We get it, a long day on the trails can be tiring. Realistically, few of us get back and immediately set to work thoroughly cleaning our boots, though we may give them a quick rinse. However, taking proper time to get your hiking footwear in ship shape in the days after use can extend their life massively.
Our guide to how to clean hiking boots covers both synthetic and leather hiking boots to make sure yours stay in tip top condition so you’ll be able to enjoy them for many trails to come.
Obviously, hiking boots are meant to get dirty, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t clean them between hikes. When you’re out on a hike, they're bound to get covered in mud, sand, grit and even tree sap. If you don’t take the time to clean this off regularly, it will work its way deeper into the fabric of your boots each time they flex under every step. This can cause your boots to degrade faster and lose their waterproofing capabilities and if your hiking boots are made of leather, these substances will also dry out the leather, causing it to crack.
This also applies to your best hiking shoes , while knowing how to clean your trail running shoes will stop them falling apart too. Fortunately, cleaning your hiking boots doesn’t take a lot in the way of time, effort or equipment, and saves you money in the long run as it makes your boots last longer.
Meet our expert
Growing up in Scotland, Julia cut her hiking teeth on sections of the famous West Highland Way, as well as climbing Munros and other peaks near Glasgow as a teenager. A long-distance trek across Lapland aged 16 sealed her fate as a lifelong hiker.
She moved to the US for university, after which a stint in Vermont saw her exploring the Green Mountains before she made a beeline for the Colorado Rockies. During her 11 years at high altitude, she hiked 30 Colorado 14ers, countless smaller peaks and trails and visited many of the West’s most iconic National Parks.
These days, she’s spending most of her hiking time clocking up miles in the Scottish Highlands and the French Alps. Needless to say, she’s tested a lot of hiking boots, hiking shoes and hiking sandals in the past 30 years and has spent countless hours cleaning them.
How often should you clean hiking boots?
Believe it or not, you want to clean your hiking boots after every use. It sounds time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. At the end of each hike, if you can walk through wet grass or wade through a puddle or shallow stream, you may be able to take care of any grime without having to even pull out the boot brush.
If your boots are only lightly soiled when you get home, you can usually give them a quick wipe with a damp cloth and set them out to dry away from heat sources.
If your boots are more heavily soiled after a tramp in the woods, or if you’ve been hiking a lot lately and need to give them a monthly maintenance clean, follow the directions below.
What do I need to clean hiking boots?
To get the best results, we recommend the following to get your boots spick and span.
- Shoe brush
- Soft cloth
- Leather boot cleaner
- Dish soap
- Baking soda
- Towel or newspaper
Brands like Nikwax sell everything you need to clean hiking boots in one handy package. As well as everything you need to clean leather and synthetic boots, their Outdoor Complete Collection Kit also contains a waterproof cleaner and reproofer and spray-on UV protection for tents and other gear.
How to clean synthetic hiking boots
If your boots are not made of leather, you can follow these steps to clean them thoroughly. If you plan to use your boots again the very next day, you may simply want to give them a wipe and wait until you have a rest day so you can allow your boots to dry completely before you have to use them again.
1. Remove the laces and insoles
To make it easier to clean the details of your boots, remove the laces and insoles first. To clean the laces, rinse them in warm water with a little dish soap and lay them out to dry.
You can also hand wash the insoles with warm water and a little dish soap then set them out to dry. To deodorize and dry the insoles, sprinkle them with baking soda and set them aside.
2. Brush the mud off your synthetic hiking boots
If your boots are caked in mud, use a shoe brush (an old toothbrush or nail brush will work too) and remove the mud deposits first. You might do this outside in the driveway, in the garage or over the sink so you don’t get mud everywhere inside your house.
3. Wash your synthetic hiking boots
Fill the sink or a basin with warm water and add a little dish soap. Dip your boots in the water then gently scrub them with the boot brush or a cloth. With synthetic boots, you can wash the inside too by submerging the whole boot in water to allow it to fill up, emptying it out then using the brush or cloth on the interior as well.
When your boots look clean, take a new cloth and dampen it, then wipe off the soap.
4. Waterproof your synthetic hiking boots
If you plan to re waterproof your hiking boots, do it while they’re still damp and follow the instructions in our article on how to waterproof hiking boots.
5. Dry your synthetic hiking boots
Stuff your boots with newspaper to soak up the moisture and let them air dry, away from heat sources.
How to clean leather hiking boots
If your hiking boots are made of leather, do not use soap or detergent on them. Instead, you’ll want to get a leather hiking boot cleaner and follow these steps:
1. Remove the laces and insoles
If the laces need to be cleaned, wash them in warm soapy water. Otherwise, just set them aside.
You can hand wash the insoles with warm water and dish soap and set them out to dry, or simply deodorize them by sprinkling them with baking soda.
2. Brush off dust and dirt
Use a soft boot brush to remove any dust and dirt from the outsides of your boots. You can do this outdoors, over a sink or the trash can to keep your house from getting too dirty in the process of cleaning your boots.
3. Wash your leather hiking boots
If you only want to wash the outsides of your boots, wrap a towel around your hand and place it inside the boot so the inside doesn’t get wet. Turn on the tap and rinse your boots under lukewarm water. Squirt some of the leather hiking boot cleaner on the boot and gently scrub the outers with a soft cloth. Then rinse the cleaner off.
If the insides of your boots also need to be cleaned, you can wipe them out with a damp sponge or soft cloth.
4. Waterproof your leather hiking boots
If you plan to re waterproof your boots, do it while they’re still wet following the same instructions for synthetic hiking boots, above.
5. Dry your leather hiking boots
You can leave the towels inside your boots while they dry if you used them for cleaning, or stuff your boots with newspaper. Then let your boots air dry at room temperature, away from heat sources or direct sunlight. You can use a fan to speed up the drying process.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.