How to Clean Cowboy Boots in 3 Easy Steps

how to clean cowboy bootsOK, you have finally bought your dream pair of boots. They looked good on you in the store mirror and they look as good on you in your home mirror. It’s time to wear them outside…

(Insert movie record scratch here!)… WHAT!!??

Your biggest fear is about to take place; dirt on your new boots.

Or worse, if you actually wear them around livestock!

But, there is no need to fear. With a little knowledge and help from a few products they can look like new (or near new) again.

 

The 4 most common leather types used for Cowboy Boots are…
• Smooth leather (Shiny, has a nice polished look)
• Distressed or Oil Tan (Not shiny, slight scuffs rub out with your finger)
• Rough Out (Also called “suede” boots by some)
• Exotic Leather (Made from critters you mostly do not want to meet while they are alive)

Cleaning each one is pretty simple but the technique and products are different. It is wise to go over it with the boot shop sales person when buying your boots. Most shops have the proper products for your style of leather. In this post, we are going to concentrate on the smooth surface type of leather that is polished.

“The Mud the Blood, and the Beer”
Borrowing from a Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue.” Hopefully, not all of this gets on your boots at once! Mud, can be cleaned off, beer is not the end of the world, but blood will stain most leathers. I was told by an old boot maker that it “burns” the leather. I think it is more of a chemical reaction stain that just will not go away.


You will need a few items to get started:
• Bucket for water/ Soft Scrub Brush to Remove Mud
Saddle Soap/ Sponge
Polish/ Polish Brush/ Soft Bristle Brush
Sole Edge & Heel Dressing

This pair of boots is 15 years old and have been resoled and heeled a couple times. They reside in the tack room and rarely get cleaned/polished. They were a perfect candidate for the demonstration because they were pretty “funky” but still serviceable. I may polish them again in 5 more years!!

How to clean cowboy boots 1

Try to get major mud off the surface before cleaning with Saddle Soap

Step 1: Remove Dirt/Mud
A damp sponge if it is very light dust. For mud, use a plastic spoon to scrape the large chunks. This will get most mud off and the spoon will break if you use too much pressure. A little patience is needed here, don’t worry if not all of it comes off, a wet, damp sponge will help remove most of the remnants left behind.


How to Clean cowboy boots 2

A wet/damp sponge with suds from Saddle Soap will remove dust and dirt

Step 2: Saddle Soap surface and wipe dry.
Get a sponge wet and rub it in/on your saddle soap creating foam. Start rubbing the lather all over the boot at first getting it wet and sudsy all at once and even. Once it is evenly lathered up go back and concentrate on very dirty areas. Keep a good level of moisture and suds working on this step. When it looks like the dirt is gone use a dry, soft cloth to remove saddle soap suds. There is no need to “rinse” the soap off because it has oils and waxes in it to nourish the leather. (But do remove the dirt and suds) Then let the surface dry naturally.


how to clean cowboy boots 3

Apply Polish/Wax rubbing in circles to cover scuff marks.

how to clean cowboy boots 6

A soft bristle Shoe Brush will start the Buffing Process.

Step 3: Adding color (polish) to the surface to remove marks/scuffs
Smooth leather: Shoe polish of the same/similar color. I like Meltonian Shoe Cream or Lincoln Paste Wax. Meltonian is a creamy paste that has some conditioners in it while helping to hide scuff marks; it polishes nice and does not leave a buildup of wax. If you want them “Super Shiny” or really glossy, the Lincoln Paste Wax is a good choice. A couple applications with some “elbow grease” rubbing in-between will get a very high gloss particularly in dark colors and black.


how to clean cowboy boots 4

Apply Edge Dressing with a dauber or brush. Most will come with an applicator in or on the bottle

Bonus Step!! Sole and Heel Edge Dressing

This is where you can really shine! (pun intended). Using Edge Dressing is a Shoe Shine Professional’s trick. This step really makes your cleaning and polish work stand out! And if your soles and heels are made from leather this step will highlight your hard work.

Edge Dressing applied to the sides really makes the job look finished. Available in most retail Shoe Stores or Boot Repair Shops and is available in Dark Brown or Black. I use Dark Brown the most unless it is a black pair of boots.
Give this step a try and see how much better you’re old (or newly cleaned new boots) will look!

how to clean cowboy boots 5

Finished product!


rick jorgenson

Rick Jorgenson

Jorgenson Leather is located in Phoenix AZ. Saddles and Holsters are the main business but Rick also enjoys teaching leather art and holster building to students on a one on one mentor/mentee basis and on occasion will teach a class at a local Tandy Leather store.

Learn more about Rick at www.jorgensonleather.com.

This Post Has 42 Comments

  1. Angelo pecora

    Good informative post.

    1. Rick Jorgenson

      Thanks Angelo!

      This info helps give everyone the confidence to clean up their boots without worrying about ruining them.

      Are there any other questions about leather items you might have?

      Rick

      1. douglas

        I do- I’ve got a leather belt that I’ve been wearing for at least 20 years. It’s been hot, sweaty, and sometimes wet or dirty. It’s started to show a little cracking, and I’m thinking that I should take care of it, as it conforms to my shape perfectly now (isn’t leather great?). I suppose I can clean it with saddle soap as above, but then what? I’m figurin’ it needs some oil or other conditioner to keep the leather supple and strong. I also live in California, where it’s dry so that’s possibly a factor as well.

        Thanks for any advice!

      2. Luke Ryan

        I recently purchased a pair of distressed leather Ariats and made the mistake of wearing them in a wet environment and only owning them a week they look like they’ve been beat up for years so I’m wondering is there anyway to refurbish them to look less worn.

  2. F.J. Thomas

    Good refresher on maintaining boots! I think it’s almost a lost art!

    1. Alyssa Barnes
      Alyssa Barnes

      I think you’re right. Our society’s mentality is more along the lines of to “throw them away and buy a new pair!”

  3. Tom Stone McNees

    thanks Rick! We wear western boots here in Tennessee too, and next time I get ’em good and dirty I’ll know exactly what to do.

    1. Rick Jorgenson

      Tom,
      Western Boots are popular all over the country, it’s great to hear from a fellow “western boot wearer” that is not in the west! I have heard that sipping that drink Tennessee is popular for while wearing boots makes the drink and the boots more enjoyable!! Glad you liked the post!

  4. David Wilson

    Hi Rick,
    I accidentally put regular boot conditioner on my Red Ranch Distressed leather boots. They originally were rough looking and lighter in color, but now are too smooth (for my taste) and darker. Is there any sort of cleaner I can use in attempting to restore their original look?
    Thanks,
    David Wilson
    San Antonio

    1. Rick Jorgenson

      Hi David,

      Some conditioners will naturally wear away hopefully returning the natural color to your boots. Some applications can permanently change it.

      Removing the conditioner may or may not work but there are some steps that you can take that are fairly safe. Please note, it may never go back to how they were originally.

      #1. Saddle soap the surface. This will help remove the excess conditioner. Allow to dry naturally.

      #2. Use a medium Bristol Brush (natural bristol) and brush the surface.

      Hopefully this and wearing them will help your natural color and texture come back.

      Rick

  5. David Wilson

    Many thanks, Rick! I’ve purchased Saddle Soap, and will follow your suggestions to see how they turn out–even a bit of a change in their appearance will be great.

    1. Rick Jorgenson

      David,

      Let us know how it turns out!

      Rick

  6. Jerry

    Thanks Rick – nice simple summary how to clean/polish boots. Easy do it your self instructions. Helps when your almost an hour away from nearest boot shop here in south Texas

    1. Rick Jorgenson

      Hi Jerry,

      I am glad you enjoyed the boot cleaning tutorial! As Alyssa stated above “throw them away and buy a new pair!” is what a lot of folks do. When you have a favorite pair or a quality pair they are defiantly worth taking care of.
      There are so few Boot Repair Shops around now due to the fact so many people have the “toss em away” attitude. They could just no longer make a living in many towns. I found this article about how in 1998 there were 60,000 shoe/boot repair shops, by 2013 there were only 7,000.
      (Ref: http://issuenumberone.journalism.cuny.edu/2013/05/23/1416/ )

      Now of the 7,000 many were thriving being the competition had gone away.
      (Ref: http://www.sj-r.com/article/20120305/NEWS/303059934)
      I know here in Phoenix AZ there are several still left but only a couple will do Cowboy Boots and they remain busy with that work.

      So, polish them up and get them resoled when they need it!!
      Thanks for the note!
      Rick

  7. Cynthia Thomas

    Rick,

    I am so happy that I stumbled upon your blog post because I just bought a new pair of cowboy boots from Sheplers and I don’t even want to wear them for fear of ruining them.

    I have owned many pairs of cowboy boots in the past, only to have them ruined at the barn or from spending too much time outside. If only I had found your blog before then! Your helpful tips, such as when you explain that “there is no need to “rinse” the soap off because it has oils and waxes in it to nourish the leather (but do remove the dirt and suds)” for when you use Saddle Soap, will without a doubt keep me from having to buy new boots for awhile!

    Needless to say, I will definitely be back to see what other tips you have to share next.

    Can’t wait until your next post!
    Christa

    1. Rick

      Hi Christa,

      I’m so glad the “Cowboy Boot Cleaning” post was useful to you. Many people are afraid to “mess” with their boots. I think it is because there are so many products available that they just don’t know what to use and don’t want to damage their boots.

      Going back to basics, Saddle Soap, Light Oil (Neats Foot Oil), and polish it it is a “Finished” type color leather goes a long ways. Sometimes just a good cleaning with the Saddle Soap is enough. (Just like your Tack)

      The next post is going to be on “Cleaning & Conditioning Your Saddle” as well as looking for Safety Issues of parts that can wear out that you may have never looked at before. It will be long but I will include lots of photos with step by step directions. It should be ready in a couple weeks.

      Thank you for the feedback and enjoy your new boots!!

      Rick

  8. Gwendolyn Holland

    Great post! I am going to use your method on my husband`s boots. Thank you for sharing.
    PS Great boots! :)

    1. Alyssa Barnes
      Alyssa Barnes

      Thank you Gwendolyn. Rick did a great job on that post!

    2. Rick Jorgenson

      Hi Gwendolyn,

      Thank you for the compliment on the post. Caring for your boots (or other leather items) is a concern for people. There are so many products on the market to choose from, all of them promising to be “The Best”. Using the wrong one on leather it was not intended for can change the look of the Boots (or item) or worse, ruin them.
      Using saddle soap on leather has always worked for me. Conditioning leather with a light coat for oil (If it is dry) once in a while is fine, it does not need to be done very often. The cleaning is the most important and on smooth leather boots (those with a polished surface) the polish really helps keep them looking good.

      Take care, and let us know how it works for you.

      Rick

  9. Randy church

    You should do a YouTube video on this and do and dont’s as Well and how clean certain stuff that may come on your boots I had a very intense adult activity and some stuff landed on them I did not notice until morning I wipe with a damp wash rag and there a still some stain on the leather not sure if it can be taken off I hope I’m not the only redneck who never to token off there cowboy boots during adult activities if I am then I will look for help but frost my boots is there hope for them or should I dump them?

  10. Rick Jorgenson

    Yes Randy, you are the only one to ever do “intense adult activity” with your boots on! (said with heavy sarcasm)
    The steps remain the same for your Redneck DNA spill.
    **1. Use Saddle soap and wet the entire area of the boot. Be sure to really scrub the “soiled” spots using the wet sponge and saddle soap. The whole lower section of the boot must be wet to avoid water spots and stain.
    **2. Let the boots dry Naturally. Do not use heat just let them air dry for a day or two.
    **3. You did not mention what type of leather or finish they are so I’m going to give a couple. Apply which ever method for the type of leather on your boots.
    **3. A. If your boots are smooth leather and a color finish, ** Apply a light coat of Neats Foot oil then boot polish in the proper color and then buff.
    **3. B. if your boots are Oil-tan (or “pull up” leather) Apply an Oil-tan conditioner such as Blackrock leather conditioner. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Blackrock-Leather-N-Rich-4oz-tub-Cleans-Conditions-Softens-/261749121869
    I hope that helps you out and works for your boots.
    If you get any sores you may want to get those looked at. Hay mites or ticks in the “nether regions” are bad news!
    Best of luck to you. Stay out of the hay barns, you will always get hay stuck where it just should not be!

    Rick

  11. Graciela

    Thanks for tips. I see how to make the boots look like new. Very helpful. I will do the same with my boots for testing. :)

    1. Rick Jorgenson

      Graciela,

      I’m glad the post helped you out. Sometimes just a little information helps you perform a task that you may have had questions about. Especially with expensive boots!!

  12. Graciela

    There are elements I did not pay any attention to his boots. Seems like I spent a small amount of money to change but new shoes.

  13. Jessica

    Hey Rick,
    I have a pair of corral distressed boots. They were a Shiney sort of grey brown colour with alot of white stitching, I have tried to clean then as the stitching gets dirty but not the leather around the heal and toe has lost its shine and is not at all water resistant as it used to be. Any idea if I can get the shine back? And if I can do it around the very intrecate stitching without making it more discolored.
    Thanks Jess

  14. Rick Jorgenson

    Hi Jess,

    White stitching is a tough job to keep looking good. After cleaning your boots as you would normally, apply a liquid cleaner such as Simple Green or 409 to a small spot on a soft rag. Rub the area of the stitching with the cleaner/soft rag.

    For the Heels & Soles try Fiebings Heel & Sole Polish.
    http://www.amazon.com/Fiebings-Sole-Edge-Polish-Brown/dp/B0050JSL2K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1462253677&sr=8-1&keywords=fiebings+sole+edge+and+heel+polish+0.6+fl+oz

    That will put a protective layer on the Sole & Heel leather to help keep the water from being absorbed.

    Keep us posted on how that works.

    Rick

    1. Jessica

      Hi Rick the simple green cleaner won’t damage the leather father? And it’s not the actual heal or sole is the leather on the area above. I’d attach a picture if I could to show it. The stitching is on top of that area which is where I am having trouble finding some thing to help repair the leather but not discolour the stitching. Thank you so much for the info! I appreciate the help!
      Jess.

  15. Rick Jorgenson

    Hi Jess,

    I think you may be talking about the “Welt”. That is the leather that holds the upper part of the boot to the sole. Normally it is about 1/4″ to 1/2″ wide and shows the stitching.
    If the welt is damaged (cracking, flaking or chunks falling off) it will need replacing and that is some major surgery on you boots.
    The cleaner should not damage any part of your boots unless the leather is deteriorating out of control anyway. Spray some on a soft rag and try doing a small area. It will not damage leather that is not deteriorated.
    Look here to find the names of the parts of a boot. http://lib.store.yahoo.net/lib/thesaddleshop/parts-of-a-boot.jpg

    I hope this helps with your progress! Keep us up to date.

    Rick

    Rick

  16. Jay

    I have a pair of lizard skin boots I would like to dye back to their original color. They got wet in the rain and turned dark. I would like to return them to their original light tan color. Can you help me?

    1. Rick

      Hi Jay,

      I would seek out a boot maker and get their opinion.

      I wish I had more for you but this would be difficult to suggest a “fix” for without seeing in person.

  17. David Wilson

    It worked great! Thank you so much.

  18. Shannon Wilson

    Hi Rick-
    I bought a pair of gently used boots at a festival this weekend and had no idea how to spiff them up until I stumbled upon this post. Thank you so much!!! I’ve been wanting a pair of boots for a long time but didn’t want to spend a lot on them until I knew if I’d wear them. My boots look so amazing now that I think I might wear them with everything!!! Thanks again!!

    Shannon

    1. Rick

      Shannon,

      I’m so glad it helped! Once the “Cowboy Boot” bug bites you… you will need a different pair for every occasion!!

  19. Kim

    I got blood on my boots from elk hunting and I am afraid they are ruined. Help? Any ideas how to get it out?

    1. Rick

      Kim,

      Getting blood on leather is usually a disaster. It will leave a spot no matter what is used. (my experience)

      Saddle soap them, on the really bad areas try hydrogen peroxide to see if it will lift the stain then saddle soap again. Let them air dry naturally. Apply a lite application of conditioner like Fiebings Aussie Leather Conditioner.

      They will be wearable but most likely still stained. Wear them around camp like a badge of honor!

  20. Brad Johnson

    Hi Rick,

    I’m eyeing a new pair of boots that come with a polished finish. I love the boot design, but not really the leather finish. What might be the appropriate process to remove the shiny finish and replace with an oiled/distressed look? Sanding, scuffing, or maybe a solvent to remove the shiny look? I’ve thought about getting ’em wet and dancing & shuffling around in a pile of 3/8- gravel. I’m sure that’s not good for the leather, but seems it might distress them quickly. Then seems like there’s lots of oils and boot dressings. I probably have a dozen on hand, but curious what you’d recommend for that semi-dull oiled look?

    Thanks kindly.
    Brad

    1. Rick Jorgenson

      Brad,

      Don’t buy shiny boots and wish they were distressed!! Buy distressed leather boots!!

      Look for Ariat, Dan Post, and others.

      Check with your local “Boot Store” and try some on. If your are out on a ranch and no “Boot Store” is near, shop on-line. Look for “distressed Leather” or “Oil Tan Pull-up Leather”.

  21. Scott

    Thanks for this really useful article! I had no idea that there is no need to rinse off the soap because they have oils and waxes to nourish the leather. I can understand why it would be important to know how to properly clean your cowboy boots in order to make them last a long time. It seems like a good idea to ask the vendor the proper way to take care of the boots when you buy them.

    1. Rick Jorgenson

      Scott,

      Not many people know about not rinsing the saddle soap off. As kids we are taught to “rinse all the soap off or you will get a rash”. Mom was right about that one! So everyone gets a “pass” on the saddle soap thing. Now you know, pass it on when you can.

      Good idea to ask at the store where you buy but, be cautious, they may only recommend what they have in stock or the person you ask may not know as much as you would like them to so… it’s good to search out info for yourself and get some other opinions.

      If you are lucky enough to buy from a long standing local boot shop, the folks there generally will never steer you wrong.

  22. Michelle

    Hi, I just got a pair of Ariat Heriatage distressed bown boots for Christmas. I love them and I want to keep them looking nice. What cleaners and polishes do you recommend to keep them looking (not shinny) distressed? Also is there a sealer I can use to help them repel water? Someone told me to use mink oil on it.

  23. Rick

    Hi Michelle,

    For cleaning the “distressed, oil-tan” leather it can be as simple as just wiping them off to remove dust with a lightly damp cloth. If they are starting to show to many scuff marks and dirt stains use a good quality saddle soap (Fiebings is what I like to use, white or yellow, they both work the same).
    There are conditioners for that type of leather. Blackrock is the best I have used. you can find it on Amazon as Blackrock Leather-n-Rich.
    A little dab of that once in a while will keep them looking good! Don’t over-do using to much “product” of any kind on your boots. Most think “if a little is good, a lot must be better” and it is just not so.
    I personally NEVER use mink oil on anything (except a mink!) lol!! It’s just not my choice. Many leather goods have been damaged from it, mostly from folks over using it.
    And never use Polish or Boot Wax/Polish on distressed leather. It just will never look right and will likely ruin the distressed look.
    Best of luck and enjoy you new boots! The distressed Ariats are my “go to” boots for everyday wear.

    Rick

  24. Tight Boots

    Wonderful article! We will be linking to this particularly great post on our website.

    Keep up the great writing.

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