How to Protect Your Leather Boots from Winter

Every guy knows he has to keep his dress shoes polished to protect the leather and to make them last. But what do you use to protect and maintain leather boots from the cold, water and salt of winter?

Every man needs a good pair of boots. Men’s boots are going through a rugged revival of sorts, with styles from Frye, Red Wing, and others harkening back to work and hiking boots of yesteryear. Made of high quality leathers with a care for craftsmanship, a pair of these boots are just as at home in the office or on a date as they are in the field.

Especially in winter, it’s easy to find yourself making these boots your daily wear to protect from the cold and precipitation. To make sure they last like they should, it’s important that you protect them as well.

There are plenty of harsh things about winter that can destroy a good pair of boots. Snow, cold, and salt are all leather boots’ worst enemies.

All three of these things can lead to the leather of the boots drying out, cracking and eventually becoming irreparable.

We all learned growing up to use shoe polish to shine and protect our dress shoes.  Unless you’re looking to protect a pair of dress boots, you wouldn’t want to use shoe polish on soft leather like the Fryes or Red Wings.

Instead we need something that can clean off the winter gunk and then condition and protect the leather.

For this task we’ll utilize saddle soap.

What is Saddle Soap?

Saddle soap is a mild soap that’s been around for ages, originally used to clean and condition horse saddles.  Beyond the soap, it contains several important leather care ingredients that make it the perfect choice for protecting our boots. Lanolin, a waxy grease, aids in waterproofing and protecting. Neatsfoot oil helps soften and condition, and glycerol, which moisturizes and slows the drying of the leather.

You should use saddle soap periodically to clean and protect your boots, and especially after harsh usage in winter elements. Boots should be conditioned before heavy usage as well, since it will help repel water, protect the leather and keep your feet dry.

How to Use Saddle Soap

First you’ll want to make sure your boots have had time to dry if you’ve recently worn them. Never sit leather boots next to a heater, this can cause the leather to age prematurely and crack. Instead, use cedar trees or stuff some newspaper in them.

1. Once dry, remove dirt with a damp cloth. This also prepares the leather for the soap.

2. Rub a cloth in the saddle soap to create a lather. If you don’t have enough water, it won’t lather, and you’ll essentially be rubbing soap into your boots. Don’t be concerned about using too much saddle soap, you can always add more water.

3. Rub the leather with the saddle soap lather.

4. Start on the second boot to allow the first boot to dry slightly.

5. Take a damp cloth and and wipe off the saddle soap lather.

Some saddle soaps may darken certain light leathers, so be sure to look into the brand you’re using and test a small area if you’re concerned about this. For many leathers it should not darken.

Keep your boots clean and conditioned by using saddle soap frequently, especially during periods of harsh usage.

I used Kiwi Saddle Soap, which you can pick up at a local drugstore or on Amazon.

Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page.

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  • jcard21

    Good article!

    To dry boots during the winter, I’ve used my Peet Shoe Dryer for over 25 years!

    http://www.peetshoedryer.com

  • Roger

    IMHO, after five decades of being the son of an Army man who believes that shoe shine/shoe maintenance are character issues… Fiebing’s Saddle Soap is the very best available. Website, western store, shoe repair shop, all carry this exceptional product. You should also periodically use it on dress shoes, too. It keeps the leather supple, and makes the leather more receptive to the polish. BTW, try Meltonian polish. It is creamier, less waxy, and really makes the leather like new.

    I’m a shoe-shining nerd. What can I say?

    • Perry

      Fiebings & Meltonian are 2 that I’ve had the best luck with. Can’t use Kiwi after Meltonian

  • http://www.primermagazine.com/2010/learn/2010-fall-beer-review Andrew

    Jcard, great tip! I’ve never used one of those before.

    Roger, thanks for the recommendation, I’ll definitely look into it the next time I need to buy some. Your Meltonian polish rec, is that for dress shoes or boots?

  • Brandon

    What’s the difference between saddle soap and mink oil?

  • http://www.primermagazine.com/2010/learn/2010-fall-beer-review Andrew

    Hey Brandon,

    Great question. Mink oil is made from the fat of minks and can also be used to condition leather. Saddle soap has the benefit of the cleaners, conditioners, softeners, and moisturizers in one. Both have their place in leather care, I believe traditionally mink oil is used only has a finisher/conditioner but I’ve never used it myself.

  • Jessica

    Thanks for the advise(: lol
    I just got my boots and I wore them a couple time and there already dark and they need cleaned! Lol

  • Jessica

    Thanks for the advise(: lol
    I just got my boots and I wore them a couple time and there already dark and they need cleaned! Lol

  • Steve

    If you don’t mind me asking, what is the name of the color of the boots? I’ve been looking for some boots similar to this but I’m finding all kinds of different colors but none of the pictures seem to quite match up with yours.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Hey Steve,

    Frye calls it “Dark Brown.”
    http://www.thefryecompany.com/Product-Men-Boots-Work-87325DBN.aspx#?

    Their pictures look a little darker than mine. Mine are about a year old. You can read more about them on Primer here:
    http://www.primermagazine.com/2010/spend/frye-dakota-midlace

    Thanks for asking!
    Andrew

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  • Lauren

    Hi!

    I just purchased my first ever leather boots. I usually don’t take the best of care of my shoes (I feel like, “They’re shoes, what the heck?”), but I feel differently about these boots. I made an investment with these! I just applied Cadillac Leather Balm to my boots to polish and protect them. I live in a very wet environment and cannot avoid water. I’m just wondering what else I can do to clean and protect my boots from water, and also if the Cadillac Leather Balm was a good idea? Thank you so much for your time!

    -Lauren

  • Brett

    Random… but do thinsulate leather bean boots need saddle soap?

    • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

      I would suspect thinsulate has to do with the inside, not the exterior. So if your boots need a good conditioning, saddle soap will do it for you.

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