How To Clean Leather Work Boots? 7 Simple Updated Steps

Picture this: You’ve just wrapped up a hard day’s work, your leather work boots worn and weathered, proudly displaying the marks of a day well-spent. Now, as you kick back to give your feet a break, you can’t help but notice those scuffs, stains, and dirt clinging to your trusty companions. Every day, boots are an essential part of the daily routine for those who depend on them. So, how do you bring those leather work boots back to life? The answer is simple: clean your work boots.

But another question arises here: How to clean leather work boots? Here’s your chance to learn how to revive and maintain your boots in optimum condition, so you’re in for a treat. From the basic cleanup to tackling stubborn stains, we’ve got you covered. So, kick off your boots, grab a seat, and just follow the cleaning steps listed below. 

So let’s start the process:

How To Clean Leather Work Boots?

How to clean leather work boots? Here is a quick overview: 

To clean leather work boots:

  1. Gently brush off surface dirt, then use a mild soap and water solution to scrub the leather.
  2. Wipe away soap residue with a damp cloth, allowing the boots to air dry naturally.
  3. For added care, consider applying a leather conditioner to maintain the leather’s quality.

After a quick overview, here’s a detailed but simple guide for you. So, let’s take a look at the first step.

Step 1 Gather Supplies

When it comes to cleaning the leather work boots, your first step should be to gather all your cleaning supplies. Understand this with this example: “If you want to participate in the war, you should have the weapon first.” So, gather your cleaning weapons to win the war against the dust and stains.

Here is a list of leather boots cleaning weapons:

1. Soft brush or cloth

2. Mild soap or leather cleaner

3. Water

4. Soft cloths or sponge

5. Leather conditioner

6. Waterproof spray (optional)

Now you have successfully gathered all your cleaning supplies, then get ready for the 2nd step. 

Step 2: Pre-cleaning Preparation

pre-cleaning preparation of leather work boots

Remove Laces

Before diving into the cleaning process, start by removing the laces from your work boots. This simple step provides better access to all areas of the boot, ensuring thorough cleaning. Take this opportunity to inspect the laces for any fraying or damage. In order to maintain both functionality and aesthetics, you should consider replacing them if they are in poor condition.

Tips: Keep the removed laces organized and prevent them from getting lost while you clean by placing them in a small container or bag.

Brush Off Loose Dirt and Debris

Make sure your work boots are clean by gently brushing away loose dirt and debris with a soft brush or old toothbrush. Take extra care to inspect seams, crevices, and the sole of the shoe. This initial brushing helps prevent scratching during the deeper cleaning stages and ensures that you’re not spreading dirt around while cleaning.

Tip: For stubborn dirt, tap the boots together or use a handheld vacuum to remove excess debris before brushing. This minimizes the risk of scratching the leather.

Check for Stains and Scuffs

With the surface cleared, inspect your boots for any stains or scuffs. Different stains may require specific treatment methods, so identifying them early on helps tailor your cleaning approach. For scuffs, a pencil eraser can work wonders, gently rubbing away marks without damaging the leather. For tougher stains, take note of their location for targeted cleaning later in the process.

Tip: You can spot-treat oil or grease stains by sprinkling cornstarch or talcum powder on the affected area before washing it off. This helps absorb the oil before the cleaning process.

By carefully navigating through these pre-cleaning preparations and incorporating these tips, you set the stage for a more effective and precise cleaning routine for your beloved work boots.

Now, you are ready for the real war against the dust and stains or any dirt that is clinging to your leather work boots. 

Step 3: Cleaning leather work boots

Cleaning the Surface

cleaning the surface of leather work botos

Dampening the Cloth or Sponge

Wet a soft cloth or sponge with water before beginning the cleaning process. Ensure it’s not soaking wet, as excessive water can damage leather. The goal is to create a mildly dampened applicator that will help lift dirt and grime without saturating the boots.

Pro Tip: If your boots are particularly dusty, use a dry brush or cloth first to remove loose dirt before dampening. Cleaning the surface in this manner avoids the accumulation of mud or dirt particles.

Applying Mild Soap or Cleaner

Choose a mild soap or specialized leather cleaner that’s suitable for your work boots. Apply a small amount to the damp cloth or sponge, creating a soapy lather. A gentle cleaning solution that does not compromise the integrity of leather is used to effectively clean the surface.

Pro Tip: Always spot-test the soap or cleaner on a small, inconspicuous area of your boots before applying it more broadly. You will also be able to avoid any potential discoloration or adverse reactions by doing this.

Gently Rubbing the Surface

With the soapy cloth or sponge, gently rub the surface of your work boots, paying attention to areas with visible dirt, stains, or scuffs. Use circular motions and moderate pressure, allowing the soap to lift away impurities. Be patient and persistent, especially for stubborn stains, but avoid excessive force to prevent unnecessary wear on the leather.

Pro Tip: For intricate stitching or hard-to-reach areas, use a soft-bristle toothbrush to ensure a thorough clean. Additionally, clean one small section at a time to maintain control and prevent the soap from drying on the boots before you can properly rinse it off.

Dealing with Tough Stains

dealing with tough stains on leather work boots

Oil Stains

Act quickly with oil stains, absorbing excess oil with a paper towel or cloth. It is advisable not to rub the stain, as this can spread it. The stain can be removed by moistening it with talcum powder or cornstarch and letting it sit for a few hours. Gently brush off the powder, then proceed with regular cleaning.

Pro Tip: Use equal parts white vinegar and water to remove oil stains that are persistent. Dab the solution on the stain, let it sit briefly, and wipe it away with a clean, damp cloth.

Mud and Dirt Stains

It is best to wait until the mud has completely dried before attacking the stain. Remove as much dried mud as possible with a soft brush once it has dried. After this, cleaning the stained area with a damp cloth or sponge will remove the stain. Stubborn mud stains may require a bit of mild soap or cleaner for thorough removal.

Pro Tip: Avoid using excessive water on mud stains, as it can cause the mud to seep deeper into the leather. Patience is key – let the mud dry, then brush and clean methodically for the best results.

Salt Stains

You will need equal amounts of water and white vinegar. Apply a damp cloth to the salt stains and gently wipe them with the solution. Be cautious, as vinegar can affect leather color. After blotting, use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away the vinegar solution. Ensure the boots dry thoroughly.

Pro Tip: To prevent future salt stains, apply a waterproof spray designed for leather after cleaning. This acts as a protective barrier against water and salt, preserving the boots’ appearance.

Cleaning the Soles

clean the sole of leather work boots

The soles of your work boots endure a considerable amount of wear and tear, accumulating dirt, grime, and possibly even sticky substances. Ensuring they’re clean not only enhances the overall appearance of your boots but also contributes to better traction and longevity.

Removing Loose Debris:

  • To remove loose dirt and debris, knock your boots together.
  • Use a stiff brush or an old toothbrush to scrub away any remaining particles from the grooves and edges of the soles.

Pro Tip: A pocket knife or a small, flat tool can be useful for scraping off stubborn, stuck-on debris from the sole’s crevices.

Soapy Water Solution:

  • Using mild dish detergent or soap and warm water, prepare a mild solution.
  • Make sure to thoroughly scrub the soles with the brush or cloth after dipping them in the soapy water. Pay attention to areas that are dirty or stained.

Pro Tip: If the soles have rubber or non-leather components, avoid using harsh chemicals that could damage or degrade these materials.

Rinsing and Drying:

  • Rinse the soles with clean water or wipe them with a damp cloth to remove soap residue.
  • Make sure the soles are completely dry before you wear the boots again by toweling them off or letting them air dry completely.

Pro Tip: For a fresh scent, consider adding a few drops of lemon juice to the soapy water solution. There is a pleasant fragrance left behind by lemons in addition to cleaning.

Wiping The Leather Work Boots

wiping the leather work boots

Once you’ve completed the cleaning process, the next crucial step is to ensure your work boots are thoroughly dried and free from any leftover cleaning agents. This step not only contributes to the boots’ overall cleanliness but also prevents potential damage from lingering moisture or chemicals.

Dampen a Clean Cloth with Water:

  • Take a clean, soft cloth and dampen it with water. It is important not to let the cloth get too wet as excessive humidity can damage the leather.

Pro Tip: If you’re dealing with particularly stubborn soap residue, you can add a small amount of water to the cloth and gently rub the affected areas to help remove any lingering cleaner.

Wipe Away Soap or Cleaner Residue:

  • With the damp cloth, gently wipe the entire surface of your work boots, paying special attention to seams, stitching, and areas where cleaning agents may have accumulated.

Pro Tip: Check for color transfer during this step, especially if you’re using a new cloth or if your boots are of a lighter color. If color transfer occurs, switch to a clean cloth to avoid staining.

Drying the Boots

Air dry the leather work boots

After the cleaning process, thorough drying is crucial to maintaining the integrity of your work boots and preventing potential damage. Here are two effective methods to ensure your boots dry properly:

Air Drying:

  • It is recommended that you store your boots in a well-ventilated area at room temperature.
  • Make sure they are allowed to air dry naturally without being exposed to direct sunlight or heat.

Pro Tip: To speed up the drying process, remove the insoles from your boots. This allows air to circulate more freely inside, expediting the overall drying time.

Using a Fan or Cool Air Dryer:

  • Position a fan a few feet away from your boots, ensuring a gentle flow of air.
  • Alternatively, use a cool air dryer on the lowest setting to promote even and controlled drying.

Pro Tip: If using a fan, consider placing the boots on a rack or newspaper to elevate them slightly. This enhances air circulation and prevents the boots from sitting in any residual moisture.

Caution: High temperatures can cause leather to lose its natural oils, causing stiffness and cracking, so keep away from direct heat sources, such as hairdryers or heaters.

Step 4:Conditioning Leather

applying leather conditioner on leather work boots

Leather, a durable and natural material, benefits from regular conditioning to retain its suppleness and resist wear. Follow these steps to ensure your work boots receive the care they deserve:

Importance of Conditioning

Leather, when exposed to daily wear and environmental elements, can lose its natural oils and moisture. Conditioning is essential to replenish these elements, preventing the leather from becoming brittle, cracked, or prone to damage. A regular conditioning program ensures that the boots remain a reliable companion through countless adventures while not only improving their appearance but also prolonging their lifespan.

Choosing the Right Leather Conditioner

Selecting an appropriate leather conditioner is crucial for effective conditioning. Your work boots should be treated with a product designed specifically for the type of leather they are made from. Whether it’s full-grain, top-grain, or oil-tanned leather, choosing a conditioner that matches your boots’ composition ensures optimal results. Please read the labels of all products and follow the recommendations of the manufacturer.

Applying the Conditioner

Using a Soft Cloth:

  • Use a soft, lint-free cloth to apply the leather conditioner to the leather, then wipe it off with a clean cloth.
  • Ensure the cloth is not oversaturated to avoid over-conditioning the leather.

Be sure to test the conditioner on an inconspicuous area before applying it more widely if you’re not sure how it will affect your boots.

Massaging into the Leather:

  • Make circular motions when applying the conditioner to the leather. Pay special attention to areas that may experience more friction, such as the toe and heel.

Tip: Use your fingers or a soft brush to reach into seams and creases. This ensures thorough conditioning in all nooks and crannies.

Allowing Time for Absorption:

  • Let the conditioner absorb into the leather for the time specified on the product label. This usually ranges from a few minutes to several hours.

If your boots are particularly dry, consider applying a second coat of conditioner after the initial absorption period. This can further enhance the leather’s moisture content.

Step 5:Waterproofing (Optional)

waterproofing leather work boots

Waterproofing your leather work boots is an optional yet highly beneficial step in their care routine. Here’s how to ensure your boots are ready to repel water and withstand the elements:

Reasons to Waterproof Leather Work Boots

An additional layer of protection against moisture is provided by waterproofing, which prevents water from seeping into the leather. This is particularly crucial for maintaining the structural integrity of your boots, as excessive moisture can lead to leather damage, mold growth, and unpleasant odors. Additionally, waterproofing guards against stains and makes cleaning easier by creating a protective barrier.

Choosing the Right Waterproofing Spray

Selecting the appropriate waterproofing spray is essential for effective protection. Look for a product specifically designed for leather and one that suits the specific type of leather your boots are made from. Silicon-based sprays are commonly recommended for creating a durable, water-resistant barrier.

Pro Tip: Consider opting for a spray with added conditioning properties to simultaneously nourish and protect your leather work boots.

Application Process

If you are not sure how to waterproof leather work boots, here is a quick guide:

Clean Boots Before Applying:

  • Ensure your boots are clean and dry before applying the waterproofing spray. Any dirt or residue on the boots can interfere with the effectiveness of the spray.

Test in an Inconspicuous Area:

  • Make sure the waterproofing spray is compatible with the paint before applying to a large area. Check for color changes and compatibility before applying widely.

If the spray causes discoloration, consider seeking an alternative product or consulting with the manufacturer for recommendations.

Apply Evenly:

  • Holding the spray at a recommended distance, apply an even coat over the entire surface of the boots. Seams and other areas prone to water penetration should receive special attention.

Allow to Dry Completely:

  • Let the boots air dry completely after applying the waterproofing spray. Avoid using heat sources, as this can compromise the effectiveness of the treatment.

Step 6:Polishing (Optional)

polishing leather work boots

While optional, polishing your leather work boots not only enhances their appearance but also provides an additional layer of protection. Follow these steps for a polished finish that combines style with functionality:

Selecting a Suitable Boot Polish

It is essential to choose the right boot polish to achieve the desired shine and protection of your boots. A seamless finish can be achieved by choosing a polish that matches the color of your boots. Additionally, consider a polish that includes conditioning agents to nourish the leather as it enhances its luster.

Pro Tip: For a quick touch-up, neutral polish works well on a variety of leather colors and is a versatile option.

Applying Polish for Shine and Protection

Use a Clean Cloth or Applicator Brush:

  • Begin by selecting a clean, soft cloth or an applicator brush dedicated to polishing. If using a cloth, ensure it’s lint-free to avoid leaving particles on the boots.

Pro Tip: If your boots have intricate stitching or hard-to-reach areas, use a small detailing brush to apply polish precisely.

Apply Polish in a Circular Motion:

  • Dab a small amount of polish onto the cloth or brush and apply it to the boots using circular motions. Ensure even coverage, paying attention to any scuffs or areas that need extra attention.

Pro Tip: Apply polish sparingly. You can always add more if needed, but using too much can lead to excess buildup and diminish the desired shine.

Buff for Shine:

  • After allowing the polish to set for a few minutes, use a separate clean cloth or a designated buffing brush to buff the boots in a circular motion. Not only does this make the polish look natural, but it also makes it evenly distributed.

Pro Tip: For an extra glossy finish, use a horsehair brush for the final buffing. The soft bristles contribute to a brilliant shine without causing damage to the leather.

Final Steps

re-lacing the leather work boots

After the thorough cleaning, conditioning, and optional polishing, complete the boot care ritual with these final steps to ensure your work boots are ready for their next adventure:

Reinsert Laces

Take the time to reinsert the laces back into your freshly cleaned and polished boots. This not only completes the visual appeal of your boots but also ensures they are ready for wear.

Pro Tip: If your laces are worn or frayed, now might be a good time to consider replacing them for a complete and polished look.

Inspect Boots for Any Missed Spots

Before storing or wearing your boots:

  1. Give them a once-over.
  2. Inspect for any spots you may have missed during the cleaning process.
  3. Address any overlooked stains or scuffs with targeted cleaning or touch-up polishing as needed.

Pro Tip: Use a handheld mirror or enlist a second set of eyes to inspect the boots from different angles to catch any missed spots.

Store Boots Properly

Proper storage is key to maintaining the shape and condition of your work boots:

  • Store in a Cool, Dry Place: Avoid leaving boots in direct sunlight or damp areas. Choose a cool, dry place to prevent mold growth or leather damage.
  • Use Boot Trees: Especially if your boots tend to slacken, you might consider inserting boot trees.
  • Allow Adequate Air Circulation: If storing in a closet, avoid cramming boots together. Allow sufficient air circulation to prevent moisture buildup.
  • Rotate Your Footwear: Make sure you rotate your work boots regularly if you have more than one pair. As a result, a single pair of boots does not wear out as quickly and each pair has the opportunity to breathe between uses.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully revived your work boots through this thorough cleaning process, giving them a new lease on life. The dedication you’ve shown in each step ensures your boots are not just clean but ready for the challenges ahead.

Now, as you admire your rejuvenated boots, consider exploring some maintenance tips to keep them in prime condition. Here’s to stepping forward with confidence in your revitalized footwear!

Tips for ongoing maintenance

maintenance tips for leather work boots

As you bask in the success of your freshly rejuvenated work boots, here are a few additional tips to maintain their newfound glory:

Regular Cleaning Schedule

Stay ahead of dirt and stains by maintaining a regular cleaning schedule. You can prevent long-term damage to your boots by maintaining the appearance of them consistently and preventing grime from building up.

Pro Tip: Consider setting a cleaning routine based on your usage frequency. Daily for heavy use, weekly for moderate use, and bi-weekly for occasional use.

Avoiding Harsh Chemicals

Be careful not to use harsh chemicals on your work boots in order to prevent the leather from being damaged. If you are going to wash your boots, make sure to use mild soaps, specialized leather cleaners, and conditioners designed for your type of boots.

Pro Tip: You should test a product prior to applying it to the entire boot if you are unsure about it.

Storage Tips for Leather Work Boots

Proper storage is vital for maintaining your boots’ shape and condition. Follow these storage tips to keep them in top-notch shape:

  • Ventilation is Key: It is recommended to store boots in a well-ventilated area to avoid moisture accumulation and odors.
  • Keep Them Upright: In order to prevent creases and maintain their shape, stuff them with newspaper or use boot trees.
  • Rotate Your Collection: You should rotate your pair if you have more than one and you want to make sure that they wear equally.

Pro Tip: The use of plastic bags when storing boots can cause mold growth because they trap moisture.


troubleshooting leather work boots

Even with diligent care, occasional issues may arise. Here’s how to troubleshoot common challenges and keep your work boots in top condition:

Dealing with Lingering Odors

Allow for Air Circulation:

  • Ensure your boots have ample time to air out between wears. This helps prevent the development of unpleasant odors.

Use Odor Absorbers:

  • Place odor-absorbing insoles or pouches inside your boots when not in use to combat lingering smells.

Alternate Your Footwear:

  • Rotate between multiple pairs of boots to allow each pair to air out thoroughly, reducing the chances of persistent odors.

Repairing Minor Scratches

Use a Leather Conditioner:

  • Apply a small amount of leather conditioner to minor scratches. Gently massage it into the affected area to nourish and diminish the appearance of scratches.

Touch-Up Polish:

  • For scratches on the surface, use a matching or neutral polish to help blend and minimize their visibility.

Seeking Professional Help for Extensive Damage

If your boots face extensive damage beyond DIY solutions, consider seeking professional help:

Cobbler Consultation:

  • Visit a reputable cobbler for assessments and repairs. They can address issues such as sole separation, major scuffs, or stitching problems.

Manufacturer’s Recommendations:

  • To find out what repair services are recommended or where to get repairs, refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Pro Tip: Regular maintenance and timely addressing of issues can prevent minor problems from escalating into extensive damage, ensuring the longevity of your work boots.


In your journey to learn “how to clean leather work boots,” you’ve not only revitalized your trusted footwear but cultivated a routine that ensures their longevity and resilience. From the meticulous cleaning process to optional yet rewarding steps like polishing and waterproofing, each action has contributed to breathing new life into your work boots.

As you lace up your now-rejuvenated boots, remember that regular care, a keen eye for troubleshooting, and a commitment to best practices will keep them at their best. Your dedication to maintaining these hardworking companions is a testament to the enduring relationship between a person and their boots.


What is the best thing to clean leather work boots with?

The best thing to clean leather work boots is a mild soap or specialized leather cleaner. The products designed for leather cleaning are designed to clean leather effectively and without damaging it. Use a soft cloth or sponge dampened with water to apply the cleaner, and follow up with conditioning to keep the leather supple.

Is it OK to clean leather boots with water?

Yes, it is generally OK to clean leather boots with water, but it’s essential to be cautious. Excessive water can damage leather by causing it to become brittle or lose its natural oils. When cleaning with water, dampen a soft cloth or sponge rather than soaking the boots. After cleaning, allow the boots to air dry thoroughly.

Can you use Vaseline to clean leather boots?

While Vaseline can add shine to leather, it’s not recommended for cleaning. Vaseline is a petroleum-based product, and using it on leather may lead to buildup and attract dirt. For cleaning, stick to mild soap or specialized leather cleaners, followed by conditioning for optimal care.

Does vinegar damage leather?

Yes, undiluted vinegar can potentially damage leather. Dryness and cracking may occur because vinegar’s acidity strips away natural oils. If vinegar is used, it should be diluted with water. However, it’s advisable to test a small, inconspicuous area first to ensure compatibility with the specific type of leather.

Can I clean leather with vinegar?

Yes, you can clean leather with vinegar, but it should be diluted with water. Mix equal parts water and white vinegar, dampen a cloth with the solution, and gently wipe the leather. However, always test on a small area first to avoid any adverse reactions and follow up with conditioning to replenish the leather’s moisture.