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How to Clean Boots So They Look as Good as New — And the Viral Hack One Pro Says Will Ruin Uggs

Plus: How an *iron* can help old boots look brand-new

With their high price tag and mysterious finishes (what exactly is nubuck?), boots can be intimidating to care for. To the rescue: our pro tips for cleaning boots. Whether you’re looking at dirty Uggs, leather Chelseas or rain boots, these expert tips will help get them looking brand new. Bonus: We’ve also got advice on how to prolong the life of your favorite boots, saving you money on buying a new pair!

Maintain leather boots with baby wipes

How to clean boots: Woman polishing boot standing by window at home

Genuine leather boots can be incredibly durable and comfortable. To make sure your leather boots look gorgeous for years, it’s helpful to remember that leather has pores. To maintain leather’s suppleness, those pores shouldn’t get filled with dirt or other abrasives, or they will break down the leather fibers over time. Start with day-to-day care, which is as easy as a swipe of a baby wipe! “Baby wipes are gentle, not too wet and help you get in the habit of cleaning frequently,” promises reveals leather-care expert Jeff Schwegmann of LeatherCareUSA.

Give them a deep clean every few months

A few times per year (or when they look like they need it) revitalize your leather boots by cleaning them with leather soap (buy on Amazon, $5.97), but don’t forget the tongue and nooks and crannies. And be sure to apply a leather conditioner. The top-reviewed video makes the time-honored process easy and almost fun:

More tips for leather boots:

  • Iron away creases: To remove creases, stuff leather boots with newspaper or shoe trees until boots are slightly stretched. Drape a damp hand towel over the upper of the boot and gently press the iron (on the cotton setting) over the towel, allowing the steam to release the creases.
  • Dab on polish: A tiny bit of shoe polish, buffed in after cleaning and conditioning, is the best way to bring dull leather to life.
  • Skip the sponge: Don’t be tempted to swap a kitchen sponge for a cloth when cleaning or conditioning your boots. Typical dish sponges are too abrasive and contain chemicals that can seep into leather. Instead, use a chamois cloth or cut an old t-shirt into rags.
  • DIY a castor-oil conditioner: “Instagram may suggest otherwise, but eggs do not make a good leather conditioner,” warns Schwegmann, “and Vaseline is too occlusive and can attract dirt.” Use a dab of olive oil or, better yet, whip up a professional-grade salve using castor oil, which has high moisture retention and a long shelf life.   
  • Remove your laces: No need to remove laces for boot-cleaning unless they’re dirty, notes Schwegmann. “If they do need a wash, take them off and put them in a mesh laundry bag or sock so they don’t get lost in the machine — and snap a picture first so you don’t forget how to re-lace them.”

Clean dirty Uggs with a fine mist

When the weather outside is frightful, few things feel cozier than a pair of furry lined boots. But what to do when they start to get a bit, well, ugly? “The soft suede of Uggs has a natural repellency, which means it responds well to a technique of misting and brushing,” reveals Schwegmann, who has revitalized thousands of dirty Uggs. The easy how-to he advises: “Fill a spray bottle with distilled water (tap water can leave mineral stains) and mist lightly all over your Uggs, gently brushing with the grain using a suede brush (buy at Walmart, $4.29) or nail brush that has flexible natural bristles to lift away dirt.” The finer the mist, the better, says Schwegmann. “If your nozzle doesn’t produce a fine mist, spritz at a distance.” Bonus: That $5 suede brush can also be used to fluff the inside of your Uggs.

Stubborn Ugg stains?

How to clean boots: Winter brown boots on white fur

Uggs are the hothouse orchids of the footwear world, cautions Schwegmann. “Please don’t try the TikTok ‘hack’ of using hairspray to clean Uggs. This is a myth dating back to the ‘70s, when typical hairsprays contained stain lubricants. It didn’t work well then, and now it will simply ruin your boots.” Instead, pamper suede like the sensitive skin it is with baby shampoo! “Baby shampoo is very close to pH-neutral and free of potentially staining chemicals. Start with a light misting of just water so the soap isn’t directly hitting dry suede. Then combine 1 part baby shampoo to 20 parts water and gently brush away stains. It will seem very diluted, but remember that you can’t do a rinse like you would with dishes, clothing or skin.” Blot and use sparingly. Less is always more, as oversaturation can cause rings.

More tips for sheepskin boots:

  • Beware of blue jeans: “Jeans with spandex can leach their color onto paler surfaces like sheepskin and shearling,” reveals Schwegmann. “And, unfortunately, jean dye fade can be impossible to remove.” So be careful to tuck in your jeans — or go for the popular pairing of leggings + Uggs.
  • Skip the kit: Tempted to buy the pricey care kit sold by Uggs? “It’s glorified water,” shares Schwegmann. You can assemble your own tools (fine mist bottle and brush) for a third of the price.
  • Stay dry: Shearling and sheepskin should stay as dry as possible. “Instead of tossing those little silica drying packs that come with new shoes, save them to use in your Uggs after wearing to reduce moisture,” says Schwegmann.
  • Keep your cool: Heat is the enemy of all leather goods, and especially Uggs, which will warp and stiffen near any heat source. And step away from the dryer: “I’ve seen people singe and burn shearling that way,” says Schwegmann.

How to clean rain boots

How to clean boots: Woman wearing rubber boot standing in back yard during rainy season

Unsurprisingly, rain boots, which are generally made of natural rubber or synthetic PVC vinyl, are much easier to clean than suede or leather. The 130-year-old wellie brand Western Chief recommends using dish soap to remove salt stains and caked-on mud without affecting their boots’ silicone coating. But what about bloom, that powdery film that can form on rubber over time? It can’t be washed away, but lubrication will help it recede; simply rub in a few dabs of olive oil using a soft cloth. But take care not to get any oil or rubber conditioner on the soles of your rainboots or they could become slick in wet or icy conditions.

How to clean scuff marks from boots

According to the experts at Samuel Hubbard, who handcraft their leather boots in Portugal, a humble pencil eraser can be enough to remove superficial “material transfer” scuff marks. These are scuffs that happen when another object, such as a stroller tire or the sole of someone else’s shoe, makes contact with your boot. Simply glide the eraser over the mark, taking care to use gentle pressure. If the scuff is deeper and has lifted away tiny bits of leather, that’s when you need a putty-like product to fill in the nicks, says fashion expert Kirby Allison, who swears by Saphir’s Renovating Repair Cream (buy on Saphir, $13.75). It allows you to use a spackling technique to fill holes while adding pigment back in, he explains.

How to clean salt stains from boots

Whether you’re walking down snowy sidewalks or stepping out of your car into a salty water puddle, you’ll want to address salt stains on your boots ASAP, emphasizes Schwegmann. “Even if the staining looks subtle at first, sodium chloride can rapidly dry and pucker leather. Wipe down the area with very diluted vinegar to balance the pH of the salty water that you remove. I recommend a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 50 or even 60 parts water, depending on the toughness of the leather.”  (Click through for more genius uses for white vinegar.)

When not to clean your own boots

There are several especially stubborn stains that should never be fiddled with at home, says Schwegmann. “They require special equipment and harsh solvents that aren’t for consumer handling.” The dirty (half) dozen are:

  • Engine oil
  • Lipstick
  • Mascara
  • Pet urine
  • Tar
  • Mismatched shoe polish

Head right to a specialty cleaner after one of these mishaps and don’t be shy to explain what happened. “The more we know about a stain, the likelier it is that we can return your item in great condition,” encourages Schwegmann, who rescues leather goods from across the country. “We can also level with you if yours is the rare stain that’s hopeless. For example, dog pee can usually be revived, but cat pee … that’s another story!”

For more on cleaning clothes, click through the links below!

Apple Cider Vinegar For Laundry? Yes! It Makes Clothes Look, Smell + Feel Brand New

Maid Pro: Your Just-Washed Clothes May Still Be Filthy If You Skip This Laundry Step

The Bathroom Leftover That Can Prevent Moths From Damaging Your Clothes

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