How to Clean Dirty Hiking Boots: Handy Cleaning Guide

Hiking boots are built to be taken into extreme environments. Designed to be taken through muddy trails that haven’t been maintained in years. Before you toss your muddy boots into the closet you need to make sure they’re clean.

Regularly clean your boots and they’ll likely last years. Since most hiking boots are waterproof, it doesn’t even take that much work. You don’t even have to clean your boots immediately, too tired, just clean them tomorrow.

Dirt Breaks Down Your Boots

Cleaning your boots isn’t just about making them look pretty. You don’t have to clean them today, but every day you put it off damages your boots in the following ways.

  • Have you ever put a mud mask onto your face? Mud dries out your skin and sucks out natural oils and moisture. It works the exact same way on your leather boots. Mud sucks out all the moisture and makes them less pliable, prematurely wearing them down.
  • Dried out and caked on mud slowly grinds down the fabric/leather on your boot. Those sand and dirt particles wreak havoc on your boots grinding them down and wearing away the DWR (Durable Water Repellant).

Can You Fix The Damage?

Don’t Panic! You most likely didn’t destroy your hiking boots by ignoring a little dirt. That’s not an excuse to be lazy! Your still going to have to clean and take care of your boots.

Re-Moisturizing Leather

Just like your skin leather can be re-moisturized using a leather boot conditioner. I’ve been using Fiebing’s Saddle Soap for years to clean/remoisturize my leather products and follow that up with Bickmore Leather Conditioner. Those two products will revitalize leather that’s older than I am.

WaterProofing Hiking Boots

Most hiking boots come straight from the factory ready to go. They’re treated with a Durable Water Repellent finish that makes them completely waterproof.

Over time that water repellent will eventually wear away. With products like Sno-Seal and Nikwax Leather Restoring Spray, you can re-waterproof your boots in no time. (check out my guide on waterproofing hiking boots) Just keep in mind that there’s separate process for suede and Nubuck boots.(Waterproofing Suede and Nubuck Hiking Boots)

Caution: Waterproofing Treatment Stains Boots

I’ve tried a lot of different waterproofing products throughout my life and they all stain your boots. Most of the time it’s a subtle color change, but they will end up slightly darker. If you spray on the treatment evenly you probably won’t even notice the difference.

How To Clean Dirty Hiking Boots

Since most hiking boots are waterproof cleaning them isn’t all that difficult. A little bit of dirt/dust can be cleaned off by simply running your boots under running water.

For a thorough cleaning, you’ll have to use a boot cleaner. Before you go out and clean your boots, keep the following tips in mind.

For Your Consideration
  • Most shoe cleaners can be used on leather, but always double check to make sure you don’t destroy your boots. You can’t go wrong with Bickmore Boot Cleaner.
  • Never use regular dawn dishwashing soap or bar soap on your boots. Most of these products have additives designed to break down oils which will dry out your boots.
  • To clean out smelly boots throw in a few teaspoons of baking soda and let them sit overnight. You can also kill mold and bacteria with a 50/50 solution of water and vinegar.
  • Don’t be afraid to soak your boots in running water after your hike. Most boots are waterproof from the factory, but you may need to re-waterproof your boots. Make sure you apply the waterproofing spray when your boots are still wet (this is my favorite spray on waterproofing treatment)

Cleaning Your Hiking Boots

Cleaning your hiking boots really isn’t all that difficult. Just run your boots under water and brush them vigorously. With suede/nubuck boots you’ll need a dedicated soft bristle brush, you can use a regular dish cleaning brush with full grain leather.

Just go to town vigourously brushing the outside of your boots. Make sure you get out all those little pebbles jammed in your soles and dirt/grime caked in the cracks. For stubborn dirt soak your boots in a tub of water and hose them out.

Clean The Inside of Your Boots

Cleaning the outside of your boots is only half the battle. Since you’re probably going on long hikes your boots are bound to get funky. Don’t Panic, it’s easy to get rid of that stinky foot smell, we’ve all grown to hate.

  1. Remove your insoles and replace them if they’re unusually nasty. New insoles are cheap, so this is the perfect time to buy new ones. Don’t just settle on Doctor Scholl’s if you take long backpacking trips. Spend the extra cash on SOLE brand Arch Supporting Inserts. They are definitely pricey, but it completely eliminated my foot pain.
  2. Throw in a few teaspoons of baking soda and let it soak in moisture overnight. The following morning vacuum out the baking soda and check to see if they smell.
  3. Repeat the process until you no longer smell that moldy foot smell. After 2-3 times you might want to spray the inside of your boots using a vinegar/water solution. Go with a 50/50 split of vinegar to water and let it soak in for 30 minutes.
  4. Use a fan or boot dryer to completely dry out the inside of your boots. You don’t need to use a heat source to dry out your boots.
  5. Once your boots are completely dry replace your insoles and put your boots away. Try not to store your boots in the garage, car trunk, attic or anywhere else with extreme temperature/moisture swings.

Conditioning Your Boots

Once your boots are completely clean it’s time to use a conditioner to make them look new again. You know it’s time to use a conditioner once the leather starts to look dry and rough.

Also try using conditioner to break in your new boots. Use conditioner religiously, you can’t over condition your boots. Some guys claim over-conditioning makes your boots soft, but that’s kinda ridiculous. You’d have to be using conditioner daily to damage them.

Don’t Use Mink Oil on Hiking Boots

I like to use Mink Oil on all my work boots, but it’s not designed for hiking boots. Mink oil will over soften the leather on hiking boots, reducing the ankle support.

Cleaning Your Boots Out On The Trail

On long backpacking trips you aren’t going to be able to clean your boots everyday. You won’t have access to a sink, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have access to water.

You don’t need to have all that much water to clean your boots. Out on the trail it doesn’t really matter how good your boots look, but you don’t want to have caked on mud. Get creative and use a cloth to wipe off excess mud before dragging it into your tent.

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