How to Clean Leather Shoes

By: Contributors  | 
A pair of polished black leather lace-up boots next to a brush and tin of shoe polish.
Avoiding dirt on your leather boots is the best way to ensure they last long. PeopleImages / Getty Images

Leather and faux leather shoes are celebrated as much for their durability as they are for their aesthetics. If you know how to clean leather shoes, and maintain them properly, they can last a really, really long time.

Now, the best way to keep your leather boots and shoes clean is to prevent them from getting dirty in the first place. Be proactive. To protect them from moisture and salt stains, spray them with a protective or water-repellent coating.


Removing Salt Stains

If your leather boots are stained with salt stains from winter road salt, you can use a commercial desalting product (available at shoe repair shops). Alternatively you can:

  1. Make a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. You can use a gentle, moisturizing soap instead of vinegar.
  2. Soak a rag in the cleanser.
  3. Dab the stained parts of the boots.
  4. Wipe the boots with a damp, clean cloth.
  5. Dry them by wipe them down with a dry cloth or towel.
  6. Allow the boots to dry slowly. Don't try speeding up the drying process by putting the boots near a heat source, as this can make them brittle and crack.
  7. Once they're dry, buff the boots with a soft cloth or apply some shoe polish [Source: Forte].

Next time, prevent the formation of salt lines on your boots by treating them as soon as you get home, before they have a chance to dry. Dampen the leather with a wet sponge and then stuff the boots with paper, so they hold their shape until they dry.


Repairing Scuff Marks

If your leather boots are scuffed, don't scrub them roughly. Instead:

  1. Dip a soft cloth in clean water.
  2. Dip the wet cloth in baking soda.
  3. Rub the cloth gently over the scuff marks.
  4. Wipe the boots with a clean, damp cloth.
  5. Buff them dry with a soft cloth [Source: Forte].

Here's what to do if your boots are both dirty and wet:


  1. Let them dry them completely. Stuffing them with newspaper will help them dry more quickly and will help them retain their shape.
  2. Brush off the dirt using a soft brush.
  3. Apply a commercial leather cleaner.
  4. Polish the boots and apply saddle soap [source: Hawk Tools].


Cleaning Suede Shoes

Suede is in fact a form of leather, and a popular shoe material. It's also proof that not all leather types can be handled the exact same way. You don't want to use a cleaning solvent, or an abrasive cleaner.

Instead, if your suede shoes are stained or dirty, do this:


  1. Dab the stains with a clean cloth.
  2. Gently rub the surface with a soft bristled brush [source: Edelman Leather].

Clean Leather Boots FAQ

What is the best thing to clean leather with?
You can clean leather shoes at home by mixing warm water and dish soap in a cup, dampening a soft cloth with it and wiping the surface of patent leather. Make sure water isn’t dripping off the cloth. Use another damp cloth to wipe off the soap and then let the leather dry.
What is the best leather conditioner for boots?
The best leather conditioner that offers value for money is Saphir Medaille d'Or Renovator, while Huberd's Shoe Grease is an all-in-one solution (but expensive). Sof Sole Mink Oil is a great cost-effective leather cleaner.
Will water ruin leather boots?
Leather shoes that get soaking wet will likely face permanent damage, unless you dry them out immediately with a blow dryer. There are some waterproof leather shoes available if your shoes are likely to get wet regularly.
How do I clean the inside of my leather shoes?
To clean the inside of your leather shoes, pull out the insole and put it on a newspaper. Clean it gently with light detergent and a damp rag and then pat-dry it. Do the same inside your shoe.
How do you restore tan leather boots?
There are several products that you can use to restore leather boots to their original condition. However, for complete restoration and to make them like new, we recommend you get in touch with a professional.