If you follow our blog you know that we love boots. Heritage boots are beautifully rugged footwear designed with a purpose. Whether it be for hard work, or protection from the elements, boots are meant to be used in tough situations. In the last few years we have seen work boots being worn for fashion as well, and many of them don’t come cheap. Here’s a quick guide for the fella that wants to clean and maintain his boots as well as protect his investment.

Decide what your boot goals are. Yes, boot goals are a thing. Lots of guys want their boots to show character and wear, so they beat them up relentlessly until they look like they’ve been through the war. If that’s your thing, then go for it. Your boots won’t need much attention at all, tough guy. Wear ‘em out and break ‘em in.

If you’d like to give your boots a little love, read on. The type of boot care is determined by the type of leather. Smooth leather will require different products and processes than suede. Let’s take a look at the three steps of boot maintenance: Cleaning, conditioning, and protecting.

Smooth Leathers

Oil-Tanned and Smooth-Finished (like oil-tanned but with less finishing material) are probably the most common leathers found on high-end boots like the Red Wing Amber Harness Iron Ranger 8111. For cleaning, start by taking out the laces and knock off loose dirt and dust with a soft bristle brush. I also like a dry toothbrush for getting in the seams and stitches. A little warm soapy water on a cloth can help as well. Pro tip: For salt stains in the winter try a light solution of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water.

Red Wing makes a Leather Cleaner that is environmentally friendly and water-based to lift dirt from the surface of the leather without drying or damaging it. This type of product is not for use on rough side out leathers like suede, which we’ll get to later on.

Now that your boots are clean it’s time to condition. We like Leather ‘N’ Rich from Blackrock Leather. Blackrock uses genuine carnauba wax that wipes easily to a shine. It’s colorless formula nourishes the leather and brings out the natural glow of the hide. Also check out Timberland’s Waximum, Red Wing’s All Natural Leather Conditioner, and Huberd’s Shoe Oil.

The final step is protecting. Boot Oil and Mink Oil fall into the category of nourishing and protecting with silicone and lanolin, but use them with a measure of caution. I find that while many of these items seal the leather from the elements, they have potential to significantly darken the leather. Be sure to read warnings carefully and test each product on an inconspicuous area first.

cleaning your boots

Rough-Out Leathers

Rough-Out leather, sometimes known as suede, is the rough side out of the leather. Simply put; the other side of the hide. The Red Wing Hawthorne Muleskinner 8113 is an example of a rough-out boot. Suede has a very unique look to it and requires different processes and products to clean it.

For light leaning, start with brushing the leather with a bristle brush. Sometimes that step alone will liven up the character of the nap. For heavier cleaning try the Suede Cleaning Kit from Red Wing that includes a rubber cleaning bar and a heavier nylon brush. The rubber bar works a bit like an eraser on the suede.

When it comes to conditioning, suede is pretty low-maintenance but mink oil can be used to soften the nap. Waxed Flesh can be found on our recently featured Truman Boots or Viberg Service Boots and has a rough-out leather that has been carefully hand worked with a heavy wax that breaks down over time to reveal more of the nap of the suede. Waxed Suede can be left completely alone or re-waxed to keep it’s fresh look. Otter Wax makes a great product that keeps waxed suede sealed and sharp.

Now that you’ve got the tricks and the tools for a solid boot care routine you can keep those kicks looking fresh, or just let them go. Whatever you decide, your boots will certainly make a statement about you. What do you want them to say?


written for Cliff Original by Jeremy Lahman