How to Clean Leather Work Boots with Household Items

How to Clean Leather Work Boots with Household Items
how to clean leather work boots
How To Clean Work Boots

Have you given your boots the beating that your job demands? Damn straight! That’s what we are in the business for. But, now your boots are stained with oil, caked with mud, and smell like someone put sardines in them. It’s alright. There are solutions for all of these. And it is vital that you take me up on them, because if you don’t implement my tips on how to clean work boots, you will find yourself buying a new pair sooner than expected. And its’ a crying shame to waste that hard earned beer money. Hold up now, before you start reading these kick ass tips, you will want to identify what type of boot material you have. So…

Identifying Your Boot Material: Finished & Unfinished Leather

If you really want to know how to clean leather boots properly, you will first have to identify if they are finished or unfinished. That’s because these types react differently to certain cleaners and conditioners. The two most common types of leather used in work boots are Full Grain and Nubuck Leather. Full Grain will be finished and Nubuck will be unfinished. If you’re not sure what you’re working with, there are a couple of easy ways to identify the boot material. And of course, the easiest way is to see if there is a tag in your boot identifying the material. But, if it isn’t there, you will need to check out these two tests.

Test 1: Give them a grill

No, don’t throw them on the grill just give them a hard look. Since finished leather has a coating applied at the end of the boot making process, you can usually tell pretty easily by looking at the boot. These boots are typically shiny and have a cold, plastic-like feel. On the other hand, unfinished leather work boots have a matte, brushed look that is soft to the touch.

Test 2: Absorption

A quick way to confirm your hypothesis is to put a little bit of water on the boot. If the boot absorbs the water right away it is unfinished, and if it just sits there it is finished. Of course, some unfinished leather, like Waterproof Nubuck Leather, might show as a false positive by not absorbing the water. So you will always want to make the best judgement possible with a combination of the visual and absorption tests.

OK. So now you have identified your work boot material. It’s time to move on to the cleaning preparation.

Boot Cleaning: The Pregame

Before moving on to how to clean your work boots, there is one important last step. And that is, the pregame clean. Since most of these steps will require some form of liquid, mixed with the fact that you are likely facing some dirt covered boots, we want to avoid creating a muddy situation.

So, with that comes THE PREGAME TIP. Get a nylon brush to remove the dirt and sediment that has built up around your boots. You can use anything from an old toothbrush, to a brush for the dishes. The important thing is to make sure that the brush isn’t too jagged, as to not damage the leather. Once you have the brush, work your way around the boot giving it a nice and gentle back and forth motion to remove all dirt.

And now, you are ready for the boot cleaning tips.

How To Clean Leather Boots: For Finished Leather

#1) How To Clean Leather Boots: With Saddle Soap

When it comes to using soap to clean your boots, any old soap won’t do. The tried and true soap is called Saddle Soap. This is a mild soap designed to clean leather boots, without wearing out the leather. And I recommend Fiebing Saddle Soap Yellow. However, if you did want to use a household soap, the key is to find something that is MILD. And most often, household soaps are full of unnatural chemicals which just don’t jive well with leather. But, something like Dr Bronner Magic Soap would be a good option, as it is really mild.

5 Simple Steps

  1. Dampen a cloth in warm water
  2. Rub cloth on saddle soap or in soapy water to create a lather
  3. Apply lather to the boot using a solid circular scrubbing motion
  4. Wipe the boot down with warm water to remove any excess soap
  5. Dry the boot using a cloth

Ultimately, I have saddle soap as the #1 way to clean leather boots because it is specifically made for cleaning leather. And it has been the product chosen for many years. However, if you want to be more creative, or must clean your boots right this second and don’t have these types of soaps already mentioned, read on to find some other adventurous ways. Just please keep the harsh detergents away. Thank you!

#2) How To Clean Leather Boots: With Baby Wipes

Come on now, don’t act like you don’t have baby wipes lying around the house. While not all baby wipes are created equal, you can bet that they are much more mild than your common household soap. Sometimes…Again, there can often be a lot of alcohol in baby wipes so try and avoid those, if at all possible. Don’t believe me, just think about the last time you used baby wipes, did they sting? If so, you got the ones loaded up with alcohol, which when applied too often can really wear out the leather. My recommendation is something like Seventh Generation Thick & Strong Baby Wipes. They are alcohol free, and are pretty rugged for our purpose.

how to clean work boots

5 Simple Steps, I mean really simple…

  1. Get your baby wipes
  2. Scrub the boot leather with the baby wipe (Gets the initial grime off)
  3. Discard soiled baby wipe
  4. Repeat with clean one (Makes sure to get the job done)
  5. Let the boot air dry

#3) How To Remove Salt Stains: With Vinegar

While uncommon in SoCal, I have had my fair share of run-ins with salt stains back in New York. If you live in a place that snows and has salt trucks making routine sweeps pouring salt on the streets, there is a good chance that you are dealing with salt stains on your boots. And this isn’t something to take lightly, as salt can quickly wear out the leather. I mean, just look at what salt does to the pavement!

So, to get rid of those stains you will simply need some vinegar. This is pretty much my go to with any sort of mineral stains, and I always recommend that my customers clean their plumbing fixtures the same way. Vinegar is one of those “around the house” items that is strong enough to break down salt crystals, without being super abrasive like a common household cleaner.

7 Simple Steps

  1. Make a 50/50 mixture of white distilled vinegar with warm water (dilutes abrasiveness)
  2. Shake up the mixture
  3. Soak a cloth in the solution
  4. Apply it the salt stains in little circular motions
  5. Wipe the boot down with plain old warm water to remove any excess vinegar
  6. Dry the boot off using a cloth
  7. Repeat if necessary

#4) How To Remove Oil Stains: With Cornstarch

Whether you are a pizza addict who just dropped a slice on your boots, or a mechanic that sopped up some engine oil, there is a simple solution to getting rid of your oil stains. And that is, cornstarch.

It is both easy to use, and a multi-purpose ingredient. If you don’t have some lying around your house, you shouldn’t feel too bad running to the store to pick some up. That’s because this is a great ingredient to cook with as well. Primarily used as a thickening agent because of its ability to quickly absorb water and oils, it will do to the trick with the oil on your work boots.

7 Simple Steps

  1. Blot away excess oil/grease with a cloth or a paper towel. (You don’t obviously want to wipe it away as this would cause it to absorb even more.)
  2. Sprinkle the cornstarch on the stain, covering it up entirely. Don’t be afraid to use too much.
  3. Let it sit for several hours, and preferably overnight.
  4. Brush away cornstarch with your nylon brush.
  5. Ensure that all cornstarch is removed by cleaning with soapy water.
  6. Wipe the boot down with warm water to remove any excess soap and cornstarch
  7. Dry the boot off using a cloth

#5) How To Remove Scratches: With Olive Oil

While it tastes great on a piece of bread, Olive Oil is also a great way to remove scratches from your boots. And it is really easy. Although Olive Oil is my preference, you could use any cooking oil as a substitute.

6 Simple Steps

  1. Pour a teaspoon of Olive Oil into a little cup
  2. Break out those q-tips that have been collecting dust
  3. Dip the q-tip into the Olive Oil
  4. Apply the Olive Oil to the scratch in a gentle fashion
  5. Let the Olive Oil sit for 1 minute
  6. Wipe away the Olive Oil with a damp cloth

#6) How To Remove Scuffs: With Baking Soda

Another household product, Baking Soda. Yes, who would think that Baking Soda would be the key to removing scuffs from your boots. But, it turns out to be pretty darns reliable. So…


6 Simple Steps

  1. Pour a tablespoon of baking soda into a little cup
  2. Wet a cloth in warm water
  3. Dip the cloth into the baking soda
  4. Gently rub the baking soda over the scuff in a gentle circular motion
  5. Wipe the excess baking soda away with a damp cloth
  6. Buff with a dry cloth

How To Clean Leather Boots: For Unfinished Leather

So, if you are faced with dirty boots made of Nubuck or Suede leather, you CANNOT use those methods previously described. The thing is that you don’t want to apply any liquids to these types of leather, as it can darken or stain the leather. Which may have you wondering just what the heck you should do if your Nubuck or Suede leather boots are dirty or stained.

#7) How To Clean Suede Boots & Nubuck Boots: With a Nylon Brush

If you have dirt all over your boots, there aren’t a ton of options that you have. You are really just going to need to use a nylon brush. This will simply brush away dirt, while restoring the knap of the suede or Nubuck.

2 Simple Steps

  1. Brush leather in back and forth direction to best remove dirt
  2. Once dirt has noticeably disappeared, brush in only one direction (This will give you a uniform shade in the knap of the leather)

#8) How To Remove Dirt Stains From Suede And Nubuck: With An Eraser?

Faced with one of those formidable stains on your suede or Nubuck? Don’t fret, because your kid definitely has the solution. It’s time to break out the good old pencil case. Yes, if you have some noticeable scuff stains (not oil stains), you can use a piece of rubber, such as a rubber eraser to remove them. So tell your kid to be a good sport and lend you an eraser so you can erase these stains like a bad grade from a report card.

2 Simple Steps

  1. Rub the piece of rubber/eraser in a back and forth motion over the stains
  2. Once stain has been removed, brush leather in one direction with your nylon brush for a consistent look

#9) How To Remove Oil Stains From Suede And Nubuck: With Cornstarch

And cornstarch strikes again. Only this time, we are going to be deleting some of the steps from the Finished Leather section. Because as I already mentioned, you want to avoid applying any liquids to suede and Nubuck, unless it is expressly designed for these materials. So you will notice that all the steps are the same, except for the last 3 steps which were deleted.

4 Simple Steps

  1. Blot away excess oil/great with a cloth or a paper towel (You don’t obviously want to wipe it aways as this would cause it to absorb even more)
  2. Sprinkle the cornstarch on the stain, covering it up entirely. Don’t be afraid to use too much
  3. Let it sit for several hours, and preferably overnight
  4. Brush away cornstarch with your nylon brush

#10) How To Clean & Care For Nubuck & Suede: The Ultimate Package

So if you are sick of your wife getting on your ass because you’re turning your boot cleaning process into a science project, I got something for you. It is called the Gear Aid ReviveX Nubuck, Suede & Fabric Boot Care Kit. This kit is ideal for cleaning, waterproofing and preventing stains on nubuck and suede leathers. It includes a waterproofer, boot brush, scuff eraser block and a bag to keep it all organized. So not only will you be geared for cleaning your beat up boots, but you will have everything you need to make sure that you protect them moving forward.

With all of these ways you learned how to clean your leather boots, suede boots and Nubuck boots, you should be on the right track to getting more life out of them. And of course, if you have tried any of these tips, whether they worked for you or not, I want you to let me know.

Heck, maybe you even have a tip that just HAS TO BE on this list. Either way, simply hit me up on the contact form so I can get your feedback.