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How to Take Care for Your Tactical Boots

At Authorized Boots, we know how attached to a pair of boots you can get. I can't tell you how many times I've gone through a field problem with my favorite pair of boots and later had a funeral for a pair that would have caused the Sergeant Major a heart attack.

Today we're bringing you some lessons we've learned the hard way on how to clean tactical boots and make your dollar last as long as possible. From boots made of full grain to suede, we’ll show you how to bring a field pair up to the standards of an in-ranks inspection.

1. Boots with full grain leather, commonly seen on dress jump boots if you're of the airborne variety, require a lot of care and attention. If you're in a service that wears black boots, like law enforcement, this section will pertain to you. If you're a “Cherry”, eyes up. The time to polish up those boots isn't the day before you don your maroon beret. PX grade shoe polish isn't going to cut it either. Kiwi makes an excellent polish that holds a great shine and protects the leather from getting scuffed. For initial care on a pair of full grain boots, wear them around the house. Break them in and molded to your foot. If you so desire you can shower with them on to mold the insoles to your feet. Next, once the boots are fully dried out, grab a clean, soft, white rag. Wipe on some shoe polish, roughly an area the size of a dime, and start working it into the leather. Rinse the rag and repeat the process over the entire area of the boot, especially around friction points like the toe box.

Swan Isopropyl Alcohol

2. For general care and to take out scuffs, just repeat the shining process described above. After every five or six re-shines, you're going to have to take all the polish off and start from scratch. It's a long process, but necessary if you take pride in what you wear.


3. To strip and re-shine your boots, you'll need to get your hands on a few things first. On your shopping list you'll need mineral spirits or isopropyl alcohol (the kind you use as a disinfectant), a rough brush like one used to clean a shower, some polish, and a bottle of black leather dye. Sparingly use the alcohol and the brush to strip off all the built-up polish. Then, spray some warm water on the leather and continue to brush the polish out. Once you’ve removed all of the polish, let the boots air dry. Check up on them every now and then to make sure the leather isn’t drying too much. This can lead to cracked leather. If you find that your boots have cracked, use some leather conditioner to work the leather back into shape.

4. Now it’s time to apply the dye. You'll need to apply about five coats. Once it’s taken to the leather, put a thick layer of polish on the boots. A very thick layer. Remember, you've just stripped away everything that protected the leather from beer, spilled drinks, and your commander's disappointment. Once your boots look like a black birthday cake, melt the polish with hot water and rub in all that polish until it's smooth as glass.

5. Finally, buff your boots a small area at a time until you see no streaks or blemishes in the polish. This is the longest part of the process. Afterward, whatever you've used to buff the leather should look like it works in a coal mine. Clean it, or use a fresh rag with a few drops of alcohol so that your Sergeant Major could shave in the boots’ reflection if he wanted to.

Suede leather is most commonly found on tactical boots like the Garmont T8 and Rocky S2V. Known for its durability and all-weather protection, suede has been tried and tested in every environment on earth. Since your boots are going to take care of you, why not show them a little love every once in a while?

A light, fine-bristled brush does wonders for suede leather and removes most mud and dirt that's had a chance to dry out. If that can't bring your old boots back to life, you might have to do a little work to get them back in action.

1. First, acquaint yourself with what scientists call the ‘universal solvent’, water. Run a sink or tub full of warm (not hot!) water and let your boots soak in it for about an hour. The water will saturate the boot, from the inside out, and push a lot of the built-up dirt from the inside of the leather out. Once your sink is full of brown and green water, place your boots in some sunshine.

2. If that still hasn't done it for you, it's time to move on to stage three. Go to whatever general store suits you and pick up the miracle worker of stain removers,OxiClean. This time, put about a teaspoon's worth of OxiClean in the sink as you're filling it with water. Watch as those wonderful suds go to work breaking up all the caked-on dirt. If you need to, take the brush you used earlier and rub some OxiClean into the surface of the really rough spots. Continue to rinse them out with warm water. Again, when you're done, be sure to let them air out in natural light and open air.

3. A lot of the newer suede boots, especially hot weather boots, come with canvas or another light fabric to help wick moisture away from the foot and to provide more breathability. The same steps for suede will work on the fabric, and fabric materials will generally clean up faster than their leather counterparts. If you still can't take a stain out of canvas, you can use a more aggressive solvent or abrasive like Ajax. Just be careful not to fray the material and take away from the overall appearance of the boot.

Nubuck leather is very similar in look and feel to suede, except nubuck is sanded on what would have been the outside of the leather while suede is sanded on the inner layer of leather. Nubuck is generally more expensive, which is why you don't see more tactical boots made from this material. Nubuck is also softer, but it’s more durable than suede and is cared for in much the same way.

If you own a pair of nubuck boots, a light brushing generally does the trick for all your cleaning needs, as its velvet-soft leather is keen to shed dirt. You'll begin to see more tactical boots made of nubuck when the Army launches their new Scorpion uniforms this fall. If you're about to deploy and you're switching to MultiCam uniforms for the forseeable future, both Danner and Tactical Research have recently released models crafted from premium nubuck leather. You'll notice that the overall look of nubuck is more “smooth” than suede, and is a little more prone to scratches and wear from thorns or rocks. A gentle leather conditioner can remove any scuffs in the leather and bring nubuck back to life.

Click here to check out Suede and Nubuck Care Kit Review

4. The laces of your boots can often detract from the overall appearance of the leather. NyCo (50/50 blend of nylon and cotton) is an extremely popular and durable material, but holds dirt on you like an ex-girlfriend. A much better and cheaper alternative to new, clean laces is to cut yourself a good arm's length of tan 550 cord, gut it (take out the white strands inside) and re-lace your boots. Once you have the cord cut to your liking, take a lighter to the ends of it to prevent fraying. 550 cord, or paracord, is extremely durable, resists fraying, and sheds dirt very well, making it an ideal boot lace. Use caution when tying a tension knot with 550 (like a square knot) because if tied tight enough, 550 is strong enough to cut itself. Another perk of using 550 is that you can buy 100 feet for about the same price as a quality set of laces, so you can replace them as necessary or pre make yourself some extras for the field.

5. Most hot-weather boots have small, mesh drains placed on the boot between the sock liner and leather of the boot. These drains, while a great feature, are prone to getting clogged with sand and dirt. A toothbrush slid inside the boot can push all the debris to the outside of the boot without worrying about getting into and wrecking the sole.

6. A truly clean boot is a boot that doesn't reek while sitting in your closet. Please, please do not put your insoles in a washing machine. Putting a pair of shoes through the wash is the equivalent of around six months of wear. Allowing the insoles to sit in a mixture of about 5% laundry detergent and 95% cool water can get rid of all the sweat you've poured into them.

7. Lastly, don't forget the soles of your boot. Controlled burn areas can wreak havoc on the soft rubber soles found on many major brands of tactical boots. To get rid of these thick black streaks, dish washing detergent or another mild soap will do the trick. A cleaner sole helps provide traction and stability when you need it most and sheds dirt faster than a dirty sole. Boots that have a softer, gummy sole will take a little bit more work because of the more porous rubber. Generally, if you soak them for a little while in water, it will draw all the dirt and debris to the surface of the material.

If you've done everything under the sun to rejuvenate a pair of boots and they still aren't cutting it, check out one of our other lists for some guidance on how to pick a new pair that will stand up to the wear and tear of military life. From the best boots on a deployment to what looks cool in garrison, we've got something for you.

We know boots mean a lot to you and we know that your boots are one of the most important parts of your uniform. At Authorized Boots, we know that a good pair of boots can create your winning edge, and if you've found your edge, we want to throw some knowledge your way to keep that edge for as long as possible.


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