How to Clean Hiking Boots

By Meg Jernigan; Updated August 11, 2017

Tidying up your favorite footwear for the trail

How to Clean Hiking Boots

Sturdy boots that protect the feet and ankles on long treks are a must-have for serious hikers. Clean them after every walk in the woods and you and your boots will have a long, happy relationship.

Cleaning leather boots

For light soil, remove the laces and brush the boots with a boot brush, a soft vegetable brush or even an old toothbrush.

Moderate to heavy soil needs more work. Use a boot cleaner, specifically designed for leather, saddle soap or a mild dish soap dissolved in warm water. Dip a soft, absorbent cloth in warm water, wring it out and use it to apply the boot cleaner, saddle soap or dish detergent to the boot’s surface. Rinse the boots after they’re clean. Let the boots dry at room temperature – use a fan rather than a heat source like the sun, a stove or a hair dryer to hurry the process.

Once the boots are dry, rub them with leather conditioner or neatsfoot oil to keep the leather supple.

Other materials

Use a mixture of warm water and mild dish soap to clean nylon and mesh uppers. Harsh detergents break down synthetic fabrics. Wipe suede boots clean with a damp cloth.

Don’t forget the outsoles and laces

The outsoles, or bottom of the hiking boots, need care, too. Brush them vigorously with a plastic brush to dislodge small stones, twigs and dried clots of dirt. Rinse the outsoles.

Soak dirty shoelaces in warm, soapy water, rinse and let dry. Or run them through the washing machine. Replace them if they’re frayed.


New boots are typically waterproof when purchased, but over time they lose some of their repellent ability. If water droplets stop beading, it’s time to waterproof. Clean the boots, but don’t let them dry. Waterproofing products work best on wet boots. Use a product designed for waterproofing leather, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some products are meant to be applied with a rag, others have a sponge tip for easier application. Let the waterproofing sink into the leather, and then buff with a soft cloth if the appearance of the surface is uneven.

Unpleasant smells

Cleaning boots should remove most smells, but if the boots have a musty aroma after cleaning, wipe on a mild mixture of 80 percent water and 20 percent vinegar.

If the insides of the boots smell like sweaty feet, dust them with baking soda, or use a commercial product designed to be sprayed into shoes to control unpleasant smells. Air out the insoles or, if the aroma persists, replace them with odor-control insoles.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan