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How to Clean Leather Boots

22 Feb 2019 |

Rainy weather and walking through mud means having to keep on top of shoe care. Once you get into a routine, taking care of and cleaning leather boots can be a lot easier than you might think.

All you need are a few items in your shoe care basket and some pearls of wisdom. Keep reading and you’ll know exactly what to clean, how to clean and when to clean them!

Types of Leather

Before we look into the different tools and cleaning materials you might need, we first need to consider the material your shoes or boots are made out of. This determines the best course of action when it comes to the cleaning process.

Real Leather

It is thought that leather has been around as a raw material since 2200 BC, and yet it still manages to keep itself fresh and in fashion! It is incredibly durable and flexible in its natural state, most commonly from cattle hide, but can be toughened up, which is always great news for footwear. Our Tullymore II boots are a great example of a tough real leather boot. But you could also want to know how to clean leather Chelsea boots, leather riding-style boots, leather ankle boots or even leather muck boots.

Ladies Leather Boots

Leather boots often come with a hefty price tag, but if they are an item you are going to wear regularly and you want them to last you for a significant amount of time, the benefits outweigh the cost.

It is not an environmentally-friendly material however, which is why leather items are considered to be investment pieces to keep impact to a minimum. They are easy to care for when you know what tools you need, which we will go into more detail of later on.

Tan Leather Chelsea Boots

Faux/Synthetic/Artificial Leather

You can spot a pair of faux leather shoes almost immediately due to the price. They are usually significantly cheaper than real leather shoes. They can be more environmentally friendly and often can be vegan for those concerned with animal welfare, but do come with some hefty drawbacks.

Faux leather shoes have come a long way since first introduced in the mainstream during the 1960s. Now they are more durable and often mimic leather shoes almost identically in cosmetic appearance.

Amusingly, fashionistas have named it ‘pleather’, as synthetic leather can often have a cheaper, and has a more plastic feel to it.

However, compared to real leather, it often does not stand up to the test of time and can disintegrate when put through abuse. The other downside is that being not as porous they can cause feet to sweat uncomfortably and are harder to keep smelling fresh. But again, if you don’t have a large budget, artificial leather can often be mistaken for the real thing.


Although the material has been around since the early 1900s, suede came to the forefront thanks to that Elvis Presley song back in 1956, and enjoyed a resurgence in mainstream fashion. It is a good alternative to standard leather when it comes to footwear as it is a softer material. Our ladies Kirby boots are our latest in suede style.

Suede Chelsea Boots

Leather brogue shoes and brogue boots can often be tough and take longer to break in whereas suede tends to be more comfortable from the offset and can be more distinctive in style. However, because of this, it is not as durable and is harder to protect and keep in tip-top condition.

Suede shoes are great for dry weather but wearing them in the rain can shorten their lifespan in your wardrobe, no matter how much you take care of them.

 Suede Loafers

Cleaning Leather Boots & Shoes

The best way to keep your leather shoes clean is to invest in a leather cleaner. Many shoe shops sell their own, which often matches the colour of your footwear exactly. However, it is usually an easy item to find in most supermarkets and department stores.

  1. Make sure the shoes are dry before you start anything. There is no point in wasting the leather cleaner on wet shoes, as it will not fully protect them and may even do more harm than good.
  2. Remove shoelaces when dry. Once you know they are dry, take out the shoelaces where possible. This just makes it easier to clean the boots and ensures that you don’t forget to clean a certain area or apply cleaner to parts which don’t require it.
  3. Brush or wipe off any dirt. If the shoes are wet, we suggest removing the bulk of any mud first as caked-on mud is sometimes tougher to remove once dried. Make sure to brush in the smaller areas such as grooves and under shoelaces. Brogue-inspired boots and shoes, like our Middleham Ladies Leather Riding Boots often take a little longer to remove dirt as they have more intricate details embedded in the leather.
  4. Use a clean, damp cloth to remove any excess dirt. You can use a very mild soap but ideally warm water and a soft, clean cloth should do the trick. Allow your shoes to dry fully before attempting to apply any sort of cleaner or polish from this point onwards.
  5. Apply leather cleaner with a soft cloth or brush. Hard cleaners will require a brush, but a softer cleaner or spray will just need a cloth. Work in circular motions across the shoe or boot to make sure you cover every inch and leave it to dry.
  6. Don’t forget to use a leather protector and conditioner. This uses exactly the same method as cleaning, but isn’t usually as messy! Protectors often come in a spray bottle which makes it a lot easier to see where you’re protecting!
  7. Finally, keep a set of polish handy too for scuffs and marks. You can purchase shoe polish from so many outlets but it’s always worth having in the house.

We must note that this only applies to regular leather. Don’t try this method with faux leather or patent-style leather. This requires a specialist polish!


Cleaning Suede Boots & Shoes

Cleaning suede footwear can be a little trickier than leather. Because it is less porous, the less contact with water, the better. In fact, no water and dry cleaning is your best option. Suede shoes and boots just take a little extra to care for than leather. If you do notice a scuff at all, try to clean the shoes as soon as you can.

  1. Make sure they’re full dry before cleaning. Just like leather shoes, it’s harder to clean if they’re still trying from a trip out somewhere.
  2. Stuff them with paper or newspaper before cleaning. Because suede material tends to be softer and less tough that leather, it will be easier to clean them while they are stuffed to their full shape and size.
  3. Remove dirt using a suede-cleaning brush. They can be hard to find, but many retailers now sell them. They are smaller in size to leather-cleaning brushes and often have harder bristles.
  4. Rub the shoes down with a clean towel. After removing any dirt, use a clean towel to gently rub the suede. This acts like a buffer for your shoes as opposed to using a wet cloth, like with leather.
  5. Tough stains require a specialist cleaner or white vinegar. Pour the cleaner onto a dry cloth and gently wipe the specified area. Be aware that suede is one of the hardest materials to rid of stains from, so even this step may not do the trick. The key is to avoid scuffing them in the first place if you can!


Cleaning Faux Leather Boots & Shoes

While there are no specialist cleaners or tools to use when it comes to artificial leather, it is still important to keep your shoes looking as clean as possible.

Dirty and untidy shoes can ruin an outfit so we recommend cleaning them as soon as you get home after wearing them.

All you can do is grab a wet cloth and some mild soapy water and clean them the good old-fashioned way. Faux leather footwear is exceptionally easy to maintain compared to suede for example.

Keeping faux leather footwear clean can prolong the life of the shoes so it’s a good idea to get into the habit of cleaning all shoes!


How to Store Boots

Storing footwear can be tricky, especially when it comes to boots. Storage depends on how much space you have as well as how much you spent on them! Because leather footwear tends to be pricey, we want to make sure it lasts as long as possible.

The main tip is to keep them off the floor; leaving them out often means they collect dust which is a real pain if you’ve just cleaned them. This especially goes for suede shoes!

Shoe racks inside wardrobes or cupboards are a great storage solution as boots can fit on top racks with trainers and flat shoes underneath. If not possible, having a shoe rack as a display piece can help to show off your very clean and luxurious footwear collection!

Another alternative is to keep them boxed up and away. Keep them stuffed with tissue paper and either keep them in their original shoe box and invest in some clear boxes.

The second method is better as this means you can actually see the footwear you own. The downside to keeping shoes boxed away is that you can’t see them so may not wear them as often.

There are so many ideas out there when it comes to storing shoes and boots; some are more practical than others and some are aesthetically pleasing and wouldn’t go amiss in a show home!

 Leather Brogue Shoes

How to Keep Boots From Smelling

It might not be something we want to admit, but wearing the same pair of shoes over and over again, can make them smell a little. With boots especially, it tends to be a mixture of natural sweat and damp from wearing them during colder and rainier conditions.

Buying odour remover spray is a quick way to keep the smells to a minimum. Just give them a quick spritz inside once you’ve taken them off and you can leave them until the following day.

Keeping them stuffed with paper when you’re not using them is another cheap way to stop footwear from smelling. The paper absorbs up any sweat from the shoes.

Another idea is to alternate between the shoes that you wear. If you wear the same shoes every single day, they are bound to start smelling.

Work shoes can be a key area to look at. Have you thought of leaving your work shoes in the office and driving to and from work in trainers or another pair of shoes?

This way, you don’t have to invest in a duplicate pair to change between, you’re just using the footwear you already own but more often.

There are tonnes of quirky ways to keep your shoes from smelling when you search online so you may find another solution that works best for you! If all else fails, stick them in a bag and shove them in a freezer for a fresher smell!

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