How to Clean and Reproof Walking Boots and Outdoor Footwear
Walking boots are possibly the most essential and personal piece of outdoor kit you can buy, but once you've found that perfect pair you'll want to keep them in tip-top shape.
So often walking boots get slung in a cupboard caked in mud and forgotten about until the next trek. This does reduce their lifespan, and can cause uppers to rot or crack, soles to fall off and general unpleasant odours to form. (Faults caused by neglect are usually not covered by a manufacturer's warranty, which will stipulate that you need to show some respect for the product.)
Thankfully cleaning and re-waterproofing your walking boots is both quick and easy with the right know-how! (To clean approach or walking shoes simply replace the word 'boots' with 'shoes' throughout).
So you've come back from your travels and your boots are caked in mud and other questionable brown substances (often containing bacteria which just love to use your boots as a breeding ground and secrete leather damaging substances)...tempted just to sling them in the airing cupboard and be done? Hold your horses!
- Remove the laces and footbeds (stones stuck under the footbeds can and will eventually damage any Gore-Tex or eVent lining). You can hand wash the laces in the sink with some Nikwax Tech Wash or soap, then air dry.
- Thump the boots together to remove any loose mud.
- Run under a tap (outdoors saves washing the bath out, but indoors is fine) to remove any stubborn debris from the uppers and soles. If there's a stubborn patch, then a nail brush is ideal for removing it.
Now you have mud-free boots which you can either dry (see below) for next time, or give them some proper TLC (which is the best way for longevity).
Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel is ideal for gentle cleaning of walking boots, shoes and just about any other footwear you've got lying around (including fashion trainers).
- It's designed to be applied to damp footwear, so if you've dried them out make sure to wet them again.
- Then simply use the sponge applicator to apply a generous coating of the cleaning gel over the whole area. If there's stubborn patches, scrub with a stiff nylon brush like a nail brush.
- Rinse well in clean water.
You can now either proceed to drying them, or ideally reproof them.
Reapplying waterproofing to the boot's outer is as easy as washing them, but you will need to use the correct product depending on fabric.
There are many waxes and sprays on the market; boot manufacturers often make their own (Brasher's Conditioning Cream or Nubuck Sprays, Scarpa's HS12 cream) but I've always used, and been more than happy with the results of Nikwax's range.
All Nikwax waterproofing products are suitable for anything containing Gore-Tex and eVent materials.
Always ensure that your footwear is has been cleaned before applying, and if using Nikwax make sure the boots are damp. (If using a rub-wax/cream or non-Nikwax sprays, check the label to see whether it should be applied to wet or dry footwear.)
Once of the reasons Nikwax is so effective is that it's aqueous (water-based)...it therefore mixes with the water on the damp footwear and runs to where it's needed most. It's also environmentally friendly.
Be aware that light-coloured nubuck or suede may darken - always test on a small hidden area first and allow to dry. Don't put full grain leather wax onto nubuck or suede!
So you've given your boots a quick rinse, or given them a thorough going over, either way they'll need to be dried. This is where many people fall foul and actually do their boots some harm. If dried too fast leather (which includes nubuck and suede) can crack.
- Ideally you want to fill the inside of the boots or shoes with newspaper or something else absorbent that won't leave bits behind.
- Leave in a warm, but not hot place to dry naturally. This is often a slowish process so don't be tempted to get the hair-dryer out!
- Never leave boots on a radiator or other direct heat source, as mentioned it can damage the uppers. It can also cause the glue holding the soles on to degrade, which will lead to them falling off!
- Once dried you can re-thread the laces and reinsert the footbeds, and then store in a cool, dry place until next time.
I've followed this procedure with my Scarpa boots for 7 years and other than some scuffs and colour change, the boots look and perform like new.
So we've treated the outside of the boots, but they're getting a bit whiffy on the inside. In addition salt from perspiration is also being absorbed by the lining, which can damage Gore-Tex/eVENT and also cause damage to uppers in non-waterproof boots.
There's a simple solution to this, and it really doesn't have to be done very often at all...when you've not got any trips planned for a while simply fill the boots with hand-warm water and add a bit of Nikwax Tech Wash (or similar). Leave to soak for 30 minutes or so and then drain, rinse and leave to dry as above.
This clears the salt, and also gets rid of those odours! For ultra-fast odour removal, there are anti-bacterial sprays on the market which will work.
- Keep toenails short, neat and free from jagged edges; this prevents damage to the internal lining.
- Always wear decent walking socks, cotton or 'classic' wool will hold onto moisture and are very likely to cause blisters.
- Remove stones, sticks and other detritus often, it can damage the lining.
- Avoid using dubbin for modern outdoor footwear. Modern leathers are usually of a very high quality, and are thinner and more supple than leather of 'ye olde days', and are much better served with newer technologies. Just because grandad did it doesn't mean it's still the best way!
- There's little point wearing waterproof boots in a jungle or humid environment, use non-waterproof and ventilated footwear instead
- Avoid washing outdoor footwear in a washing machine, it can damage the glue holding soles on!
- Always carry a spare pair of laces, especially on multi-day treks...I forgot once and won't make that mistake again! Spare socks can also make a difference between a good day and absolute misery.
- Remember that the 'waterproofing' of a boot is usually internal (Gore-Tex/eVENT)...if this is punctured or worn, no amount of waterproofing the uppers will prevent future leaks. Eventually the membrane will go, but if boots are treated with respect, usually after you've worn the sole flat!
This is intended as a guide only, please always follow the instructions on the bottle, and test on a small area first!