How to clean and condition leather cowboy boots

After a day of hard work, you will notice that your boots are adorned with dust and dirt. Cleaning cowboy boots is crucial for preserving their timeless beauty.

Cowboy boots have a whole lot of oils already built into them through the tanning process. It’s your job to keep them clean and conditioned. 

Knowing the right techniques to clean cowboy boots and choosing the right products can be the key to ensuring your cowboy boots endure for years to come.

Keeping your cowboy boots in tip-top shape is a simple 3-step process.

Tools you need to clean and condition cowboy boots:

  • Horse hair brushes
  • Toothbrush
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Leather conditioner
  • Edge dressing
  • Polish (optional)

The type of leather conditioner you should use depends on the leather itself. If you have smooth leather, opt for a conditioner, while textured leather benefits from a spray. 

It’s worth noting that oil-based conditioners will not only darken the leather but also enhance its waterproof qualities.

Cleaning cowboy boots

cleaning leather cowboy boots

Step 1: Knock off the mud

If your boots are muddy, start off by grabbing a toothbrush or a sturdy brush, and give those boots a good scrub to get rid of as much mud and dirt as possible. After that, use a horse hair brush to remove the dust.

Sometimes, there’s really tough, stubborn dirt that refuses to budge no matter how vigorously you brush it. Therefore, it might be a good idea to gently moisten it with a touch of soapy water if your boots are dealing with this kind of dirt,

If you have leather boots, it’s important to be cautious when applying water. Ensure the soapy water remains localized around the dirt and doesn’t spread to other areas of the boot.

Allow about 5-10 minutes for the water to soften the dirt. Once the dirt is soft and pliable, you can use a toothbrush or a similar firm-bristled brush to gently remove it.

Then wipe it off using a microfiber cloth. If the cloth becomes dirty, make sure to use a new cloth or wash the cloth before cleaning the neighboring surface. Repeat this process until your boots are fully clean. 

In addition to using soapy water, there are alternative products that can help soften the dirt, such as:

  • Baking soda mixed with water.
  • Vinegar.
  • Alcohol.

Whatever you use for cleaning cowboy boots, just remember not to allow these liquids to seep into other sections.

Next, it’s time to pay attention to those tight spots. Even if your boots appear clean, there might still be hidden mud stains. Grab your microfiber cloth and delicately work your way along every seam on the boots. You may even use a toothbrush for this process. 

Step 2: Double cleanse using saddle soap

Use saddle soap and a soft brush to double-cleanse your boots. Begin by wetting your brush, and then apply some saddle soap. Now, gently work that soapy brush across your boots.

While removing the saddle soap, it’s crucial that you don’t pour water directly onto your boots, especially if they aren’t waterproof. Instead, opt for a dry, absorbent cloth and gently wipe away the soap from the boot’s surface.

Step 3: Rinse and dry

Keep wiping until your boots are entirely dry. It’s essential to prevent the leather from getting wet since moisture can create a favorable environment for mold to develop. 

Once your boots are dust-free and sparkling clean, you’re pretty much at the end of the cleaning step.

Step 4: Cleaning the inside of cowboy boots

Cleaning the interior of your boots can be a bit trickier than dealing with the exterior. That’s why a lot of folks tend to overlook it altogether.

You should make the effort to clean the insides of your boots, and here’s why. 

Firstly, it helps banish those unpleasant odors that can crop up from mold, foot issues, or just accumulated dirt. Plus, it’s a secret weapon in extending the life of your beloved cowboy boots.

If you’re a bit unsure about the whole process of cleaning the insides of cowboy boots, no worries! Just follow the steps below:

Step 1: Freshen up the insoles

  • First, remove the insoles
  • Then, wash them by scrubbing them with a toothbrush
  • After that, go ahead and give the insole a little love by moistening it with warm water.
  • Get some foam or soap on that insole and give it a good scrub with a toothbrush until it looks clean!

If your insoles are leather, grab yourself a leather cleaner to give them a good clean. It’s pretty much like washing the fabric insole we talked about earlier, but this time, swap out the foam for a trusty leather cleaner.

Step 2: Give those linings a good scrub!

  • Start cleaning cowboy boots by unzipping them. (If your boot has a zip).
  • Using a soft brush, to get rid of the dirt inside.
  • Then, fire up your vacuum cleaner to suck out the dirt.
  • Now grab a water spray and lightly mist the inside of your boots. Just a heads up, don’t go overboard with the water—we’re aiming for damp, not drenched.
  • While the inside is damp, brush it with some fabric cleaner.
  • After you’ve finished cleaning, grab a fresh cloth and soak up any leftover fabric cleaner lingering inside the shoe. Make sure your shoes are clean at this point. And remember, no need to rinse with water!
  • Lastly, absorb the excess moisture using a boot tree or hairdryer, so that the boots become completely dry. 

Repeat step 2 for the leather linings. But make sure to use fabric cleaner instead of leather cleaner.

After you’ve given your boots a good soap and rinse, let them chill out for a few hours to dry. It could take around 24 hours, but if you’ve got a boot dryer, they might be ready even sooner.

Conditioning Leather Cowboy Boots

I always reach for leather conditioner when it comes to taking care of my work boots. It’s the budget-friendly choice that gets the job done.

Step 1: When you’re using a leather conditioner, keep in mind that it might cause a subtle darkening of the leather, especially during the initial days when it’s being absorbed. 

If you have a light-colored or thinly textured, exotic leather boot, it’s a good idea to do a spot test in a concealed area. Just let it sit for a couple of hours before deciding to condition the entire boot. 

Better safe than sorry!

Step 2: After confirming that the leather conditioner is ideal for your pair of boots, go ahead and start applying. Simply pour the conditioner onto a microfiber cloth, and gently rub it in circular motions on the leather’s surface. 

No need to apply a lot of pressure—just keep the rag damp with conditioner and smoothly work it back and forth along the boot.

Step 3: How much conditioner should I apply? Well, you would have to use a lot if your boots have been neglected for some time, while a pair of boots in good shape might only need a single coat. 

A good stopping point would be to apply till the conditioner stops soaking into the boots and vanishing. 

Step 4: Let the conditioner sit for 12-24 hours, allowing it to dry and soak into the leather. Then wipe the excess conditioner using a microfiber cloth.


Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

After you’ve cleaned and conditioned your boots, feel free to give them a polish if you’re up for it. While it’s not a must-do, it works wonders, especially for smooth leather boots. The waxy polish acts like a protective seal, making the conditioner last longer and allowing you to stretch the time between applications.

Make sure to pick a color that’s as close as possible to your boots. Apply it using the same method as the leather conditioner, but watch out for your fingers—shoe polish has a knack for leaving stains.

How to remove stains from leather cowboy boots?

Water stains

Gently blot the wet water stain with a white cloth until it dries. If that doesn’t do the trick to ward off stains, grab a slightly damp cloth and give it a gentle wipe. Start from the center of the stain and work your way outward to help spread out the discoloration.

Ink stains

If you’re dealing with a stubborn ink stain, it might be wise to bring in a professional. However, if you catch it early, there’s hope. Begin by gently blotting the fresh stain with a soft, dry cloth—avoid rubbing or scrubbing to prevent further damage. Keep your hand steady, and if the ink is transferring to the cloth, it’s a good sign. Replace the cloth as necessary.

Once the cloth no longer absorbs ink, lightly rub the remaining stain with a dry cloth and a touch of soap. Skip alcohol-based solutions, as they can harm the leather. Use small circular motions to avoid spreading the ink. If you manage to lift most of the stain, the remainder should gradually fade over time. It’s all about patience and a gentle touch!

Salt stains

If you’re in a place that snows most of the time, you might be looking for a solution to erase the sidewalk salt stains.

Say goodbye to those white tarnishes by using a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar. Gently and lightly rub the solution onto the stain, then wipe it away with another cloth dampened with pure water. 

You might need to repeat this process once or twice for the best results. This vinegar solution can also come to the rescue for those mysterious light-colored stains.


Grab a soft, dry cloth and dab away as much of that grease as you can. Then, sprinkle some talcum powder or cornstarch on the stain, let it chill for about 20 minutes, and brush off the powdery magic with a soft brush. If the stain’s not getting the hint, just repeat the steps until it decides to pack its bags

Scuff marks

Mix up a paste by blending two tablespoons of baking soda with warm water, and spread it over the scuff marks. Then give it a gentle rub with a soft cloth, and wipe off the paste with another damp cloth. The baking soda’s slight scrubbing action works wonders to smooth out those scuffs and tone down the impact. 

You could also use a non-gel toothpaste and do the same process. This will make the edges smooth and even polish your boots a little. 

Expert boot care tips

Photo by Sandra Cris on Unsplash

1. Always keep your boots dry

Wet boots tend to wear out fast. Therefore, it’s crucial to keep them dry by avoiding walking on wet surfaces unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you find yourself in wet or flooded areas, be patient and let your boots dry completely before wearing them again. 

2. Check the boots for any holes or tears.

Before you dive into the cleaning process, check to see if your boots have any tears, holes, or peeling. If you find any, patch them up to prevent them from getting worse. Once you’ve ensured the boots are tear-free and the leather is intact, you’re good to go ahead with the cleaning.

3. Have more than one pair of boots

If you want your favorite pair of cowboy boots to last, you’d want to get a second pair so that you don’t hack it. Don’t stick to the same pair for back-to-back days. Our feet let out sweat and oils, and it’s vital to give those boots a breather.

4. Cowboy boots regular maintenance

Just like a car’s brakes, the soles of cowboy boots inevitably wear down with time. It’s a good idea to pay close attention to this wear and tear. As a general guideline, think about giving your boots a tune-up or checking their condition at least once a year, but the frequency really depends on how often you wear them.

If you notice a visible gap between the boot’s welt and sole, it’s a clear sign that it’s time to connect with a reliable cobbler for a sole replacement. Additionally, don’t be surprised if the rubber heel cap wears out before the actual leather does—feel free to replace those as needed. Keep those boots strutting comfortably!


Do cowboy boots need to be oiled?

Absolutely! Just like any leather footwear, cowboy boots benefit from regular oiling. Applying oil helps to moisturize the leather, preventing it from drying out and cracking. It also restores the natural oils that may be lost over time, keeping your cowboy boots supple and looking sharp.

How often should you condition cowboy boots?

Conditioning your cowboy boots depends on factors like how often you wear them and the environmental conditions they face. As a general rule of thumb, aim to condition your cowboy boots every 3 to 6 months. However, if you frequently wear them in harsh weather conditions, like extreme heat or rain, or if they’re exposed to a lot of dirt and dust, you might want to condition them more often—perhaps every 2 to 3 months.

Can I follow these steps for exotics, like caiman skin, ostrich skin, etc?

Absolutely! While exotic leathers like caiman skin and ostrich skin require a bit of extra care, you can generally follow the same basic steps for cleaning and conditioning.

Can I use water to clean leather cowboy boots?

It’s okay to use water unless your boots are waterproofed. For boots that aren’t waterproof, make sure you don’t drench them in water. Instead, you could clean them with a wet cloth.

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