Leather boots are tough, durable footwear that looks great when worn with almost any outfit. However, if you wear them regularly, then any sort of leather boots, from suede shoes to work boots, will start to get dirty from mud, scuff marks, salt stains, and more. If you are beginning to think that your leather boots aren’t looking their best, then it might be time to give them a good clean. One of the best ways to help your leather shoes last as long as possible is to put a bit of work into learning how to clean shoes. Leather boots are generally forgiving, so a regular minor clean will work wonders on them.

Getting clean leather boots looking their best is easier than you might expect and can be done with the use of regular household items – specialist products can make your life easier, but they are not actually necessary. The more often you clean your work boots, the easier and quicker the process will be, and the longer the leather will last. A properly maintained pair of leather boots can last for decades if you are careful with them!

We have put together a simple, easy to follow guide to how to clean leather boots as quickly and easily as possible, as well as an introduction to some methods that use only common household items, and a quick look at how to clean suede shoes. If you want to know more about cleaning work boots or other leather shoes, from the best tools to use to the most effective techniques, read on below to find out everything you need to know to get the best out of your leather boots!

Cleaning your laces

Shoelaces absorb a lot of dirt and mud, particularly when they get wet. If you clean your leather boots but don’t clean the laces, then your boots will still look filthy, and the laces will cover up areas of the boots, making it harder to get them thoroughly clean and dirt free. Your first step when cleaning leather boots, no matter what method you plan to use, is always going to be removing the laces from your shoes.

Once you have done that, you can replace them if they are getting too old and battered to keep using, or you can simply give them a quick wash in warm soapy water, or in your washing machine, as long as you put them in a bag first to prevent them from causing problems. Use a low temperature, and it should be easy enough to get your laces looking fresh and sparkling clean again.

The First Wipe Down

Once you have taken the laces out of your boots, it is time to give them their first wipe down. This step is mostly in order to get rid of all of the worst, biggest clumps of mud and dirt from the surface of the leather. Use a soft cloth or a soft brush for this part of the process. You don’t need to worry about getting every last scrap of dirt off the surface of the leather – all you are trying to do here is get rid of the biggest chunks. A couple of minutes’ work with a soft cloth should be more than enough to deal with the worst of it, and the later steps of the process will deal with anything you miss at this stage.

How to Clean Leather Shoes using Soap

While there are many different leather cleaner products available, it is entirely possible to clean leather boots using household items such as regular dish soap or saddle soap. Saddle soap is a little better here, but if you don’t have any available, then dish soap will work perfectly well. Mix your chosen soap, either saddle or dish soap, with warm water, and then use a soft dry cloth to apply the mixture to the leather surface of your boots. Wring out most of the soap and water mixture before you use the cloth on the boots, as you want to get them damp and soapy rather than completely dripping wet and soaked with soapy water.

Take your time on this step and make sure you use your cloth to work your soap and water mixture into every crack and crevice of the leather uppers of your boots. Once you are sure you have got some soap onto every area of the leather, it is time to move on to the next step.

Rinse for Clean Boots

Once your boots are covered with soap, it is time to rinse them off with a damp cloth. Take a clean cloth and dampen it with clean water, making sure you wring it out before use. Again, you want a damp cloth for your boots, not a completely soaked one. Using gentle circular motions, wipe the soap mixture away from the leather until it is clean. You might find that there are still a few stubborn areas that have not been completely cleaned, in which case you should go back to the previous step and use your soap and water mixture again to clean the last of the dirt from the boots.

Take your time and make sure you have cleaned away all of the dirt and mud, as you will want the surface of your boots to be completely clean before you move onto the next step – it is a bad idea to use a leather conditioner on dirty boots if you want good results!

Using Leather Conditioner

Often, you will be given a tub of leather conditioner along with your leather boots, particularly if you have bought higher-end, more expensive boots. If you have already got a tub lying around, then you are good to go. Just apply the conditioner to the leather, leave it to dry for a little while, and then buff it out with a soft cloth.

If you do not have any leather conditioner already at hand, then you can make your own at home without having to buy any. Simply mix two parts linseed oil with one part vinegar, then use this just like any other conditioner. Leave it to dry for around 15 minutes after application, then buff it out with a cloth.

Drying Boots Safely

Drying your boots properly and safely is a much more important step than you might expect. Too much heat or bright light can cause the leather to shrink or crack and dry out, and too cool and damp an environment can lead to slow drying and other problems.

Rather than using a boot dryer or putting your boots next to a radiator or furnace vent, you should allow them to air dry gently, somewhere warm and dry but out of direct sunlight. It is important to minimize the risk of your boots cracking as they dry, so a warm, dry indoor space is your best bet for use in drying out your boots properly and safely.

How to Clean Shoe Leather Scuff Marks and Stains with Baking Soda and other Household Items

While the standard methods for cleaning leather that we have listed above are effective for most stains and marks, there are some types of stain that they might not work very well on. Fortunately, these are generally easy to deal with using only household items such as baking soda or toothpaste. If there are grease or oil stains on your leather boots, you can apply some corn starch or baking soda to the stain. Leave the boots overnight with baking soda or corn starch on them, and then wipe away the powder with a cloth. The baking soda should absorb the grease, and then you can simply brush it off.

If your boots are seriously scuffed, you can try cleaning leather boots using toothpaste. Carefully apply a little toothpaste to the scuff, and then wipe it off with a damp cloth. If you try this approach, make sure you use a basic white toothpaste rather than a gel toothpaste!

How to Clean Leather Shoe uppers using Leather Cleaner

If you’d prefer to use a specialist leather cleaner rather than household cleaning products, then the process is simple. Prepare as normal, but make sure you are working in a well-ventilated area, as leather cleaning products can smell quite unpleasant and powerful!

Once you have removed the laces of your boots and brushed off the worst of the dirt, it is time to get started. Simply apply the leather cleaner with a soft cloth, just like you would apply soap and water lather, and work it carefully into the cracks and crevices of your footwear. Take your time, and make sure you only apply a thin layer, as these products can often stain the surface of your shoes if applied too heavily!

Cleaning Suede Shoes

The process of cleaning suede shoes is a little more complex than other shoes. Suede shoes should not be allowed to get wet, and cannot be cleaned with standard cleaners that might be used for leathers. Instead, you will need a suede brush, which is a specialized brush available from most shoe stores.

Use a gentle back and forth and up and down motion when cleaning suede shoes with a suede brush, as well as a gentle circular motion. Make sure you do not scrub too hard, as this can damage the surface of the suede, leaving bald patches. Once you have got the surface cleaned up, you will need to brush the surface in a single direction to restore the nap and texture of your suede boots.


While the process of cleaning your leather boots might seem a bit intimidating and time consuming the first time you give it a try, you will find that it is actually not all that difficult, and you will get faster at it every time you have a go. The more often you end up cleaning your boots, the quicker you will get, and the easier the process will be as the boots will have less time to get dirty and will not be as hard to restore.

Regular cleaning is the best way to keep leather boots and other leather shoes in the best condition possible, keeping them looking sharp and tidy as well as extending the lifespan of the leather, meaning you have to buy new shoes less frequently.

About the Author

Hey, I'm Lilly Harvey. If there's two things I'm passionate about in life, it's shoes and writing!

Combining both my passions with my Fashion Design degree, I've helped create Shoe Adviser to help readers choose the best shoes for them, enjoy!

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