How to Clean Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are some of the most important elements of your gear. After all, you will spend most of your adventures on your feet, walking, or climbing.

It also means that your hiking boots take the most abuse among your gear. From dirt, stains, debris, water, and the elements along the trail, they are key to protecting your feet. Even a small leak that leads to a soaked foot can ruin an entire trip.

So, how do you clean hiking boots? Proper cleaning and maintenance are essential whether you have the best wide-toebox boots or casual urban boots. When you clean your hiking boots regularly, you can expect to enjoy them for years to come. This article will guide you on how to clean hiking boots without damaging them. Follow the instructions below, and you’ll have clean as new boots in no time.

Removing and Cleaning Dirt and Stains Off Your Hiking Boots

After getting home from your hiking trip, immediately find time to clean your boots. Letting dirt and stain sit for too long will just make them harder to remove. Here are a few steps to follow on how to clean hiking boots:

1. Remove the insoles and laces.

Because insoles can trap a lot of moisture, you should take them out before cleaning a boot. Drying and odor removal can be aided by sprinkling them with baking soda. This removes and prevents moisture which causes bacterial build-up leading to nasty smells.

Taking off the laces also does cleaning and polishing the lace holes and metal hardware easier. Wash them with warm water and mild dish soap. Rinse thoroughly and leave them out to dry.

2. Remove dirt deposits.

With a stiff nylon shoe brush, remove any caked dirt from the surface of your shoes. If you do not have any nylon brush, damp paper towels, or any clean cloth rag to remove dirt. For any stubborn stains, soak your shoes in water for about an hour or two.

three person showing sneaners

3. Mildly scrub your boots with mild dish soap and water.

Warm water and soap with a gentle dish should be sufficient to remove most of the dirt from the boots. Scrub a soft cloth or a soft-bristled brush for stubborn spots. Use mild pressure to prevent harm to the material, especially if your boots are suede.

For hard to reach areas of the boots, use a clean toothbrush to remove any caked in dirt. If stains and dirt don’t come off using dish detergent, try using a pencil eraser to brush off any scuffs.

4. Rinse away the soap.

After scrubbing off the dirt and stains, rinse the cloth you are using under warm water. Make sure to remove all the soapy residue or, better yet, just use a new wet cloth. Then, wipe off the soap from the boots.

When the cloth gets soapy again, rinse it under running water. Wring out all the excess water, then continue wiping until you have removed all the soap.

5. Freeze to scrub off hard-to-remove dirt.

Aside from getting muddy and wet, your boots are exposed to wax, gum, or sap. These are often very difficult to remove, even with a brush or soapy cloth. They may even ruin the surface of your boot if not removed correctly.

First, put each boot in a separate freezer bag, then place them in the freezer. Keep the boots in the freezer for about an hour or two. Check every thirty minutes until the sticky gunk has hardened. Once tough and frozen, use a nail file or the blunt side of the knife to remove the gunk.

Waterproofing and Conditioning Your Hiking Boots

Keeping the waterproof quality of your boots prevents any leaks during your hiking trips. While many have brands, like Vasque and Ahnu, have excellent waterproofing qualities, maintenance is still necessary to ensure longevity.

person in blue denim jeans and brown leather boots standing on snow covered ground during daytime

1. Waterproof your boots using waterproofing compound or wax.

The surface pores of hide-based footwear, such as leather, suede, and nubuck, may open after washing, making them more water-sensitive. You must use a waterproofing spray for these particular materials to seal and protect them. Wax may also waterproof the boots while keeping them supple.

While still damp, start spraying with the waterproofing compound or applying wax. This ensures that the material absorbs the compound or wax thoroughly. Remember to waterproof your boots whenever you clean them. Additionally, add another layer of compound or wax before your hiking trip.

2. Apply conditioner for nubuck, leather, or suede.

After waterproofing your hide-based boots, you should use a cream or conditioner, such as a silicone-based coating, to help maintain moisture. Use a care agent that is marked for the material of your boots. Because your boots should be damp when you apply the condition, apply the product immediately after waterproofing them.

Note that too much moisture may damage hide-based boots; the right dampness can help prevent the surface from cracking or wearing out. Always condition your leather boots right after you wash and waterproof them. And only apply the right amount to prevent the leather from becoming too soft.

3. Protect metal parts using chrome polish.

Each boot is also made of metallic parts, such as lace holes. These are usually prone to rust, especially if your boots are always wet. Chrome polish works best to remove and prevent rust. Use a cotton swab to apply a small amount. Let it sit, then remove the excess using a dry, clean cloth.

Drying Your Hiking Boots

Making sure that you dry your boots before storing them preserves their overall quality. Prolonged exposure to moisture introduces bacteria which leads to odor that can be difficult to remove later on. Additionally, it slowly breaks down the materials of your boots, resulting in a shorter lifespan.

1. Avoid direct sunlight when drying your boots.

Air dry your boots and place them in a well-ventilated area. Avoid placing the boots under direct sunlight as this may cause the leather to crack or the fabric to fade.

In order to thoroughly dry each boot, sprinkle baking soda and place a crumpled newspaper inside. This helps remove any bad odors or moisture build-up. Make sure to replace the newspaper if it becomes too damp.

2. Do not place your boots near a heat source.

Do not use heat sources such as dryers, radiators, blow dryers, or even ovens to dry your boots. The intense heat damages the hide-cased fibers. Using harsh heat sources will cause your boots to crack and dry up. It may even affect the overall fit of your boots.

The same logic applies to placing boots under direct sunlight. The intense heat from the sun will cause irreversible damage and shortens its lifespan considerably.

3. Store your boots only when they are completely dry.

After they’ve dried fully, re-lace them and reinstall the insoles before storing them in a shoe bag or box. Mold grows in damp or wet boots, so let your boots air dry for at least a day. You may need a couple of days if you are drying them indoors. Remember not to leave your boots inside your car after using them. This introduces mold that may stain the boot material.

General Tips in Cleaning Your Hiking Boots

Whether you had adventures in a mountain during spring or a casual stroll in the plains, your boots are bound to get dirty and take abuse. By following the steps above, you can keep your boots in tip-top condition. Here are a couple more tips for cleaning your boots, so you do not need a new pair for years to come.

Right After Your Hike

  • If your hiking boots are coated with mud, chuck them in water or in a stream to remove the dirt as much as possible. Do not wait until the muck dries; otherwise, the cleaning will be harder.
  • Another way is to hold the shoes upside down and to beat them together. Hold on and repeat from the front. This works wonderfully to unload dirt and grime from the soles.
  • Remove the insoles when you are not wearing them in the camp to dry out the inside. If you have a newspaper with you, stuff them inside to remove moisture.
  • Dry out your shoes in a cool, dry location. Bear in mind that your feet’s sweat and the spread of bacteria in the humid atmosphere are causing the unpleasant smell. It is generally enough to leave your shoes in the open air to prevent that.

When You Get Home

  • If the smell inside the boots is difficult to remove, spray with anti-odor, disinfectant spray.
  • If you have Gore-Tex boots, follow the waterproofing steps above and apply a special compound. NST Proof is also a great option for waterproofing boots and shoes made of nubuck or leather. Just ensure that you read the manufacturer’s notes thoroughly.
  • Ensure that you thoroughly rinse or wipe off soap or detergent before drying the boots out.
  • Immediately remove the insoles and laces after getting home to allow the moisture to evaporate.

FAQ

Can I use the washing machine and dryer to clean my hiking boots or shoes?

Hiking boots may be washed in the washing machine as long as you take measures not to harm them. Wrapping the boots in bath towels before placing them in the washing machine helps to avoid any problems. In addition, while cleaning the boots, use cold water.

However, do not use the dryer to dry the boots. The heat from the machine is too intense for the boots, which may damage them.

What is the lifespan of Gore-Tex waterproofing?

Gore-Tex boots may give a lifetime guarantee that they will remain waterproof. However, they often only last one to two years when used on a regular basis before requiring another layer of waterproofing solution.

How do I remove the foul smell from my hiking boots?

The easiest way to get rid of stinky boots is to soak in baking soda before washing them. Sprinkle baking soda between the toes and the midsoles and let it on overnight. It will absorb and neutralize the foul odor.

Conclusion

The life and quality of your hiking boots will depend on your general use, clean-up, and maintenance. As soon as you have the chance to remove any dirt, do so using clean water or wet clothes. Dry mud and stains are much more difficult to remove.

Additionally, you also need to maintain the waterproofing quality of your boots to prevent leaks. Applying wax or waterproofing compounds after cleaning them ensures that they last a lifetime. Leather boots greatly benefit from this process which keeps the material supple.

Lastly, to effectively remove odor from the boots, ensure that you dry them as soon as you get the chance. This may mean removing the insoles while you are at camp. If you do not have enough time for a thorough cleaning right when you get home, at least air dry the boots first to prevent moisture build-up that leads to odor or, worse, mold stains.