Leather Boot Care: Your Comprehensive Guide

Collection of leather boot care items

For ages, leather has served as one of the most versatile materials for clothing and goods available. Eternally fashionable and extremely durable, leather can last for decades with proper care. Leather boot care may sound like a hassle at first, but if you’re investing in high-quality leather, you want to get the highest return on your investment possible. Whether you’re cleaning leather car seats, jackets, or shoes, the routine is pretty much the same. Understanding the different types and grades of leather, and knowing a variety of leather boot care strategies, can help you make wise decisions on purchasing and caring for it.

What Are the Different Types of Leather?

Leather can be made from just about any type of animal skin, but that doesn’t mean that it will create a viable product for clothing and shoes. Cowhide is the most common type of animal skin used for leather clothing products, but many more types are increasing in popularity. Other types of leather include:

  • Pigskin
  • Sheepskin
  • Goatskin
  • Horsehide
  • Buffalo
  • Camel
  • Anteater
  • Deerskin
  • Elephant
  • Giraffe
  • Hippopotamus
  • Kangaroo
  • Kudu

Reptile Leather

  • Lizard
  • Snake
  • Toad
  • Alligator & Crocodile
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Bird Leather

  • Chicken
  • Ostrich
  • Duck
  • Turkey

Fish Leather

  • Giant Bass
  • Eel
  • Shark
  • Stingray

There are numerous grades of leather, and each one undergoes a unique manufacturing process. Understanding the different types will help you devise the best boot care maintenance routine to extend your boots’ and shoes’ lifespan.

  1. Full Grain — This is the top-of-the-line grade of leather. It is not sanded, so it offers the most moisture resistance and is much thicker than other grades.
  2. Top Grain — This is just one grade below full grain, as it undergoes some light sanding to remove a few layers and remove imperfections. The trade-off with this grade is it has a smoother finish at the cost of some breathability.
  3. Genuine Leather — Don’t mistake the word “genuine” for meaning the highest-quality grade of leather. This type is often made from the leftover layers, undergoes a lot of sanding, and includes artificial layers of the grain to achieve a natural look.
  4. Bonded Leather — As the lowest grade of leather, bonded leather is a byproduct of the other grades’ leftovers. Think of it as the leather-equivalent of compressed particle board. With the use of adhesives, scraps of leather are pressed together to form sheets that are then cut into a shoe pattern.

Leather Boot Care Pro Tip

It’s wise to do a little research before you buy leather. Each type and grade will require a different level of care and can have vastly different lifespans.

What Are the Best Methods for Leather Boot Care?

Someone gently scrubbing a leather boot with a soft-bristle brush and leather conditioner

Your boot care routine will have a big impact on the leather’s longevity and will help protect your investment. You can usually remove dirt and grime with a damp cloth and a little leather cleaner. However, you don’t want to neglect regular deep-cleaning, conditioning, and waterproofing to make sure you’re always putting your best foot forward in those leather boots.

Deep-Cleaning Leather Boots

After removing the laces, gently brush the entire boot’s surface to remove dirt and grime with a soft-bristle toothbrush, horsehair brush, or suede brush. Mix saddle soap with warm water and wipe down all the surfaces with a damp cloth. After allowing them to air-dry, it is time to prepare them for conditioning.

This means using a hairdryer or placing them in direct sunlight just long enough to warm them and open the leather’s pores. Using the appropriate type of oil, sealant, shoe cream, or leather conditioner for your type of leather, gently apply it to the boot’s outer surfaces. It is important to follow the specific product’s directions to avoid buildup or other problems.

Leather Boot Care Pro Tip

Remove odors and excess moisture by packing sachets of cedar chips in your boots. This will help keep your boots smelling fresh and can be used every day or for long-term storage. Cedar also acts as an insect repellant.

What Is the Importance of Using Leather Conditioner?

Buying high-quality leather is truly an investment. If you want to protect that investment, then the importance of using a leather conditioner cannot be understated. Leather conditioners will keep your leather shoes and boots supple and help prevent cracking. Most types of leather conditioners also help the leather maintain its water resistance, thus preventing mold and rot.

Leather conditioners come in a variety of formulations. The most common is mink oil, but many now include other conditioners and cream polishes that help accentuate the leather’s texture and color. Just be sure to check the ingredients and avoid products that contain drying agents like alcohol, which are counter-productive to the moisturizing effect needed to prevent cracking the leather.

Repairing Damaged Leather Shoes

For minor scuffs and scratches, you can find leather repair kits online that work as a patch to hide imperfections quickly. If your boots have been in a non-climate controlled storage for a while, they might show signs of mold. If caught in time, removing mold from leather can be done easily at home. However, more significant damage may require a visit to a repair shop.

If you’ve taken great care of your leather shoes, they will last for a very long time. But, eventually, there will come a time when you will need to resole your leather shoes. DIY leather boot care can’t put it off forever. For this, you will need to take them to a cobbler.

The Best Methods for Spot-Treating Leather

In between deep-cleanings, you may need to do spot treatments to remove dirt, scuffs, or stains quickly. If you don’t have any of your routine leather care products handy, then try dipping a cotton swab in alcohol, vinegar, or lemon juice and rubbing the stain gently. The acidity of these solutions should eliminate most stains, but be sure to wipe the area clean to avoid damaging the leather. Vinegar is especially useful in removing salt spots.

Just remember that different types of stains may require different methods of removal. For example, removing ink from leather is a bit of a challenge and may require a professional repair shop. It is important to remove stains as soon as possible. Otherwise, they may permanently settle into the leather.

Match Your Leather Boot Care With the Right Storage

Because leather is an organic material, it is prone to damage if stored incorrectly for long periods of time. For this reason, special care should be taken to prepare your leather shoes for storage and ensure it is stored in the proper environment. These are a few of the “Golden Rules for Leather Storage” that will keep your leather looking great for years to come.

Proper Ventilation Is Key

Leather requires a breathable environment, so never store it in plastic! Without proper ventilation, the leather will rot. Instead, wrapping it in paper will provide protection without suffocating the leather.

Avoid Direct Sunlight

Long periods of direct sunlight will dry out the leather and cause cracking.

Prevent Excess Moisture

Excess moisture is arguably one of leather’s most formidable foes. While it is important to hydrate leather with conditioners, too much moisture will lead to mold and result in severe damage.

Use a Cedar Shoe Tree

Cedar is one of leather’s best friends because it helps remove excess moisture and odors while also being an effective insect repellant. You can even use a cedar boot tree to store work boots for everyday use.

Choose Climate-Controlled Storage

When choosing a storage space, the most important consideration should be whether it is a climate-controlled storage space. Not only will this help avoid the above-mentioned problems, but it will also keep your boots at the optimal temperature of around 65ºF and a humidity level of no more than 55%.

Containers Matter

It’s unwise to place your boots in direct contact with concrete for long periods of time due to the potential for excess moisture to transfer. Also, avoid metal containers that can leave permanent stains. Instead, use a thick-walled cardboard box.

Keep Different Leathers Separate

Never store different types of leather together. Oils and stains can migrate from one leather product to another. Always keep them in separate containers.

DIY leather boot care doesn’t have to be difficult. You can become an expert with just a little basic knowledge and the right supplies to maintain it, and this will save you a lot of money over the years. Following these tips will keep your leather goods in top-notch condition for years to come. Your leather boots and your wallet will thank you.

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