toes
  • Around the heel
  • And around the ankles

Q&A Related To Breaking In Work Boots

In this section I’ll add a few answers to some questions I receive from people like yourself who want to know more about this process. I’ll also update it when I have found new ways to break in work boots or any other things that come to mind related to this topic.

What is the fastest way to break in work boots?

The fastest way to break in work boots, especially leather work boots, is by applying a lot of liquid mink oil to the upper of the boots and wearing them a little bit around the house. You do this for a couple of days and the boots should be ready to go!

How long do work boots take to break in?

It’s difficult to put a number on how long it will take to break in your work boots but in my personal experience and research, it can take anywhere from 2 days up to a few months when we’re talking about handmade top quality work boots.

How do you soften a boot shaft?

It depends on how high your boot shaft is, but if your boot is less than 8” tall just apply some of the hacks I’ve shared with you above.

If it’s taller than 8-inches such as the pull-on work boots, the boots used by linemen, cowboys boots, etc, still apply mink oil or leather conditioner, additionally get your hands on a pair of calf stretchers like these ones. 

These will help the shaft to remain nice and straight in position whilst you’re doing the smoothening process of the shaft. 


Team Members Working On This Page

Victor Adrian – Editor And Webmaster

Construction Professional, driver, crane operator, cleaner, head chef … these are just some of the jobs I did in the past. Working in all these different environments taught me that having good footwear to protect your feet from different dangers at work IS PARAMOUNT for any worker! On this website, I aim to share all my knowledge and personal experience in dealing with different footwear and foot care issues, and hopefully, you can get something out of it. Enjoy!

Jessica Flynn
Jessica Flynn – Writer And Researcher

Love technology, going to the beach, taking care of my body, and writing (amongst other things). You’ll see my face around here a little bit since I’m responsible for part of the research and writing of some of the articles you’re reading on BestForMyFeet.com. I hope you’ll find our content helpful and enjoyable! See you around, thanks for reading!


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