Hiking boots are built to take muddy, gritty trails in stride. But that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to toss your mucky companions in the closet and forget about them. Clean them faithfully, and you’ll enjoy many years on the trail together and reduce the need to replace them prematurely. If you’re too tired immediately after a hike, then clean ’em the following day.
To get the most out of your footwear and protect its life cycle, it is important to take a little time and effort to keep them in good condition. Here are our top tips for maintaining the life of your footwear.
So How to clean and care for your hiking shoes?
Have you just returned from an amazing mountain hike or a trek? Are your walking shoes covered in mud and dirt? Whether you need to do some regular maintenance or want to treat your shoes before you store them for a while, here is some advice on how to clean your hiking boots properly.
Time: about 10 minutes
Equipment: a water faucet, preferably outside, a sink or a tub, and a soft brush. Also, a disinfectant to kill odors if needed.
The most effective way to clean and protect your shoes is to use products made specifically for this purpose, like NST Wash (a cleaning product for shoes made of Gore-Tex, fabric, suede, nubuck, or leather) and a re-waterproofing product like NST Proof that works on shoes made from Gore-Tex or leather.
After every walk or ramble, it is recommended to give your footwear a clean. Try and dislodge most of the dirt by walking through wet grass or a puddle on your way home. Then rinse the shoes or boots with clear water. Avoid submerging your footwear in water, as it can alter the overall performance.
Remove laces and footbeds to get into the tight spaces and brush off mud and grime with a soft brush and bowl of water.
Never force dry your footwear with heat. This will result in the deterioration or hardening of the outer layer. Natural drying is best. Try stuffing dry newspaper inside your footwear to soak up the moisture, frequently changing the wet newspaper for dry.
Once dry, it is important to apply conditioning and waterproof treatments. Leather footwear needs conditioning to prevent splitting (please see How to Apply Dubbing to Boots or Shoes for more information). In contrast, all waterproof footwear requires you to reapply waterproofing agents. Application of proofer to the outer reduces the ability of moisture to penetrate the upper materials, especially those with mesh panels, for improved breathability.
Depending on the frequency of use, it is also a good idea to give the inside of your boots an occasional clean. Salty, sweaty deposits can damage leather and block the waterproof membranes, reducing your footwear’s overall breathability. To clean the inside of your leather boots or shoes filled with lukewarm water, leave them overnight before tipping water away and leaving to dry naturally.
Ignoring cleaning breaks down your boots in a couple of ways:
- Every time your boots flex, particles of dirt, grit or sand creep deeper into their leather and fabric, grinding away like sandpaper.
- Mud sucks moisture from leather as it dries, leaving your boots‘ leather less pliable and speeding up its aging process.
What you’ll need for cleaning your hiking boots:
- A special boot brush, an old vegetable brush or toothbrush
- Specialized boot cleaner, saddle soap or a mild solution of dishwashing soap and water
Cleaning Hiking Boot Uppers
Remove laces before cleaning. Use a brush to remove dust and dirt gently. For more thorough cleaning, add running water and whatever boot cleaner you have chosen.
Some additional boot cleaning tips:
- Though most footwear cleaners can be used on a range of materials, always double-check to be sure your cleaner is OK for use on your boots—and be sure to read and follow the directions.
- Do not use bar soap or detergents; many contain additives that can be harmful to leather or waterproof membranes.
- To clean mold, use a mixture of 80 percent water and 20 percent vinegar.
- Always rinse your boots thoroughly with clean water afterward.
- Never put boots in a washing machine because it can damage them.
- If you plan to waterproof your boots, do it while they’re still wet. Most boots are waterproof when you first buy them, so you don’t need to waterproof them until you start to notice that water drops no longer bead up on the surface. For details, read How to Waterproof Your Hiking Boots.
Cleaning Hiking Boot Outsoles
Though caked-on mud won’t damage your boots, removing them will restore them to full traction. Also, having clean outsoles prevents you from transporting invasive species from one hiking area to another.
Brush the outsoles vigorously and dislodge stuck pebbles. For stubbornly caked-on dirt, soak just the outsoles and then use a hose to power-wash the gunk away.
Hiking Boot Drying and Storage Tips
- Remove insoles and let them air-dry separately from the boots.
- Dry boots at normal temperature in a place with low humidity.
- Do not use a heat source (fireplace, campfire, wood stove, radiator, heater, etc.). High heat weakens adhesives and prematurely ages leather.
- For quicker drying, use a fan.
- You can also stuff newspaper into the boots to speed drying; change the paper frequently (whenever it’s damp).
- Store boots where temperatures are stable and normal. Do not store boots in attics, garages, car trunks or any damp, hot or stuffy place.
Conditioning Your Boots
Use a conditioner when your boots’ full-grain leather (leather that looks smooth rather than rough on the outside) appears dry or cracked. Other types of leather—suede and nubuck—don’t require conditioning. Conditioner can also be used if your new full-grain leather boots need to be broken in quickly.
Use a conditioner judiciously. Healthy leather functions best when moisturized. Too much conditioner, though, makes boots too soft, reducing the support they provide.
Do not use Mink Oil or similar oils designed for industrial boots; it over-softens the type of dry-tanned leather used in hiking footwear.
After your hike
- If your hiking shoes are covered in mud, remove as much as possible by dunking them in water or a stream. Please don’t wait for the mud to dry, or it will be more difficult to clean.
- Another method is to hold the shoes by the top of the heel and bang the soles together. Then hold from the front and repeat. This works great for dislodging mud and dirt from the lugged soles.
When you’re back at home:
- Pull the insoles out of your shoes, rinse or wash them, then leave them to dry in a well-ventilated place.
- Loosen the laces or the Quick Lace.
- Rinse your hiking shoes with water. If necessary, use a soft brush or a sponge to remove any mud and dirt that’s left.
- Suppose your shoes have a Gore-Tex type membrane. In that case, you can re-activate the waterproofing in the outer material using a specially made spray or applicator. NST Proof is also effective at re-waterproofing shoes made from leather or nubuck. Whichever product you use, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- It’s essential to allow your shoes to dry completely after you wash them! Let them dry at room temperature in a well-ventilated area. Please do not leave them to dry in the sun or near a source of excessive heat like a radiator.
- Here’s a little tip for speeding up the drying process: fill the inside of your shoes with newspaper.
- Make sure your shoes are completely dry before putting the insoles back in and replacing them.
- If your shoes still smell bad, give the insides a blast with an anti-odor disinfectant spray.
Please don’t wash your shoes in the washing machine because it might damage them.
Between each hike, store your shoes in the open air (not in a bag) in a dry place that is not exposed to the sun.
How often you should clean your hiking shoes
After each hike:
- Remove the insoles.
- Air out your shoes in a dry place. Keep in mind. The bad smell is mainly caused by sweat from your feet and the proliferation of bacteria in a humid environment. Leaving your shoes in the open air is usually enough to prevent this from happening.
After a hike on muddy trails or as soon as your shoes look dirty:
- Remove as much mud as possible before it dries.
- Clean with water as described above.
- Once again, don’t forget to let them dry!
As soon as foot odor or moisture persists, use a spray disinfectant on the inside and let your shoes dry completely.
I am an accomplished footwear blogger with a keen eye for style and a passion for shoes. My deep-rooted love affair with footwear began at a young age when I would spend hours perusing shoe stores, admiring the intricate designs and imagining the stories they could tell.