Leather boots aren’t just footwear: they’re faithful companions, protectors of your feet, and… they’re expensive. You want them to last.
When you’re buying a pair of boots you want to keep for years, you might already know it’s good to get them with resoleable construction like a Goodyear welt. But the uppers matter as well. Leather is ideal, yes, but as a biological material it’s susceptible to the ravages of time.
To ensure the longevity, appearance, and integrity of your cherished leather boots, preventive care is essential. This guide will show you the art of maintaining leather boots so they’ll last for years on end: uncracked, weather resistant, and better looking each season.
Essential Tools for Preventing Leather Boots from Drying Out
The short answer to preventing your boots from cracking is to condition them a few times a year with a good boot conditioner.
There are a few more pointers you should know to keep your boots happy though: effective cleaning, conditioning, protection, and storage.
Each tool plays a role in crafting an impervious shield against cracking and drying out.
Tools for Conditioning Leather
The most important tool here. Since it’s skin, leather needs moisturizing. A high-quality leather conditioner replenishes the natural oils in the leather, keeping it soft and supple. Venetian Shoe Cream is great, Bick 4 is best for preserving color, and Cobbler’s Choice does the best balance of conditioning and waterproofing.
Handy for wiping down your boots and for applying conditioners if you don’t want your hands to get sticky. This removes surface dirt and helps to maintain the leather’s suppleness. An old t-shirt works in a pinch, but purists like microfiber cloths.
A soft-bristled brush is essential for removing dust and dirt from the surface of your leather boots. Regular brushing helps prevent dirt buildup, which can accelerate the drying process by absorbing natural oils. Brushing vigorously also helps conditioner to soften and seep into the leather’s pores at the end of a conditioning job.
A leather protector or waterproofing spray creates a barrier against moisture, which can contribute to drying. If you’re conditioning regularly, waterproofing isn’t completely necessary. But if you’re encountering a lot of rain or muck, it can be a good way to further protect the boots from drying out.
Tools for Cleaning Boots
Invest in a quality leather cleaner specifically formulated for boots. This cleaner effectively removes ingrained dirt, excess oils, and stains that contribute to drying out.
Saddle Soap is a specialized cleaner for leather that can help remove stubborn dirt and grime. It’s a “break glass in case of emergency” type of product, only for serious jobs, not necessary for most people. Use sparingly and follow our directions on using Saddle Soap.
Tools for Fixing Cracked Leather
For more substantial cracks, you want leather filler. This paste helps fill deep cracks and restores the leather’s appearance. Do your best to match the color to your boots, or buy a neutral colored leather filler and polish over it once it’s dry and sanded smooth.
Fine sandpaper is needed for buffing leather filler after applying leather filler.
First, Choose Your Cleaning Method
You want to clean your boots before applying any products, be it conditioner, waterproofer, or filler. If you don’t, you’re going to seal dirt into the leather when you apply your products on top of it, which will decrease the leather’s longevity.
- Routine Cleaning: Regularly brush down your boots with a horsehair brush. You don’t need to obsessively do this every day, but it’s a good idea to give them a brush down every dozen wears or so, or if they’ve been sitting on a boot rack for a few months accruing dust. Pay attention to seams and creases.
- Stain and Mud Removal: For a slightly more involved job, use a gentle, all natural leather cleaner like Cobbler’s Choice. You basically spray the boot down and rub it down with a cloth. Brush it afterward to bring some shine back.
- Serious, Stubborn Dirt Removal: Use Saddle Soap and a nylon brush to tackle persistent dirt and grime. Be sure to read our guide or watch the video above to do it properly and not damage your leather.
Prevent Cracked Leather By Conditioning Your Boots
The main event. Leather is skin, and it needs to be conditioned regularly. How often should you condition boots? For guys that wear boots casually in the city, conditioning them at the beginning and end of boot season should suffice. For consistently hard and/or wet wear, condition them every month or so, cleaning beforehand.
The method is simple:
- get them clean using the information in the previous section
- apply a teaspoon of conditioner to a cloth (or your hands)
- rub it into the leather, making sure you get into the creases and cracks
- let it sit for a few minutes
- buff with a horsehair brush
If your boots are very dry, you might want to repeat the process.
See our guide to the best leather conditioners to learn how to pick the right product, but the short list of options:
- Cobbler’s Choice Leather Conditioner: For the best balance of conditioning and waterproofing without too much color change.
- Venetian Shoe Cream: For conditioning any smooth leather, it gives more of a shine because it’s not much of a waterproofer.
- Bickmore’s Bick 4: If you want to condition without changing the boot’s color. (Corollary: it doesn’t condition as deeply, so might need more applications over time.)
- Huberd’s Shoe Grease: For really heavy duty waterproofing. Will darken.
- For gentle waterproofing that will work for most guys who aren’t toiling in mud, use this carnauba wax-based waterproofing spray.
Store Your Boots Properly to Avoid Cracked Leather
We’ve covered the main ways to keep your boots from cracking: keep the leather moist with regular conditioning.
To that end, you should also consider:
Drying your boots when they’re wet
Wet leather dries out. We wrote guide to how to dry your boots, but in short: use cedar shoe trees to soak up extra moisture and invest in a boot dryer if you’re really getting them sopping wet on the regular.
Use cedar shoe trees between wears
Whether or not your boots have gotten wet, keeping shoe trees in them between wears will help the boots to keep their shape, manage mold, and keep the leather healthy. If you don’t want to shell out for some shoe trees, stuffing ’em with newspaper will have a similar effect, they’re just hard to pull out and put in when you want to wear them.
Store boots in well-ventilated areas away from direct light, ensuring good airflow to prevent excess moisture buildup.
Consider covering your boots
If your boots are sitting there for months between boot seasons, they’ll get dust on them, and that isn’t good for the leather’s health. This is why good boot brands include dust bags in the shoebox. You’re meant to store your boots in the dust bags or in the shoebox when you’re not wearing them.
Not everyone follows these rules, of course, but they’ll certainly help avoid cracked leather.
How to Fix Cracked Leather Boots
Well, you’re in a tight spot. Since the skin is dead, it won’t heal on its own. This step delves into the world of repair and renewal, and for that you’ll need to get a leather filler that’s the same color as your boots. The process looks like this:
- Clean the boots
- Smear the leather filler into the crack
- Clean off excess filler surrounding the crack
- Wait for the filler to dry (some use a hair cryer to quicken the process, but it’s best to just wait)
- Use sandpaper to smooth down the dried filler.
- Moisturize and smooth the repaired area with shoe cream for a polished appearance.
With the information in this article, you’ve learned how to prevent cracks from forming in your boots and how to handle a crack if you’re unlucky enough to acquire one.
Armed with this knowledge, you’re poised to stride confidently into the future, knowing that your commitment to care will keep your leather boots timeless, resilient, and an enduring reflection of your style.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I keep my leather boots from cracking?
Protect your leather shoes by applying some leather conditioner a few times a year. Products like Venetian Shoe Cream and Cobbler's Choice Leather Conditioner are standard. Be sure to clean the boots first.
Every 3 to 6 months is a good goal, depending on how hard you wear them. If they're worn often and get wet frequently, condition more often.
Leather conditioner, as opposed to waterproofing products. Venetian Shoe Cream, neatsfoot oil, Bick 4, Cobbler's Choice, and Lexol are common conditioners. This keeps the leather supple and increases the longevity of the material.
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