How To Clean Hiking Shoes: A Comprehensive Guide For Outdoor Enthusiasts

How To Clean Hiking Boots - A Complete Maintenance Guide For Your Trekking Shoes

Aug 28, 2023
Hiking boots were designed to keep you from getting dirty and prevent injuries while you’re on your hiking sessions. However, in doing so, they tend to get dirty and muddy since trekking is by no means a simple outdoor activity.

If you don’t perform proper maintenance, your hiking shoes could wear down pretty easily. This doesn’t only cause you to spend money on a new pair of boots, but also make it more dangerous to hike if you’re using your old ones.

That's why in this post, we’ll be showing you how to clean hiking boots, from the mildly dusty trekking shoes to the muddy boots that you have neglected for so long.

Follow our intuitive and detailed guide to effectively clean and take care of your shoes, as it would greatly enhance their longevity and reliability, so you can trust them with your future hikes.

A well-maintained pair of boots will accompany you to anywhere

A well-maintained pair of boots will accompany you to anywhere

About cleaning hiking boots

To start with, let’s get to know a little more about your average hiking shoes, why you need to clean them, and how different types of boots would require different types of cleaning techniques. All will be properly explained in the following articles.

Why do you need to clean your boots?

First of all, a dirty and dusty pair of shoes will make you look significantly less appealing toward others. And that alone could be the reason why you should have it cleaned in the first place.

Since you’ll be using your hiking boots for challenging tough, dusty, and sometimes muddy, terrains, your footwear would often get stained and soaked with dirt and mud. And if you don’t clean it right away, these elements will cause your shoes to wear down easily by damaging their fabric textures and the metal components.

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Plus, with high-intensity activities such as hiking, sweating is unavoidable, even when you’ve put on your best pair of socks. And with a warm environment, your shoes will become an ideal place for bacteria and mildews to spawn. This, in turn, causes your hiking boots to smell awful. And of course, no one likes to put their feet in a smelly pair of shoes.

For all these reasons, you should never skip shoe maintenance, and ensure that they are always in a good condition

Never put on a pair of dirty and smelly hiking boots

Never put on a pair of dirty and smelly hiking boots

Different types of hiking boots

Before we get to the cleaning part, it’s also good to know a little more about each of your hiking boots. Different types of hiking boots are often used on different terrain and for certain purposes. Therefore, they would require different ways of cleaning and maintenance. Knowing this would make it a lot easier for you to take care of your shoes. So make sure that you don’t skip this part.

Trail shoes

To start with, we have trail shoes, which are often used for hiking in dry climates, where the paths are less challenging or rugged. And most of the time, the cleaning is not quite as demanding as other types of shoes. You only need to clean off the dust and treat the smell properly.

Trail hikers

For steeper terrains and muddy trails, we have the trail hikers which come in a lighter and supportive design. These shoes are also quite sturdy, offering better ankle support, and are often waterproof. That's why you can enjoy better stability and comfort when taking on the rocky and muddy paths.

On the other hand, this would also require the users to take better care of their shoes. The mud can easily get on your shoes and stain its fabrics, and the tight build would absorb a lot of sweat during a long trek.

Trail shoes often come with better flexibility

Trail shoes often come with better flexibility

Mountain hiking boots

And last but not least, you can always trust your mountain hiking boots for this high-intensity outdoor activity. The products are designed to allow users to challenge the steep mountain paths in a variety of different activities from hill walking to mountaineering, and can also be used in various conditions.

To do that, your lowa boot often features strong and durable construction with a stiff sole, high-quality fabric, ankle and heel support. They also provide good insulation, thus protecting your feet from getting wet or cold due to the water or snow.

However, due to the amount of wear and tearing damage they will be exposed to during a trek, you should take extra measures to maintain your shoes in good condition. From using shoe conditioner to protective gel, cleaning your mountain hiking boots will require you to be patient

Mountain hiking boots always come with more protection

Mountain hiking boots always come with more protection

How to clean hiking boots?

It’s clear now, that you need to  frequently clean and take care of your boots. But you would still need a complete guide on that matter. And in the following articles, we’ll be showing you exactly how to clean hiking boots in different situations.

Feel free to try out each guide separately for your different pairs of shoes to deal with their specific problems. And if it’s possible, we recommend you  complete all the provided guides to ensure the best results for your shoes.

Light cleaning your shoes

To start with, if your shoes aren’t too dirty after just a quick hike, it’s not necessary to perform a deep clean on them. But it’s absolutely important that you give it a quick check and get your light cleaning done.

Tools you’ll need:

● A soft-bristle brush
● A hard-bristle brush
● A clean cloth
● Shoe deodorizer product

To begin with, if the shoes are damp due to the wet weather, it’s recommended that you wipe them with a clean cloth then let it air dry for a couple of hours before you begin the cleaning.

You should do the cleaning outdoors to prevent dust and dirt from getting on your floor. Start by holding up one of your boots, then lightly hit them together to force some dirt and debris out. Work your hands at different angles so you can collect all the little pieces of rocks and pebbles that were caught inside your shoes.

Then use the soft-bristle brush to work around the edges and crevices. Be gentle and meticulous if you work on leather or suede. Do this to brush off most of the remaining dust and dirt on the outside of your shoes. As for the sole, you can make use of the hard-bristle brush to force out the pebbles and debris that were stuck on its crevices. Do the same thing to the other shoe and you’re done.

Finish the cleaning by applying a few sprays of shoe deodorizer on the inside of your boots. Place them somewhere dry and away from direct sunlight until your next hike.

Simply brush your shoes to get rid of the dirt

Simply brush your shoes to get rid of the dirt

Deep cleaning your boots

On the other hand, if you’ve been through a long and difficult hike over rough terrain, or you just neglect your merrell shoes for quite a while, performing a deep clean on them is absolutely crucial. Otherwise, the small rocks and dust that were caught inside can easily tear up the fabric textures. Or worse, the sweat and mud will make your shoes smell extremely unpleasant.

With proper care and maintenance, you can easily double up their life span, allowing you to enjoy comfortable hikes without having to spend money on new shoes or to cure your smelly feet. Here we’ll tell you how to wash hiking boots:

Tools you’ll need:

● Normal soap
● A soft-bristle brush
● A hard-bristle brush
● Footwear cleaning gel (or solution)
● A clean cloth
● A piece of sponge

First of all, you should never put your shoes inside a washing machine and call that cleaning. Instead, what you’re doing is destroying your shoes in the most unthinkable way. The continuously tumble actions will make the shoe wear down extremely fast. Not to mention that using the wrong soap can cause your shoes to lose color or become less durable.

Start the cleaning by doing some light cleaning on your hiking boots. Follow all the provided steps in the article above, but don’t apply the deodorizer yet. Take your shoes inside, remove all the laces and insoles to make it easier to work on. Put them away to wash later.

Put your shoes inside the sink and rinse it under tap water. This would help to break down the dust particles, allowing you to easily remove them from your shoes. Make sure that the water is at normal temperature since both hot and ice-cold water can damage the leather or suede.

Pick up your soft-bristle brush and start cleaning the dirt off your shoes, on both the top and bottom of them. Be patient and pay attention to any dirty spots to ensure that you get them all done. Remember to do the inside of your shoes, since this is where people would pay less attention. Keep running the shoes under tap water until you find them completely cleaned.

Stop the water and start applying your shoe cleaner product on both the top and bottom of your shoes. Make sure that you choose the right product for your specific shoe materials, since having the wrong cleaner will do more harm than good to your shoes.

Wait for a couple of minutes for the products to take effect, then use a clean cloth to scrub and wipe off the gel on your hiking boots. Do this multiple times, and you can change to a new piece of cloth if it gets too dirty. For the inside, you shouldn’t be too rough, just apply the cleaning gel onto a piece of cloth then rub it on the inner walls of your shoes.

Once that’s done, you can start to clean off your shoes by running them under tap water, use a piece of sponge or your hands to work on the shoes and rinse off all the remaining dirt.

To dry the boots, it’s not recommended to force dry them with a dryer or any other method that involves applying direct heat. This is because leather, nubuck, or suede are extremely susceptible to high temperatures and will deteriorate once you dry them with high heat. Letting your shoes  air dry is always the best option.

For the shoelaces and insoles, you can wash them with normal soap. Just rub a little bit of soap on the brush and work on the already soaked laces and insoles. Then rinse them with water to get rid of the extra soap. Put them away to air dry along with your pair of shoes and we’re done.

Wash your hiking boots for a more thorough cleaning

Wash your hiking boots for a more thorough cleaning

Perform important maintenance on your boots

And if you’ve been following our washing guides, it’s recommended that you proceed to these important maintenance on your boots to ensure the best results. In this article, you’ll learn how to care for hiking boots by applying certain products on them. This would help increase their durability and comfort, therefore, giving you the best hiking experiences over a long period of time with your shoes.

Tools you’ll need:

● Shoe conditioner
● Waterproof gel
● A few pieces of cloth

With the shoes almost dry after being washed, you can begin to apply your shoe conditioner to it. By having a slightly damp surface, you’ll make it easier for the product to get evenly spread on your shoes. However, some manufacturers will want you to apply their conditioners once your shoes are completely dry. So it’s best to read the instructions manual first. And don’t forget to pick the right conditioner for your specific leather hiking boots, because having the wrong product will never work on conditioning your shoes.

Scrub the products on to the surfaces of the shoes, do it gently and evenly until you have had all of them covered. Then use a piece of clean cloth to rub the product across the leather make sure you get every spot. Let them sit for a fair amount of time until your shoes are completely dried. The conditioner will work its way into the fabric and leather structures to breathe life back into them. That's how your shoes will stay new for a much longer period of time.

The next product would be the waterproof gel, which is absolutely essential if you’re planning to hike on muddy or snowy terrains. Having a nice waterproof coating on your shoes will protect your feet from getting damped and soggy.

And for those who’re wondering how to clean waterproof boots, you simply need to wait until they are completely dry after the conditioning. Then redo what you just did, only this time, with your waterproof gel. Let the shoes sit for a couple of hours until they’re completely dry, then you could finish things up with a few sprays of deodorizer.

Put your shoes in a plastic bag if you aren’t going to use them any time soon, and place them in your shoe closet for storage.

Apply conditioner product on your boots

Apply conditioner product on your boots

Treat smell on your hiking boots

Another problem that many people often have on their fabric boots is the smell. The annoying odors keep coming from your hiking boots tell you that, it’s time for you to treat its smells.

And most of the time, those unpleasant smells often come from the dirt on the trails and the sweat from your feet. That combined with a warm environment will create the perfect condition for fungi and bacteria to develop. These will create a slightly acidic environment inside your shoes, which doesn’t smell horrible, but also make your shoes to wear down much faster. That’s why you’ll need to treat these smells right away.

Tools you’ll need:

● Shoe deodorizer
● Baking soda
● Essential oil

Quick fix:

To start with, if you don’t have much time and can't afford to spend the next few hours cleaning and treating the smell on your boots, it’s suggested that you try out a quick fix with shoe deodorizer. Just take out the sole and place your shoes out in the open air. Then give it a few sprays of shoe deodorizers and wait a few minutes. Spray it again before you put your shoes back on and they’ll be good for the rest of the day. However, you should have your shoes cleaned and properly treat their smell after getting rid of the problem.

Best fix:

On the other hand, if you have time, the best fix would be to have your shoes washed with baking soda. And no, you don’t need to redo all the steps on the washing guides. Instead, just take out the soles and laces, then soak them all together with your shoes inside a mild baking soda solution.

Baking soda itself is an effective odor neutralizer, which would help you get rid of the smelly acidity inside your shoes. Just let them sit inside the baking soda solution for at least one hour, then put them into a bucket of water to rinse off the excess solution.

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Take your shoes out and let it air dry for as long as possible. Once the moistness is completely gone, you can give your boots a few drops of essential oil on the inside. Place your shoes back in the plastic bag and store it inside your closet. The aroma will work its way into the fabric, giving your shoes a pleasant smell whenever you put them on.

And that’s it, now you know how to clean smelly hiking boots and keep them fragrant at the same time.

A few sprays of deodorizer to fix your smelly shoes

A few sprays of deodorizer to fix your smelly shoes

Tips for keeping your hiking boots clean and lasting longer

After you’re done with all the cleaning hiking boots instructions, your shoes are pretty much back to their top condition. Thus, there is no need for any further salomon boot care. However, it wouldn’t hurt for you to know a few more useful tips on keeping your hiking boots clean and increasing its life span.

The following guides cover every aspect of your daily uses and maintenance on hiking shoes, which are absolutely crucial for hikers.

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Wear the right hiking pants

While it’s not necessary to wear  long pants that could stretch down to your feet while hiking in a hot climate, this little habit is absolutely important for muddy tracks and dirty paths. With your hiking pants on, you can minimize the amount of dust, dirt, and water that can get on your boots, both on the inside and outside. This, in turn, makes your boots significantly cleaner after each hike. Therefore, enhancing its durability and saving you some trouble when cleaning.

Plus, if you find these long pants quite annoying during a hot day, there are many useful models that come with a zip-off design. The best hiking pants can be easily converted into shorts or taken off without having to remove your shoes. 

Hiking pants will prevent dirt from getting in your shoes

Hiking pants will prevent dirt from getting in your shoes

Tighten your shoes properly

Another thing that you could do to keep your shoes from getting dirty, and to give your feet better support, is to tighten your shoes properly. Aside from choosing the right size for your shoes, you can depend on your feet’s structure to give it a better fit.

Start by considering your foot arch and the types of hiking that you will be doing. If you have a low foot arch or a flat bottom, you would want to tighten the shoes extra tight on the middle rings, and vice versa.

On the other hand, high-demanding activities such as mountain hiking will require you to give the heels and ankle better support. And to do this, you must tighten your top shoelaces extra tight, maybe give it a few more knots if possible. As for the standard walks on relatively flat terrains, a slightly open top will give your feet more breathability.

Do this, and learn how to tie hiking boots in the most effective and comfortable ways. You can maintain your safety while hiking, and at the same time, keep your shoes cleaner and less smelly in the long run.

Tight your shoes properly to ensure a good fit

Tight your shoes properly to ensure a good fit

Speed up the air dry process

If you’ve spent your time air drying your boots, you should already know how arduous and annoying the process could be. And since you can’t use any direct heat to speed up the process, it’s even more uncomfortable watching your shoes drying slowly.

However, from our experiences, there are a few quick hacks that you can try to effectively speed up the air-drying process.

Start by using a few pieces of clean cloth and squeeze out the excess water on your shoes after you’ve just washed them. Also, do this on the laces and the soles so that they can dry a lot quicker. Change your wet cloth to a dry one and use as many of them as possible. Alternatively, you can cover the outside of the shoes with tissue paper as a different approach. Both are extremely effective and easy to do.

In addition, you can also get a few pieces of rolled up tissue paper and stuff them on the inside of the boots. The paper will help absorb the moisture inside and speed up the drying process drastically. You can change the paper every once in a while to make sure that your shoes can dry even faster.

And last but not least, a simple trick that I often use whenever I need to quickly dry up my shoes is to use an electric fan. Yes, you can’t apply direct heat from a hairdryer on it. But the fan, which could help the air circulate much faster, will do you the trick just as effectively when combined with the mentioned tips.

Hopefully, these tricks can answer your question on how to dry hiking boots quicker.

Wrap your shoes with tissue paper or stuff them inside for better drying

Wrap your shoes with tissue paper or stuff them inside for better drying

Baking soda for treating smells

In the last cleaning guides, we’ll show you how to wash boots with baking soda to get rid of their odors. And now, you’ll get to know another useful application of baking soda in treating smell on your hiking boots.

After you wash it or finish your hikes, you can simply sprinkle a few drops of baking soda on the inside of your shoes before putting them away. It would work as an excellent odor neutralizer by preventing bacteria and mildews from dirtying the inside.

With just a simple habit, you can keep your shoes smell refreshing for a long amount of time without having to care about it being affected by odors.

Sprinkle baking soda on your shoes to neutralize the odors

Sprinkle baking soda on your shoes to neutralize the odors

Things you can do when the sole come off

And if you’re hiking and suddenly your shoe sole comes off, don’t panic, you can still try our quick fix to get you to the end of your hike. If you have any extra shoelaces or any type of strap, just wrap them around your shoes and tighten the bottom sole back to the body. Tighten every knot and make sure that the sole is fully connected, then you can finish your hikes.

If you don’t have anything like that, you can also take out your current shoelaces and use it to tighten back the soles. But this time, make sure you spread the knots across the foot to maintain a good hold on your shoes.

And after you’ve done with your hikes, you can then decide to replace or repair your boots. If the top of the boot is still fine, and only the sole came off, you can try to glue it back on. However, normal glue won’t work on this as they would fall off as soon as you start hiking.

I always use contact cement and find it the best bet for the job. Just spread a thin layer of adhesive on the sole and the top, wait for them to become sticky enough, then force them back together. The moment you take your hands off, you won’t be able to pull the sole out, no matter how much you try, as the adhesive is extremely powerful.

Try our method to fix your broken shoe

Try our method to fix your broken shoe


Even the best hiking boots still require their users to perform certain maintenance on them in order to stay in good condition. After all the wear and tear on your extreme hikes, always have your shoes properly cleaned and maintained.

And to do it correctly, you should definitely check out our guides on how to clean hiking boots above. The intuitive guides and informative instructions will make it a lot easier for hikers to take care of their shoes.

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you in our future posts.

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