- Do’s and Don’ts when you’re cleaning your work boots
- Can’t you wash your work boots in the washing machine?
- How to clean work boots based on the material they’re made of?
- How to clean the inside of smelly work boots
- Do different work boots need different types of cleaning?
- 8 products you (might) have at home to DIY wash & clean your work boots
- What should you do after you’ve cleaned your work boots?
- Work boot cleaning products and kits
- Is it worth the time to clean work boots?
Work boots are your foot’s first line of defense to let you do your job no matter the muck ahead, but the result is that they’ll get dirty and smell foul over time.
Cleaning your boots isn’t just about making them look good again.
Caring for your boots is the key to make them last longer and perform their duty to the fullest so that you can keep on marching through while you’re on the clock, but to do that, you’re going to have to do it the right way.
Otherwise, you’ll ruin them and send them straight to the trash.
Keep reading to get the full lowdown on how to clean up your work boots with nothing but average household items lying around the house!
Do’s and Don’ts when you’re cleaning your work boots
Before diving into how you should clean your boots, there are some ground rules that you should always keep in mind to avoid having to go into a lengthy cleaning process:
Below are our suggestions on what is acceptable
Air your boots
Whenever you’re not wearing your work boots, it’s always a good idea to let them ventilate for as long as possible. Make sure to leave them untied with the tongue sticking out to let them air up properly until the next day.
Condition leather boots
An even worse scenario than having dirty work boots is when their leather starts to dry up and break down. To extend the lifespan of your boots, you’ll need to condition the leather every couple of months with mink oil to prevent them from cracking up.
It applies to boots straight out of the box since they have been stored for months while already being deprived of moisture.
Take off the laces
Remove your shoelaces and clean them separately while cleaning your boots. If you leave your shoelaces, you won’t be able to remove dirt stuck in the eyelets or crevices of your work boots.
Remove the insoles
Insoles help absorb the moisture of your foot by design, so it’s imperative to take them out each time to prevent built-up sweat from making your boots smell bad.
Brush off dirt
You should remove any dirt or grime stuck on your work boots whenever possible to prevent the formation of bacteria that can penetrate the outer layer over time and infect your foot.
Soak up moisture with paper
The proper way to dry up moisture on the inside of your boots before or after cleaning them is to ball up the plain paper and fill up your boots with them to both absorb moisture and prevent them from losing their shape.
Avoid using newspapers since the ink on them can come off and stick to the inner part of your boot.
Based on our experience the list below is not recommended.
Use bar soap
While it can kill bacteria, bleach will also destroy your boots by damaging rubber exteriors, wearing out leather, and discoloring any material.
Laundry and heavy-duty cleaning solvents often contain harsh chemicals that can discolor or wear down your boots.
Store your boots while they’re dirty
Mud can be acidic, which over time can eat away the outer membrane of your work boots and reduce their resistance to water if left on them for extended periods in a damp area.
Scrub damp dirt from suede
Scrubbing off gunk or moist mud will make your work boots absorb the dirt faster while making the suede brittle and break off easily.
Use water on suede
Suede easily damages from water, causing the material to become rough and discolored. In most cases, it’s almost impossible to restore suede boots to their original condition after they’ve been in contact with water for a long time.
Use a source of heat
Radiators, blow-dryers, or any other source of extreme heat can deform your boots and cause watermarks to appear from areas that dry up too fast, as well as speed up the aging of your work boots.
If you want your boots to dry quickly, keep them next to a fan. Can you dry the boots in the drier? Honestly, I wouldn’t do it. It’s just too hot in the drier and it can damage your boot.
Can’t you wash your work boots in the washing machine?
Boots aren’t socks that you can throw into the washing machine. They’re dirty, heavy, and much more sensitive than a pair of socks.
Depending on the material they’re made of, they might shrink and become extremely stiff, making them extremely uncomfortable to wear, which could potentially hinder your movement.
It’s not just your work boots that might get damaged. The weight of fully soaked boots can severely dent the inside of a washing machine.
Which is exactly what happened when I’ve washed my work boots. Find out more here are 3 ways to wash your work boots safely.
How to clean work boots based on the material they’re made of?
While all work boots keep your feet safe, the materials they’re made out of are not created equally, meaning that you can’t use the same cleaning method for every type of boot out there.
Let’s dive into the proper way:
Cleaning leather work boots
Leather is one of the most rigid materials around, but using harsh detergents can ruin or outright destroy even the sturdiest boots out there. Luckily, it’s easy to get them cleaned up properly and extend their lifespan.
Step 1: Remove the dirt
Use a slightly damp cloth or brush dabbed in equal parts water and vinegar to remove dirt on the surface.
To get rid of gunk stuck in eyelets or the area between the soles and the upper part of the booth, use any old toothbrush and thoroughly scrub to reach places back and forth until any caked-up dirt comes off.
Step 2: Use saddle soap
Apply saddle soap to a wet brush or any piece of cloth and lather it in a circular motion until it starts to foam.
Keep doing this until you’ve done the entire surface of your boot. After, wipe off the foam with a cloth or rinse away the soap, then leave your boots to dry for up to a day in a well-ventilated area far from extreme heat or direct sunlight.
Note: While you technically can use dishwashing soap instead of saddle soap to clean the outer part of your work boots, we don’t recommend doing so.
That’s because the harsh chemicals found in dishwashing liquids remove tough stains from solid objects, not leather, the reason being that they can wear down your boots in a similar manner to how such cleaning agents can dry up your skin.
Step 3: Cover up scuffs
To get rid of annoying scuff marks, you have to mix 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda and warm water to create a smooth paste.
Apply the mixture on any scuff marks on your work boot and leave for a minute or two. After that, remove the excess paste with a damp cloth.
Step 4: Condition your boots
Once your work boots have dried up, grab some mink oil and a dry brush.
Start by dabbing a small spot on your boots and wait for a few hours to see if the leather’s color drastically changes.
Depending on the type of leather or how long it’s been since you last conditioned your boots, there is a chance that your boots will slightly become darker for a few days.
In a gentle circular motion, apply mink oil with a brush on your work boots until you’ve covered every space. If your boot is extremely dry, wait for the oil to dry up and go for a second or even third round if necessary.
You’ll know when your boot has had enough when it stops absorbing the oil and begins to get damp.
After completion, let your boots rest for about half a day, and then rub off any excess oil with a dry cloth.
Cleaning suede work boots
Things get a bit trickier with suede since getting water anywhere near it can ruin and discolor your work boots, but worry not. There’s an easy way to clean suede boots without damaging them.
Here’s what happened…
Step 1: Scrub off the dirt
Make sure your work boots are dry, then lightly scrub off dirt stains on the surface in one direction to remove dirt stuck on the fiber.
After, scrub back and forth with slightly more pressure to remove dirt trapped deep within the suede.
A fair word of warning: even with the cleanest looking pair of suede boots, expect a lot of dirt to come falling off, so make sure to do this part outside or over an empty surface.
Step 2: Remove tough stains with household items
If any persistent stains are thereafter brushing, you’re going to need to grab some household items to get rid of them once and for all:
- For most stains, apply white vinegar or rubbing alcohol on a cloth and dab it on your boots to loosen the stains, then wait for your boot to dry up a bit and brush them off.
- For oil stains, apply cornstarch to soak up the oil overnight, then brush it off lightly. Alternatively, apply foamy shaving cream (non-gel type) on your work boots and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it off.
- For bloodstains, pour a bit of hydrogen peroxide on a cloth, dab it on the stain until it comes off, and then let it dry before brushing off the stain.
- For wax or dried gum stains, put your boots in the freezer to harden the stains and easily pull them off.
- In some cases, a regular clean pencil eraser (not a glue eraser) can also do the trick to remove stains. Just remember to do it lightly; otherwise, it’ll stain your boots.
- If all else fails, use a nail filer or pumice stone and gently rub the stained area.
Step 3: Give your boots a final brushing
After you remove all the stains, you’ll notice that the suede’s texture might look rugged.
To fix that, you’ll want to rub your work boots from top to bottom with a cloth damped in vinegar or rubbing alcohol and let them dry, then give your boots a final brushing to make them look clean and brand new.
Can you put suede boots in the washing machine?
There’s mixed advice online related to this topic. Personally, I do wash suede work boots in the washing machine and I can’t report any damages to the boots so far (I’ve done this for a few years).
Cleaning nubuck work boots
Manufacturers make nubuck and suede from animal hide. The difference being nubuck is created by sanding the exterior of the hide instead of suede, which is made by sanding the interior.
As a result, the same methods to clean suede also apply to nubuck.
However, nubuck is more durable and can withstand water, meaning that if any of the above steps can’t seem to do the trick, you can use water and dishwashing soap to get rid of a stain after you brush off the excess dirt.
To do so:
- Fill a bowl halfway with cold water
- Put in a tiny amount of dishwashing liquid
- Mix the water with a clean and soft brush until it foams
- Shake off excess water from the brush
- Rub the brush on your boots in a circular motion
- Wipe off any extra foam or water
- Repeat across all sections of your boot from top to bottom
Once all the stains are gone, make sure to leave your boots in a well-ventilated space to air them out while having balled-up paper on the inside to absorb any moisture.
When your work boots completely dry up, use a soft brush to restore your boot’s texture.
Also, you can apply some mink oil to your nubuck work boots to make them water repellent and to moisturize the leather.
How to clean the inside of smelly work boots
You might not care that much about cleaning your boots on the outside, but we’re pretty sure that you’d love to get rid of that foot stank built up in your boots. If so, these are just the tips you’ve been looking for:
Use baking soda
Baking soda is renowned for its ability to absorb odors, making it the ultimate quick fix to get a grip of the stench in your boots. To deploy it in action, fill up a sock with baking powder for each boot and leave it overnight to do its magic.
An alternative to baking powder is using clean cat litter, which also has a solid absorbent ability. You can even use a mixture of both to get a more substantial effect.
Use citrus peelings
If your boot’s odor isn’t of the extreme variety, place a few citrus peelings on the inside of your boots and leave them overnight to cover up any nasty smells residing in them.
The next time you’re about to throw a tea bag after boiling it in water (without sugar, of course, unless you like sticky feet), set it aside until it cools down and places it inside your boots for an hour, so to get a fresher smelling boot.
As odd as it may sound, black tea contains tannins that are highly effective at killing bacteria, making it an indispensable DIY hack to get rid of the petri dish forming up in your work boots from all the built-up sweat.
Wash with a mild shampoo
If nothing seems to get rid of the foul smell in your boots, grab a very mild shampoo (you don’t want to damage the inside of your boots with harsh soap and end up with something uncomfortable to wear) and mix a few drops with warm water.
Using a cloth, scrub the insides of your boots and then drain any excess water while reducing any splashes on the exterior (especially if it’s suede).
Once done, use a dry cloth to remove as much water as possible, fill up your boots with balled up papers to both absorb the excess moisture and maintain the shape of the boots as they dry, then leave them in a well-ventilated area to air dry for a couple of days.
Freeze your boots
A strange yet effective way to get rid of the odors in your boots is to put them in zip lock bags and keep them in the freezer overnight.
While unorthodox, the science behind this method is that the extreme temperature will kill the bacteria lingering in your boots, causing the odor in the first place.
Replace the soles
Although a thorough cleanup by hand or in a washing machine should do the trick to rid your soles of their odor, if they’re excessively worn out, consider replacing them.
Since the more worn out they are, the less effective they’ll be at doing their primary job of absorbing moisture and preventing sweat from reaching the rest of your boots.
Use alcohol to disinfect the work boots
One of my favorite ways to clean stinky work boots is by using alcohol isopropyl. You’ll simply mix this alcohol with water (80%alcohol – 20%water) and spray it inside the boots.
You can read more about it here: How to disinfect stinky work boots.
Or watch this short video on the Best For My Feet YouTube channel.
You might want to read the following article if your work boots start to stink at cat pee or ammonia. There’s a lot of good info in there and our podiatrist chimes in as well to make sure the information is medically accurate. So make you check it out!
Do different work boots need different types of cleaning?
Several renowned manufacturers such as Ariat, Wolverine, Red Wing, Danner, and Justin provide their specialized cleaning kits customized for their boots; nonetheless, the principles remain the same. It all comes down to your personal preference for using them or going the DIY route.
8 products you (might) have at home to DIY wash & clean your work boots
Many specialized tools can be used to clean up a boot, but who said you need to break the bank and get them? Chances are, you already have everything you need to get your boots back in shape around the house.
For a complete DIY work boot cleanup kit, make sure you’ve got these handy:
- Saddle soap
Not only does saddle soap thoroughly clean up muck and tough dirt from boots, but it also simultaneously replenishes the moisture of your leather boots, making them an indispensable tool in your kit.
- Dish soap
Mild dishwashing soap does a great job at removing dirt from the outside of leather booths. If you’re all out of saddle soap, remember not to use a harsh cleaner, otherwise, you’ll only cause more damage.
- Talcum powder or Cornstarch
Similar to how you use sand to absorb oil, both talcum powder and cornstarch do wonders to remove recent or leftover oil stains without leaving a trace on your boots.
Unlike water, vinegar, white vinegar, to be precise, is a lifesaver that makes for an excellent DIY cleaner and does a great job at leaving no trace behind or causing damage to the material of your boots.
- Baking soda
A typical household item, baking soda has more uses outside of the kitchen than we’d like to admit, and that’s especially true when it comes to boots since it does a great job at cleaning both the insides and outside of a boot.
- Mink oil
Mink oil has a history of being used on leather products ever since the 1950s. Although its history began as a Native American skin conditioning product, mink oil is the go-to product to condition, protect, and maintain any leather.
- Shaving cream
Shaving cream can break down greasy surfaces, making it an excellent tool in your arsenal to get rid of various types of stains quickly, as well as accumulated shoe polish.
There’s no shortage of uses for WD-40, and aside from its ability to fend off wasps from making nests under your windows, you can also use it to waterproof your work boots.
Don’t believe us? Then here’s a fun fact: the WD in WD-40 stands for water displacing.
- Hair conditioner
Like mink oil, hair conditioner has more wax than most fancy boot conditioning products, making it a great way to moisturize and protect your boot’s leather.
What should you do after you’ve cleaned your work boots?
Cleaning your boots is just the first step to ensure their longevity. For maximum performance, add these steps to your routine:
Oil your work boots (where applicable)
Oiling your boots and conditioning them are terms often used to refer to the same thing. Unlike polishing, which isn’t essential, oiling up your boots prevents them from cracking and wearing out.
Not only does oiling your boots ensure that they serve you longer, but it also prevents them from becoming stiff over time from the harsh elements of nature.
Apply a water repellent product
While you can’t re-waterproof your work boots once the outer membrane has worn off, you can add a water-repellent solution to your work boots, such as WD-40, to increase durability and water repellency.
Adding a water-repellant solution will also ensure that your work boots won’t get damaged from water, especially when it comes to suede.
Start using a spray to avoid fungus development and smelly feet.
When your feet start to sweat, the moisture and salts get trapped in your boots and over time start to build up bacteria, which in turn can lead to foot infections.
Spraying on a disinfectant foot spray will go a long way in preventing both your feet and boots from having a horrible smell each time you take off your work boots, as well as reduce the chances of mold and bacteria build up in seconds to keep your feet fresh all day.
Work boot cleaning products and kits
Leather work boot cleaner kit
Work boots odor eliminator
Water repellant for work boots
Leather work boot restorer
Electric brush for work boots
Work boots cleaning station
Is it worth the time to clean work boots?
We get it; it can be a chore to clean up your work boots from time to time while keeping up with a full day’s workload, but think of it this way, your boots take care of you, shouldn’t you also take care of them?
Unless you like buying a new pair of work boots every couple of months or so, regularly cleaning your boots will let you extend the lifespan of the ones you already have to keep on stomping through even the messiest situations.
Learn more about how to clean your work boots properly
Team Members Working On This Page
Love technology, going to the beach, take 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!
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!