Cleaning hiking boots – might not sound so attractive, but it’s definitely worth it. Why? Because if you look after your hiking boots or mountain boots and clean, condition and waterproof them regularly, then they will last you for longer. When looked after properly, leather is an extremely robust and long-lasting material – in fact, it lasts so long that some of our customers have been hiking in the same boots for years and have only needed to have the soles renewed (–> Find out more: Getting your hiking boots resoled). This long service life not only saves you money, it’s sustainable and good for the environment too. After all, long-lasting products are a better use of natural resources.
How often should you be giving your walking boots some tender loving care?
In an ideal world, after every hiking trip. Having said that, if you have only been out for a short walk in dry conditions, then you obviously don’t need to give them a complete overhaul.
What is important though, is that you never just dump your dirty or damp boots in the cellar or other such place. This could have drastic results and permanently damage the material. The leather might dry out, turn brittle and even start to crack. Your boots could even get mouldy. So, don’t forget to give ’em a regular clean.
Grab those shoe brushes and a cloth. This is how to do it right.
If your boots are really dirty, first remove the laces. This will help you get to those difficult-to-reach areas when cleaning your hiking boots. Remove the footbeds too. Now use a shoe brush to gently remove dust and dirt.
If the dirt is very stubborn, brush them under warm running water. This is also the best way to get rid of mud and stones in the tread.
A special leather cleaner is only really necessary if nothing else works. Steer clear of soap. It can be harmful to the leather and damage the waterproofing. And please: Never be tempted – under any circumstances – to put your hiking boots in the washing machine. Otherwise ‘How to best clean your hiking boots’ might quickly turn into ‘How to best destroy your hiking boots’.
Outdoor footwear generally gets dirty on the outside. However, in bad weather, groundwater and mud can get inside the boot too. The same goes for dust, sand, grit or pine needles.
To prevent these kinds of small objects from damaging the inner lining or your hiking socks (–> the best socks for hiking boots), remove the footbeds after every trip and shake them out. If the insides of your boots are muddy, then you will need to give them a good clean too.
Hiking boots have either a fabric lining (in most cases, a Gore-Tex membrane) or a leather lining. For both types of lining, the best way to clean them is with clean water (lukewarm, not hot) and a sponge. When cleaning the inside of your walking boots, don’t use a brush. This might damage the inner lining.
Fabric footbeds are washable at 30°C, but the best thing to do is to wash them by hand. Leather footbeds can be washed using a damp sponge, the same as the inner lining. Washing your footbeds will stop them from smelling too. If the inner lining of your boots still smells sweaty after you have washed it with clean water, then we recommend using a special shoe hygiene spray (“shoe deodorizer”).
After washing the inside or the outside of your hiking boots, you need to dry them thoroughly. Leave them in a well-aired, dry and shady place with the tongues wide open. That’s right, we said shady. Don’t dry your boots in direct sunlight. This can damage the leather. Nor should you dry your hiking boots next to the fire, radiator or other source of heat. Heat makes leather brittle and can affect the bonding. In addition, heat shrinks leather. Your boot can get smaller and might not even fit you any more.
Drying boots properly can take up to two days. You can speed this up by stuffing screwed-up paper inside your boots. Kitchen roll works fine, please do not use newspaper – newsprint can damage Gore-Tex membranes among other things. And remember to change the paper several times a day. The drier the paper, the better it can absorb moisture from the boot.
So, now your hiking boots are clean and dry. It’s time to look at the actual hiking boot care. Two things that are particularly important here:
These measures can be used together or separately. It doesn’t matter which order you use them in. The important thing is that your boots get looked after.
After cleaning your boots, and after being out in bad weather, you should apply waterproofing treatment. The initial waterproofing treatment (aka ‘Durable Water Repellent’ or ‘DWR’ finish) that was applied when your boots were made will wear off over time. So, why do we need waterproofing treatment?
In wet conditions, it prevents a film of water building up on the outside of the boots. Among other things, that film of water can have a negative effect on breathability. On boots with a good waterproof treatment, you’ll see the water pearl off in large drops. There’s a useful side effect here: As the water drips off, it removes any dirt that might have dissolved in it.
Apply waterproofing spray to your boots according to the manufacturer’s instructions. And follow the three golden rules: do it outside, spray the product from a sufficient distance (normally around 30 cm), and apply it accurately. If necessary, use a cloth to spread the waterproofing treatment evenly over your boots. Don’t forget those hard-to-reach corners around the tongue. Once you’re done, be patient. Waterproofing treatments need around 24 hours to work properly.
By the way, all this depends on whether your boots have a leather lining or need Gore-Tex boot care. Fabric inserts on the outside of boots also benefit from regular re-waterproofing to maintain breathability and prevent them from getting clogged with dirt.
The HANWAG Waterproofing Spray is available from your local HANWAG retailer. (–> Store locator)
In addition to re-waterproofing with a conditioning treatment, full-grain leather needs more intensive care from time to time with waterproofing wax. When? It depends how often and what for your boots are used. Our recommendation: For good leather walking boot care, wax your boots after every two or three trips. Although after a rainy hike, you might want to get the wax out straight away. If it has got really soaked, leather can become hard, brittle and even develop cracks, so it is definitely a good idea to give your boots some tender loving care by treating them with a high-quality nourishing shoe wax.
The term “nourish” is no exaggeration here. After all, leather is a natural product. Leather lives and breathes and lends each and every hiking boot its unique natural characteristics: elasticity and suppleness. (–> Find out more: 5 reasons for hiking boots made of leather)
Tip: The rough, textured surface of hiking boots made of nubuck leather, split leather and suede leather will get slightly darker and smoother every time you apply wax. This does not affect their functionality or durability in any way. If you prefer the original napped finish, use a special suede brush to rough the leather up and maintain the natural grain.
For good hiking boot care, why use wax and not grease or oil? Grease and oil block the leather’s pores and reduce breathability, especially with Gore-Tex boots. Moreover, they damage the leather in the long term.
How to care for leather hiking boots: waxing
Until now, we’ve mainly talked about how to care for leather hiking boots. Nevertheless, many hiking boots have uppers made of a combination of leather and synthetic fabric. And travel and leisure footwear is often made completely of synthetic materials. So what do you have to bear in mind with shoe care here?
The same as with leather, synthetic uppers should be washed carefully. We’ve already described how to do this. However, unlike leather, synthetic uppers do not require intensive shoe care with wax or other care products. Once they are clean and dry, it’s enough to treat them with a waterproofing spray. The waterproofing treatment prevents a water film forming and ensures instead that moisture beads off. This maintains the fabric’s breathability. This aspect is particularly important for Gore-Tex boot care.
Now that your boots are cleaned, waxed and waterproofed. How about leaving them in the boot of the car until your next hike…
… no, no, we’re only joking! Please don’t even think about doing this! Storing your walking shoes and mountain boots properly between trips will help them to last you for many years and many miles to come.
Our top tips for storing your boots:
Follow these tips and you’ll have plenty of enjoyment and mileage from your hiking boots. At HANWAG, we are passionate about crafting long-lasting products. This is why we use only complex, high-quality construction techniques. And only the finest materials. (–> Find out more: How HANWAG boots are made)
If you have questions about repairs or resoling, please contact our HANWAG specialist retailers or our Customer Service.
Our shoe care guide to print out – download the PDF here