How do I care for my new all-leather boots?

I got a new pair of all-leather boots over the holidays and want to be sure I take good care of them. But there are so many different kinds of waterproofers and cleaners out there. Help! Cathy Little Rock, Arkansas


I’m here to make your life simpler, which I will now do. Think of your boots as sort of a second skin for your feet. Like your real skin, you want to keep the boots reasonably clean and reasonably moist. You don’t want to scrub them too hard, dry them with too much heat, or grease them up too much.

Nikwax Aqueous

Aqueous waterproofing

So here’s the drill. When your boots start to get real grubby on the outside, from mud and dust, rinse them off with cool water. Use a soft brush to gently clean the seams to get abrasive grit out of the tight spots. Rinse the interiors, too, as sweat has an acidic component that can damage linings, particularly the newer fabric linings. Towel-dry the boots and let them fully dry at more or less room temperature.

Factory-fresh boots have a good dose of conditioning and waterproofing in the leather, so you don’t need to do too much right away. Maybe spritz them with a little Nikwax Aqueous ($7.50;, an easy-to-use water-repellent that also gives the leather a little conditioning.

As time goes on you do want to guard against the leather drying out. After cleaning, apply something like Granger’s water-based G-Wax ($7.50;, which helps condition and protect the leather. Nikwax’s Leather Conditioner (also $7.50) is good stuff, too. Don’t use any grease or oil such as mink oil.

You can buy special “boot cleaners" and so on, but I’m not sure I’d bother. Water removes 99 percent of what you’ll collect on a trail. In cases of extreme boot filth, a little Dawn detergent wouldn’t hurt—it’s an excellent de-greaser and fairly mild. Bird-rescue people use it after oil spills.

With reasonable care, even benign neglect, good leather boots should last many years, and the leather should survive two or even three sole replacements. March on!

You’ve got your winter gear, now get outside and use it.’s ski and snowboard guide makes it easy to find nearby slopes just begging for fresh tracks.

Filed To: Hiking Boots
Lead Photo: courtesy, Nikwax