5 easy steps for cleaning your favorite leather boots
Condition, polish, shine, repeat.
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
As temps start to drop from summer into fall and winter weather, excitement escalates for anyone who has a love affair with buttery soft leather boots. ’Tis time to release them from their off-season trappings (your closet) and pair them with favorite fall outfits.
We tell you how to clean and condition your leather boots and shoes so they look and feel gorgeous at any time.
What You Need:
Step 1: Choose your leather conditioners and polishes
Leather is animal skin. Translation: It’s susceptible to drying out, which causes cracks in the material.
When choosing a leather conditioner or polish, Daniel Porcelli, co-founder and CEO of Cobbler Union in Atlanta suggests, “Always look for natural products like beeswax, shea butter, mink oil, carnauba wax, and montan wax that are free from silicones and chemicals.”
His yikes-worthy list of bad ingredients includes C13-14 Alkane Carrier (what you find in floor paint), benzenes (chemicals that can be found in paint and ink), and acids.
“Treat it as if you were looking at organic vs. non-organic foods,” he says. “Any of those words you can't pronounce aren't good for your body, and they aren't good for your shoes either.”
Step 2: Prep your shoes
Prep your shoes for polish by removing any superficial dirt or light stains using a horsehair brush or, preferably, a slightly damp cotton chamois. Porcelli suggests using an old toothbrush to gently remove dirt from hard-to-reach areas.
To get the most out of your polish, first apply a cleansing cream, such as Saphir Medaille d'Or Renovateur cream, which is Porcelli’s go-to choice.
“Using it as the basecoat of a polish provides gentle cleaning and deep conditioning for between shines as a touchup,” he says. Apply the cream with a chamois and leave it to dry for a few minutes.
Follow this with a quick rundown.
Step 3: Apply polish
“Remember, you aren’t painting the shoe. A little goes a long way,” says Porcelli.
Let your eye be the guide when matching the color of polish to your shoe's shade. The most common polish shades are black, brown, cordovan, navy, oxblood, tan and white.
Of course, you don't always need to match your polish color to the color of your shoe or boot. Only do so when wanting to preserve the original leather color.
Porcelli says, "Many of us enjoy playing with different color creams to create unique tones and help our shoes age more gracefully. Doing so is possible when working on lighter leather colors such as tan or cognac."
If your boot veers from traditional and makes a color statement all on its own, don't worry. You can still polish and protect its leather.
"One has two main options when working with patinas or strange colors," says Porcelli. "My recommended option is to keep the original color intact by using a neutral cream. Alternatively, choosing a similar color cream will do the job, and great quality creams have little pigmentation and will not alter the original color of a shoe significantly."
After applying, always allow the shoe polish to penetrate the leather for at least five to 10 minutes. Once ready, brush the shoes with a horsehair brush, using quick side-to-side strokes while applying light to moderate pressure.
Repeat this process when applying more than one coat of cream, which may be required if the shoes haven’t been polished in a while.
Step 4: Add a wax finish
Once the shoe polish is applied and buffed off, treat your boots to at least two coats of a wax finish.
Porcelli recommends Saphir Medaille d'Or Pate De Luxe wax polish. This not only creates a glossy finish, but also protects leather from the outside elements.
Porcelli explains that there are different approaches to the critical step of buffing off and polishing. For a quick polish, he recommends buffing the leather with a horsehair brush using side-to-side motions. For a more sophisticated glossy finish, use a soft cotton chamois.
“You need to be patient and run the wax thoroughly until it completely disappears and a clear film is created,” he adds.
Step 5: Give your leather boots and shoes daily TLC
When you come home from a long day of showing off your polished style, kick off those boots (gently, please) and then stuff the toes with clean, balled-up socks. Not only will they absorb any leftover moisture from daily wear, they will also preserve the boot’s shape.
For taller boots, invest in a boot shaper to keep the shaft from flopping over and creasing. Life hack alert—you can also cut up pieces of pool noodles and place them inside your boots.
The experts at The Leather Spa (with several locations in New York City) also suggest putting protective cream on all your leather boots monthly.
There’s no need to shine them, but this helps keep the boots supple and adds life to the leather. The highly nourishing Leather Spa Leather Conditioner restores the oils used in the tanning process and repels water and dirt, and Obenauf's heavy duty leather preservative is a popular natural option.
Pro tip: Remember: Suede is special
While most leather boots, when treated properly, can fight slushy and rainy conditions out of doors, suede will lose that battle.
To take care of your suede footwear, invest in a suede brush and a suede eraser, for dirt marks and shine. Follow up with a quick brush off of the eraser dustings to rebuff the suede.
If you’ve got a dirty pair Ugg sheepskin boots, and you want a quick fix, trying washing them in cold water in your washing machine.
The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest deals, product reviews, and more.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.