Hiking boots are designed to take the mud and dirt in stride. However, this doesn’t mean you should throw away your mucky companions and forget about them. If you keep them clean, you’ll enjoy many years on the trail together, reducing the need to replace them prematurely. In case you’re too tired to clean them immediately after a hike, wait until the next day. 

You can damage your boots in a couple of ways if you don’t clean them:

  • When your boots flex, dirt, grit, and sand embed themselves further into the leather and fabric, grinding away like sandpaper.
  • The drying process of mud causes the leather in your boots to lose its pliability and speed up the aging process.

Material Required To Wash Boots

Your boots may not be clean enough after a quick brushing, so you need to do a more thorough cleaning. You’ll need the following items:

  • All you need is a brush: a boot brush, an old vegetable brush, or an old toothbrush.
  • Cleaner: a special boot cleaner or mild dishwashing soap and water mix. Boot cleaner must be made specifically for your boots – leather, suede, fabric, and other materials can require different cleaners. Wash your boots and waterproof membranes with water, not laundry detergent or hand soap.
  • Put your boots in a sink or bucket, not the washing machine! The washing machine and your boots might both be damaged.
  • Wash your boots with a mixture of 80% water and 20% vinegar if they smell particularly bad or have grown mold.

Cleaning Shoes Uppers

How To Clean Hiking Boots hikingrange.com

Laces should be removed prior to cleaning. Dust and dirt can be removed with a brush if you would like to do a thorough cleaning, use running water, and the boot cleaner you chose.

Additional Boot Cleaning Tips

  • Many shoe cleaners can be used on a variety of materials, but always double-check that the cleaner you’re using won’t harm your boots, and always read and follow directions carefully when cleaning your boots.
  • Do not use bar soaps or detergents, which may contain additives that can harm leather or waterproof membranes.
  • Make a solution of 80 percent water and 20 percent vinegar to clean mold.
  • After cleaning your boots, always rinse them thoroughly with clean water.
  • Boots shouldn’t be washed in a washing machine as it may damage them.
  • When waterproofing your boots, do so while they are still wet. When boots are first purchased, they are generally waterproof; you should waterproof them only when you notice that water drops will not bead up on the surface.

Cleaning Shoes Outsoles

How To Clean Hiking Boots hikingrange.com

Even though caked-on mud won’t damage your boots, removing it will restore their traction. You can also prevent invasive species from spreading from hiking area to hiking area by wearing clean outsoles.

Remove stuck pebbles by vigorously brushing the outsoles. Soak just the outsoles and then power washes the gunk off with a hose for stubbornly caked-on dirt.

Drying Tips

  • Separate the insoles from the boots and let them air dry.
  • Boots should be dried in a place with low humidity at normal temperatures.
  • Avoid using a heat source (fireplace, campfire, wood stove, radiator, heater, etc.). High temperatures weaken adhesives and prematurely age leather.
  • You can speed up the drying process by using a fan.
  • To speed up drying, stuff newspaper into the boots. Change the paper often (when the boots are damp).
  • Boots should be stored at a normal, stable temperature. Attics, garages, car trunks, or any damp, hot, or unventilated area are not recommended for storing boots.


How To Clean Hiking Boots hikingrange.com

On extended backpacking trips, you may not have access to a sink, but that does not mean you will not have access to water. You may not have a sink, but you’ll likely have access to a water source nearby. Take a brush or cloth with you to clean off dirt and debris. Streams, lakes, and rivers all serve as perfect makeshift cleaning stations.

Adapt to the situation by getting creative. When you do finally come off the trail, make sure you care for your boots. It is important to maintain your investment in waterproof, windproof, breathable footwear by washing it after every excursion.

Conditioning Boots

Boots’ full-grain leather (leather that looks smooth rather than rough on the outside) should be moisturized whenever it appears dry or cracked. The other types of leather, suede, and nubuck don’t need conditioning. Conditioner can also be used if you need to break in your new full-grain leather boots quickly.

Conditioning should be used sparingly. Moisturized leather is the healthiest type. The conditioner, however, can make boots too soft, reducing the amount of support they provide.

Wear hiking shoes that have not been softened with Mink Oil or similar products designed for industrial boots; this will cause the leather to soften too much.


What's the best way to wash hiking boots?

After cleaning your boots, always rinse them thoroughly with clean water. Do not wash boots in a washing machine because it can damage them. If you’re planning on waterproofing your boots, start while they’re still wet.

Are hiking shoes washable?

Boots designed for hiking are designed to get dirty, but routinely cleaning them can extend their lifespan. Remove the laces and insoles after your hike, then use a nylon brush to remove dirt deposits. Use dish detergent and water to wash your boots, and use a toothbrush to scrub all the nooks and crannies.

Do hiking boots dry in the dryer?

Drying your boots without putting them in indirect heat is the ideal and safest method. In general, too much heat can damage the exterior of the boots, such as the glue or other materials holding them together. Using a blow dryer is also not recommended.

How can saddle soap be used?

Saddle soap is a proprietary compound used to clean, condition, and protect the leather. It commonly contains mild soap, softening ingredients like lanolin, and preservatives like beeswax. The fact that it is commonly found on leather shoes, saddles, and other items of horse gear accounts for its name.