For any sport, having the right gears and equipment will substantially boost performance, and hiking is no exception. The essential and most reasonable investment you should make when going hiking is hiking boots, which allow you to protect your feet from the hard surface and get a better grip on the road.
However, hiking boots are exposed under such harsh conditions, so they are bound to get dirty and worn out very soon. You can still minimize the damage on your beloved hiking boots by learning how to clean hiking boots properly.
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Reasons Why You Need To Clean Your Hiking Boots
Hiking boots are one of the most resilient and sturdy pieces of footwear, but it does not mean that they will not be affected by their working environment at all. Dirt, sands, and rocks can cling onto the boots easily and break down the footwear.
When the boots get dirty with all the small objects, the outer parts of hiking boots will get sanded and thin out, reducing the quality of the fabric. Moreover, when drying onto the boots, the mud on the track will harm the flexibility and life of the leather.
Another reason for keeping your boots clean is that no one wants to look bad, and a pair of dirty and worn-out hiking boots are not precisely eye-catching or pleasant to look at. If you don’t clean them frequently, the dirt and mud will stick on and eventually refuse to come off.
The foul smell will also be a problem. With the intensity of hiking, sweat and mud will result in a bad odor. You won’t want to wear hiking boots with a foul smell along the long trip in any case. The smell can also develop moss and mold on your feet.
Therefore, hikers should clean up their boots frequently to prevent damage and keep the hike more enjoyable. No one wants to go out in a damp and dirty pair of boots, too.
What You Need To Clean Your Boots
To clean your hiking boots, you will need certain items depending on the conditions of your shoes. Sometimes just clean cloth or paper towels are enough, but more often than not, you will need some types of specialized cleaning liquid to work the dirt off.
Basically, boot brushes are designed for this, but you also can recycle old toothbrushes or vegetable brushes to clean your hiking boots. You will also need buckets or sinks to put all the shoes in for cleaning.
Hiking boots cleaning should always be done by hands, don’t just throw your boots into the washing machine. The detergent and machine power are likely to damage and rip your boots themself, so stay away from the washing machine.
For cleaning liquid, try to get the boot cleaners according to the materials of your boots since leather and fabric have different tolerance to the detergent. If not, you can dilute dish detergent with water to clean your boots too. Laundry detergent and other generic soap are bad for footwear since they can disrupt the water-proof ability and harm the insoles.
If you want to deodorize your hiking boots, prepare baking soda and vinegar. Those two can chase the foul odor away when you mixed them in the washing liquid.
How To Clean Your Hiking Boots: The Basic Six Stages
Depending on the condition of your hiking boots, the process of cleaning will vary. However, for footwear stained with dirt and mud, there are several steps that you will need to get the shine back on your hiking boots.
First of all, you will need to prepare the hiking boots so they can be cleaned thoroughly. Please take off the shoelaces and insoles since it is hard to remove dirt in lace holes, so getting the lace out will help a lot.
To remove the bad odor from the insole, use a bit of baking soda and gently rub it on the surface, then wipe it off. For shoelaces, clean them with warm water and soap; after that, air-dry them.
Use the boot brush or any suitable brush to remove the pieces of dirt clinging on the boots by rubbing on it and paper towels to wipe off furthermore. To loosen the stain mark, you may need to let your boots soak in water for several hours until you can clean off the stain easily.
Prepare the cleaning liquid with boot cleaner or dish detergent; all need to be diluted in water. Gentle dip your brush in the liquid and scrub your boots wherever they get dirty. Try to control your strength since certain materials will be damaged if you scrub too hard.
For smaller places like nooks and crannies, you can switch to smaller brushes or toothbrushes to get them clean. A clean cloth dampened with cleaning liquid can also be used to do away with the stains.
Remove The Soap From Your Boots
Now you need to wipe off any excess soap and cleaning liquid. Use a clean wet cloth and go through your boots to clean them. If you feel the fabric becomes sticky with cleaning liquid, rinse it in water and repeat the process until the boots are all cleaned.
In case your hiking boots are unfortunately messed up with sap, gum, or wax-like substance, you will need to wrap them up and put them inside the freezer for one or two hours. The sticky substances are frozen and hardened; you can remove them by hand or nail files.
After cleaning, you might want to improve the condition of your boots. Unless your footwear is 100% from high-quality Gore-Tex, you will love to re-waterproof your boots one more time. You can use either water-proof compound or specialized wax to condition them.
For leather and suede boots, you should use a bit of conditioner to protect the outer parts. This will slow down the aging and breaking process of these materials. You can keep them shiny for metal parts and prevent rust with a layer of chrome polish.
To learn more about boot conditioning, you can click here:
The best way to keep your boots intact is air drying. It would be best if you chose a well-ventilated or windy place to dry your hiking boots. It’s better to keep them under the shade because strong sunlight can cause discoloration and cracks on the materials.
Likely, keep out all the heat sources that may burn or break the boots apart. Only retrieve your boots when they are completely dry; dampness will cause moss, mold, and bad odor to grow.
For a more easy-to-follow guide, you can check this out:
Leather Hiking Boot Treatment: Four Stages
For leather boots, it will require specific treatment to maintain the quality and slow down the aging of these materials. Therefore, you should go through these small steps to make sure that your boots will stay in good shape:
Prepare The Cleaner And Conditioner
For leather boots, the cleaner and conditioner types must be specific since the leather may break down and crack if you use the wrong detergent. Moreover, unsuitable conditioners would not help the leather to retain enough moisture and even can cause problems.
Therefore, please choose a cleaner and conditioner that are labeled for leather hiking boots. If you use a multi-purpose cleaner, you should read the ingredient table to see if they are suitable for leather.
Leather boots follow the very same process of cleaning, just like other types of hiking boots. However, it is recommended for the tools to use a soft brush and rub them lightly. It will prevent scratches and over-work the leather to speed up aging.
Not all leather boots need conditioner since there are certain kinds that their natural moisture is sufficient. Full-grain leather boots, though, require additional moisture from the conditioner. Suede and nubuck are fine on their own.
Use the appropriate amount of conditioner that is recommended by the manufacturer. Too much moisture can cause the leather to lose its form and support. For conditioning, it should always be applied on leather boots when they are still wet.
For drying leather boots, air dry them in the shade and away from the heat, just like other types of hiking boots. It would help if you stored leather boots in places with low humidity and temperature.
This video will tell you how to keep your leather boots in good care:
How To Keep Your Hiking Boots Clean And Long-Lasting
Good maintenance will help your boots last longer and reduce the frequency of cleaning and improve your hike’s performance a lot. Therefore, you should take care of maintenance as much as possible:
Proper Hiking Clothes
It may sound unrelated, but good hiking attire can prevent dirt and hazardous objects from getting in your boots. Long hiking pants will protect the boots from the outer environment and less chance of rock falling into your boots.
This makes the boots cleaner and needs less care after the hike. In turn, you will also feel more comfortable on your journey.
Correct Ways To Wear Your Boots
For footwear, the size and shoe lacing are essential; they decide how well the boots can support you. Well-fitted boots will hug your feet naturally and comfortably, also will protect your muscles from the pressure of the hike.
Too tight boots can actually cause cramps and hurt your toes, and you will hardly feel any support from too big shoes. It would be best if you always tried on new boots before purchase.
Never let the shoelace loose, it does not only get in the way, but they make it harder for you to move around. Tie the shoelaces tight, but not to the point of discomfort, to keep good form for your hiking shoes.
A small tip for people with low foot arch, the middle rings should be as tight as possible to support when you walk. In case you need a better grip on a bumpy surface, you can tighten the top shoelace to make your steps firm.
Shorter Time For Drying
Apart from air drying, the span of time you spend drying your boots should also pay attention to. Long hours waiting for your boots to be in use again after cleaning is tiresome and irritating, and sometimes you don’t have much time to wait like that.
Moreover, leaving your boots soaked and damp for a long time is not a good idea. Several types of material don’t do well if getting wet too long and can even crack or age faster in that state.
Therefore, after cleaning, use a dry cloth to absorb as much excess and residue water as possible. Use multiple dry materials to the point you can not suck out water anymore. You can also stuff some cloth, or the paper is acceptable, inside the boots when drying. Remember to change them periodically.
Another good way is to hang the boots directly on the fan. Electric fans produce strong wind and ventilation to dry the boots quicker, but no heat, which is harmful to the material, is generated.
Prevent Smell And Mold With Baking Soda
To sanitize your hiking boots, baking soda is the Holy Grail. Sprinkle a spoon of baking soda inside your shoes after cleaning or returning from the hike will keep the bad smell away. Or before you store your hiking boots, baking soda will prevent the bacteria and mold from developing.
You can check out all the tips to deal with Gore-Tex boots here:
Do different cleaning types of hiking boots have the same process?
In general, all types of hiking boots can follow the same basic step for cleaning.
How long does it take to clean a very dirty pair of hiking boots?
It can take more than two hours to clean a very dirty pair of hiking boots, including the soaking time.
Can I use soap and water (only) to clean hiking boots?
Yes, you can use only soap and water to clean hiking boots.
How long do Gore-Tex boots stay water-proof?
Gore-Tex is said to be water-proof forever, but the efficiency will reduce after one or two years in use.