Shoe Care 101: How to Clean and Oil Your Safety Footwear

We all know to take care of our tools at our jobs. Clean your tools, use the right tool for the job, sweep the floor, clean up spills, put things back where they go.

Just like the rest of the tools you use for work, your footwear needs some attention and care every so often as well. Leather, like your own skin, has natural oils that make it soft and help keep the leather water resistant and smooth. We break down and lose the oils in the leather as we wear shoes and expose them to some of the harsh environments we work on. Think about the things you work in every day; how would your own skin fair in that environment?

Leather, again like your own skin, needs to be cleaned and moisturized (or oiled) regularly. What does that mean? Well, take a look below for some basic shoe care tips.

1) Always allow footwear to dry before cleaning

Not only does this make sure that you aren’t making a mess of yourself cleaning your shoes, but things like mud and dust come off significantly easier when dry. Ideally, you should let shoes dry at least 24 hours before cleaning. If you can’t, removing the bulk of the mess with a rag is better than nothing.

Oh, and try not to use one of those forced air, heated boot driers, they just dry out the leather more and make it more work for you later.

2) Prepare your cleaning area and supplies

I like to clean my bots outside, makes cleanup afterwords a lot easier. If you don’t need to oil, you just need a rag and a boot brush. If you need to oil, you will need additional rags and your oil as well. I like to oil my boots about once a month with the kind of things I work in.

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All You Need

Getting everything together before you start

I personally like to remove my laces for a good cleaning, it makes it easier to get at everything. Now is also a good time to inspect laces and your shoes themselves for any damage or issues before they get too bad.

3) Clean the bottoms of your shoes

Some boot brushes, like mine from Wolverine, have rubber parts that assist with getting dirt and grime out of the lugs of your outsoles.

 Keep that gunk off your floors

Keep that gunk off your floors

Once all that is cleaned out, you have a clean base to work from.

4)Brush the uppers with your brush to remove dirt

Since you let all the dirt dry on your boots, it should come off relatively easily with a good brushing. Start from the top and work your way down the boot with swift, firm strokes using your boots brush.

 Dirt should come right off

Dirt should come right off

After you brush, give your boots a quick wipe down with a dry cloth.

5)Use clean rags and your preferred oil to oil your boots

I personally like to use cut up white cotton t-shirts for this. Whenever one gets a hole, i cut it up and it goes in the box with the cleaning supplies, I just throw them away when they get too dirty. As far as oils go, there are many options and many opinions as to what is the best. I prefer neatsfoot or Mink oil, what I am using here is a Mink oil with cleanser, again from Wolverine.

 This stuff runs about $7-10

This stuff runs about $7-10

Use a clean rag to work a good amount of oil into it, and begin working it into the leather, don’t worry if it seems a little thick, we are going to be taking care of that shortly. Begin working the oil into sections.

 Be sure to get everywhere you can

Be sure to get everywhere you can

If you have a boot that was tanned with a color, especially dark colors or black, you may notice a little color coming off, that is nothing to worry about as long as it isn’t damaging the leather. You may want to test in a small area before you start with a new oil though.

6) Buff excess oil out of the leather

Once you have oiled both boots, go back to the first and, with a new clean cloth, start to buff out the oil to remove and excess from the leather. You should be left with a leather that has a good hand to it, similar to when you bought it, if not with a little more oil. Some dirt and color may come off in this stage too, that’s not a bad thing.

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7) Put your laces in and clean up!

You did it! Your boots are clean and well oiled, lace them back up in your preferred style and you are good to go. On a side note, it is best if you can let these sit overnight to really let the oil soak in.

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Recap

I personally like to do steps 1-4 about once a week as time permits, and the whole process about once every couple of months (your timing may vary depending on leather type and work environment). You may find that less or more often is better for you and your job. If you start to see leather cracking or feeling very dry to the touch, it’s time to get some moisture back into the leather. It’s better if you make sure you don’t get to that point. Follow these steps and you can add some good life back into tired boots. Stay Safe out there everyone!