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Doc Marten shoes are renowned for being durable and long-wearing, especially their trademark smooth leather boots. But, wearing them often, as you are likely to do, does lead to considerable dirt build-up over time.
The fact that most Doc Marten owners tend to pick their Docs for the toughest and grubbiest of exploits – including music festivals, mosh pits, and urban explorations – doesn’t help either. If yours are looking more than a little dog-eared, there’s good news: A deep clean can get them looking brand new again.
Unlike many inferior brands of shoes, Docs can withstand a little water, soap, and scrubbing. From detailing to general care, here’s how to clean Doc Martens from top to bottom.
What Is Smooth Leather?
Doc Martens come in a range of materials and finishes, including canvas, textile and vegan, patent, suede, and smooth leather. Their smooth leather range is the original and most popular, made from a corrected grain leather from Argentina.
A versatile material, it can be maintained polished or allowed to scuff, creating a naturally worn-in look. However, smooth leather isn’t as waterproof as patent leather, and is a little more rigid. As such, you should wear your new pair only periodically in order to avoid blisters.
What Do You Need to Clean Doc Martens?
Before you start, you will need to gather some supplies with which to clean your Doc Marten boots:
- Bowls to hold rinse and washing water.
- Microfiber and cotton cleaning and polishing cloths.
- Mild soap, such as dishwashing detergent.
- A spray bottle.
- Specialized shoe cleaner.
- An old, soft-bristle toothbrush and shoe brush.
- Shoe polish or wax.
- Shoe protector.
You may have some of these supplies at home, but some additional specialist products can improve your results and help your shoes last longer. Doc Marten also sells a range of specialist cleaning products, including its shoe-care kits, protectors, cleaners, and polishers.
Step 1: Remove Laces & Accents
Traditional Doc Marten boots are typically laced, though there are newer models featuring elasticated enclosures and zippers, instead. Regardless, the eyelets, and the gaps between the lacings and laces themselves, are a magnet for dirt, so it’s best if these are removed to make reaching these spots easier.
Unlace your shoelaces and place them in soapy water to soak. Then rub them together to loosen up any dirt, rinse them in clean water, and hang them up to dry. You can also replace your Doc Marten boot laces if they are particularly worn, or if you just feel like a new look. You can get yours directly from Doc Marten, or from unofficial sellers in a range of colors, finishes, and lengths.
Step 2: Remove Excess Dust & Mud
Scrubbing dusty or grimy leather shoes isn’t ideal, as doing so can result in scratches and rubbed-in stains. Ideally, you want to remove as much of this excess build-up as possible before you clean your Docs. Start by banging the two shoes together to loosen off sand and mud. Then dust off any remaining dirt with a dry cloth.
You can also wipe your boots down gently with a damp cloth afterwards, to catch any leftover dirt. To tackle stubborn mud on the soles and in between the eyelets and seams, use your scrubbing brush and shoe brush. A gentle brush should get the dirt out without needing water, but a little water will help to loosen more stubborn grime.
Step 3: Clean Your Shoes
Now you can clean your shoes using the cleaning products you’ve gathered. Apply your shoe cleaner as specified, or use a soapy solution. Ideally, you should apply a gentle coat with a spray bottle to avoid over-soaking your boots. As smooth leather is a little more porous than patent versions, you want to apply minimal moisture.
Once done, you can gently wipe away the solution with your damp cloth to remove the dirt and soap. If there are any stubborn dirty sections, you can scrub these away with your brush or toothbrush. If you are using a specialized shoe cleaner, be sure to follow the directions on the package, as formulations and usage vary.
Step 4: Polish
Topping off with polish can both protect and bring the deep color back to your Doc Martens. You want to pick a polish that matches the shade of the leather, especially if you have a bright colored pair of Docs. Shoe polish is predominantly black, but also comes in shades of light and dark brown, tan, and brick or cherry reds.
Step 5: Buff Your Boots (Optional)
If you prefer a more polished finish, now is the time to shine up your boots. After applying your shoe polish, use a suede buffing cloth or sponge to get them to your preferred shine. As smooth leather is a little rougher than patent – still showing some grain – it won’t shine up quite as brightly, but you can still achieve a smart, polished effect with a little elbow grease.
Step 6: Protect
Though shoe polish does protect your leather boots, you can go one step further. Specialized shoe protection products and waxes help improve water resistance, and extend the time before your next clean. Once applied, these products can also make cleaning your shoes easier. All you have to do is gently buff them with a dry or damp cloth to remove dirt, as the product builds a coat.
Doc Martens Wonder Balsam and Ultra Protector spray are two products you can use to protect your shoes. However, there are countless others on the market. Whichever you choose, just be sure that it’s suitable for smooth leather, otherwise it may cause discoloring and damage when applied.
Lastly, finish off with a deodorant spray, such as Doc Martens Shoe Freshener, to keep your shoe interiors fresh.
Doc Martens are built to last, but also for being used – unlike some other more dainty or impractical pairs of shoes. Their range of durable, smooth leather shoes is particularly well-suited for all life has to throw at you.
That said, taking care of your Docs by giving them an occasional deep clean will keep them going strong for as long as possible, and ensure you always look your best, too!