Sunday, December 28, 2014

Keep boots in shape with proper cleaning

Clean your boots so they won't end up
looking like this. Photo courtesy of
After a hike, tossing your boots into the back of the closet or leaving them to lay haphazardly in the garage is a quick ticket to needing a new pair. Instead, you should practice a little boot care. Three basic principles are all you need to follow.

How to clean the boot
A cleaning need not be done immediately upon your return from the trail, but it ought to occur within a day of the hike to minimize boot damage.

For the upper boot, begin by removing the laces. Then dip a toothbrush or vegetable brush into running water, saddle soap, or mild dishwashing detergent (Avoid using bar soap or laundry detergent, which can leave residues that actually attract water; also, footwear products such as cleaner generally are unnecessary.) and gently comb off dirt, dust and sand. Don’t underestimate the power of tiny particles of sand, grit and dirt; every time you take a step, they grind against the boot’s leather like sandpaper, reducing your boot’s longevity. In addition, mud as it dries actually will suck moisture out of the leather, causing the boot to lose its pliability.

For the soles, wash them off to remove stones, debris and mud that has caked into the grooves. If mud is virtually glued to the rubber, soak the outsole is a shallow pan of water to loosen it then spray off.

Remove any inserts and insoles
Taking out inserts, insoles and removable sock liners between hikes ensures the inside of your boot will fully dry. Those items can air dry alongside the boot. If the sock liners or insoles are machine washable, be sure to take advantage of that feature.

Dry at room temperature
Drying your boots by placing them next to a fireplace, radiator, heater or directly in the sunlight only will damage the leather. That occurs because the leather will overdry so that it either turns brittle or shrinks. In addition, excessive heat can weaken the adhesives used to hold the boot’s parts together.

If you need to speed dry a boot, place it in front of a room fan. Another option, if a little more time is available, is to stuff a sheet of newspaper inside the boot, as the pulp will pull out and absorb the leather’s moisture. You’ll want to replace the newspaper about every hour. A third option is to let gravity do the work for you – boots will dry faster if placed upside down.

After cleaning, store your boots in a ventilated space at room temperature. Attics, vehicles and usually garages are poor places to keep your boots because heat can build up in those spaces.

One final note: Boots typically come with care advice from the manufacturer. As each boot brand is unique, be sure to review, keep and follow those instructions.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.