If you’re in law enforcement or the military, it’s likely that your footwear has seen some pretty messy days. Properly cleaning and maintaining your boots will help them last longer – and keep you out of trouble with your superiors.
Below are some specialized techniques for cleaning and maintaining waterproof leather boots, synthetic fiber boots, and suede boots.
Cleaning Smooth Leather Boots
For leather boots, start by removing the laces. Remove all loose dirt and debris with a soft cloth or brush to make sure there’s no visible grime. In a small container, combine warm water and leather-safe soap, gently mix, and then dip a soft cloth into it. Wring out the cloth and wipe down the boot.
Next, dry the boots with a towel. Like a vehicle, it’s important to remove warm soapy water as it can cause scuffs or water stains. Finally, condition the leather with a commercial conditioner or make your own. Mix one part vinegar and two parts linseed oil.
Simply apply the mixture to the leather, allow it to sit for 15 minutes, and then buff with a chamois or soft cloth. Let the boots dry in the open air. Do not put them in the sun or by a heater, which could cause cracks.
Cleaning and Polishing Patent Boots/Shoes
For patent leather boots, there are slightly different steps as the material is made from polyurethane rather than ordinary calfskin. Start by removing any dust or dirt with a damp cloth. Then, apply a cleaner such as Saphir Vernis Rife Patent Leather Cleaner, which will come with a chamois for cleaning. For black boots, there is a “black” version of the cleaner that will remove any white scuffs or discoloration.
Apply a thick layer to the shoes. Give the cleaner 3 to 5 minutes to dry, until a white film appears on the shoe. Buff to a high-gloss shine with a cotton chamois.
Cleaning Waterproof Leather Boots
Waterproof boots are great for keeping your feet dry, which prevents the rubbing that causes blisters, and even worse conditions such as ulcers, infections, and athlete’s foot. For the most part, cleaning waterproof leather is quite simple.
Simply allow the mud to dry on the boots and then hit the heels together. Then, use a brush to remove excess mud and dirt on the leather. Finally, prepare a damp cloth to remove final bits of debris. To take it a step further, apply waterproofing conditioner with a soft buff before allowing the boots to dry.
Cleaning Boots With Synthetic Materials
Synthetic boots made from materials like vinyl, EVA, and polyurethane are likely the easiest boots to clean since they should repel most stains and water. Therefore, nine times out of ten, they just need a quick wipe with a rag. Ordinary dish soap or diluted vinegar can be used if there is stubborn dirt on them.
However, synthetic fabrics like nylon or mesh panels can stain quite easily if they aren’t stain-proofed. The same soap or vinegar you use on the lowers can be used to clean mild stains from fabric uppers. For pesky stains, use a mixture of 1 tbsp mild laundry detergent in a 1/2 gallon of lukewarm water (make sure there are no dyes in the detergent). Use one cloth to dip into the mixture and wipe down the boots. Use another cloth and plain water to remove the soapy mixture.
If stains still exist, mix 2 tbsp oxygen bleach powder with 1/2 gallon lukewarm water. Stir until the mixture has dissolved and work the bleach into the stained areas. Continue to dampen and rub until stains are gone. Wipe down the areas with damp washcloth and allow the boots to dry. Consider a stain protector spray to avoid future stains after boots dry.
Cleaning Suede Boots
Rough-out boots are a little more complex when it comes to proper cleaning. The suede will soak up dirt, oils, and stains, so patience is vital for cleaning.
For dirt and mud, allow it to dry and then knock the boots together. Use a stiff brush to remove the dried mud. For oil stains, combine two quarts hydrogen peroxide, half a box of baking soda, and cup of Dawn dish detergent with hot water. Soak the boots, scrub them with a nylon brush, and give them a few full days to dry.
Removing Odor from Boots
Once you’ve polished or wiped off the outside, it’s time to clean the inside. For work boots or tactical boots, it’s almost inevitable that they will begin to smell from bacteria growing inside. This could even lead to infection if the bacteria come in contact with open wounds such as blisters. Certain types of footwear, such as soft leather boots or running shoes, can be washed in the washing machine in cold water, but only use the shortest setting (and be sure to deep-condition leather afterwards).
A safer solution for all smelly boots involves cleaning the interior with a mixture of 1/3 cup white vinegar and water. Dip a cloth into the mix, wring it out until the rag is damp, and scrub the inside of the boots. Repeat several times. Next, sprinkle baking soda into the boot and shake to distribute it throughout the interior. Let it sit overnight, and then dump out as much as you can. It doesn’t hurt for some to remain inside. In fact, for sweaty feet, you can put a bit of baking soda in the boots before you wear them to help minimize odors.
Other possible solutions include putting dryer sheets into the boots after use, or placing the boots in a ziploc bag and then putting them in the freezer overnight (try not to fold boots or they freeze in this position). The cold temperatures should kill the bacteria, but both of these methods are also temporary fixes so repeat as needed. Companies such as Tineacide and Dr. Scholl’s also create effective shoe deodorants if first measures do not seem to work.
Don’t Neglect Your Boots
After a proper cleaning, make sure to use a silicone spray or other type of water repellent to protect them from wet conditions. Water can quickly degrade leather, making it stiff, uncomfortable, and prone to cracking.
Above all else, cleaning your boots is something you should do regularly, and always after they are exposed to mud or other wet and messy situations. Like maintenance for a vehicle or lawnmower, diligence is vital for keeping them in tip-top shape.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.