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.

Boot and Saddle soap

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.

Saddle soap lather

3. Rub the leather with the saddle soap lather.

Boot and Saddle soap

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.

A pair of leather boots on the ground

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 Snavely

Andrew founded Primer in 2008 and brings 15+ years of men's style expertise. Known for his practical, relatable approach to style and self-development, he has been a recognized speaker at conferences and has styled work for top brands. Off-duty, he loves photography & editing, and enjoys road trips with his dog, Leela. Raised in rural Pennsylvania, educated in DC, and living in LA for nearly 20 years, Andrew's diverse experiences shape the relatable and real-world advice that has helped millions through Primer. On Instagram: @andrewsnavely and @primermagazine.