The Ultimate Hiking Boot Washing Guide


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Hiking boots are designed to handle mud, rain, and dusty trails. Still, after a hike, it’s not advisable to toss your dirty boots aside until the next hike. Besides, if you clean your boots regularly, you’ll get more years out of them. 

To wash your hiking boots, you need a boot cleaner, a brush, and water. First, brush off all mud, dust, and dirt, then wipe off the remaining dirt and the insides with a damp cloth. Next, wash the boots and insoles using the cleaning solution. Air-dry the shoes and store them in an airy place. 

Cleaning your hiking boots is easy once you learn how to do it right. This article will offer you guidelines on how to wash your hiking boots, condition them, and dry them. You will also find useful tips on how to take care of your boots.

Why It’s Important to Clean Your Hiking Boots Regularly

Most hikers take great pride in sporting stinky, mud-caked hiking boots after a hike. If your shoes look too clean afterward, you might feel as though your hike wasn’t all that adventurous after all. 

However, if you don’t clean your dirty boots as often as you should, they tend to wear out much faster. This is because:

  • Dirt plus caked mud can erode the shoe fibers causing them to wear out faster.
  • Leaving your boots caked in dirt or soiled with mud can impact their overall performance.
  • As the mud dries, it sucks moisture away from your boots, leaving the leather less pliable, which accelerates its aging.
  • Each time you flex your boots, dirt, grit, or sand particles creep in deeper while grinding away at the leather and fabric.  

Also, it’s best to pull mud off your shoes before it dries off as it’s more challenging to clean dry mud. You can do this even before you get home from your hike. 

How to Wash Your Hiking Boots

Cleaning your hiking boots should entail regular maintenance, although, at times, you may want to treat them to some deeper cleaning before storing them. 

To deep-clean your dirty hiking boots, you’ll need:

  • A boot brush or an old toothbrush
  • Boot cleaner or a mild solution of dishwashing soap plus water
  • Waterproofing – if required
  • Disinfectant – if you need to kill odors

To Clean Hiking Boot Uppers

Below are the steps on how you can clean your hiking boot uppers:

  1. To start, slam the boots together a couple of times to eliminate as much dirt, dust, and dry mud as you can.
  2. Remove the shoelaces before you start cleaning. This will allow you to wash both the laces and the tongue more effectively.  
  3. With a stiff brush, gently remove all surface dust and dirt. A stiff-bristled brush is ideal as it can help you reach into cracks and boot eyelets with ease.  
  4. Stuff your boots with either paper towels or a hand towel to help soak up any excess moisture that might get inside your boots during washing. This will also enable your shoes to dry faster once you finish cleaning them.
  5. Next, use a damp cloth to wipe away the remaining dirt and dust.
  6. For a more thorough wash, use your preferred boot cleaner, a brush, and running water to clean the boots. Make sure that your cleaner is safe to use on your boots and follow the directions on the label. Alternatively, mix plain water with a few squirts of dishwashing detergent.
  7. Scrub the boots thoroughly to get rid of all embedded dirt. This will also prepare your boots if you want to add waterproofing.
  8. Rinse the boots well using clean water.
  9. Add your waterproofing while the boots are still wet.
  10. Leave your boots to dry. 

The short video below explains the above procedure:

Note that if your boots are relatively new, you don’t need to waterproof them since they come treated with a water-repellent finish. 

To Clean the Insides of your Boots

Sweat from your feet and moisture from rain, snow, or fog can mess the inside of your boots. Therefore, remove the insoles and wash them in the cleaning liquid to get rid of dirt and sweat. Next, use a damp clean cloth to wipe out the inside of your boots. 

You might not always need to clean your boots’ insides, but when you do so – like when doing deep cleaning – always clean the insides before proceeding to wash the exterior. This is because once you get the insides dry, you don’t want them getting wet again.

To Clean Hiking Boot Outsoles

Removing mud from your hiking boots not only leaves them looking nice and clean but also restores their traction. 

Clean the outsoles by brushing them vigorously to dislodge small pebbles that might be stuck. If the insoles are full of stubborn caked-on dirt, soak them in water, then hose them down to wash off the gunk.

Drying Your Hiking Boots

The best way to dry your hiking boot is out in the fresh air. To ensure they dry fast and effectively: 

  • Remove the shoe insoles and let them dry separately from the boots.
  • Air-dry your boots at normal temperature but look for a place with low humidity. Avoid heat from a fireplace, campfire, hairdryer, or heater since high heat can weaken the adhesives, cause the boots to crack, or the leather to age prematurely. 
  • You can use a fan, stuff socks, or newspaper inside the boots to hasten the drying process. Replace the stuffing as soon as it gets damp. 
  • It might take more than a day for your boots to get fully dry, so be patient.

Once dry, you will have squeaky clean, waterproofed, nice-smelling hiking boots. Store them in a place with stable, normal temperatures and avoid damp or hot areas. Also avoid places with minimal ventilation like the attic, garage, or your car trunk.

How to Condition Your Boots

Suede and nubuck boots require no conditioning. But, if your leather boots look dry, cracked, or you need to break into them rather quickly, consider applying conditioner on them. 

Leather functions at its best when moisturized. Nevertheless, you want to use conditioner cautiously since too much of it softens your boots, thereby reducing the support they offer.

On the same note, avoid using mink oil or other such oils meant for industrial boots because they over-soften the dry-tanned leather used in most hiking footwear.

Tips on Cleaning and Maintaining Your Hiking Boots

  • Avoid washing your boots with bar soap or detergents as most of them contain additives harmful to leather or waterproof membranes.
  • Never clean your hiking boots in a washing machine because this can damage them. 
  • Always remove muddy clumps from your boots as soon as possible – even when you haven’t planned on washing them. This is because the longer the mud stays on your shoes, the more it will make them damp. Take extra care to wipe off eyelets and hooks on the upper to clear off any dirt.
  • You don’t have to soak your boots in the cleaning solution; wipe them repeatedly until they appear clean.
  • Allow your shoes to dry completely before replacing the laces and insoles. 
  • In case your shoes are smelly, spray the insides with an anti-odor, disinfectant spray. We recommend Gear Aid’s Revivex Odor Eliminator.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, washing your hiking boots is easy once you know what you need to do. Synthetic boots are pretty straightforward to clean, but if you have leather boots, you might want to waterproof and condition them as well.

After every hike, pull out the insoles and keep your boots not in a box or plastic bag. Rather, store them out in the open. Choose an airy place, far away from both moisture and sunlight to keep them until your next hiking trip.

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