How To Wash Hiking Boots: A Beginner’s Guide

Most people don’t think about cleaning their shoes. They’re just a wearable that protects your feet and require little upkeep. Unfortunately, if you, as a hiker neglect cleaning your hiking boots, it will cause all sorts of issues and require a new pair more frequently. The below steps on how to wash hiking boots will keep them clean and useful to you longer:

  1. Remove the laces and insoles
  2. Remove the surface level dirt
  3. Clean your hiking boots
  4. Rinse the excess soap
  5. Waterproof if you want to
  6. Let them dry

Cleaning Synthetic Boots

When it comes to synthetic, you can use a more sturdy brush and a little more force. You can use a lot more water in the process and simple waterproof sprays. The process for leather boots is a little more refined which we’ll see a little later. For synthetics, do the following:

Step 1: Remove the laces and insoles

Before you start on the boots, you’ll want to remove the laces and insoles as they get in the way of cleaning.

This also gives you the chance to clean them thoroughly. Hand wash each one with warm water and dish soap. Lay them out to dry after. The insoles will likely smell too, so apply some baking soda to get rid of it.

Step 2: Remove the surface level dirt

It’s tough to get a deep clean when there’s mud caked on the surface. So before adding water and soap, grab a boot brush and with moderate pressure, brush off the mud deposits. An old toothbrush can work in a pinch too.

Make sure to avoid heavy pressure, you need just enough to knock the dirt off there.

Step 3: Clean your hiking boots

We recommend avoiding your kitchen sink to do the cleaning. Better to do it outside with a hose and bucket or a garage sink.

If your hiking boots are waterproof, feel free to fill a tub/sink/bucket with warm water, add dish soap and let your boots soak. Letting them soak for a few minutes will break up any really thick deposits and make it easier to wash.

Next, using your boot brush, you’ll use moderate force to work the soap into all areas of the boot. Scrub anywhere that looks dirty and even use a cloth for the inside of the boot.

Continue this process until it looks like you removed all of the dirt and grime.

What about non-waterproof synthetic boots?

If your boots aren’t waterproof it would be better to avoid soaking them. Use a hose or faucet to get them wet, then apply soap and go through the same scrubbing process.

Note: If you’re using boot cleaner, make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions before use.

Step 4: Rinse the excess soap

Once you think the boots are clean, it’s time to rinse any excess soap. If you soaked them in a bucket/sink, replace the dirty water with clean water and soak them a few more minutes. You’ll know they’re good once all the soap has come out.

If you used a hose or faucet, run the water over the boots until all the soap has been removed.

Step 5: Waterproof your boots if you want

This step is optional if your boots are only water-resistant. The best time to apply the waterproofing is when your boots are damp so this is the ideal time.

Since we’re talking about synthetic hiking boots right now, you’d want waterproofing spray. Follow the directions and apply while your boots are wet.

If your hiking boots are already waterproof, you can disregard this step.

Step 6: Let them dry

Now your boots are clean, it’s time to let them dry. Make sure to let your boots air dry in a moderate temped room. Avoid too cold or too hot and high humidity.

One way to help the insides dry is stuffing newspaper down there. It helps absorb moisture.

There you have it, a quick easy guide to washing your synthetic hiking boots. Next, we’ll look at doing this with leather hiking boots. The steps will look almost identical, there’s just a few different things to keep in mind.

Cleaning Leather Hiking Boots

Because leather can be damaged easier than synthetic, you’ll need to be more gentle and use less water. Soft cloths or soft bristle brushes are best. Take the following steps if you’re ready to deep clean your leather boots.

Step 1: Remove the laces and insoles

Same as the last section, remove these to get them out of your way and give them a clean if they need it. Use baking soda to get rid of any smells.

Step 2: Remove surface level dirt

Again, you want to remove any caked on mud to make it easier to clean the boots. The difference here is to use a soft brush! You don’t want to scratch or damage the leather by using the same boot brush as you would on synthetics.

Step 3: Clean your leather boots

When you reach the cleaning stage, do not soak your leather hiking boots. This will damage or ruin them.

When washing the outer boot, take the following steps:

  • Hold the boot using a dry towel.
  • Run the boot under warm water. Make sure to do this just enough to get it wet, not soaked.
  • Apply leather boot cleaner.
  • Use a soft cloth to gently scrub the boot.
  • Always follow the instructions on the cleaner to avoid ruining your hiking boots.

If the inside of your boots needs cleaned as well, use a damp cloth to wipe them out.

Because we’re not soaking these boots and using dish soap we shouldn’t have to do a thorough rinse. A quick rinse and wipe down after applying the cleaner will remove the residues.

Step 4: Waterproof if you want

Again, if you want to give your boots the waterproofing treatment, do it while they are damp. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer and apply as required.

With leather hiking boots, wax will be better to use than a waterproofing spray.

Step 5: Let them dry

Lastly, let your boots air dry in a low humidity setting out of the sun. Avoid direct sunlight and other direct heating elements (hairdryer, heater, etc) as this can ruin your boots. A fan is usable if you want to speed up the process.

Use newspapers inside the boot to absorb any moisture.

Why You Should Clean Your Hiking Boots

It might not seem worth it to clean your hiking boots. You’re thinking, “they’re boots, they’re supposed to get dirty.” You’d be correct; however, as our boots gather dirt and grime, it shortens the lifespan of the material.

Hiking boots are expensive so you want to maximize how long they last. Here’s a few reasons to motivate you to keep them clean:

Prevents Material Breakdown

Dirt, grime and other substances will slowly break down the boot material. It’s natural for this to occur. However, if you leave things caked on your boots, it will expedite the process.

Think of it like a bike having its first bit of rust. If you don’t take care of it right away and let it fester, the affected area will grow. Before you know it, the rust has eaten through important pieces of the bike’s structure.

Take the time to do “preventative maintenance” on your boots to help them last longer.

Clean Boots Perform Better

The point of boot tread is to give you better traction along hiking terrain. When mud and grit get caked in the tread, it creates a flat surface. Your tread can no longer grip the ground and you’re asking for a fall.

Also, as the material of your hiking boots break down, they’ll offer less support. You’ll notice less support in the ankle and collapsing in the midsole area.

It doesn’t take much to extend the lifespan of your hiking boots. Spend the 20-30 minutes doing the steps above to keep them clean and performing at their best.

How Often Should Your Hiking Boots Be Cleaned?

Ideally, you want to clean your boots after every use. This doesn’t mean follow every step above after you go for a hike, it means try to at least wipe them down after each hike.

If you give your boots a quick clean after every use, the need to do a full clean as described above will be rare. The steps we discussed above are for those that wait too long to wash them and the boots get really bad.

Take 5 minutes after each hike to wet your boots and wipe them down. Then, you can save the deep clean for once every couple months or after a really wet, muddy hike.

Replacing Your Hiking Boots

Knowing when to replace hiking boots is very important as a hiker. When boots have reached their end, they become uncomfortable and no longer perform at a level that is required. We’ve written in depth about what signs to look for that it’s time to replace them and how to get the correct hiking boots size. Here’s some of the most important signs to look for:

When They Become Uncomfortable

This is one of the easiest ways to tell that your boots are reaching the end. When you go hiking, have you noticed more pain in your knees, ankles and feet? As they break down, boots don’t provide as much support which causes increased pain with usage.

Appearance Of The Boots

Another easy way to tell if it’s time is how your boots look. Are the sides of your boots collapsing inward? Has the tread worn smooth? Do you see noticeable cracks in the material? Frayed and loose laces? Do an evaluation of your hiking boots and determine if they have any of these. Having multiple of these is a good sign it’s time to get new ones.

Little To No Resistance To Water

When your boots get wet, do they soak right through? Water resistant or waterproof hiking boots should be able to keep a good amount of water from seeping through. If water gets to your feet with ease it means the waterproofing has been compromised.

Conclusion

Hiking boots are an important piece of equipment we invest in, so why wouldn’t you want to take care of them? Clean hiking boots will perform better and last longer. Follow the steps above to wash your boots after each hike and keep them ready for your outdoor adventures. It doesn’t take much, but the little bit of effort will pay off. Be sure to check out our other guides to hiking boots and other gear!