The best way to clean your hiking boots

cleaning boots at river

Hiking boots are heavy duty, but they still need post-hiking care. Here is a simple, step-by-step general approach to cleaning your hiking boots after every outing.

Step 1: Wash Them

For some hikes, the layer of grime and dirt is so light that just standing in a shallow stream for a few minutes can get rid of most of the dirt. If you didn’t happen to cross a stream or walk through wet grass, get non-alcohol, non-bleach wet wipes and wipe the outside of the shoe. You can just leave it to dry after that, and it should be good. If there’s a little more grime and dirt, use running water to dislodge the pieces. If it doesn’t need more attention than that, go ahead and dry it. 

Step 2: Brush Them

If wet wipes and running water don’t do the trick, take a medium-strength bristle brush and dislodge any pieces of dirt and grit that are sticking in the corners of the boot. Check along the seams and on the boot tongue. Use a higher-strength bristle brush to dislodge anything in the boot soles. No matter how capable your boots are, leaving the grit in there will only cause build-up. Anything that gets packed in because of later hikes may cause strain and eventual damage to the soles.

Step 3: Laces and Insoles

In the process of washing and brushing, take out the laces and insoles to wash them separately. Light dish soap and water should do the trick for both. Don’t soak them so there’s no break down of chemicals, just wash and rinse them before drying. This also helps you make sure you get all the dirt around the edges of the shoe’s insides and around the lace holes. Dry them separately and wait until the boots themselves are fully dry before restoring them.

Step 4: Dry Them

After brushing your boots off, give them one more rinse. After that, you can turn them over and air dry them. Somewhere windy but away from any heat sources, including the sun. Too much heat will over-dry and crack both synthetic and real leather. If you want them to dry faster, stuff them with newspaper and change it out when it dampens. You can also use a fan to dry them if you need to use them sooner than they are likely to dry. We suggest having a drying rack safe from the elements so you can leave them as needed.

Step 5: Store Them

Never store your boots while they are even a little bit damp. Mold and mildew might take over and damage them. A dry, airy place is best for them, but nowhere that gets either too hot or too cold. Airless solutions such as plastic bags or airtight boxes are also not the best option, as any remaining moisture may get trapped and you would still have either mold or mildew on your hands if they get exposed to sunlight. We suggest a linen bag or anything breathable to protect them from dust, and then an easily accessible shelf or closet.

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