The right leather boot care can be the difference between owning a pair of worn-out and cracked boots and owning ones that last for years and look as good as new. No matter your fashion style, leather boots can make a great addition to your wardrobe but require extra care and maintenance compared to other footwear.
One of the most commonly asked questions is “Do I need to condition my boots?” In short, yes! In this boot conditioning guide, we cover your most frequently asked questions about caring for your leather boots and teach you how you can keep your genuine leather supple and durable for years to come.
Should I Condition My Boots?
Alright, we are going to settle this debate. So, if you are low on time or just want an answer; YES, you need to condition your boots to help maximize their life expectancy. Many people may think that all they need to do is polish their boots to give them that striking luster, but conditioning is much more important to the quality of the leather than a polish.
You do not want to spend hundreds of dollars on a brand new pair of boots you have always wanted just for them to start cracking after just one year due to excessive sun exposure, extreme temperature changes, excessive heat, harsh chemicals and detergents, and poor cleaning and maintenance practices. Although conditioning your boots does not completely prevent leather wear and tear, a leather conditioner designed for boots can provide that extra protection.
Like your skin, leather is durable but not impenetrable and can be damaged by rough surfaces, chemicals, and environmental factors. Skin can be moisturized and replenished through nutrition and skincare products. Similarly, leather boots can dry out, absorb too much water, and suffer from other damage. A good leather conditioner nourishes the material and improves its flexibility to prevent cracking.
Now if you are still reading, we can get into the nitty-gritty of it all. We recommend oiling leather footwear if you want to prolong their lifespan. Now keep in mind that if you like that patina look, treating your boots will remove that patina as it will help to restore the leather. So while you may like that dry and worn look of the leather if it is not treated, understand that you may not get the maximum life expectancy out of the leather on your footwear. So any conditioner that is doing its job will darken the leather.
Should I Condition Brand New Boots?
Absolutely! Even though you have not yet worn your boots, they may still need some conditioning. Most leather boots will not be conditioned or ready for wear. After sitting for months on the shelf, your full-grain leather boots may need some moisture and oil in the form of a conditioner.
What Leather Boot Conditioner Should I Use?
So, that of course, leads to the next question: "What do I use to treat my leather?" So there are tons of options out there. Some of them have been around for a while, and some of them are a bit newer. Our best advice is to be mindful of ingredients. We recommend finding products that do not have the following ingredients: animal fat, pine tar, petroleum, polypropylene, or mono propylene.
We have seen that products with these ingredients, when used in the long term, can cause stitching disintegration and leather deterioration. Now, these ingredients can cause the effect of the conditioner to last longer, but in our opinion, this trade-off is not worth it.
What We Recommend
We are a lot more apt to recommend all-natural conditioners that do not feature those ingredients. Our top two picks currently are the Oregon Trail Boot Wax and Obenauf's Leather Care. While these two products will not last as long as some others out there, we have never seen stitching quality or leather quality decrease with long-term use of either product. They are also some of the only products that will not ruin the integrity of waterproof liners like GORE-TEX.
How Often Should I Condition My Leather Boots?
Conditioning your leather boots does not have to be a drag. It can be a meditative practice that makes you appreciate the craftsmanship of your boots. To keep your boots in excellent shape, condition them every 3-6 months.
How often you condition your boots ultimately depends on how often and where you wear them. If you use them for work every day, they may need more frequent conditioning, about every 1-3 months. In addition, if you want them to develop a patina, you may wait a little longer than usual to condition them.
How to Tell if Boots Need Conditioning
Knowing when to give your boots good conditioning is not as simple as following a schedule. You need to be in tune with your boots, from regularly assessing their quality to applying the proper care for leather.
When obvious signs of drying, cracking, and fading begin to appear, too much damage may have already been done. It is important to keep your boots conditioned as soon as you notice any inkling of drying, cracking, or dulling. Conditioning is preventative care that keeps your boots durable and flexible.
How Do I Condition My Leather Boots?
Before you condition your leather boots, you must clean them. Leather conditioner is best applied over a clean, leather surface rather than boots with dirt, mud, oil stains, and other debris. To begin, remove the laces from the boots, remove any dirt from the laces with a dry rag, and toss them in the washer.
Knock your boots together to remove dirt, and use a dry rag or brush to get more off. Avoid using a moist or wet rag since wet dirt can seep into the leather fabric and cause it to dry even faster. Wiping down your boots after every wear can reduce the need for a deep clean with a leather cleaner. Feel free to use an old toothbrush to get into those nooks and crannies. You can use saddle soap, hot water, and a clean cloth for a deeper clean every so often.
After cleaning, avoid speeding up the drying process with heat. Using a hair dryer can dry out the boots too much. For best results, let them dry naturally on a cloth in a room-temperature location.
After it is dry, you can condition your boots to prevent cracks from forming. All you need is a few clean rags, a leather conditioner, and a small horsehair brush. Once you have wiped the boots down with a clean rag to remove any loose dirt particles, you can apply the leather conditioner with a small applicator brush.
Apply it on a small area like the tongue of the boot and wait a few hours for it to dry. This is to see if that particular conditioner significantly changes the color of the leather. Keep in mind that most conditioners slightly darken leather.
If you approve of the conditioner, you can apply a quarter-size amount of it onto a clean rag and rub it on the leather using circular motions. Make sure to condition the entire boot. Avoid pressing down too hard and ensure you get to all the nooks and crannies.
For properly maintained boots, you will just need one layer of conditioner. For boots that need some extra love and care, you can apply 2-3 coats of the conditioner to get them back to their former glory, or at least close to it. Once cracks start to form, they are impossible to get out.
You can stop applying the conditioner once the leather stops absorbing the conditioner and begins to feel damp. Remove any excess conditioner with a clean rag. Let your boots dry in a cool and dry area for at least 20-30 minutes, and wipe the excess. Then, let it rest for at least 12 hours and remove additional oil if necessary.
Do You Need to Waterproof Your Boots?
High-quality leather boots usually have water-resistant properties. For superior water protection, you can use a waterproofing agent to protect your boots in wet environments.