While it’s certainly true that the best hiking boots are made to take a licking and continue to offer continuous resilience over several seasons, they won’t live up to their potential if you don’t keep them clean. Learning how to clean hiking boots and making a habit out of it can be an acquired taste. But, it’s one you won’t regret once you see how much longer they last when properly cared for.
Don’t Ignore Dirty Hiking Boots
You don’t have to clean boots the second you take them off, but get the job done within 24 hours to avoid issues down the trail. Ignoring sand, muck, dirt, and debris that slips through the pores of leather or microscopic holes in fabric or rubber causes these materials to break down. As mud dries onto boots, it saps away natural moisture in leather and depletes protective membranes on man made boot materials. If you don’t know how to clean hiking boots from upper to outsole, they’ll age faster, which is a waste of good boots and your hard-earned money.
Cleaning Hiking Boot Uppers
Using a toothbrush, saddle brush, or vegetable-cleaning brush, work your way around the upper with a cleaning gel, saddle soap, or mix your own solution of warm water and dish soap (just a few drops goes a long way). Start by taking out the laces, and while they’re still dry, use a dry brush to swipe loose debris off uppers.
Next, follow the instructions on your bottle of boot cleaner, which should be made for either leather or manmade uppers, depending on the boots your cleaning. When using dish soap, simply fill a bowl with warm water and a few drops of a mild, quality dishwashing soap. Dip your brush into the solution, and clean uppers with a circular motion. When you’ve worked your way around the entire upper of one boot, rinse it thoroughly, and repeat the same process on the next boot. Remove insoles from both boots, and allow everything to air-dry overnight. Then, replace laces.
Don’t use shower or a bar of soap to clean boots: these are often made with detergents destructive to leather, and corrosive to waterproof coating on manmade uppers.
If it’s been awhile since you cleaned your boots, they could be moldy. To work away mildewy spots on uppers, use a ratio of one part white vinegar to four parts water and a toothbrush to clean all the nooks and crannies.
Thinking about tossing dirty boots in the washer and dryer? Think again: detergents ruin uppers, and dryers scorch and crack outsoles—not to mention potential damage to appliances!
Cleaning Hiking Boot Soles
Knowing how to clean hiking boots means understanding how to clean their soles, too. Start by removing rocks and other debris with a brush—you may have to get in there with something pointy to remove pebbles; just be sure not to use anything that will pierce the sole. Once large fragments are dislodged, brush soles with elbow grease—get into every crevasse of the tread. If you’ve been working the boot over with the cleaning brush and there are still persistently mud-caked areas, let boots sit in dish soap solution that’s only sole-deep, so uppers don’t get wet. After several hours of soaking, use a hose to remove remaining muck.
If you’re ready for your next pair of hiking boots despite your best attempts at maintaining an old pair, check out the Muck’s selection of outdoor boots. You’ll find something for every terrain type and weather condition in our catalog.