How to Clean and Care for Dirty Boots

By Nick Vassilev

updated: 06/04/2023

Wellington Boots

“Wear your gumboots [Wellington boots]  – you can’t take your feet off at the door!” is something I find myself telling my children every winter when they inevitably go outside into muddy areas with bare feet. Boots are made to get dirty.

Did Your Kids Know Boots Must be Cleaned?

But periodically, you will need to clean them.  This is particularly true of rugby boots and other sports boots (e.g. jodhpur boots) that need to be presentable for team photos and general turnout requirements.  This article will focus mostly on rugby boots, as these are some of the grubbiest as -well as being the type of boot that gets cleaned in my household most often. Rugby boots are most likely to mess up my floors, and suddenly my Sunday evening becomes a mission to remove mud from carpets. If any grime (or sticky mud) is left for longer, the carpet fibres will require longer and more-expensive deep cleaning. Heavy-duty work boots will need similar treatment, but getting them spotless is less of a priority. If you do a job that requires heavy duty boots (e.g. forestry, gardening, construction or farming), having perfectly clean boots is the sign of a new hand on the job – boots splashed with paint, dung, concrete or mud are the sign of a good hard worker.

Time to Clean Mud

The first step is to remove the mud, etc. from the bottom. Most boots have heavy cleats or sprigs (forestry boots have spikes), and large wads of mud collect there. Clubrooms have contraptions like giant scrubbing brushes outside their doors for removing mud, but these are not practical for home use. A hoof-pick works for human hooves as well as it does for horses’ hooves, but other hard pointy object such as screwdrivers, nails or old kitchen forks (table forks) work well. Scrubbing brushes don’t seem to get inside the cleats quite as well, but they are good for removing the mud off the side. Use water to loosen dirt if needed.

Next, use a rag or paper towel to wipe mud off the top of the boot. If more dirt remains, use the scrubbing brush and soapy water. Check the laces. If they are really grubby, remove them and soak them in laundry detergent and hot water for an hour or so before machine washing. Dry as normal. If they have frayed, replace them.

Drying Boots Carefully

After cleaning off the mud, dry the boots out. Stuff them with crumpled up old newspapers so they keep their shape and place somewhere warm and dry, but avoid places such as in front of a fire or radiator, as this will make the leather stiff and hard (if the boot is made of leather), or may melt any rubber/synthetic if it gets too close. A sunny doorstep or the hot water cupboard work well.

Waterproofing Boots

After drying, leather boots will need waterproofing. Clear dubbin is best for this, but polish is good for boots where appearances are important. You do not need to buff up or polish work boots – just apply and leave to dry. Don’t use coloured polish on rugby boots (if you polish them at all) that have two (or more) colours, as making sure that you don’t go over the edges is more trouble that it is worth. Don’t worry about applying dubbin to synthetic boots – they don’t need protection in the same way that leather does.

It’s not too late to introduce your offspring to the mystery of the clean boots. It’s definitely not a magic cupboard that produces clean boots non-stop. Use this guide to show them an easy step-by-step process and insist they clean them after each walk. The younger your children, the better.

No more mummy scrubbing boots late at night :).

You can thank me later.

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