Whether you spend your entire workday in cowboy boots or you have a special pair saved just for special occasions – or you have multiple pairs for multiple occasions – maximizing the lifetime of a pair of boots comes down to how you care for them. Here’s how we do it at Nigro’s.
Daily Boot Care
Handcrafted cowboy boots are built to withstand some of the toughest working conditions. And when a proper maintenance and care routine is followed, your boots will last even longer and look even better. A little extra periodic cowboy boot care – about every 3 months – is needed to keep them at their best. But there are a few things you should do after each wearing to better maintain your boots from day to day.
After each wear, take a moment or two and brush away dirt and dust from your boots. A little care each day goes a long way. Keep your boots stored in a cool, dry indoor space. To help prevent leather creasing – while also helping dry any moisture – we recommended using a boot tree, like this one from Ariat. Trapped moisture in boots causes mold and mildew to grow, which in turn causes them to turn smelly – advancing quickly from mildly stinky to “leave those nasty boots outside!” smelly. If the boot leather has gotten wet from the elements it should be dried out with a soft towel. Never use a heater or blow-dryer to dry wet boots faster – direct heat is a no-no that can cause the leather to shrink and can even destroy stitching.
Periodic Cowboy Boot Maintenance
It’s best to perform these next few steps regularly – you’ll know it’s time when you start to notice the leather of your boots beginning to get dry. The exact timing is dependent on the climate where you live and how often the boots are worn. A good rule of thumb though is to clean and condition your boots every 3-4 months.
Like daily care, the first step in periodic boot maintenance is to completely remove all dirt, dust, and any dried mud from your cowboy boots. This can be done with a soft brush, damp cloth, or an old toothbrush. A soft bristle brush can also be used to gently buff out any scuffs. It is essential to have all the dirt off your boots before you begin conditioning, as conditioning will further embed any left-behind dirt into the leather. For stubborn dirt or mud spots, use a non-alkaline leather cleaner to thoroughly remove them. Avoid using saddle soap, as it will dry out the boot leather. Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned your boots, let them fully dry before moving on. Nigro’s recommends using a trusted cleaner, like Lexol Leather Cleaner. This pH-balanced cleaner has zero added silicones, alcohols, waxes, oils, or additives and uses foaming action to effectively lift and remove stains while being gentle on the leather and stitching.
Next up is conditioning – a vital step when it comes to keeping boot leather soft and crack-free. Choose a trusted conditioner that is compatible with your boots’ specific leather and begin applying the conditioner with a dry cloth or sponge. Work from the bottom of your boots upward, rubbing the conditioner into the leather in small circular motions. You don’t need to put a lot of muscle into it – the leather will naturally soak up the conditioner in its own time.
Keep adding thin layers of conditioner until the leather is no longer absorbing it. Depending on how dry the leather is, your boots may need several layers or only a few. Some conditioners can also slightly darken the leather, so if your boots are made from lighter-colored leather, make sure to work a small test area with the conditioner to ensure it will not discolor your boots. Nigro’s Western Store has an excellent leather conditioner, Kelly’s Wax Free Leather Lotion, which is safe to use on all types of fine leathers, including exotic leathers and white leathers.
Once the leather conditioning is finished, you can polish your boots. Use a wax-based neutral polish, like Black Rock Leather ‘N’ Rich, or choose one that closely matches the color of your boots. Take your time applying a thin layer of polish over the entire area of your boot you wish to shine. Once it has completely dried, use a horsehair brush to buff out the polish. Make sure not to apply too much pressure during this step and use long strokes moving in only one direction, not back and forth. Repeat these two steps, adding a thin coat of polish and buffing, until you achieve the shine you want for your boots.
Once you are finished cleaning, conditioning, and polishing, you can move on to waterproofing. This is especially important for boots that get wet often. Heavy exposure to water can quickly damage your boots – causing cracking, stretching, and discoloration. Find a waterproofing wax that is safe to use on your boots’ leather type. Warm up the wax slightly so it’s easier to apply, and use a cloth to gradually add a thick layer of the wax to the exterior of your boots. Note: Waterproofing will not hurt your boots but it may darken the leather over time.
Exotic Boot Care
For the most part, care and maintenance for boots made with exotic leathers, such as elephant, ostrich, and Nile crocodile, is the same as cowboy boots made with flat leathers (cow, bison, horse, etc.), but there are a few things you should keep in mind with exotics.
Before using any products on any of your boots, do some research to make sure the product has been tested and approved for use on that specific type of leather. It’s also important to make sure when cleaning, conditioning, polishing, and waterproofing that you always work with the grain, never against it! And when it comes to conditioning, be aware that exotic leathers typically absorb conditioners much slower than flat leathers.
Suede Boot Care
Suede behaves much differently than traditional leather and must be cared for a little bit differently. When you purchase new suede boots (or boots with partial suede), the first thing you should do is apply several thin layers of non-silicone water repellant, letting each layer dry between applications, to protect the leather.
When it comes to dirt and mud removal from suede, rinse your boots with water and use a soft nylon brush. For stain removal, use a 50/50 mixture of water and white vinegar on a soft cloth. If you’re attempting to remove stubborn creases in suede leather, hold your boots over a pot of boiling water. The steam allows the suede to be brushed back into shape – and will give it a nice, natural shine.
Just like with other types of leather boots, never dry suede boots with direct heat, a blow dryer – or by leaving them to dry in direct sunlight. For wet suede boots, it’s best to leave keep them in an air-conditioned room and let them dry naturally.