What type of leather are your boots made from — finished or unfinished leather? Finished leather is the most common component in women’s footwear. Unfinished leather is usually only found on work boots and must be treated differently than boots with finished leather. A simple test can be used to determine which type of leather boots you have:
Place a small amount of leather cleaner (preferably as foam) on a leather boot. It is best to use leather cleaner for this test; if water is used, some leathers will have been hydrophobated (made waterproof) and this will then give a false impression of a finish. If the cleaner is readily absorbed, the boots are unfinished. If the solution sits on the surface for awhile, there is some kind of finish on the leather. The strength of the finish will be indicated by the rate of the absorption.
General Care: The best thing for unfinished leather boots is oil – Neatsfoot oil or any leather conditioning oil such as that used for baseball gloves or saddles. Simply daub a generous amount on the leather and allow to absorb overnight. Remove any excess oil with a soft cloth. Finished leather can be maintained with any high grade polish – such as that used to maintain the shine on military boots. Follow directions on polish container for best results.
Stain Removal: Attacking stains on leather is always a risky job. Try to always have leather conditioner and leather cleaner available or — you can always have your boots professionally cleaned (expensive!). Many times these two options are not practical or available for various reasons and sometimes a store bought leather cleaner will not remove certain stains. When trying any of the methods given below remember, all leather boots are different and cleaners may cause damage, alter color and appearance, or cause cracking of the leather. When trying different cleaners and techniques, use a small inconspicuous area first and let the previous cleaner dry before trying the next one. Lastly, always use a leather conditioner after every cleaning. This will help ensure your boots last and will be with your wardrobe for a long time to come.
· General stains: If you don’t have a leather cleaning solution try these household products. First try using a damp sponge. Water will not hurt leather. Work the moist sponge into the stain. Let dry and check. If this doesn’t work, try baby wipes. Rub the stained area and let dry. If this doesn’t work either, try a window cleaner like Windex. Spray directly onto the stain and rub with a paper towel, and allow to dry. After using these methods, whether they work or not, be sure to apply a leather conditioner. Otherwise the leather may dry out and crack, creating a whole new set of problems.
· Water stains: Allow your soaked boots to dry slowly and naturally. If you own a pair of boot trees, insert them into your boots and let air-dry. Clean white rags or wadded up paper towels can substitute. This will absorb the moisture and help your boots retain their shape. Keep boots away from heat sources, and restore softness with a leather conditioner after they’re dry.
· Ink Stains Spray the affected area with hairspray. Wipe off with a clean cloth. Ink removal is difficult and may take professional cleaning for satisfactory removal.
· Mildew Stains Mix 1 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 cup water. Wet a clean cloth with the mixture and wipe the affected area. Let air dry. Apply conditioner after drying.
· Salt Stains: Mix 3 parts white vinegar to 1 part water. Moisten a clean cloth with the water/vinegar solution and dab on affected area. Let dry. Apply conditioner after drying.
· Gum Stains: Rub affected area with a plastic bag filled with ice cubes to harden up the gum. Gently remove the gum after it hardens. For any residual gum, heat the gum with a hairdryer and rub it off with a clean cloth.
· Grease stains: Blot excess grease with a clean cloth. Sprinkle talcum powder or cornstarch on affected area. Let sit for no less than 4 hours. After which wipe off powder and condition if needed.
No two types of leather are exactly alike. Leather is made from a variety of animals, colored differently, and finished with different procedures and chemicals. The above procedures give only a general idea of household remedies that may be useful in cleaning your leather boots. Many times these not only work better than commercial leather cleaners, but are much more cost effective. Happy Cleaning!