Finding a safe and comfortable pair of work boots can involve some trial and error. Once you find a pair that's truly comfortable, you'll want to take care of them so they can last as long as possible.

With proper care, a good pair of work boots can last for years. But what exactly does proper care entail?

Workplace materials like chemicals, oils, and dust can have a detrimental effect on your work boots, which is why it is so important to clean them on a regular basis. Workplace conditions like heat, humidity, or cold can also damage your boots, so it's important to take them into account, too.

In this article, we will explore how to clean and care for your boots, how to treat leather work boots, what materials are most detrimental to safety footwear, and whether you can repair your work boots.

Leather Work Boots

While work boots can be made of different materials, leather is the most popular choice because of its durability. Full-grain leather - high-quality leather that still has every layer of the hide - is also water resistant.

Waterproof leather provides protection against water, which makes them great for damp, wet, or cold locations. They have the same durability as full-grain leather.

One of the key benefits of leather, besides its durability, is the great fit and comfort you get once they're broken in, though that can take some time.

(Learn more in One Size Does Not Fit All When It Comes to Protective Clothing.)

How to Clean Your Work Boots

To ensure your boots have a long life, clean them regularly.

Be thorough with your cleaning. Remove dirt and debris from the wrinkles and stitching. It's even a good idea to remove your laces periodically to clean, condition, and protect the leather tongue behind the laces.

If you need to clean wax from your boots, use a hair dryer to liquefy it and wipe it off with a clean cloth.

How you clean your boots will depend on the type of leather they're made of.

  • Waterproof Leather: Clean the surface with warm water and a stiff bristle brush
  • Oiled Leather: Remove excess grime with a leather cleaner or saddle soap formulated for leather boots
  • Dry-Tanned Leather: Like oiled leather, remove excess grime with a leather cleaner or saddle soap formulated for leather boots
  • Nubuck or Suede Leather: Remove dirt with a nubuck/suede brush and cleaner bar

How to Condition Your Leather Work Boots

Conditioning your work boots helps soften, protect, and restore the leather, ensuring a longer life.

Mink oil (or conditioners incorporating mink oil into their formulations) repels water and is one of the most common products used as a work boot conditioner. Mink oil helps prevent your leather boots from drying out and helps them retain their finish. The downside of mink oil is that it can be a little greasy at first and can give off a slight odor when wet.

  • Waterproof Leather: Use a leather conditioner formulated for leather boots or a mink oil paste
  • Oiled Leather: Use a leather conditioner formulated for leather boots, a mink oil paste, or a boot oil formulated for work boots
  • Dry-Tanned Leather: Use a leather conditioner formulated for leather boots, mink oil paste, paste wax, or boot polish
  • Nubuck or Suede Leather: Use a spray-on conditioner formulated for nubuck/suede boots - products containing mink oil, waxes, and the like are not a good option for suede work boots

How to Protect Your Work Boots

To protect your work boots, use a leather protector formulated for leather boots, or silicone. The one exception is work boots made of nubuck or suede leather. Those require leather protectors formulated specifically for that type of material.

What Materials Are Most Detrimental to Safety Footwear?

You keep your work boots clean. You condition them and apply the right kind of protective coating. But you still have to do your best to avoid the substances that can do the most damage to them.

Here are some of the things you should try to keep away from your boots.

  • Nail polish remover: Nail polish remover (sometimes used to remove stains) contains acetone and will strip all color from your leather
  • Alcohol: Alcohol damages leather, can strip it of its color or actually dissolve it - avoid getting products that contain alcohol (like hair spray or window cleaner) on your boots
  • Disinfectant or cleaning wipes: It's tempting to use one of these to give your boots a quick clean, but unless they're formulated specifically for leather boots they probably contain alcohol
  • Moisture: Leather might be somewhat water-resistant, but that doesn't mean water can't damage it - water will discolor and weaken the leather, so it's a good idea to wipe your boots off after getting them wet
  • Heat: Leaving your work boots near a heater to dry can potentially damage the leather, causing it to crack
  • Using the wrong products: Using the wrong product to clean your boots can do more damage than not cleaning and protecting them at all

Can You Repair Your Work Boots?

Boots with torn leather uppers, cracks, holes in creases, cracked insoles, or damaged inner linings often cannot be repaired or are simply not worth the expense. If you are not sure whether your boots can be repaired, contact the manufacturer or consult a local shoe repair company. Some higher end manufacturers do offer repair services for their work boots. The best way to protect the life of your work boots is to clean, condition and protect them on a regular basis.

Some types of boots can be resoled depending on how they are constructed. Again, check with the manufacturer or a shoe repair company. Some of them can even repair the stitching, too.

There are specialized glue or goo products on the market that claim they will repair damaged soles. They usually have limited success, but they can get you through a short period of time until you can get your boots repaired or buy a new pair.

I recommend purchasing work boots with rubber protection around the steel toe area. That way, if your boots have a cut or tear around the steel toe, you can buy a product that will seal the rubber to protect the toe area and cover up and cuts or scratches.

(Learn more in Safety Toes: An Overview of the Materials That Keep Your Feet Safe.)

Conclusion

Few things feel as comfortable and reliable than a trusty, worn-in pair of work boots. By taking good care of them, you can make sure they last longer and still keep you safe and comfortable.