Caring For Leather Barefoot Boots; A guide to cleaning, conditioning and waterproofing

February 16, 2022
Inside this article:

Not only do dirty, grimy, or salt-stained boots look unappealing, they also wear out faster than boots that are clean, polished, and conditioned regularly.

Considering a high-quality pair of winter barefoot boots can set you back over $150, it is worth looking after them.

Step 1 - How to clean leather barefoot boots the right way

What items you will need:

Cleaning process:

  1. Take out the laces from the boots so that we can reach every part easily, like the tongue.
  2. Whilst the laces are out, inspect them. If they’re dirty clean them in... If they are destroyed, replace them, you can pick up high-quality leather laces on Amazon.
  3. Grab the newspaper or old cloth/towel and lay it out on your worktop. Place the now laceless boots on top and grab that horsehair brush.
  4. Start by giving the leather some light buffing to remove loose dirt and salt. Use a dry, old toothbrush to remove dirt that is deeply embedded in the boot.
  5. If you use your barefoot boots as I do, you might still be struggling to get all the dirt off. This is were we use the Chamberlain’s Straight Leather Cleaner or saddle soap for a deeper clean. With a clean, slightly damp cloth or brush, rub the surface of the saddle soap in a circular motion to create a light lather. Rub the lather onto the outer surface of the boots. Make sure to get it into all the hard-to-reach areas.
  6. Leave the boots to air dry for at least 10 minutes.

Step 2 - How to condition leather barefoot boots

Dry conditions are the silent killer of most leather minimalist shoes and boots. When leather is dry, it is prone to cracking as the leather fibres weaken and form visible cracks.

There is no way to repair cracks once they form, so it is a good thing you’re reading this article before they do... right?

Not many people know to condition even new barefoot leather boots before using them regularly. They may have been left in storage, slowly losing moisture over time.

What items you’ll need:

Conditioning process:

  1. With a clean cloth remove any dirt or dust left on the leather.
  2. If it’s your first time using a new leather conditioner or balm, it can be a good idea to apply a small amount first using the applicator brush. We want to see if it changes the colour of the leather. Almost all conditioners will darken the leather slightly, so don’t be concerned with small changes to the colour.
  3. If it’s all good (or you’re brave), grab a second clean cloth and rub it onto the leather. Use circular motions without pressing down too hard. Go slowly and make multiple passes, aiming to get the moisturizer into all crevices and creases of our barefoot boots.
  4. Repeat the above step as many times as you need to. Some particularly dry leather boots may need up to three applications to fully recondition them. If unlike me, you’re punctual with your maintenance, one quick coat is usually enough. You’ll know when you are finished when the moisturizer stops soaking in.
  5. Wipe away any excess moisturizer with a clean cloth.
  6. Let the boots air dry for at least 20 minutes, preferably overnight. If you leave them overnight, give them a final rub with a dry cloth to absorb any remaining excess oils or moisture.

Step 3 - How to polish your leather barefoot boots (optional)

Both a polishing cream and wax have different benefits depending on the outcome you want.

A polishing cream helps add extra moisture into the leather and helps restore the natural colour of the leather. However, it doesn’t provide as much shine or protection as wax.

Wax gives a great shine and adds a layer of protection to the boot against water, salt and dirt. It also ‘locks in’ the moisturizer from the previous steps helping to prolong the time between reapplication. If you go with wax, it should be the final layer, don’t try to apply cream polish over it.

What items you’ll need:

Polishing process for cream:

  1. If it’s your first time using the polish, check it matches. Apply a small amount to the tongue first using the applicator brush to make sure.
  2. Starting small, spread the cream over the leather and work it evenly over the entire boot.
  3. Once done, buff the shoe using the horsehair brush.
  4. Let the boots air dry for at least 15 minutes.

Polishing process for wax:

  1. Using a clean cloth, wrap it around your index and middle fingers and dip it into the wax. Apply the wax using small, circular motions. Work slowly until you coat the entire boot.
  2. Once done, buff the shoe using the horsehair brush. Repeat for extra shine.

Step 4 - Waterproofing leather barefoot boots (optional)

Most leather high-quality conditioners will also seal out moisture, so a well-cared-for pair of leather barefoot shoes will still hold up in wet, snowy weather. If you live in a particularly wet, snowy or salty place we can take additional steps to waterproof and further protect our expensive barefoot boots.

Waterproofing treatments fall into two broad categories; solid compounds and liquid sprays. Not every product is right for every boot, so make sure to understand the type of leather on your minimalist boots and choose an appropriate product.

For example, athletic shoe sealing sprays are usually fine for nubuck and suede but are unsuitable for other leathers.

What items you’ll need:

Waterproofing process:

  1. Check your barefoot boots manufactures website before starting the DIY weatherproofing treatment. They may have a specific recommendation on the type of treatment to use (or not use).
  2. Clean your boots.
  3. Apply the waterproofing treatment following the instructions closely. Every treatment is a little different, so it’s hard to offer specific advice on this one.
  4. Use the clean cloth to wipe away any excess.

Good habits to make your leather barefoot boots last a lifetime

  1. Take boot maintenance seriously - Condition them once every three months if you live in a temperate climate. Up that to once a month if you wear the boots every day, live in a dry, hot place or salty environment.
  2. Brush after every few uses - Leave a horsehair brush by your front door and give them a quick brush after using them.
  3. Avoid the temptation to speed up the drying process - Avoid leaving your barefoot boots next to a fire, a radiator, or another type of heat source. High heat can cause the leather to dry too quickly, causing irreparable cracks to form. Let your boots dry naturally at room temperature.

How to speed up the drying process for your leather barefoot boots

  1. Remove the insoles and dry them seperately.
  2. Stuff your boots with paper/cloths and replace them every few hours once they are damp.
  3. Use cedar shoe trees that wick away moisture.