How to Restore and Repair Leather Boots

Scrubbing and cleaning brown leather boots

Your leather boots have been with you through thick and thin. Mud, dirt, rain. Your boots have seen it all. Over time, they can show subtle signs of wear and tear, such as dryness, cracking, and fading.

Don't throw out those raggedy boots just yet. Boot restoration can be done from the comfort of home with a few inexpensive supplies. We’ll help you bring your leather boots back to life with this step-by-step guide on restoring leather.

Why Restore Leather Shoes?

Restoring leather shoes can save you money on a new pair of boots and prevent the old boots from ending up in the landfill. A boot restoration project can be a meditative practice that helps you appreciate the work that went into producing the boots. Restoring leather boots is easy, fun, and affordable. All you need is a bit of elbow grease and a few supplies.

Resole Before Your Restore Leather Boots

In some cases, the tread on your shoe may be so worn down that it does not provide the proper traction, stability, or comfort compared to its original, sturdy shape. Maybe your upper’s threads are coming undone and require a bit of repair before you start the restoration project.

Before doing a complete restoration on your boots to a more lustrous and nourished condition, it’s important to consider the structural integrity of the boot and make any repairs. Then, you can restore the leather’s natural flexibility, durability, and color.

What You Need for Leather Boot Restoration

Restoring leather boots may seem like a laborious and expensive chore, but it's actually pretty easy, affordable, and doesn't require too many supplies.

Here's what you need to restore leather boots:

How to Restore Leather Boots

Pair of black leather hiking boots

Your leather boots may seem unsalvageable, but you’d be surprised what some saddle soap, a brush, and some leather conditioner can do. Once you have all the essential boot restoration supplies, you can begin this rewarding project.

Prep the Cleaning Area and Boots

Set down some newspaper or a rag on a flat surface where you can do your cleaning and drying. Remove the laces before you start your boot restoration. Some boot owners put boot trees inside their boots so the shoes can keep their shape and be better handled when cleaning them.

Brush Off the Dirt with a Horse Hair Boot Brush

Pair of old brown workboots

Use a horsehair brush to gently clean the dirt, dust, mud, and other stuck-on debris on the upper without damaging the leather. The welting (where the upper meets the outsole) may require using an old soft bristle toothbrush to clean the nooks and crannies. Starting with a clean leather base before applying saddle soap can make cleaning easier.

Clean the Boots with Saddle Soap

After you’ve cleaned off the boots as best as possible with the brush, it's time to use some saddle soap, the standard in leather cleaning, or other leather-specific cleaning solution. Saddle soap contains natural ingredients that can clean tough stains and moisturize the leather all at once.

Follow the manufacturer's application instructions. You’ll generally use a brush, sponge, or cloth to create a lather of saddle soap. With your soap applicator, gently clean the entire leather boot using circular motions until the dirt, mud, and grime has been removed. Use a clean cloth to wipe away the soap.

Let the boots dry for at least 15 minutes. If the laces are dirty, you can soak them in warm water and soap. Use an old toothbrush to scrub the laces between your fingers. Cleaning the old laces provides a cohesive look instead of replacing the laces with new ones, which can create a contrast with the rugged and recently cleaned pair of boots.

Fix the Creases with Gentle Heating

Old leather boots show wear and tear in many forms, including distinctive creases that form from many years of crouching, bending, and other movements. Some owners may like the creases, adding character to the footwear.

Although creases on boots are inevitable, there are ways to keep boots crease-free for longer. Whenever possible, use cedar shoe trees that go inside the boots to keep the upper in shape. Some balled-up newspapers can also work.

After cleaning and air drying the boots, the leather will be moisturized and soft. Some boot owners use a heat gun right after the cleaning process. Use the heat gun in a slow and even manner over the creased sections of the upper. Then, you can insert the cedar shoe tree or newspaper to reinforce the boot’s shape. Once cooled, the creases should be reduced or eliminated.

You may also use a clothing iron on the cotton setting to fix the creases, but practice caution. Place a damp towel over the boot’s upper. The moisture prevents the clothing iron’s heat from damaging the leather. Gently press the iron over the damp towel on the boot to iron out the creases. Once you've gone over the creased portions, you can remove the damp cloth and gently stretch the creases with your fingers.

Condition the Boots with a Leather Conditioner

Now that your boots are clean and you've done your best to remove the wrinkles, you can move on to moisturizing your dry and cracked leather boots. Leather oil is a good option to condition your boots. It can help nourish and soften the leather that has gone dry from sun exposure, moisture, and other environmental factors.

Wipe down the leather boot with leather oil evenly over the entire surface and allow the oil to do its magic for a few hours. After you come back to them, assess their condition and if they are still a little bit dry, add another light coat until they should be slightly moist. You know you've applied too much when it has a sticky feel.

Once you’ve let them dry for a couple of hours, remove the excess leather conditioner with a clean cloth.

Pro tip: Always spot test any boot care product on an unnoticeable part of the boot to see how it affects the leather.

Recolor the Leather with Cream Polish

With regular use of your boots, you're bound to scuff them up, creating a rugged look. This can cause the original color to fade into a light and dull hue. Cream polishes can help recolor the weathered portion of leather boots.

Cream polishes contain moisturizing ingredients and pigments to recolor the material. The key is to find a color that closely matches your boot’s color. Remember to apply a small amount to an unnoticeable part of the boot to test the color.

Use a small applicator brush to evenly spread the cream polish in small circles to provide a light coating. Allow the boots to dry for at least 5 minutes, and then use a horsehair brush to buff the leather. Buffing can provide a quick polish and give your boots an understated shine.

Wax Shine (Optional) with Wax Polish

For more formal boots, you can go beyond the conditioning process and provide a wax polish to give your boots a high-mirror shine. The idea is not to polish the leather material itself but make the wax polish shine.

Lace Up Your Leather Boots

Once you have cleaned, polished, and recolored your leather shoe, it's time to replace your old, cleaned, and dried laces onto the boot and marvel at your completed restoration project.

When to Seek Professional Boot Care

Some boots may be beyond the home restoration process. If your boot is torn, has sole damage, or the heel has broken, it may require professional care.

Although professional services can take your boots out of commission for a while, it is a convenient and efficient way to keep the boot’s leather in excellent shape. It is also a great way to keep your trusty, comfortable boots looking like new again. High-quality leather boots can often be resoled, re-heeled, and re-stitched to look like new and still feel like home.

Shop Leather Boots and Care Accessories at Baker’s Boots

Keeping your boots clean is the best way to prevent a complete boot restoration. If you purchase used boots, it can be a fun project to see the transformation. For all your boot needs, shop at Baker's Boots for different types of boots, custom boots, and boot accessories.