How to clean hiking boots

How to Clean Hiking Boots to Prolong Their Life

A super simple step by step guide to cleaning and drying your hiking boots

Knowing how to clean your hiking boots properly really is a very simple process. So why are we all so averse to doing it?! If you don’t already know, cleaning your hiking boots after each use will help to prolong their life considerably. Yet we still put it off and put it off, until suddenly we’ve knocked a year off the lifespan of our trusty partners in hiking. That’s a year closer to forking out a lot of cash for a new pair boots. And what happens to the old pair? Another item chucked in landfill?

What you will learn in this article

This article is set out to help this highly avoided chore become as easy as possible. You’ll learn/be reminded of the following:

  1. Why it’s important to clean your hiking boots
  2. What you need to clean hiking boots
  3. How to clean hiking boots
  4. How to dry hiking boots
  5. Do’s and don’ts when cleaning and drying hiking boots

Why bother cleaning your hiking boots?

They’re only going to get dirty again right? Well yes. But if you take that approach then why do any of us ever bother showering?! Yep, to prevent the dirt, smell, grime and bacteria from building up so much that is becomes problematic.

And that’s much the same with hiking boots, or anything you own really!

But to be more specific, the following things can happen if you neglect your boot cleaning duties:

  • Your boots can go mouldy.
  • As mud dries on your boots, it draws moisture out of the leather leaving them much less supple than they should be, and more likely to split or crack.
  • With every bend of your boots, tiny dirt particles can slowly get deeper into the fabric or leather of your boots. Over time these particles slowly wear away and damage your boots.
  • With weakened fabric and cracked creases, your boots will just not last as long as they should.

What you need to clean hiking boots

Before you set about cleaning your hiking boots, you’ll need to gather a few things.

Boot cleaning kit

You’ll need:

  • A scrubbing brush
  • Mild dishwashing soap/detergent
  • An old rag
  • Some newspaper
  • Water

How to clean hiking boots quickly and easily

Once you’re all set up in a sink, bucket or washing up bowl, then you’re ready to get those boots cleaned up!

01Bang your boots after use

Straight after you take your boots off, tuck in the laces, get your hand inside the boots and bash them together. This will knock off most of the loose dirt and mud and make is much easier to get the more ingrained dirt and grime off.

02Scrub off the dirt

Poking mud from boot solesBefore you start getting water involved, use your brush to scrub off the excess dirt and mud from your boots. Use something like a tent peg to poke out stones and hardened mud lodged into between the treads. Soak the soles in water if needed and scrub them with a tough brush.

03Remove the laces

To get the uppers cleaned, you’ll first need to take out the laces, and if they are caked in mud give them a thorough rinse in hot soapy water. You may need to soak them if the mud is really ingrained. Once rinsed, leave them to dry on a sunny window sill or draped over a radiator.

04Wash the boots with water and mild soap

Cleaning hiking bootsOnce all the excess dirt is off the boots, use the brush to scrub the boots with warm water and mild soap. This will really get the grime out of the seams and creases. Make sure you get right into the tongue too.

05Soak the boots in water

If there’s really stubborn dirt that’s ingrained into the seams and creases you may need to put your boots into a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. This will soften the dirt or mud making it easier to scrub out.

06Rinse your boots

Rinsing boots in sinkAfter you’ve given your boots a good old scrubbing, be sure to rinse them in clean water, ideally under the tap.


How to dry hiking boots

Once your boots are squeaky clean you’ll need to get them dry. If you plan on waterproofing your boots with a treatment, then now is the time to do it – whilst your boots are still wet. If not, then you’ll need to get your boots dry:

01Towel dry

Drying hiking bootsGrab an old rag and wipe off as much moisture as possible. This will prevent too much moisture getting into the boots which can cause them to warp as they dry.

02Remove innersoles

Innersoles of bootsTo speed up drying time, take out the innersoles (if they are removable) and leave them to dry separately. Whilst they’re out, it may be a good idea to give them a hand wash in some mild detergent and warm water – just to keep them on the fresh side!

03Stuff your boots with paper

Newspaper in hiking bootsIf the boots have become wet or damp on the inside, scrunch up some newspaper and stuff it into the boots – right down to the toes. This helps to draw the moisture out. Leave the boots to dry in a warm dry place and replace the paper once it becomes damp.

TOP TIP:Don’t dry your boots next to the fire!
As tempting as it may be to put your boots next to a roaring fire to dry, this actually doesn’t do them any good at all (other than drying them out!). So where possible, leave them in a warm, dry place but not next to direct heat.


Do’s and don’ts when cleaning and drying hiking boots

Do’s

  • Clean your boots every time you use them.
  • Scrub suede boots a little more gently than you would leather or synthetic boots.
  • Only use mild soap or dishwashing detergent. Anything stronger can damage the leather or waterproof membranes.
  • If you are using a specialised boot cleaner, be sure to check the washing instructions to make sure that it is OK to use with your boots. If the label on your boots has disappeared then check on the boot manufacturer’s website.

Don’ts

  • Don’t put them next to any direct sources of heat. High temperatures can prematurely age leather and also weakens adhesives in all boots.
  • Don’t leave your hiking boots in the hot sun to dry out either.
  • Don’t store drying boots in cold damp places. They’ll take ages to dry and there is the danger of them going mouldy.
  • Never put hiking boots in the washing machine as it can damage them.

So yes, knowing how to clean your hiking boots isn’t rocket science, but as you can see, it can easily be done wrong. Follow the above instructions and tips, keep on top of your boot cleaning, and your trusty boots will keep you walking for many years to come.

Neglected your cleaning duties too many times? It might be time to invest in a new pair…

hiking boots gear guide

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