As readers of this blog and visitors to my website know, I have a large and extensive collection of boots, ranging from cowboy boots, motorcycle boots, dress boots, and work boots. I only wear boots as footwear — never sneakers, sandals, dorky dress shoes, or the worst of the worst: flip-flops or crocs.
Someone wrote several comments on a recent blog post asking about daily boot wear and care. I thought I would summarize what I know from experience about wearing, caring for, and storing boots. Read on…
There are many days when I wear more than one pair of boots. It depends on where I am going, what I am doing, what transportation I may be using, and the type of surfaces upon which I may be walking.
Regardless of what boots I choose — the first and most important thing about boot care is: wipe them down when you take them off.
It is amazing to me to see the amount of grime that gets on to boot surfaces during the day — even dressy boots worn with dress clothing in the office. If grime is left on the boots without a wipe-down, the boot leather or skin more quickly deteriorates from the acids, moisture, and dirt that accumulates. So boot care rule #1: every time I take boots off, I wipe them down with a “leather wipe” such as made for car interiors. It really works well and doesn’t take but a minute to get that daily grime off the boots. I pay special attention to areas of the boot where threads, inlays, laced insteps, and stitching may trap dirt, and poke the wipe into these places to get out dirt.
I especially examine the soles. If mud or dirt is present, I clean it off with a damp cloth and have used an old toothbrush to get mud out of the lugs of lug-soled biker and work boots. Mud is about the worst problem with boots — not really the mud itself, but what happens when it dries. Mud sucks moisture out of boot leather and may cause it to crack. Mud also falls out of the lugs and tracks all over the house — much to the Spouse’s chagrin. So rather than cause a clean-up fire drill, I remove mud before bringing boots into the house (if the lug soles were caked up with mud.)
The second thing that I do is let boots air out after wearing by placing them on a clean, dry surface away from direct sunlight and forced-air heating or cooling vents. Even though you can’t see it, boots absorb moisture from your feet and need at least a day to air out and dry. Some guys call this “boot rotation.” I do not think about it as turning boots around and around. I just make sure that my boots have at least one day, if not more, between wearings to air out.
And no, I have no regular schedule of which boots to wear on certain days. I have some boots that I wear with my fire department uniform, others that I wear when I do construction work, a favorite comfortable pair that I wear when mowing the lawn, and others that are super-dressy (like cowboy Caimans) that I wear on those rare occasions when I have to dress up. (Fortunately, that is not often.)
The next thing that I do to care for boots is to condition them from time to time. I apply Bick 4 leather conditioner (according to label directions) to each pair of boots that I own over the course of a year at least two or three times. Even boots that I do not wear, such as my Fryes. The conditioner keeps the boots from drying out, rotting, and self-destructing.
With such a large boot collection, how do I ever remember which boots to condition? And am I conditioning boots every day?
I move boots from my bedroom closet to my basement boot closet on a regular basis. Throughout the month, I may exchange as many as 40 pairs of boots between less-active basement closet storage and the active bedroom closet location. It is quite common for the Spouse to see me walking from the upstairs bedroom with 3 to 4 pairs of boots in my arms down to the basement, and returning with another 3 to 4 pairs of boots to store in the bedroom closet — two or three times each week. Yeah, I really DO wear all of my boots (except for a certain few) regularly.
Remembering which boots I have conditioned is aided by my website. I print out my boot index and simply write the date that I conditioned a pair of boots on that printout that I keep on a clipboard in my my boot closet. When the Spouse settles down in our leisure room after dinner to watch TV, I go over to the boot closet, select 4 – 7 pairs of boots, and bring them over to where I sit and just wipe them with conditioner carefully, gently, and completely while watching TV. A little conditioner goes a very long way, so I may go through a bottle of Bick 4 or Lexol (for leather boots) or Bickmore Exotic (or Scout) for my exotic skin boots about every six months. Conditioners really do last a long time if you use these products sparingly. (This is NOT the case where “more is better.”)
I very very seldom use paste wax. Only for selected leather boots such as calfskin (foot) of Dehner patrol boots. Most of my boots are not really that shiny and are not meant to be. Paste wax (Kiwi, etc.) actually can do more damage to boots than help to preserve them because the wax must be applied very carefully so as not to clog the pores of the leather and build up a layer of waxy gunk (that attracts more grime since it is sticky.) So contrary to some past advice, I generally recommend avoiding using paste wax altogether.
Also, I have boots with a thin plastic top coat that makes them shiny — Chippewa Firefighters or Chippewa Hi-Shines, for example. Stock Dehner boots, All American Patrol Boots and some others are easily kept shiny by spraying on a little bit (VERY little bit) of quality furniture polish and wiping them down with a leather wipe. A cop taught me that trick when I asked him how he always kept his patrol boots in such gleaming, brilliant, shape.
Finally — storage. I generally let my boots stand on their own, either on carpeted floors (such as in the master bedroom and its closets) or on wire racks or shelves in the boot storage closet. Only boots made with very soft leather may require something more sturdy to retain shape. I do not use “boot trees.” I use something far more simple: crumpled brown Kraft paper stuffed loosely inside the boots. Just enough to keep the shaft upright, but not so much as to prevent air exchange.
I keep the boots away from water or moist places, and out of direct sunlight. Moisture, in particular, brings with it mold and mildew. I am very careful to keep my boots stored in areas with good air flow. I seldom store boots in boxes, but again if I do, I clean them very well, condition them, and wrap them with tissue paper and store them in a boot box. But I do not do that very often.
So that is about it. Caring for and storing boots is not difficult, and with such a large boot collection, I keep up with these care techniques almost daily so I can continue to enjoy my investment in boots.
Life is short: wear and care for boots!