OUTDOOR BASICS

How to Wash Hiking Boots: Prevent Your Boots from Deteriorating

washing hiking boots
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

All hikers know that wearing the correct type of hiking boots is an important part of completing a successful hiking trip. They also know that taking care of their hiking boots must be one of their top priorities, or else they’ll be replacing them often. Hiking boots may be designed to walk through mud, rivers, and over rough terrain, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need some TLC after each trip. Knowing how to wash hiking boots is essential for keeping them in shape.

Knowing how to clean the dirt, mud, sand, and rocks from hiking boots will make them last for a long time. Although, before learning how to clean hiking boots, you should probably know what they are made from.

cleaning hiking boots from dirt

Hiking Boot Materials

Washing your hiking boots will never become horribly complicated. However, knowing what type of materials your boots are will help prevent you from damaging them when you clean them. Therefore, before learning how to clean your hiking boots, familiarize yourself with the following materials:

Hiking Boot Uppers

Hiking Boot Uppers are exactly what they sound like: the upper part of your boot that is responsible for keeping your feet warm, dry, and protected. Durable uppers are usually made from leather, but this is not always the case:

  • Full-Grain Leather – Is typically used for backpacking boots. Full-grain leather is durable, water resistance, and abrasion resistant. This makes a good combination for those who need boots that can handle longer hiking trips, that involve rough terrain and heavy camping materials.
  • Split-Grain Leather – Is typically used in lightweight boots. Split-grain leather is more breathable than other hiking boots, but it can’t handle rough terrain as well. While some split-grain leathers boots have waterproof liners, they are not as water or abrasion resistant as full-grain leather boots.
  • Nubuck Leather – Is a type of split-grain leather that resembles suede. However, it is stronger than normal split-grain leather. It is durable, water resistance, and abrasion resistant. Furthermore, it is flexible, breathable, and light.
  • Waterproof Membranes – Are an extra feature added to boots. Hikers can add waterproof features, such as waterproof membranes, to keep their feet dry. However, they decrease breathability.
  • Vegan – Are an alternative to animal-made uppers. There are many different variations that accomplish the same goals as leather-made uppers. Some are more waterproof, breathable, and durable than others.

vegan friendly boots

Hiking Boot Midsoles

The midsoles are the rubber part of hiking boots. It runs around the outside, bottom part of the boot. It is responsible for cushioning your feet and preventing them from experiencing shock. Some midsoles are more flexible than others. Midsole are usually made from two different materials:

  • EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) – Typically used in cushier, lighter, and cheaper hiking boots. EVA provides firmer support, but it might not be the best midsole for hikes with tough terrain.
  • Polyurethane – Typically used in firm and durable hiking boots. Hiking boots that use polyurethane midsoles might feel stiff and uncomfortable at first, but they are better for backpacking and mountain hikes. They can handle rougher terrain for longer periods of time.

hiking boots with polyurethane midsoles

Hiking Boot Outsoles

Hiking Boot Outsoles are self-explanatory. They are located on the outside and very bottom part of hiking boots. Outsoles are responsible for making sure you can step on different types of terrain without slipping.

While all outsoles are made from rubber, they have different patterns. The different patterns won’t affect the way they should be cleaned, but they must be cleaned. Plus, it’s still nice to know what type of pattern your hiking boots have.

  • Lug Pattern – Refers to the bumps located on the outsoles. These bumps are useful for hikers who backpack or mountain hike. Lug pattern outsoles give hikers better traction, decreasing their risk of slipping. Widely spaced lugs are the best for traction and for cleaning out mud and dirt easily.
  • Heel Brake – Refers to a more defined ‘heel zone.’ It is designed to decrease the chance of sliding and slipping when climbing down a steep descent.
  • Carbon Additives – Carbon additives are not exactly an outsole pattern, but they can be added to hiking boots. Typically, hikers who backpack or mountain hike add these to their boots to increase a boot’s hardness. This increases durability for hiking tough terrains, but can make boots feel slippery when hiking off trail.

outsole on hiking boots

Cleaning Hiking Boots At Home

After arriving home from a hike, it is important to take the time to clean your boots properly in order to preserve them longer. Now that you know what materials your boots are made from, it is time to learn how to clean the dirt and grime off of them.

General Guidelines

There is no exact science to cleaning hiking boots. Cleaning them does not involve a step-by-step process, and it will be a lot like cleaning other objects. However, before cleaning your boots, there are a few general guidelines you need to keep in mind. Otherwise, you run the risk of ruining your boots instead of preserving them.

  1. Do not use a rag or towel to clean your boots. Instead, you’ll want to use a vegetable brush, a toothbrush, or a special boot brush. This way you’ll be able to get dirt particles out of your boot without wearing your boots out.
  2. Never use any waterproof wax or grease to clean hiking boots. It will decrease your boots breathability. Washing your hiking boots with basic materials are all that is necessary to keep them in good condition. Instead, use boot cleaner, saddle soap, or a combination of mild dish soap and water. Using bar soaps and detergents can cause waterproof membranes and leather to deteriorate.
  3. Never put hiking boots through the washer or dryer. This will damage your boots and decrease their lifespan.

washing boots with soap and water

Cleaning The Upper

Cleaning the upper is simple. Some people suggest removing your boots’ laces before washing the upper. Most likely removing the laces will help wash out any dirt that is trapped in, around, and behind them. You can easily clean the laces separately. To clean the upper, take whatever brush you are using and gently scrub the dirt and grime from it.

If you want to deep clean the upper, use soap and running water to wash it out. However, don’t just keep the water running over your boots, and keep in mind that it will take longer for your boots to dry. So, if you plan to hike soon after cleaning them, getting them wet may not be the best idea. Here are a couple of other tips for cleaning the upper:

  • When cleaning mold off your hiking boots, use a mixture of 80% water and 20% vinegar. Vinegar is a great mold-killing agent that should not damage your boots.
  • If you need to waterproof your boots, the best time to do so is after you wash them.

cleaning the upper on boots

Cleaning the Outsoles and Midsoles

When cleaning the outsoles and midsoles of your hiking boots, you can be a little rougher with them. Dirt, mud, and other unwanted particles will not actually damage your boots, but they will decrease the boot’s traction. Therefore, you want to take the time to get all caked-on dirt off your boots.

Cleaning the outsoles can also prevent the transportation of plant species to different hiking areas. To clean the outsoles, vigorously scrub them. Take the time to remove any stuck pebbles and stubborn dirt. If dried mud is refusing to come off, soak the outsoles and use a hose to wash it away.

washing outsoles with hose

However, don’t just run the hose over your boots. Instead use the hose like a power-washer to be more effective. Of course, do not use an actual power-washer, as this can damage your boots.

Drying Hiking Boots

As already mentioned, never put your boots into the dryer. If you don’t have the time to wait for your boots to dry, then either wait to wash them or just don’t use water to clean them. Using a direct heat source- such as a dryer, fire, stove, radiator, or heater- can damage your boots.

It can cause adhesives to weaken and age the boot’s leather. Instead follow these tips to dry out your boots:

  • Remove the insoles and air dry them separately.
  • Dry your boots at room temperature in a place that has low humidity.
  • Place your boots in front of a fan to dry them quicker.
  • Stuffing newspaper in your boots can dry them more quickly as well. When the newspaper becomes damp, change it.
  • After your boots are dry, store them somewhere with normal temperature and humidity. Do not store them in garages, attics, or other damp and unventilated places. This will preserve your boots longer.

inserting newspaper in boots to dry faster

Cleaning Hiking Boots While Hiking

Cleaning your boots while hiking doesn’t require any special instruction. It’s just a good idea to maintain your boots, even while you are still using them. This will make cleaning them when you get home easier as well. When hiking always bring a brush or cloth to gently clean of dirt and other debris particles.

When you camp near a water source, you can use some water to clean mud off your outsoles. Cleaning your boots as you hike will make cleaning them at home easier.

What Happens When Cleaned Improperly?

Washing or drying your boots improperly will damage your boots. Some of you may still be tempted to throw your boots in the washer and dryer, even though this article has already stated that this is the best way to damage your boots.

two white washing machines

In the hopes of dissuading you from ignoring any of the cleaning tips provided in this guide, here is what will happen to your boots if cleaned improperly:

Too Much Moisture

Cleaning hiking boots requires the use of soap and water, but it’s important to have a good water-to-boot ratio. Soaking your boots entirely with water or putting them through the wash could expose them to too much moisture. If this happens, your boots may distort into a different and uncomfortable shape when they dry.

This will make hiking more painful. This could also happen if you haven’t waterproofed your boots, and you walk through water, snow, or ice. However, not using enough water could cause the leather to crack when it dries. Cracked leather will attract more dirt and will decrease your boot’s life span.

cracked leather on boots

However, using too little water is probably better than using too much water, as purchasing leather conditioner can help combat dry leather.  Although, even leather conditioner won’t save your boots if you continue to use the wrong amount of water when washing.

Too Much Heat

Along with not drying your boots in front of direct or intense heat, don’t leave your hiking boots out in direct sunlight to dry if it is 90° or hotter. Exposing leather to direct heat causes irreparable damage to the fibers. Not even leather conditioner will save them.

leather boots drying on the sun

When the fibers become damaged they cause hiking boots to dry out and crack. Once this happens, hiking boots stop fitting properly and will most likely hurt your feet while hiking. So, while it may be tempting to throw your boots into the dryer, doing so could mean having to buy new hiking boots.

Ready, Get Set, Clean

Always set aside time to wash your boots when you return from a hike, now that you know how to properly clean your hiking boots, especially the different parts. This will help to prevent them from deteriorating faster, so you can save money on having to replace your boots over and over again.

cleaning hiking boots

Just remember to never get lazy and just through your hiking boots into the washer or dryer. Giving your boots some well-deserved TLC will guarantee that they continue to protect your feet from harsh weather conditions and rough terrain for a long time.

Please share any cleaning tips you’d like to share with other readers in the comments below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

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