How to Clean Hiking Boots & Shoes: Dirt and Smells Be Gone!

how to clean hiking boots

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Written by: Ashley Vitiello

Updated Apr 25, 2023

Hiking boots are an essential piece of gear for hitting the trail, and they’re your best friends when it comes to keeping your feet dry and safe so they can get you from point A to point B. Your trusty hiking boots carry you over countless miles and will be exposed to all kinds of dirt, debris, water, sand, etc., throughout their lifetime. Combine that with some foot sweat, and you have yourself a pair of of dirty and stinky hiking boots.

We’re going to cover everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how to clean hiking boots and shoes, including when to clean them and how to take care of different fabrics (like suede and leather boots), as well as how to get rid of that stinky smell that won’t seem to go away. Whether you are new to the world of hiking or have been taking care of your gear for years, we’ve got you covered.

6 Easy Steps for How to Clean Hiking Boots

Whether you have synthetic, suede, or leather hiking boots, you can use these simple steps for cleaning hiking boot outsoles and uppers.

  1. If your boots are dry, start by taking them outside and banging the soles together. This will dislodge larger pieces of the dirt deposits. If they’re wet, you can either let them dry or use a hose (or a stream if there’s one nearby) to wash away the excess dirt.
  2. Remove the laces of each hiking boot – this will make it easier to clean more effectively and will allow you to clean the lace holes as well.
  3. Get a bucket or bowl of warm water and a damp cloth or sponge. Use the sponge or cloth to wipe away and gently scrub the dirt – it should come right off without much fuss. If you need something a little tougher on synthetic boots, my favorite ‘tool’ to use is a cheap toothbrush. You could also wash your boots in the sink, just make sure you don’t get water inside the boot.
  4. If you feel the need to use soap, you could use a boot cleaner (like this Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel), saddle soap, or a mild, diluted solution of dishwashing soap and water.
  5. Waterproof or condition your hiking boots while they are still wet. Read more here about How to Waterproof Hiking Boots. If you have full grain leather boots, take the opportunity to condition them but don’t use mink oil ( it will soften the type of dry-tanned leather using in hiking footwear).
  6. Never dry your boots in direct sunlight. Put them in the shade or in a room with decent circulation – you can use a fan for a quicker dry. Once your boots air dry, put the laces back in and store boots in a cool, dry place.

How to Clean Smelly Hiking Boots

If you have stinky hiking boots that you want to get rid of the stench, then here are some simple steps you can follow while you’re cleaning your hiking boots. You will need:

– an old toothbrush
– dish soap
– old towel
– baking soda
– vinegar
– vacuum (optional)

Before cleaning the inside of your boot with any liquids, save yourself some time and effort by vacuuming the inside of the boots to remove small particles such as sand, dust, dirt, or even small rocks. 

Clean the Insoles First

In a cup or bowl, mix a few drops of gentle dish soap with water and stir with the toothbrush. Remove the insoles from your boots, and using the toothbrush and soapy liquid, brush the insoles all over – let suds form but try not to get them too wet or soaked through. Using a dry towel, wipe them clean and as dry as you can get them. Set aside and let them air dry.

Depending on the shape of your boot, you may also do this to the inside of the boot itself, but we’ve found most hiking boots are too difficult to reach into. Make sure both the insoles and the boot’s insides are completely dry before continuing. You can skip this step if you want, or even use the opportunity to get fresh new insoles.

An Overnight Sit

The next step is to “soak” the boots in baking soda overnight. It absorbs odors, and is one of the most effective and affordable methods to getting rid of odors instead of just masking them.

Simply generously sprinkle baking soda throughout the inside of the boot, as well as across the top of the insole. Let this sit overnight before shaking and dry brushing away the powder the next day. If you have any issue getting the powder out, a simple solution is to use a vacuum to get the rest. 

Disinfect

Next, apply a disinfectant spray to kill any lingering bacteria or fungus. If you have vinegar at home, you can simply spray white vinegar or anything over 80% alcohol. Let the boot dry completely before wearing it again.

Continue Learning: How to Break in Hiking Boots

Essential Oils

Pro Tip: To mask any lingering odors or to give your boots a nice clean smell, consider adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your boots. This will help mask the odor – just make sure you let the oil completely dry before wearing your boots. Our favorite suggestions for oils are peppermint and tea tree oil.

Keep the Stink Away

To keep your boots stink-free long-term, you should wear wool socks and let your boots air out completely between uses. Using a few drops of essential oils goes a long way, as does consistently cleaning your boots to keep bacteria at bay.

If you are ever hiking in the rain or in really wet/muddy conditions make sure that your boots dry out completely before storage. This will ensure mildew and mold doesn’t build up in your boots.

Why Should I Clean My Hiking Boots?

While you are hiking, dirt, mud, or sand on your boots can act similar to sandpaper, wearing down the materials, and will eventually wear holes through your boots. The mud will also start to take hold in the crevices of your boots, making them much harder to clean later.

So even if you’re okay rocking dirt-covered boots with caked on mud, you should still be regularly cleaning your walking boots to keep them in tip-top shape. Plus, skipping out on cleaning your boots regularly can break them down and wear them out quicker, leaving you to drop even more money on expensive shoes.

How Often Should I Clean My Hiking Boots?

How often you should clean your hiking boots will vary depending on how dirty they get and how often you hike. A good rule of thumb is to clean them after every few hikes, but if they are very dirty or full of mud, then you may need to clean them sooner. Perhaps consider a light clean after really messy hikes or backpacking trips, with a couple deep cleans throughout the hiking season. 

Conclusion

Knowing how to clean and waterproof hiking boots is essential for anyone spending time on trail, so we’re glad you’ve taken the time to learn how. Simply use the easy steps above to keep your boots in great shape so they can last you many miles to come.

FAQ

Can I wash my boots in the washing machine?

No! Never put hiking boots in a washing machine, as it can damage them. Use a mild soap or shoe cleaner, followed by a waterproofing and a session outside air drying. 

Can I put my boots in the dryer?

No. Heat can damage the exterior or the boots, or even melt glue and other adhesives that hold the shoes together. If you need to dry your shoes, go with the old fashioned air drying method. Don’t put them in direct sunlight, but a breeze or a fan helps them dry faster.

How do you get the smell out of hiking boots?

Baking soda is the most effective and affordable option for getting the smell out of hiking boots. Simply generously sprinkle it inside your boot and let it sit overnight. Use a vacuum to get out the powder the following day. Follow this up with a disinfecting spray to kill any leftover bacteria that could bring the smell right back. 

How do I clean the inside of my hiking boots?

First, begin by vacuuming the inside to pick up any loose dust particles or rocks. Then mix a few drops of gentle dish soap and some water. Pull out your insoles, and scrub them with an old toothbrush or boot brush. Let them dry completely. If you can reach the inside of your boot, you can follow these same steps, or skip to deodorizing with baking soda and vinegar. 

Why do my hiking boots stink?

Considering each foot has approximately 125,000 sweat glands, it’s no wonder why your boots get sweaty while hiking. The stench normally comes from boots that don’t dry out properly, or boots that have been worn frequently without cleaning.
Consider using a foot powder if you have sweaty feet, as well as wearing wool hiking socks and sock liners. To get rid of the stench, generously sprinkle baking soda inside your shoe and let it sit overnight. Remove it the next morning using a vacuum then spray with a disinfecting spray. Make sure the shoe is completely dry and clean before wearing it again. 

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to’s based on all the stuff she’s learned on her journey. If she isn’t writing an article, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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