How to Clean Hiking Boots to Make Them Last Long

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It’s a shame to see the gear you've invested on getting soiled upon the first use. But what’s the fun in a hike if you don’t even get your shoes dirty?

While we don’t usually rush to clean our everyday shoes even after rigorous use, professional hiking boots require more attention than that. So, how to clean hiking boots?

The question may seem simple, but believe us, it’s not. Cleaning hiking boots is a job that requires scrutiny and most importantly, lots of love and care. Underestimating the task may lead you to spoil your precious purchase within the first few months of use.

If you’re a beginner, you’re probably asking what all the fuss about at this point. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with the whats and whys and do’s and don’ts of cleaning hiking boots.

Why Cleaning Hiking Boots Is Different

For your regular boots, a quick wipe with a wet cloth or detergent might do. You might even suffice to toss in the washing machine roughly built joggers and sneakers. However, when it comes to hiking boots, this is not the case.

Firstly, they’re built with tougher and sturdier materials and are designed to retain dirt and debris, so it doesn't disturb the wearer during the hike. This means you’ll notice that more dirt tends to stick and grind into the skin of your hiking boots as compared to normal ones. This makes them tricky to clean.

Secondly, you’re not likely to find hiking boots which are fully made out of a single type of material. The outer sole, inner sole, tip, and tongue are all usually made with a combination of leather and other synthetic materials. Thus, when it comes to detergents, you can’t use just one to complete the job.

At this point, you probably know by now that you need a proper guide to figure out how to clean hiking boots before you begin with it.

Does Ignoring the Cleaning Process Harm Your Shoes?

As obvious as the answer is, yes it does. We understand that the prospect of cleaning muddy, grimy shoes after returning from a tiring hike can be exhausting in itself. But here’s the bad news.

You can’t expect your expensive hiking companions will last you long if you just toss them into the rack after rugged use. Here are some disadvantages if you don’t clean your hiking boots regularly:

  • Deteriorating Traction

Hiking shoes have a unique set of lugs and rivets at the base for extra grip and stability during your hike. While this feature is great when going through smooth rocks and damp, and slippery surfaces, it can be tedious to clean.

Initially, you might not notice it, but dirt and small sediments accumulating in these rivets can end up deteriorating your walking grip as time passes. Hence, if you ignore cleaning, you might just lose the desired effect of your boots.

  • Leather Cracking

No material can last forever, but the trick to keeping your leather in pristine condition for a longer period is constant moisturization. Mud and other wet dirt getting stuck to the surface can suck out essential moisture from the leather as they dry out.

Similarly, the phenomenon occurs when you leave your shoes wet without any attention. This can cause severe cracking, and your shoes will begin to look worn out and shabby in no time. You can prevent this by carefully cleaning the leather according to its requirement.

  • Waterproofing Wears Off

The waterproofing membrane on your hiking boots is something you’ll want to maintain in order to make the most out of your purchase. Your shoes tend to break in a little every time you put them on, which means small amounts of dirt and impurities make their way in. This build-up will gradually damage the waterproofing or rupture it.

  • Looks Shabby Before Time

Hiking boots are clothing articles that only stay crystal clean when you take them out of the box. Otherwise, from the first time you wear them, they do get dirt marks and patches, and that’s just the way it is. As such, even though you can’t expect your shoes to look box new with regular cleaning, they will look presentable for a longer period.

How to Clean Hiking Boots to Make Them Last Long 3

When to Clean Your Hiking Boots

Keep in mind that even a good process if repeated excessively can cause trouble. Similarly, regular cleaning does not mean you should clean your shoes every single day.

If your hiking boots look shabby, it's normal. Otherwise, you’re probably not much of an outdoor enthusiast. Establishing that, the ideal time for you to clean your hiking boots should be about after every three to four outdoor expeditions.

If you’re not facing very messy terrains, then rigorous cleaning is not required. Most of the time, for regular routine hikes, clapping one shoe with another to shake off the dirt and caked mud may suffice. Use the conventional detergent and brush method only when needed to extend the life of your boots.

How to Clean Hiking Boots

Just like a recipe, our guide for cleaning hiking boots should be followed step by step with the correct instruments and ingredients for the best result. Don't worry since these steps are straightforward.

1. Get Rid of the Mud

We know you must be pumped up when beginning to clean your boots but hold on: don’t use those brushes or abrasives just yet. The first thing you have to do is get all the evident mud and dirt off. Rubbing your shoes at this initial stage may lead to scratches and marks.

This can be done easily by shaking your boots or banging them against the floor or wall to get that dry and caked dirt off. This removes the initial dirty layer and gets the boots ready for deep cleaning.

2. Clean the Insides First

Tough footwear protects your feet, so the insides of the boots are important to keep clean as they come in constant contact with your skin. Also, sweat and water from hiking through streams and puddles can create damp conditions inside the boots, which can cause a great deal of damage and microorganism growth.

The salt content in both of these substances makes things worse. That’s why the first thing you should do is take the insoles out and wipe them properly. You can also wash them if you need, and clean the insides of your boots.

Doing this process before cleaning the outer part helps you get the insides nice and dry towards the end.

3. Use Proper Detergents or Agents to Clean the Exterior

Never soak your boots. Remember that conventional detergents are harsh and can inflict more harm than any good with extensive exposure.

Just a firm wipe with a boot cleaning agent is enough. Use a detergent that’s dedicated for shoe cleaning. You can easily find it in the market.

Besides that, if you feel your shoe doesn’t require rigorous cleaning, or you’re accustomed to giving it a regular clean, you don’t have to overdo it. In this case, you should dilute the detergent with some water instead of applying it directly for a milder application.

4. Wipe It All Off

Now comes the fun part. The detergent will wrap up all the impurities and dirt for you so you can have your way and scrub your shoe with a brush or sponge. An old used toothbrush will do for this purpose.

Work your way throughout the shoe to get the desired cleanliness. You can apply some force if you come through a spot that requires it; your shoe can take it. However, you should be careful to not inflict any scratches or abrasions on certain materials like leather.

5. Dry Your Boots

Next comes the drying part. The best option to carry this out is to keep the boots in natural sunlight. The morning heat is perfect for this purpose. However, you should refrain from keeping them out too long in the scorching afternoon sun.

If sunlight exposure is not an option for you, try to keep the process as carefully as possible. Run the boots through with soft paper towels or cotton cloth, and stuff the inside as well to absorb all the extra moisture.

Apart from these, you should avoid further harsh instruments of heat such as hair dryers and heaters.

6. Store and Condition

Lastly, conditioning is an important aspect while cleaning hiking boots. It’s the final touch that gives it a shiny new finish. Many kinds of shoe conditioners are available.

Basically, you should just rub it on with a soft microfiber towel, applying more pressure on spots where you think cracks and scratches are evident. Similarly, you should use the goldilocks technique while applying the conditioner. Not too much, as it might soften the body and make it less durable.

Also, it shouldn’t be too less because that wouldn’t do the job right. Additionally, avoid using mink and other oils that are used for industrial shoes; only dedicated conditioners for hiking shoes are preferable for best results.

After you’re done with all of that, it’s time to find a suitable place to store your shoes. Avoid storing your shoes in damp, cold, or very hot places like attics and garages. Instead, go for places with moderate temperatures throughout the day.


Tips to Treat Different Materials

If you just love your hiking boots and have an eye for detail, you should check what’s right for each material it’s made up of. Otherwise, you’ll end up using methods that are favorable for one part, but abrasive for the other.

1. Synthetic Cushioning

The inside of hiking shoes is mostly synthetic cushioning materials since they keep you comfy. When this part gets dirty, it’ll surely intervene in your comfort directly.

Cleaning this part requires caution as this delicate material can rupture easily. You should take care not to rub it too hard or use a brush or hard abrasives.

2. Leather

This is perhaps the trickiest material to deal with. Usually, leather makes up almost all of the body of the shoe.

Taking care of it may become expensive, as leather conditioners are a bit pricey according to quality. You can choose one according to your budget to treat your leather until it shines.

3. Waterproof Coverings or Coating

These are the easiest parts of your hiking boots when it comes to cleaning. You can use detergents and brushes, but it doesn’t need conditioning as much as leather does.

Major Don’ts for Cleaning Hiking Boots

You can use some of these cautions and tips to make cleaning more effective.

1. Let Them Sit Too Long

Obviously, you must be tired after that long tedious hike, but skipping on the cleaning part and letting your shoes sit for long can be harmful to their overall life.

Let’s get it straight: the whole cleaning process takes about half an hour at max. So pick yourself up and get it done before the grime gets more difficult to remove.

2. Use Commercial Detergents

As emphasized repeatedly, do not use tough detergents to take hard stains out. No matter how evident the patches are, stick with the mild soaps. That’s better for the durability of your boots.

3. Pop Them in the Machine

It’s easy to pop your shoes into the machine just like you would with normal sneakers and joggers. But with hiking shoes, that's not preferable at all. It’s best to clean them manually without any form of automatic laundering.

4. Expose Them to Heat

Keep your shoes away from any synthetic heat sources like ovens or heaters. This will damage your shoes badly. Instead, dry them in sunlight or with some absorbent materials.

Final Words

Wrapping up, we’ve presented every information we know which we think you need for you to clean your hiking boots like a pro. The main thing you need to remember is that because these shoes are tough enough to endure your exhausting hikes, they need more attention. So follow these pointers to make sure your expensive hiking boots last you long.

Meta: Taking care of your hiking boots can add more life to them. Here is a detailed guide on how to clean hiking boots.

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