How to Clean and Waterproof Leather Boots

A good pair of leather boots is an expensive investment but they will last for years if properly cared for. Care for leather boots is quite simple and requires just a few materials. When done regularly (and properly), cleaning and conditioning leather boots greatly increases their longevity. There are three simple steps to properly clean full-grain leather hiking and hunting boots.

  1. Clean boots
  2. Apply waterproofing agent
  3. Apply leather wax

1. Clean Boots with a Brush or Damp Rag

Leather must be clean for conditioning agents to fully penetrate and preserve the leather. Lightly soiled boots may be cleaned with hair brush (a brush made with hair bristles, not a brush to comb hair!), which can easily remove loose dirt and dust. However, my boots usually require a little more work. I use a damp rag to wipe down all my boots’ leather surfaces. After one pass the rag is usually quite dirty and I have to wipe the boots down a second time to remove the rest of the dirt and debris. For boots that are extra dirty, you may be able to wash them with running water. Always be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendation for cleaning your boots.

2. Apply a Waterproofing or Impregnating Agent

After your boots are clean and completely dry you can apply a waterproofing, or impregnating, agent. Waterproofing sprays are available from a number of different companies. Waterproofing spray will make sure your leather stays waterproof while maintaining breathability. It also helps waterproof and protect the fabric parts of boots. Most waterproofing sprays also waterproof non-leather areas. After applying the waterproofing allow your boots to fully dry. Complete drying usually takes 12-24 hours. Before using a waterproofing or impregnating agent be sure to check what the manufacturer of your boots recommends. If your manufacturer does not have any recommendations or you are unsure what to purchase I recommend Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof.

3. Apply a Leather Wax or Conditioner

Leather waxes and conditioners prevent leather boots from drying out and cracking. Most waxes and conditioners also add additional water proofing. Waxes and conditioners can change the color and texture of your boots’ leather. If you want to maintain the original color and texture check with the manufacturer about other care options. Some manufacturers recommend waxing for maximum longevity but state that it’s not 100% necessary. Also make certain you are using the proper waxing or conditioning agent. Some manufacturers are specific that wax, not oil or grease, should be used.

Side view of Hanwag Alaska GTX
Boots before cleaning
Boots after leather care
Boots after cleaning

Summary of Caring for Leather Boots

Taking the time to care for leather boots will ensure they keep your feet happy and dry for a lot of miles. Follow these three steps and you’re sure to get the most out of your favorite boots. If you’re looking for a good pair of boots check out our review on the Hanwag Alaska.

Konrad Hafen

Konrad is a natural resource scientist who spends much of his free time hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking on America's public lands.

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