It’s a cold and rainy Monday morning.
You put on your suit & tie, your overcoat.
Oh…how about those boots at the bottom of the rack?
You’re about to wear them…but you notice:
Then you realize you bought this expensive pair last month *groan*
Needless to say you feel upset – worse than the weather itself.
The lesson here? Learn how to care for your leather boots (since every stylish man needs a pair for himself).
It’s not just flicking away dirt with an old brush. You have to polish, condition, and properly clean your boots from time to time.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure about those things. That’s what this article is for.
Care For Leather Boots: Part 1 – Cleaning
Boots – like other shoes – serve as the base of your outfit. They’re subject to the most abuse among all clothing items. They constantly strike the ground making contact with dirt, snow, salt, grime, and greasy substances. So there’s no denying how important it is to clean them regularly.
Materials for Cleaning
- Piece of old cloth
- Horsehair brush
- Slightly damp rag
- Saddle soap
The first step is to remove the laces. That makes it easier to clean and condition the boots. Then wash the laces in soapy water to get rid of dirt and grime – or get new ones if you notice they’re old or worn out.
Place the boots on an old piece of cloth that’s flattened on a table. Use a horsehair brush to give the leather some light buffing. The goal here is removing any loose dirt or salt particles which can damage the leather eventually. Ideally, you should give your boots a quick brush after each time you wear them outside. But a minimum of once a week is enough.
Get the damp rag and rub it over your saddle soap to create a light lather. Then rub the lather over the boots, especially over areas that need extra scrubbing. But take note you don’t have to do this every time you clean – only for those really stubborn stains.
Let the boots air dry for 10 minutes. Then expect them to look good as new afterward.
Care For Leather Boots: Part 2 – Conditioning
Dirt isn’t actually the biggest problem for your leather boots. Their true kryptonite? Dry, unconditioned leather. When the boots are affected by water damage (as in natural moisture escapes the leather) they dry out. The fibrous interweave will start to weaken and visible cracks form. Sadly, there’s no way to salvage them once that happens.
So prevention is key. By always keeping the leather supple, healthy and resistant to water penetration…you’ll avoid the tragedy of having a $250 pair of winter boots break down weeks after buying them.
That means you should also condition leather shoes/boots the day you buy them. Don’t expect them to come out of the box well-conditioned. The leather could’ve been left inside a storage room – deprived of oil and moisture – for months.
Materials for Conditioning
- Piece of old cloth (to lay the boots over)
- Good leather conditioner or balm
- Small applicator brush
- 2 dry clean rags
Start by giving the boots a quick rub-down with one dry rag. This is to take off any remaining dirt or particles clinging to the leather.
Then grab your applicator brush. Use it to apply your leather conditioner/balm to a small spot – testing to see that it doesn’t drastically affect the color of the leather. Note that this substance can darken the leather very slightly (especially for the first few days).
So if you have a light-colored boot or an exotic leather material, do a spot-test somewhere hidden like along the tongue area. Try waiting a couple of hours before checking the result. If the darkening isn’t too bad…this is a product that’ll work fine.
Now pour the conditioner/balm onto the second rag (best if it’s made of chamois or terrycloth) and rub it on the leather. Use circular motions without pushing down hard – going back and forth along each boot. You want to get the product in all crevices and creases.
Use as much product as the leather needs. If your boots seem dried out and you haven’t treated them in a while…do 2-3 applications. Boots in great shape will be needing just a quick rub all over. Observe when the product stops soaking in and the leather starts to get damp. That’s when you know the job is done.
Wipe off any excess product and let boots dry for 20 minutes. Once they’ve rested for about 12 hours, give them a rub with another dry rag to absorb any excess oils and moisture.
Conditioning should be done quite often. I’d suggest once every 3 months if you live in a temperate climate – and once a month if you wear the boots every day or live in a dry, hot climate.
Care For Leather Boots: Part 3 – Polishing/Shining
Polishing your boots (after conditioning) isn’t necessary. But it gives your leather boots more smoothness overall. While you don’t have to consider polishing rugged boots…you’d probably like some more shine for a pair of elegant dress boots. Smoother and shinier is more impressive.
Materials for Polishing
- Piece of old cloth (to lay the boots over)
- Either a shoe cream polish or wax-based polish (there are differences between the two which you’ll want to take note of)
- Small applicator brush
- Soft clean rag
- Clean horsehair brush (NOT the one you used for removing dirt)
Steps to applying cream polish:
- Check that you’ve got a cream with a color that matches the leather.
- Use the applicator brush to work the cream evenly over the entire boot, and the same for the other boot. Start off with a small amount then add more if needed.
- End with a quick buffing using the horsehair brush.
- Dry the boots for 15 minutes.
- The result – cream polish doesn’t provide as much shine as wax-based polish but adds extra moisture and nourishment. It’ll also help bring back the natural color of your boots when the leather starts to fade.
Steps to applying wax-based polish:
- Wrap the soft rag around two fingers and dip them into the wax.
- Apply the polish onto the leather using small, circular motions. Keep working until you coat the entire boot.
- Leave that leather boot aside and do the same for the other.
- Do a quick buffing using the horsehair brush – and repeat this once or twice to get a really nice shine.
- The wax-based polish must be the final layer when you’re polishing your boots. Don’t attempt to put cream polish over it.
- The result – wax-based polish adds shine and protects your boots against salt or water. It also tends to lock the leather conditioner in so you can extend the time that passes before re-applying it. It doesn’t moisturize the leather…but don’t be concerned if you’ve got a reliable conditioner.
For polishing, I’d say you can do a quick polish once a day (if you wear the boots daily) or polish thoroughly once a week (following either of the 2 methods step-by-step).
Care For Leather Boots: Part 4 – Waterproofing
In general, leather boots with a good quality are water-resistant. So you just have to be consistent with conditioning your boots before they get wet or exposed to the elements outside.
If you insist on taking extra measures to waterproof…
A. Use a wax-based polish after conditioning
B. Apply a waterproof spray over the leather but make it’s the last thing you put
But what happens if your leather boots get really wet despite the protective substance? First – do NOT leave them next to a fire or other type of heat source. High heat can cause the leather to dry too quickly and crack. The best solution is to let your boots air dry at room temperature. That’s all there is to it.
Good-Looking Leather Boots Can Increase Your Stylishness
There are so many positive things I can say about leather boots: functional, masculine, a great way to enhance your casual wardrobe, easy to stand out with. You can be strolling around the park or walking to your office on a chilly day…when everybody’s throwing things on just to keep warm…but you look fantastic.
Do unpleasant weather conditions mean you must compromise style? Nope. The simplest details on small parts of your outfit are all that need leveling-up. Don’t underestimate the attention you’ll steal…or the confidence you’ll gain…by wearing nice boots outside of the summer.
I believe clean and well-conditioned leather boots should be in every man’s wardrobe. Why? Because whenever you’ve got them on…you’re never a zero style-wise.