Muddy hiking boots are a sure sign of a great day on the trails! Proper functioning boots are your ticket to endless exploration. By regularly cleaning your boots, you can maintain proper function — and keep the adventures going for years to come.
Get the low-down on how to wash hiking boots. Learn about your boot’s material and anatomy, and have the tools and steps for a perfectly washed hiking boot.
How To Wash Hiking Boots
Why clean your hiking boots?
Adventures can be messy – Abrasive elements, like dirt and sand, can make their way into the creases of your boots. Over time the material will wear down and crack.
Caked-on mud can strip the moisture from leather – Which causes boots to dry and crack, which leads to holes and damage that can wreck your boot’s performance.
Benefits of regular hiking boot maintenance:
• Ensure proper function for your next hike
• Extend the lifespan
• Notice and repair any damage
• Help prevent transmitting invasive species
When should you clean your boots?
It would be best if you had a quick boot cleaning ritual at the end of every hike. This will help your boots stay relatively clean after trails that aren’t as messy.
It would be best if you also gave your boots regular, deep cleans after several outings or a particularly dirty trail. This will keep your boots in the best condition for long-term use.
Hiking Boot Materials
Hiking boots can come in a range of styles and materials. There are four commonly used materials for boots. Depending on the material, you may need to use a special conditioner, cleaner, or be extra gentle when washing.
• Full-Grain Leather: This will require a special leather conditioner and a soft brush.
• Nubuck and Suede: This doesn’t need special conditioning. Use a soft brush or cloth.
• Synthetics: This doesn’t require special conditioning. You can use a bristle brush.
• Mesh: This doesn’t need special conditioning. Be gentle and use a soft cloth.
How to do a Quick, Zero-Tool Clean after Hikes
You probably won’t need to give your boots a deep clean after every hike.
Still, it’s best to build the habit of briefly cleaning your boots at the end of every trail. Keeping your boots consistently clean will make your big washes easier and faster. They will also perform better for your next hike.
1. Bang boots, so that loose dirt falls off. You can either stomp on dry, hard ground or hold the boots and hit the soles together.
2. Remove lodged dirt from lugs. You can use fingers to dislodge any large stones and debris from the lugs.
3. Tip upside-down to remove debris from the inner boot. Remove the boot and shake out any gravel, stones, dust, or dirt.
4. Let your boots dry. Remove insoles and loosen laces so that the boot gets airflow. Let all boot parts air dry in a well-ventilated area, away from heat and humidity.
How to give a Deep, Like-New Clean between Hikes
If your hike was particularly muddy, you’ve gone on a few hikes, or are getting your boots ready for storage; it’s best to give them a deep clean after your usual post-hike cleaning ritual head home to use some tools and give your boots a thorough polish.
• Boot brush and cloth: Use an old vegetable brush, toothbrush, or cloth.
• Boot cleaner: Make a mild cleaning solution using dish soap and water, or use saddle soap and follow label directions.
• Sink or bucket: Have a hose or water faucet nearby, preferably outside, or fill a sink or bucket with clean water.
• Some disinfectant: Make a solution that is 80% water and 20% vinegar, or use a boot disinfectant and follow label directions.
Step One: Washing
1. Remove the laces and insole. Use a small bucket of water and a cleaning solution to freshen them up. Lie them flat to dry while you wash the rest of the boot.
2. Either mix dish soap and water or use a special boot cleaner. Follow the boot cleaner directions or dip your brush in the soapy water. Use your brush to scrub grooves and crevices gently. Focus on areas like the toe crease, gusseted tongue, and along the stitches and edges above the outsole.
3. Always give the boots a final rinse with clean water at the end.
4. If your boots are full-grain leather, moisturize them by gently massaging a small amount of conditioner into the damp leather. This will prevent drying and cracking. Avoid over-moisturizing and do not use Mink Oil or industrial boots conditioners. These can be too strong for tanned leather, causing it to lose its shape and support.
1. Fill a bucket with clean water about an inch deep. Add some dish soap.
2. Stand the boots flat in the bucket so that the outsole is submerged. Let it soak for a few minutes.
3. Once the dirt has softened, use your brush to scrub the rubber clean.
Step Two: Drying
Always Air Dry:
• You have removed the insoles and laces to air dry separately.
• Open the boot to allow maximum airflow.
• Always dry boots at room temperature with low humidity.
• Never use heat to dry! This weakens the adhesives and damages leather.
Speed up the drying process:
• Place the insole, laces, and boots in front of a house fan that increases airflow.
• Stuff newspaper inside the boot. Replace the paper once it is damp.
Step Three: Storing
Keep them ready for the next hike:
• Store them in a stable and normal temperature room.
• Avoid hot, humid, or unventilated places (no car trunks, garages, or attics).
• For long-term storage, place them in a ventilated box or cotton bag to protect them and keep them dust-free.
• Follow any boot care instructions that were included upon purchase
• Avoid strong detergents and chemicals
• Never put boots in the washing machine
• Follow a guide on how to waterproof boots
• Use special cleaning solutions for boots that are waterproof treated