How to Clean Hiking Boots

Cleaning the soles of the boots

Whether you are getting ready to put your hiking boots up for the season or just want to do a good cleaning, this article will shoe you how to properly clean your hiking boots. We also have some helpful tips on care and maintenance.

Why clean your hiking shoes?

Hiking shoes are supposed to get dirty. You wear them in the rain and snow. Through muddy trails and on dusty rocks. So why should you even bother cleaning them? And more importantly, why should you make this part of your hiking routine?

There are a few things to note. Shoes, especially athletic shoes break down much faster than dress shoes and other types of shoes. They comprise of synthetic materials, glue and stitching. Dirt and mud may seem harmless, but depending on where you picked it up, there are various levels of acidity and corrosion potential. Also, dirt can trap moisture in your shoes creating mold or mildew. Not too mention, allowing bacteria you pick up and what is already on your feet.

Keep your shoes clean for them to last long

If you’ve spent $165 plus tax on a pair of Salmon hiking boots, you may want to increase the longevity of your shoes. Plus, keeping them clean will reduce unwanted odors in your house or luggage if you pack them.

Salomon Ultra 3 GTX Mid Wide

Some hiking boots require you to break them in. This can take place over a long period of time. So, if you find yourself replacing your boots often, you’re always going to be stuck in a vicious cycle.

New Danner boots on the floor room

What items are needed to clean your shoes?

  • Toothbrush or other small brush
  • Dish soap – the more the natural ingredients the better
  • A hose – you can use a bucket or sink if needed
  • A cloth [OPTIONAL]
  • A toothpick [OPTIONAL]
  • Shoe trees [OPTIONAL]
  • A shaded place outside for your shoes to dry

Step-by-step Cleaning Guide

Time needed: 10 minutes.

It should take roughly 10 minutes to clean your hiking boots. Possible more if they are especially dirty.

  1. Remove the shoe laces

    To really give your shoes a good clean, you should take the laces off so that you can access the tongue of the shoe. If the laces are dirty, you can wash them separately or throw them in the laundryRemoving shoe laces from hiking boots

  2. Remove the insole and shake out loose rocks

    If your hiking shoes has a removable insole, you should remove and inspect them. If they are dirty, set them aside for cleaning later. If they are worn out, look for a replacement. Also, now is a good time to shake out any loose rocks.Removing insole in hiking boots prior to cleaning

  3. Rinse off your hiking boots

    Now is time to rinse off as much dirt and mud on the outside of your shoes. For shoes with Gore-Tex or other water-resistant materials, it makes it a lot easier. Start with the bottom of the boots and work your way up. If you have leather or suede, you may want to avoid getting those areas too wet and use another method.Rinsing off dirty hiking shoes

  4. Apply dish soap

    Now is the time to take your dish soap and brush and get to work. The best practice is to put the dish soap directly on the brush, but you can apply it directly on the sole too.Using dish soap to clean hiking boots

  5. Start brushing the sole

    First get the mud off the soles. You will probably need to apply additional soap and water to keep lathering. Don’t worry too much about getting all the mud off. You can rinse and do a second scrub.Cleaning the soles of the boots

  6. Work your way up the boot

    Once you are satisfied with the sole, you can start cleaning the rest of the shoes, being careful not to get soap on the insides.Cleaning the uppers of the hiking shoes

  7. Rinse off the soap

    When you have applied soap to all outer areas, rinse the shoes off and repeat steps 4-6 if needed.Rinsing soap off of shoes

  8. Remove rocks and stubborn dirt [OPTIONAL]

    If you have the time, take a toothpick and remove rocks and dirt stuck in crevices. Rinse again if needed.Toothpick to remove rocks

  9. Wipe down insides of boot

    If needed, you can wipe down the inside of your boots with a damp cloth. Wiping inside boot with rag

  10. Wipe down insoles

    If your insoles are dirty you can do a light wipe down with the same damp cloth.Cleaning Ortholite insole

  11. Set aside to dry in a shaded area

    This is important. Leave the shoes, laces and insole in the shade. If you can, prop them against a wall so that you maximize contact with the air. After a few hours you can rotate the shoes.Hiking shoes being dried properly in the shade

  12. Use a shoe tree [OPTIONAL]

    This optional step will take your hiking boot maintenance to the next level. After the shoes have dried, insert a shoe tree into the shoes for storage. You can also reinsert the insole and install the laces at this point. Cedar shoe trees are best. Some varieties of shoe trees have antifungal and antibacterial properties. This makes them very helpful to use even after hikes. Not only does it help with the odor, but it can pull out the moisture and stretch out your shoe keeping their shape in tact.Shoe horn being used for hiking boots

Important tips on hiking boot care and maintenance

  • Clean your hiking boots regularly [Follow the steps above]
  • Apply water repellent as needed to restore water resistance
  • Store your shoes in the shade
  • Use shoe trees to wick away moisture, kill bacterial and keep them formed correctly
  • Use a shoe horn if possible when putting them on to prevent wearing out the top
  • When hiking frequently, alternate shoes to give each pair time to dry out and rest
  • Know when to replace them

When should I replace my hiking boots?

Every pair of hiking shoes have a finite lifespan. Over time, materials break down, glue becomes less sticky and soles get worn out. This happens even when you don’t wear them. Comfort, fit and protection should be your top priority. These all degrade with enough time.

As shoes start to loose their comfort because the sole gets worn out, it’s time to replace them. Worn out soles will give you less protection against rocks and less traction making it easier to slip and fall. If your shoe traction has lost it’s functionality, replace them. If the shoes are starting to come apart, you should also replace them because this is how water gets into your shoes. Trail Mastery encourages people to spend their precious time enjoying the outdoors. You don’t want your hiking boots to fall apart when you’re out on the trails.



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