How to Care of Your Leather Cowboy Boots - Wei's Western Wear

How to Care of Your Leather Cowboy Boots

You’ve finally bought the cowboy boots of your dreams. You love the way they look. Now it’s time to take care of the ones you love.

Taking Your Boots Home and Storing Them

When you first get your new cowboy boots home, expect good full-grain leather to stretch in the width and mold to your feet. The slippage that’s common at the back of your heel, especially on Tony Lama boots, will lessen as the boots break in.

This process will take a few weeks. If you want to accelerate stretching your boot leather, wear two pairs of socks around the house for a few hours each day to encourage the leather  to stretch; it also prevents the leather from rubbing your feet raw.

At home, where will your boots live? On a shoe rack? Next to the air register? Or in the closet? Of these three, a dark closet is the best place, as long as they’re not kicked around. Excessive heat or sun will not be good for leather boots in the long term, but a dark closet, especially a cool place in the basement, would be best as long as it’s dry and not damp.

Care and Maintenance for Your Investment

Western boots are truly an investment. When they’re solid boots, built well, that fit properly, they’re an investment in your comfort and support, including for your lower back.

You might know that the lower back is one of the most common areas of health complaints. That’s because we’re often on our feet and we may have poor posture, be slouching, be a little overweight, have a bad chair, or have footwear that does not fit properly.

We may even have problems with our feet such as fallen arches (flat feet), which means shoes that do provide arch support don’t fit comfortably. Or, we have bunions that stick out the sides of our feet and cause us to buy boots that are really too wide and too large, meaning that the boot will slip when we walk, and cause issues.

When you buy boots that fit properly as much as possible, then you want them to last for years, as they should. They’re an investment.

So here’s the guide on protecting your investment and helping them last.

The Second Skin for Your Feet

When boots mold to your feet and fit super comfortably, some people say they “fit like a second skin” - that’s the comfort ideal.

So, think of your boot’s leather like skin, and care for it in a similar way. Wash it, dry it gently, moisturize it, avoid hours and hours of direct sunlight all day. Be aware of how you’re treating it, and you’ll avoid those crow’s feet as long as possible.

Just like our skin, leather has oils in it that help keep it conditioned. They can dry out due to heat and sun, and they can get dusty and dirty.

Dusty Boots

Cowhide, bullhide, and especially exotic leather, needs to be dusted occasionally to keep it in good condition. Yes, that includes your leather soles.

You can easily use a clean old sock, which could be slightly damp. However your old sock or t-shirt may not reach into crevices like the corners of the midsole or the spaces between caiman scales. Be careful your damp cloth doesn’t create ‘mud’ in the crevices.

To get in between stitches or scales, a non-scratching brush, such as a horsehair brush, is best which can remove dry dust from small areas.

Dirty Boots

Saddle soap is a good cleaner. However, Wei’s does not recommend that you use it by itself, because it will dry out the leather, the same way that soap will dry out our skin.

So, use the saddle soap to clean, then ensure to wipe off all the soap as well as the dirt. Once the leather is cleaned and dried use a moisturizing and conditioning product to add oils back into the leather.

Wei’s Western Wear presents Ariat Tycoon Cowboy boots

Dry Boots

Leather has oils in it, just like our skin does. The oils keep the leather supple, but eventually they do dry out, and can even eventually crack, depending how the boots are used and how the boots are stored. You need to replenish the oils from time to time to moisturize the leather.

If your boot has a leather sole, then the same principles apply. Make sure you clean and condition the sole. Then, remember your soles could be a little slippery.

Oils can darken the leather, even permanently, so most oils should only be used on a dark coloured boot.

If you have a light coloured boot, choose lanolin to oil your boots. Lanolin naturally comes from sheep’s wool and does not darken most leathers. In every case, always apply the oil to an inconspicuous area first to see the result.

It’s a simple 3-step process you’re probably familiar with:

  1. Clean the boot
  2. Moisturize the boot by placing a little bit on an inconspicuous part of the leather to check colourfastness or darkening. Apply moisturizer with an old clean sock, or an old clean T-shirt. Rub in, then let dry.
  3. Buff the boot.

If you go to a professional horse show, you will see dozens of moisturizers that promise to help keep a saddle supple and in good shape. Some of these moisturizers can be made from sources that might seem questionable or expensive. Wei’s tends to recommend the moisturizers that have proven themselves over time, to us or our customers.

1. Mink Oil - in our opinion mink oil is a very good product but pure mink oil will darken your boots a shade or two. Wei’s carries a mink oil compound with silicone and lanolin we recommend.

Another famous compound is Dubbin - this is a brand name that’s been around for more than 125 years. Dubbin is a mixture of mink oil for moisturizing, with added silicone for a waterproofing layer. Available at Wei’s.

Red Wing Boot Oil - the famous work boot manufacturer makes its own blend of mink oil and pine pitch to moisturize and protect leather. Available at Wei’s.

2. Neatsfoot Oil - a yellow oil rendered and purified from the shin bones and feet of cattle, but not the hooves of cattle. Neatsfoot oil is used in various compounds.

Lexol - this well-known leather tack conditioning liquid is made with neatsfoot oil and is pH balanced for leather. It promises to not darken leather. Compared to some of the questionable products you may see at a horse show,  Lexol was voted the best leather conditioner in 20 years by Horse Journal. Available at Wei’s.

3. Beeswax -

Paste Wax - protects leather, helps it to repel water, and allows it to accept a high shine. After cleaning and oiling your boots, and letting them dry, Red Wing Paste Wax is easy to put on with a cloth and buff.

Bickmore is a credible name in the leather care industry. Wei’s carries Bickmore Smooth Finish Leather Care which we recommend. and Tana All Protector is a good all-around spray product.

Regular Maintenance

Use the same steps as above to clean and condition your boots from time to time.

  • When you’ve been on a hot dusty walk, give your boots some extra TLC.
  • Use cedar boot trees to help hold the shape of your special boots. Cedar has natural antimicrobial properties which will help remove bacteria that causes smell.
  • Don’t forget to store the boots in a cool dark place.
  • If you are putting them away for a few months, for example in Winter, make sure to condition them before you put them away.

Wet Boots

Wei’s Western Wear presents Boulet 0012 Roughstock Oiled Taurus boots

A common question when it comes to cowboy boots is, will a little rain or walking into a shallow puddle shrink the boot leather? It will rain on your boots at some point, but will that spell disaster for your cowboy boots?

The answer is that it depends on the scenario. If your boots get drizzled on, it won’t cause them to shrivel up immediately.

Does Leather Shrink?

Yes, leather can shrink from excess moisture or excess direct heat. If you take your heavily saturated boots and place them on a hot air register, the scenario becomes worse.

If your boots become soaked, these are the steps you should take to dry them off properly and prevent damage:

  • Pre-Care: Clean any mud or grime off your boots with a soft non-scratching horsehair brush, then remove the insoles and laces.
  • Drying: There are many ways to dry off your boots, but the best way is to leave them in a well-ventilated area to air dry. You can add crunched up newspaper inside the boots to help draw out moisture.
  • Drying your boots on a heat register will likely cause the leather to shrink. Worse, it will deteriorate the leather and your boots will simply not last as long as they would otherwise.
  • Post-Care: Once your boots are nice and dry, which could take 2 days, it’s time for some TLC. Use cedar boot trees to help hold the shape of your boots and remove old smells.
  • See Dry Boots? above

Exotic Boots

Wei’s Western Wear presents Black Jack boots with Stingray vamp and embossed Calf shaft

Wei’s has one of the largest collections of exotic cowboy boots and exotic cowgirl boots in Canada. Boots with exotic leathers like ostrich, lizard, caiman, snake, or sting ray are not common, but Wei’s has an estimated 300 styles in stock.

These Western exotic boots are made by famous brands like Ariat, Boulet, Lucchese, Panhandle Slim, Tony Lama, Hondo, Olathe, Black Jack, and other brands. They’re big investments, ranging from about $300 to $1,500. You can bet the owners of exotic boots want them to last a long time.

Good news for exotic boots owners! The care and maintenance for exotic boots is very similar to what’s needed for regular cowhide boots.

  • Do dust exotic boots regularly, and carefully. Pay special attention to getting the dust out from between caiman or snake scales. If the spaces get clogged with dust and dry out, the leather will crack, and you will be sad.
  • You will need a horsehair brush to get the dust out from between scales.
  • When wiping with a clean cloth, wipe in the direction of the scales, not against the direction of the scales.
  • Once a month, depending on the climate and how often you wear them, use special Bickmore Exotic conditioner. Again, pay special attention to the space between the scales. Do not use any of the regular moisturizers we mentioned for cowhide boots.
  • Don’t get your boots wet.
  • If you do somehow get them wet, let them dry in the open air with dry newspaper crunched up inside.
  • Use cedar boot trees to help hold the shape of your special boots.

Final Thoughts

A superior quality boot will last many years when properly cared for. It’s all about protecting your investment.

  • Always take a few minutes to dust your boots after wearing them, especially exotic boots
  • Occasionally, depending on usage and climate, condition the boots.
  • If the boots get wet, let them air dry and don’t rush it.
  • Store the boots properly in a dark place where they are protected. Keeping them in the original boot box is a good idea.
  • Print these instructions and keep them on your kitchen fridge (well, that’s optional)

If you run into trouble with your boots, bring them back to Wei’s so we can take a look at them. We’re always happy to help.

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