brown leather shoes and boots

How To Clean Leather Shoes & Boots: The Complete Guide

Leather is amazing. Either you have some leather clothes or accessories and love them, or you don’t have any but want some.

Leather is a durable material, and that means that it is going to eventually get dirty, especially if you are wearing leather shoes or boots. Cleaning your footwear regularly is going to keep the leather in optimum condition, and prolong the life of your leather products. Cleaning your shoes or boots keeps them looking professional and saves you money in the long run.

The cleaning process is easy, and we are here to share some quick tips with you. The best part is that we’ll even show you how to make your own natural cleaners as well. Let’s dive in.

In This Article

Cleaning Leather Shoes & Boots With Commercial Products

A little know-how and the right cleaning products will keep your boots and shoes hydrated, protected, and looking like new.

Step 1: Unlacing

unlaced brown leather shoe

Your laces are probably not made from leather. We are using leather cleaners, so the first step is to remove the laces from your shoes or boots. You can clean your laces separately, but you do not want the leather cleaner to stain them.

Step 2: A Simple Wipe

cleaning a brown leather shoe with a damp cloth

You don’t want to waste your cleaner or polish and have it gunked up with any dirt and debris. The first main step in the cleaning process is to wipe the shoe or boot gently with a slightly damp cloth. Remove any of the dirt which could scratch the leather by wiping in a circular motion.

Step 3: Brush Up

brushing a brown leather shoe 2

Let the shoes or boots dry after step two and then move onto this step. A brush specifically designed for footwear will work best, but most soft brushes will work too. Gently brush the shoes to remove any stubborn pieces of dirt.

Make sure to get all of the upper, getting into any cracks or any other places where dirt may hide. By this time, you should have already removed a lot of the dirty, and you can sit back and revel in your handiwork.

Step 4: Condition

conditioning a brown leather shoe

Leather is basically skin. You need to moisturize to keep it in the best condition. If leather loses its moisture, then it dries up and begins to crack. Once the leather cracks, there is nothing that you can do about it.

If you buy a leather conditioner, then it probably comes with an applicator. All you need is a spot of conditioner around the size of a dime. You can squeeze the conditioner onto the shoe or onto a cloth. Either way, you should spread the conditioner evenly across the shoe, taking your time to cover all of it. Wait 30 minutes for the conditioner to be absorbed.

Step 5: Polish

brown leather shoe with a conditioner

Once the shoe or boot has been moisturized, and the conditioner has had time to dry, you can begin to polish. The polish is going to add the beautiful shine to your shoes that will make them look like new. Some people like this look and some don’t. Polishing is entirely up to you, but for the shiniest shoes, there is nothing better.

Polish will come in a small container, and you will often find that you can buy a set with a brush to apply the polish. If you don’t have a brush, we recommend buying one. Add a little polish to your brush and gently distribute the polish across the entire shoe, just like you did with the conditioner. Once you have covered the shoe or boot, let it sit for 20 minutes.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can add some additional polish to a cotton ball and gently apply some extra shine to the toe of your shoe. Again, move in a circular motion and create a wonderful contrast with this extra shine.

Learn how to make your leather shoes last longer.

Cleaning Leather Shoes & Boots With Natural Products

If you like to clean using natural products (most of which are already in your house), then I have some good news for you. The following method has been tried and tested over many years, and I use it often to clean and condition my leather shoes and boots.


  • Warm water
  • Cloths
  • 2 tablespoons of Castile soap
  • Coconut oil

Step 1: Mix the Castile soap and warm water in a large bowl. The soap, which is vegetable-based, is gentle on all of your leather.

Step 2: Take one of the cloths and dip it into the soapy water. Wring out the cloth so that it is damp and not wet. Use a circular motion to gently clean your shoes, paying particular attention to any stains or soiled areas. Be sure to wring out the cloth in your cleaning solution to remove the dirt.

Step 3: Once clean, use a clean, damp cloth to remove any remaining soapy solution from the shoe.

Step 4: Let the shoes or boots dry, preferably overnight. If you roll up a towel and stuff it into the shoe, it will help it to retain its shape. Once dry, you can condition them.

Step 5: Using a clean cloth, apply some coconut oil to the shoe. You do not need to use much coconut oil on the leather and, as always, apply it in a circular motion. Allow the oil to dry for 20 minutes and wipe away any extra oil with a clean cloth, buffing the shoe as you do so.

Your shoes, which will now look amazing, are ready to wear. Take the time to clean them regularly (once a month is ideal), and they will look as good as new.

Below is a useful video made by “The Provider” about cleaning and conditioning leather footwear with coconut oil.

Simple Natural Cleaning Hacks

Who does not like a good life hack? We always want the best, easiest, and most fun way of doing things. Are there natural cleaning hacks for leather? You bet there are.

These hacks work for all types of leather shoes and boots.

From black leather to white leather, tan, brown, and suede, these hacks can get the job done. The methods are simple, and the ingredients are probably already on hand.

But don’t jump in just yet. While these methods are almost foolproof, there are always minuscule risks. If you are at all worried about your expensive shoes, then call the store that you bought them from and double-check that the method will not do any harm.

General Cleaning: Toothpaste

Great for shining up those teeth, and perfect for cleaning your leather too. I’m also guessing that you have some around your home.

Squeeze a little on a soft brush or cloth, and spread it evenly over your leather shoes or boots. A brush is definitely recommended, but a cloth will work too. Rub the toothpaste into the leather and remove any excess with a clean cloth. As easy as brushing your teeth.

Shoe Polish Alternative: Saddle Soap

Saddle soap, as the name may suggest, is used primarily for cleaning a leather product. That means that it is also effective at cleaning your leather shoes or boots. If you have some lying around, then forget about buying shoe polish. Give your boots a gentle clean as detailed in the cleaning section above, and follow the polishing instructions to polish with the saddle soap.

Oil & Grease Stains: Baking Soda

baking soda in a jar

We love baking soda. There is almost nothing that you cannot clean with it. To remove any oil or grease stains, sprinkle a little baking soda onto the stained area and rub in a little with a cotton cloth. Leave it on overnight, and wipe the excess from the shoes.

Spot Stains: Rubbing Alcohol

An easy cleaning hack for you. Simply dip a cotton ball in a little rubbing alcohol and rub over a stain on your leather. You can let the spot air dry and repeat the process if necessary.

Salt Stains: White Vinegar

Winter is coming, probably, eventually. When winter comes, so does the salt. You don’t want to leave any salt on your leather, or it will eat away at it and damage your shoe or boot. The perfect solution is some white vinegar.

Add some vinegar to warm water and use a cotton cloth to rub a little of the mixture across the shoe. The white vinegar will dilute the salt and get rid of any stains. Clean with the vinegar solution and allow the footwear to air dry.

Shiner & Leather Softener: Vaseline

vaseline on man's fingers

Grab your vaseline, grab a soft leather cloth, and rub some into your leather shoes or boots. It’s as simple as that. The vaseline will shine your shoes and soften them. This is particularly useful before cracks appear, but can also help when there are already cracks in your shoes.

Moisturizing & Conditioning: Coconut Oil

Is there anything that coconut oil cannot do? It is great for cooking, it is a useful moisturizer for our own skin, and it is perfect for moisturizing and conditioning your footwear too.

Start by cleaning any dirt and dust from your shoes, and apply the coconut oil with a cotton cloth. Work the oil into the leather by rubbing in a circular motion, just like you are polishing them. We recommend that you do this every three months to keep your shoes in excellent condition.

How To Clean Different Types Of Shoes & Boots?

White Leather

women's white leather shoes

If you have white leather shoes or boots, then you probably take great care of them but, no matter how careful you are, there will come a time when you notice that they are getting dirty. So, what can you so about it?

Dirty white leather may seem like a nightmare to clean, but there is a simple solution: white toothpaste. Just as white toothpaste will help to clean and shine your teeth, it will help to do the same to your leather.

Apply a little and work it into the leather with a soft brush. If you add some sugar, it can help to scrub the leather, and adding a little warm water after rubbing in the toothpaste will help too. Wipe off the excess with a damp cloth and allow the shoe to dry, repeating the process if necessary.

Patent Leather

Grab a leather eraser and give that a go to remove any tough stains. If that does not work, then dip a cotton ball in some rubbing alcohol and run that over the affected areas. Wipe any excess off with a damp, clean cloth. Buff with a cotton cloth as needed.

Baby wipes or wet wipes also work for patent leather. Use the wipe as you would use a cloth, and work your way over the entire shoe or boot. Buff the shoe with a cotton cloth after and use a leather conditioner as needed.

Brown, Tan & Black Leather

women's black leather shoes

The easiest of the leathers to clean, and a case of pick your method. Use any of the methods from this section, or follow our cleaning guide from the previous section. Use whatever ingredients that you have at home or purchase a cleaner from the store if you need to.

Suede Leather

brown suede leather boots on women's feet

One thing that you do not want to do when cleaning suede is to use water. Water can stain the suede and leave it in worse shape than when you started. Your best bet here is to use a suede cleaning brush. If you have the option to buy one when you buy your shoes, then we recommend that.

Use the brush to lightly brush the stained areas, brushing in the same direction at all times. This helps to remove the dirt from the fibers. After brushing in the same direction, if there are still stains, use a back and forth motion, and work more vigorously this time.

If the stain still remains, then you need to break out the heavy artillery. Dab a clean cloth into some white vinegar or rubbing alcohol and rub that into the stain. These two liquids will not stain like water will. Allow the area to dry and repeat the brushing with your soft brush.

To protect your suede, you should use a protector spray. You can find this in shoe stores and online, and it is not that expensive. The trouble that you will avoid just by using the spray is well worth it. Follow the included instructions, and your suede will stay cleaner for longer.

Cleaning The Inside Of Leather Shoes & Boots

The exterior of your shoes is easy to clean, but what about the interior. Leather is a breathable material, but you will find that, over time, your leather shoes and boots will start to smell. Moisture and odor will accumulate, and odors will appear. The longer that you leave it, the worse the smell will become, and any moisture will also begin to eat away at the material.

Take an empty spray bottle and fill it with some white vinegar. Simply spray the vinegar into the interior of the shoe and allow it to dry. Vinegar is a deodorizing agent and bacteria killer. Say goodbye to the nasty bacteria which are smelling up your shoes.

If your shoes still smell, sprinkle in some baking soda and allow the baking soda to sit in the shoes overnight to soak up any smells. Invert the shoes and let the baking soda fall out into your compost container when you are done.

If that doesn’t get rid of the smell, then nothing will.

Wrapping Up

Owning leather shoes or boots are a welcome luxury in our lives, but not one that needs to cause a lot of problems. There has always been the stigma that leather is hard to keep clean and even harder to clean once it is dirty. As you can see from this article, it is extremely easy to clean your leather shoes and boots, and you can even do it with ingredients found around your home.


The best cure for dirty and damaged footwear is prevention. Take the time to regularly clean your shoes, moisturize them, and protect them. If you care for your shoes, they will last a lifetime.

Henrik Soke

Henrik has over 20 years of experience in various IT fields. Durability Matters is his passion project born out of his love for minimalism and high-quality products that last. He's an avid hiker, mountain biker, and outdoor enthusiast.

Understanding Luggage Durability

How to Clean Your White Converse Shoes