How To Clean Cowboy Boots (Even With Household Items)

By Kato Watson, 03 Mar 2020

So you’ve finally got a new pair of boots that you absolutely adore but there’s only one catch; you’re apprehensive about taking them out because you just don’t know how to maintain that posh ‘new’ look.

That, or you’re a veteran boot-owner who’s thinking of reviving those old tired boots that have eaten up dust for far too long. 

Here’s the thing; bringing an old pair of boots back to life or generally taking care of new boots isn’t a task that many are familiar with nor is it one that many look forward to. Mostly because they just don’t know the basics.

But believe you us, once you know how simple the process is, you won’t be scared of taking your lovely boots out or getting them cleaned out after an adventure.

With a quick and easy guide that we’ve courteously assembled for you, you can easily transform those grim dirty boots into sparkling clean ones.

Best part? You don’t need to work yourself up as all the cleaning ingredients can be found at the comfort of your home.

Here’s how;

Cleaning With Water and Saddle Soap

Soaps are tough cleaners that effectively work into leather to clean dirt from underlying surfaces.

Saddle soap is by far the most effective cleaning product for leather boots although you can also find other leather cleaners from known brands which are similar in effect.

1. Brush off dirt and clean off mud

If your boots are covered with a layer of dirt or mud, it is always wise to clean it off first before using soap on the boots.

To do this, you’ll need a soft-bristled boot brush, a soft cloth/ sponge and some water; lukewarm or room temperature to be precise.

Don’t make the mistake of using hot water as it damages the leather fibers.

Firstly, remove the shoe laces (if any) and insoles then proceed to brush over the surface of the boots if it has thin layers of dirt and dust. Use gentle back and forth motions for loose dirt and be sure to brush over every single part including the seams and the folds.

Next, use a dampened sponge or soft cloth to wipe over the surface of the boot (over the tongue and up the shaft). For thicker layers of mud, especially in problem areas, you can use a spoon to scrape off the chunks of mud before using water.

Note, that the wrong cleaning process can make your new boots look like they’ve been beat up for years.

That said, this water-cleaning method applies to all types of boots (smooth leather, distressed, exotic leather etc.) with the exception of suede boots (which we’ll address later) which shouldn’t come into any contact with water.

You also want to be extra vigilant with exotic leathers during this cleaning process as they are more vulnerable to dust. The dust can easily settle in between folds and creases and end up causing damage if not properly cleaned.

2. Scrub off ingrained dirt with soap and water

If the boot has deep-seated dirt that can’t simply be cleaned off using a brush then you will need more appropriate cleaning ingredients to make sure it is entirely clean. These more stubborn spots usually require saddle soap or shoe cleaner to work into the leather and get out the dirt lying underneath the surface

Saddle soap, not to be confused with a conditioner, is creamy and should still be followed up with a conditioner.

Get the sponge lathered by applying saddle soap to a damp sponge and rubbing to create foam. Then rub the lather evenly all over the boot and use a dry clean cloth to remove the soap suds once the dirt is completely off.

Take into account that while you are required to rub off the dirt and suds, you don’t need to rinse off the soap as it contains oils and waxes that are actually beneficial to the leather.

In the event that your boots get stained then this soap and water solution will work extremely well to clean it off but in our opinion, a more effective approach would be applying a stain protectant so as to avoid having to deal with stains altogether.

As the saying goes; prevention is better than cure.

3. Use a toothbrush to scrub dirt off the seams

The skin of cowboy boots isn’t usually hard to clean but a lot of people usually forget delicate parts such as the seams.

You will need a slightly damp toothbrush to gently scrub the ‘welt’; where the uppers meet the sole. This will effectively penetrate the layer to remove debris.

4. Clean the interior

Dirty shoes have a smell to them but cleaning the interior of cowboy boots can be a bit tricky especially as the high shaft limits access to the toe box.

However, with some household items you can easily get rid of dirt and bad odor.

The dirt and smell can both be combated with vinegar and baking powder. By sprinkling baking soda in the interior of the boots or using a water and vinegar solution and letting it sit overnight, you can tackle the dirt.

Then just pour out the solution and they’ll have no smell to them.

5. Leave the boots out to dry

Next, you just need to just wipe the boots dry with a clean damp cloth and ensure there is no residue left then allow them to dry naturally.

Artificial heat or long exposure to the sun can result in damage to the leather of the boot over time as heat dries out leather, hardens it and causes it to crack. So ensure that artificial heat is used minimally or avoided altogether.

6. Properly store away the boots

Another important and neglected step to having clean shoes is to store them properly.

The worst enemy to your leather as you may or may not know is dirt, light and moisture. As such you always want to keep your boots away from them.

A cedar boot tree absorbs moisture within the boot so inserting one inside the boot will not only keep moisture at bay but will also help maintain the boot’s original shape as it holds it upright thereby preventing creasing when the shoes are not on your feet .

To keep debris away, ensure that the boots remain in a clean and well-ventilated room when not in use so that they do not accumulate dirt.  

Remember; without removing dirt and dust from your boots, you’re giving way to these particles to tear into the microscopic fibers that make up your cowboy boots, dry them out and thereby make them feeble and less durable.

If nothing else, ensure that you routinely clean your boots and properly store them away to maintain that new look.

Cleaning With Water and Vinegar

Vinegar possesses acidic qualities that make it such a great cleansing agent. The acidity enables it to counteract any build-ups, soap scum or brines left by hard water.

That said, you will need a small container, vinegar, water, a stirring spoon and a clean cotton cloth.

Pour equal amounts of vinegar and water into the container and stir them thoroughly to mix. Next insert the cloth into the mixture and work it over the entire surface of the boots

Lastly, wipe the boots with a clean damp cloth and then leave them out to dry.  

Cleaning With Water and Baking Powder

You will need baking powder, a small container/bowl, water, stirring spoon and a toothbrush

Put three tablespoons of baking powder into the container and then add a small amount of water. Stir the mixture to form a thick paste then dip the toothbrush into the paste and work in onto the surface of the boots

With the paste still on the dirty boots, leave the boots outside for approximately 4 hours after which the paste will have taken effect and dried completely.

Then clap the soles of the boots together to automatically get rid of the paste.

 In case of any stubborn remnants, use a dry toothbrush to remove the pieces of paste

Cleaning Using Tartar Cream and Lemon Juice

Tartar cream is an alternative to bleach which is why its combination with lemon juice is great for cleaning off dirt.

Be warned that this method is however appropriate for light-colored shoes as the tartar and lemon juice combination has a mild bleaching effect

For application, you will need tartar cream, lemon juice, toothbrush, a small bowl/ container and a clean cloth.

Mix equal portions of lemon juice and lemon juice to form a paste. Next, use the toothbrush to apply the paste all over the surface of the shoe then let the paste soak for around half an hour.

Thereafter use a damp cloth to remove the paste then leave the shoes out to dry

Cleaning With Toothpaste

Toothpaste is a mild abrasive often made with baking soda. The abrasive feature and cleaning agent (sodium lauryl sulphate) present in it enables it to easily remove debris and remove stains be it on shoes or walls.

First things first, wipe the surface of the boots with a wet cloth to make the a little damp. This will allow the toothpaste to stick and take effect rather than applying it onto a dry surface.

To remove dirt form your cowboy boots, take a pea-sized amount of the paste and distribute small bits on the boots. The use a tough-bristled toothbrush to work on the surface of the boots

Once full distributed, leave the paste to sit on the shoes for about fifteen minutes then wipe them with a wet cloth, entirely getting rid of the paste

Leave them outside for at least 3 hours to dry. After that you can wear them

How to Clean Suede Leather/Rough out Cowboy Boots

Suede is made from soft leather. It features “nap” which is the fuzzy texture that tends to become rough or brittle when exposed to dirt and water

To effectively clean suede boots, specific cleaning supplies are required. In such a case, a damp sponge and a suede brush which will correctly get the stains out, are the more appropriate cleaning alternatives.

Step One

Suede boots require a special suede brush which you can easily get from a shoe repair shop or department store.

Use the brush to clean off any loose dirt, dust or debris through gentle back and forth motions over the entire outside surface

Step Two

A standard leather cleaner won’t work thus a rubber suede cleaner, which resembles a school rubber eraser, can be used to remove stains or caked mud from shoes by simply rubbing it into the boot.

Continue working the eraser over the stain until it is completely eliminated.

Remember to do so gently as any rough motion may damage the suede. Then follow up with the same suede brush again to remove leftover rubber bits

Step Three

Salt and water stains are usually somewhat tricky to remove on suede boots. Hence, household products such as vinegar are more effective. 

To treat liquid stains, let talcum powder sit over the boots overnight and then brush it off in the morning.

The water and white vinegar solution can be used on suede boots to get rid of salt stains or marks. Measure half a cup of each and then dampen a cotton cloth in the mixture. Next, just gently wipe off the salt marks.

Step Four

As usual, leave the boots to dry in a cool dry place away from light.

This process will rejuvenate your stained and dull boots into new and refreshed ones.  

Bottom Line

We all love the appearance of new shoes and if you’re a true shoe lover then maintaining this squeaky clean look is of importance to you. But shoe maintenance is like a lost art as more and more people tend to replace their boots for nothing more than improper care.

The first and most obvious but unfortunately an often overlooked part of proper boot care is cleaning the boots.

Doing anything to any type of footwear without cleaning them first is basically doing more harm than good to them. You’re better off cleaning them first to achieve that final glow.

It goes without saying that the condition of your shoes say a lot about you as a person and can also make you feel better. So feel free to use either of these products to achieve that squeaky clean look

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