How to clean your muddy walking boots

Learning how to clean your walking boots is essential to keep them working at their best. 

walking boots and socks on a log

 A new pair of boots always feel a little strange until they’ve got a good layer of mud on them, but did you know this could be affecting both the durability and performance of your footwear? 

It’s really important to clean your boots after heavy use, even though it’s probably the last thing you want to do after a hike. This guide will help you to both identify the type of walking boots you own and learn how to clean and care for them in the most efficient way possible.

Why do I need to clean my walking boots?

There are numerous ways that mud, grass, and other dirt can affect both the longevity and performance of your walking boots:

  • Traction: If dirt gets stuck in the sole of your boots, you’re likely to struggle to find your footing on hikes. It’s common for mud to stick to the tread of your boots which will harden over time, and the longer you leave it, the worst it will get. Make sure to check the tread of your boots if you’re lacking grip on hikes – it’s likely to hold the answer!
  • Waterproofing: A build-up of dirt on the upper part of your boots can prematurely dry out leather, or even wear away the fibres. This can significantly affect the weatherproof coating on your boots, meaning you might struggle with wet socks more than you’d like to.
  • Breathability: Muddy, soaking wet boots lose their breathability much faster than a clean pair. In turn, it will be much more difficult to regulate the temperature of your feet, leading to blisters and other sores.
  • Rips and tears: Fabric boots can dry out and become brittle when mud is left on them, while leather boots can crack if left untreated. If you notice your boots pulling at the seams, you need to act fast – this damage is often irreparable.

How often should I clean my walking boots?

You should aim to clean your boots on a regular basis – but ‘regular’ is different for everyone. If you’re using your walking boots often, it’s important to keep them in top shape by cleaning them every one or two uses. Boots that are used for long, muddy hikes must be cleaned after every use – this is crucial to maintaining both the tread and waterproofing of your footwear.

If you’re using your walking boots to walk on the beach, you must remember to rinse any sand and seawater away immediately after use. This can be done quickly using a garden hose and will prevent serious damage to your boots. In an ideal world, avoid using your boots on the beach altogether – salt is especially harmful to leather and suede.

Having said this, walking boots that are only used for light walks in warm climates often don’t need as much cleaning. Simply examine your boots after every hike to check the condition of both the soles and uppers.

Great tools for cleaning your boots:

Here are a few of the tools we always have on hand to spruce up our walking boots:

Walking boots

Types of walking boot

Before cleaning your boots, you should identify the material they’re made out of. This is fairly straightforward if you own a pair of full-grain leather boots, but if you’ve bought a pair of suede or even hybrid boots these will need to be cleaned in a certain way to protect the material. 

Most boots can be categorised into either leather or synthetic – we’ve separated our cleaning tips for both in this article. If your boots are a blend of both, make sure to care for each material individually.

How to clean leather boots

It’s usually easier to clean leather walking boots than it is the fabric alternative.

leather walking boots

Prep your boots by removing large chunks of mud or grass outside – you could even purchase a doorstep mud cleaner to quickly wipe your shoes before heading inside. You should also remove your laces before starting a deep clean.

Once your boots are prepped, follow our steps below to get them ready for your next adventure.

  • Step one: Use a brush to remove any further mud from your boots. Make sure to wipe the brush over your boots with enough force to remove dirt without scratching the leather.
  • Step two: Clean your shoes with warm water and a soft cloth. Do not clean leather boots using soapy water, which can dry out the uppers. 
  • Step three: If you need a cleaning aid for stubborn dirt, opt for a gel like the Nikwax Cleaning Gel – this is safe to use on all waterproof, outdoor footwear. Apply the gel and scrub your boots until clean.
  • Step four: Wipe away any excess water or soap – a microfibre cloth will do the job here.
  • Step five: Stuff your boots with newspaper or kitchen towel and allow them to dry fully. 

How to dry your walking boots

It may seem like a good idea over the cold and wet winter months, but try to avoid drying your boots under a radiator as this can warp the leather. Instead, stuffing them with newspaper or similar material can help your shoes to maintain their shape, while also drawing water out from the inside.

How to waterproof leather boots

It’s important to regularly apply wax to full-grain leather boots. This not only prevents the leather from drying out and cracking but also re-proofs your boots to stop water from penetrating the surface. 

You should aim to get a good coating on your boots but avoid over-treating them – this can force the leather to soften and lose its support. 

leather walking boots in a river

Use a shoe brush or soft cloth to apply your choice of wax – we prefer a neutral wax like Granger’s Paste, as this can be used across all of your leather footwear. If you’d like to cover up scuffs and scratches, a colour-matched wax is best.

Wait a few minutes for the wax to absorb, then buff it into your boots with your brush or cloth. If your boots tend to see more rough and tumble than most (think bogs and wet grass), you can also repeat this process. 

How to clean synthetic boots

If you own a pair of non-leather walking boots, follow our steps below to give your footwear a deep clean ready for your next hike.

sythetic walking boots on dusty ground

Prep your boots by removing the laces and removing any large chunks of mud. From there, follow our steps below:

  • Step one: Use a strong brush to remove caked-in mud from your boots. It’s easier (and less messy!) to do this outside before bringing your boots in. Again, a tool like this outdoor boot scraper will help to speed up the process.
  • Step two: Fill your sink or a bucket with warm water and a small amount of dish soap. Gently scrub your boots in this solution using a separate boot brush, microfibre cloth, or even a toothbrush.
  • Step three: Rinse off any soap residue using warm water, then stuff your boots with newspaper and leave to dry naturally. Tip: don’t dry your footwear under the radiator, as tempting as it can be during the cold winter months!

How to re-proof synthetic hiking boots

A waterproofing spray like Nikwax will do a great job of waterproofing synthetic boots. You should re-proof your footwear every two or three uses, or when you notice that water is no longer beading on the surface of your boots.

synthetic walking boots

Apply the re-proofing spray to clean, damp boots from a small distance – make sure to do this outside and away from pets. Be careful not to catch your clothing here. 

When your boots are evenly coated, use a cloth to remove any excess and leave them to dry naturally. Again, do not place your walking boots under a radiator to dry.

How to clean your walking boots with a Boot Buddy

Boot Buddy streamlines the boot cleaning process and is quickly becoming our preferred method. This can be stored in your car and filled with water to clean your boots (or any other footwear) at the end of a walk.

boot buddy cleaning set

Follow our steps below to clean your hiking boots with a Boot Buddy set

  1. Use the scraper end of the Boot Buddy to remove excess mud from your footwear.
  2. Fill the Boot Buddy with water.
  3. Twist the bristle head of the Boot Buddy to start the flow of water.
  4. Scrub your boots using the brush end, squeezing gently on the bottle to release water.
  5. Use the Boot Buddy towel to remove excess water from your footwear, then leave your shoes to dry naturally. 

How to clean your walking boots

Follow our simple steps to clean your boots ready for their next wear! Do you have any other boot cleaning tips to add to this article? Let us know over on Instagram – you can find us @adventurepending.

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