How to Clean Leather Shoes and Boots

Not sure how to clean your leather footwear? Follow these 6 simples steps from DIY experts, and get tricks for getting out tough stains, scuff marks and more.

cleaning of men's boots

cleaning of men's boots

clean vintage boots with wax, sponges and brushes

Photo by: Ruggiero Scardigno

Ruggiero Scardigno

Leather shoes. You have a closetful of boots, sneakers and pumps made of leather because it’s beautiful and durable. Knowing how to clean leather shoes and how to clean leather boots will keep your footwear looking good and preserve the leather for years. Here’s what you need to know.

Step 1: Remove the laces.
If they’re dirty, run them through the washing machine or replace them.

Step 2: Clean loose dirt and debris.
Use a soft cloth or a brush to remove any grime that may be stuck to the shoe’s leather surfaces.  

Step 3: Apply soap.
Mix a solution of warm water and dish soap, dip a soft cloth into it, wring it out and wipe the exterior surfaces of the shoe.

Step 4: Wipe off soap.
Use a second clean, damp cloth to wipe off the soap. Dry with a towel. Warm, soapy water will also remove water stains and scuffs.  

Step 5: Condition leather.
Apply leather conditioner to protect from stains and to add shine. You can buy a commercial leather conditioner or make your own by mixing 1 part vinegar to 2 parts linseed oil. Apply to leather, let sit for about 15 minutes and buff with a soft cloth till the leather shines.

Step 6: Dry
Let your shoes and boots dry in the open air. Don’t put them in the sun or by a heater, as this may cause the leather to fade or crack.

Stains happen. Here’s how to remove stains from leather:

Grease or Oil 

Sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch on the spot. Rub it in gently, with a damp cloth. Let sit for a few hours or overnight. The soda or starch will absorb the oil. Wipe off the powder with a soft cloth.  


Dip a cotton swab in nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol and lightly blot the stain. Don’t rub, or you could make the ink spread. Blot gently until the stain is gone. Wipe with a clean, damp cloth and dry with a towel.


You can use toothpaste to clean leather. Squirt a dab of the non-gel sort on the scuffed area. Rub with a soft cloth.

Other Stains

Mix equal parts of lemon juice and cream of tartar into a paste. Apply to stained area and let sit for 30 minutes. Use a damp cloth to remove the paste. Lemon juice and cream of tartar have a mild bleaching effect, so only use this on light-colored leather.

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