Are Your Boots Too Tight? – How to Stretch and Soften Leather Boots

Row of leather cowboy boots

Leather is a durable, flexible, and beautiful natural material that softens and stretches with regular use. The process of breaking in is gradual and can help mold the leather boot to your natural foot shape for better comfort and traction.

If you own a pair of leather boots that feel too snug to wear for extended periods, there are many ways to soften and stretch leather to accommodate your feet. Here are our favorite methods to stretch leather.

What Is Leather Stretching?

Leather can lose its elasticity, suppleness, and luster with exposure to the air, sun, wear, and your foot’s natural movements. Leather is pliable and flexible, softening and stretching with regular wear to fit your foot like a glove.

Leather stretching is the process of softening and stretching the leather using various methods to make certain parts of the boot more comfortable to wear for hours. Leather stretches with oils, conditioners, heat, and by hand.

Why Stretch and Soften New Leather Shoes

There are many reasons why you would want to soften and stretch tight shoes. You may have wider feet than normal, or you’ve purchased a pair of new shoes a shoe size below your normal size. The leather surface may need a slight stretch in one specific area to achieve the perfect fit.

How Much Can I Stretch Leather Booths?

Stretching leather can only lengthen or widen the boots so much. At most, expect to stretch the leather boot by about a quarter of a boot size. Do not expect to stretch your boot a half of a boot size, let alone a full boot size.

How far you can stretch your leather boots depends on various factors, including the leather type, leather treatment, and the age and quality of the leather. For wide feet, we recommend buying leather shoes designed for wide feet instead of trying stretching techniques.

Can I Overstretch Leather Boots?

Yes, if you stretch the leather too forcefully or for too long, you risk over-stretching your boots and damaging the material. Over-stretching can usually occur when you are intentionally trying to stretch the boot. It does not normally occur with everyday use.

How does over-stretching happen? You may leave the foot stretcher in the boot for too long, apply too much heat or heat at a close distance, or apply excessive pressure throughout the stretching process, which can break seams and dry and crack the leather.

Leather’s elasticity is one of its most important properties as a boot material, making it easy to work with, soften, and stretch. Over-stretching it might not be a big problem since it can be shrunk down, although it will not return to its original size and shape.

How to Prevent Stretching Leather Shoes

Stretching boots with the methods shown below can help improve your comfort level, but there are a few ways to prevent going through the stretching processes in the first place. Consider these tips to find the best boot fit.

  • Go Custom: Custom boots are designed to your exact measurements for a more comfortable fit. Boots require a breaking-in phase, but custom boots may only need a little or no time to break in.
  • Consider the width: Wide feet require shoes designed with a wider toe box. Shop for wide-toe boots instead of regular-toe styles. Moc toe work boots are a good option for those who need more toe space.
  • Use adjustable inserts: Adjustable inserts can be an affordable and quick alternative to custom boots. Inserts can provide a more comfortable fit based on your individual foot.

How to Stretch and Soften Leather

Man cleaning black pair of boots

Have you noticed that your new leather boots are tight-fitting even after wearing them for a few days or weeks? If you want an effective way to adjust your leather boots, there are a few different ways that you can soften and stretch leather.

Pro tip: If using conditioner, oils, or sprays on boots, test a dab of product on an inconspicuous area before applying it throughout the boot.

Condition the Leather

A high-quality leather conditioner can moisturize the leather and prevent it from cracking during the stretching process. Leather conditioners can also make the leather soft, making it simpler to stretch once the conditioner has worked into the material.

Apply the leather conditioner liberally on the entire boot or area that needs stretching with a soft cloth and wipe off the excess conditioner. Allow the conditioner to absorb for about 10 minutes. After letting the boots sit, you can start stretching.

Wear Thick Socks

If your leather shoes are just a bit too snug, wearing a pair of thick socks or even two can help stretch out leather without damaging it. Wear them around the house for at least 2-4 hours to give the leather enough time to stretch properly. After this process, put on dress socks and see if it feels more comfortable. You may need to do this more than once to get the proper fit.

Insert Shoe Trees

A shoe tree, available at many shoe stores, is usually used to keep the shoe’s shape when stored and even prevent cracking with its moisture-wicking properties. Shoe trees can also be used to stretch leather shoes.

Insert the shoe tree inside your boots and allow them to sit for 24-48 hours. Afterward, wear dress socks and check to see if it fits more comfortably. Repeat the process for another 24 hours if necessary.

Stuff Newspaper Inside

After reading your favorite section, use your leftover newspaper to fill in your tight boot. Newspapers are an affordable and simple way to stretch them. You can also use towels or cloths. Stuffing newspaper in boots to stretch the leather may require more time to see results than other methods.

Use a Shoe Stretcher

Professional shoe stretching tools made out of wood, plastic, or metal can provide the right level of precision in stretching shoes. Shoe stretchers look a lot like shoe trees and usually include a hand crank to stretch the material lengthwise and widthwise in two-way stretchers.

A shoe stretcher may include detachable knobs you can insert into certain areas of the stretcher to stretch the boot. Find the areas that feel snug and add the knobs on the stretcher to loosen the area. Let the stretcher do its thing for about 24 hours and test the fit afterward. Repeat the process for another 24 hours if necessary.

Apply Heat

Warm up your leather material before doing many of these shoe stretching methods. Heat can help soften the material and make the stretching process easier. However, using too much heat can dry and crack the leather.

A blow dryer can be used to heat and soften leather boots. We recommend heating it at least 4-6 inches away for about one minute. After heating, you can wear your leather shoes with thick socks to stretch them out.

Steam from a clothes steamer or tea kettle can be used to heat the shoe. If using the kettle, boil the water on the stove. Position the kettle under the shoe and let the steam rise (30 seconds for each shoe). Repeat for up to 3 minutes if necessary. Test the material’s comfort in between steam applications. Insert your feet with socks and walk around to stretch the leather.

Leather clothing can handle a short while in the dryer under low heat. This heating method can warm it up for stretching, but this doesn't really work with leather boots and can damage them.

Apply a Leather Stretching Spray

Professional leather stretching sprays are designed to loosen leather material. A shoe stretch spray can be applied directly to the leather shoe and then be worn to stretch the tight-fitting areas appropriately. You can also use a shoe stretcher tool after spraying the boot.

Use Rubbing Alcohol

Make a rubbing alcohol and water mixture with one part isopropyl alcohol and three parts water. Shake it up in a spray bottle and apply it to the areas of the boots where you want to stretch. After application, wear the boots with thick socks or use your hands to manipulate the area manually. Wear them until the leather is completely dry.

Use Ice

Based on the principle that water expands when it freezes, we can place water inside the boots to stretch when it freezes. To avoid a wet mess, fill about one-third of a freezer bag with water and ensure it's securely closed. Double bag it for added safety.

Insert the water bags inside each boot, ensuring they are evenly distributed and fill up as much space in the shoe to stretch when it freezes. Your shoe may need more than one bag inside to stretch certain areas properly.

If necessary, place the boots inside another bag to protect them from other materials in the fridge. Place the boots in the freezer and wait for the water to freeze. Remove the boots and allow the water bags to thaw before removing them. Slip your feet to test the comfort and repeat if necessary.

Trust a Professional

If you're worried about damaging your boots or have tried everything with little success, go to a professional cobbler to expertly complete the stretching process without the risk of damage. Professional services use various machines and techniques to soften and stretch the leather.

Can Leather Boots Shrink?

Pair of brown cowboy boots

Yes, leather can technically shrink with the proper techniques. Although you can stretch leather boots too much, there is no way to shrink them back to their exact original shape. There will be some permanent alteration of the leather fibers that can be remedied but not fixed completely.

Shop Custom Boots and Leather Care Products at Baker’s Boots

Caring for your leather boots can maintain their durability and natural beauty for longer. Shop for leather care accessories, new leather boots, or custom leather boots from Baker's Boots. We can help create a boot from scratch that fits just right from the start.