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How to Care for Your Cowboy Boots

If you love your cowboy boots as much as we do, taking the proper care of them is essential to extending their life and protecting them from marks, cracks and creases. In this post, we'll look at the history of the distinguished cowboy boot and share our expert tips on how to care for each type of boot leather.

THE HISTORY OF COWBOY BOOTS

American-style cowboy boots have been around since the 19th century, when cattle ranchers needed a practical boot for their everyday work. Bootmakers in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma were among the first to offer the cowboy boot as we know it: an underslung heel, and topstitching throughout the leather on the shaft and foot.

Certain styles featured additional added cut-outs, either geometric or depicting natural elements. Designs were also heavily influenced by the Spanish vaquero tradition, which traces back to the South Americas and Spain.

Some of those first cowboy boot makers are still around today, and cowboy boots continue to be popular all year-round.

TYPES OF COWBOY BOOT: TRADITIONAL & FASHION

Today, cowboy boots come in an endless variety of styles and colors, but generally fall into two categories: traditional and fashion boots.

The traditional style is more functional, and shares similar classic design elements like topstitching and a lower, more practical heel.

Fashion cowboy boots will have higher heels and more vibrant designs. They're great for adding a bit of color to your wardrobe and outfits!

COWBOY BOOT CARE TIPS BY LEATHER TYPE:

Whether you're thinking of investing in a pair of handmade cowboy boots, or looking to experiment with a more affordable, fashion-style pair, you'll want to make sure that you give your boots the best care possible. With not too much effort, you'll keep them looking and feeling great, and help them last as long as possible.

Cowboy boots, especially those that are handmade, can last decades with the proper care, so you'll want to invest in some specialty care products and use them regularly.

TRADITIONAL LEATHERS

Black cowboy boot with ornamental stitching

We'll begin with caring for traditional leather cowboy boots.

Before wearing your boots, you will need to condition them. Conditioning is crucial because it'll help treat the leather, keep it soft and pliable, and prevent it from drying and cracking. Just follow these steps:

  1. First, give your cowboy boots a good rubbing down with a soft cotton rag to dislodge any dust.

  2. If you've already worn the boots, start by making sure they are dust and dirt-free. Use a combination of a cotton rag and a soft brush or toothbrush to get any gunk out of all the nooks and crannies in the boot's leather. It's super important to get all dirt off the leather, as you don't want to rub that into the boot when you begin conditioning.

  3. Apply a first coat according to the product directions. Note that most leather conditioners will slightly darken the leather, so if you have a lighter color leather, do a small spot test first on an out-of-sight area. Let that sit for a few hours to see if you're OK with the resulting color.

  4. Our Boot Butler Boot Rack keeps cowboy boots in the best condition
  5. Once you're comfortable with how the conditioning will look, apply the first coat of product. Use a cotton or chamois cloth, and once the conditioner has soaked in a bit, rub the product gently in a circular motion. No need for anything more than a soft touch here because the leather will soak up the conditioner in its own time, and all you're doing is helping that process move along.

    You’ll want to repeat this process more than once. You'll be able to feel out whether the leather seems thirsty and wants more product by how quickly the boots absorb it. If you've gotten to the point where the product's not being absorbed anymore, that's a good time to move on.

  6. Let your boots dry overnight. Keep them away from a direct heat source, for example no radiators or internal/external fires. Then, grab a fresh rag and give the boots a nice swipe. At this point, you can either be done, or polish up your boots.

  7. Use a wax polish to help keep the conditioner in the leather. Just follow the product directions to get your boots to your preferred shine. Also, cream polish is a bit easier to apply than paste. Use a neutral shade for lighter-colored boots, or match your boot color to the polish.

    Make sure you have a separate brush or rag for each product to best maximize its properties. Note that you should never apply wax polish directly onto unconditioned leather. This is because it's water-based, meaning it will quickly dry out the leather.

Boots should be conditioned according to how dry of a climate you're living in. For example, boot wearers in the Southwest will need to condition their boots more often than folks in damp climates. Pay attention to whether your leather is starting to look dry, and then settle down for another round of conditioning.

For everyday use and wear, keep your boots clean when you take them off. Brush off any visible dust or dirt once you get home, and for super muddy boots, use a leather cleaner with a brush. In a pinch, you can rinse your boots off with water, but make sure you dry them properly and then condition thoroughly.

Use a pencil eraser to remove small scuffs on cowboy boots

For spot stains, you can use a variety of household objects. One handy tip is to use a pencil eraser. Small scuffs and marks will disappear with just a few swipes! Or, remove sticky residue with a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar, and use a q-tip dabbed in rubbing alcohol to remove ink or tar stains. But just remember, if you've used anything that involves water, make sure to let your boots dry thoroughly and then re-condition.

Pay attention to your boot heels as well. If you've walked through puddles or snow, make sure the heels are wiped clean and dry before you put the boots away. Keep them away from open heat sources, which can cause cracks in the heels. When you condition your boots, apply the product down to the very sole line. The area where the leather meets the heel is important, as you don't want those pieces to pull away and eventually separate.

EXOTIC LEATHERS

Python skin cowboy boots

Boots made from lizard, alligator, ostrich or other exotic skin are a bit more time-consuming when it comes to cleaning because of the intricate folds within the leather. For this reason, it's very important to keep the boots clean and conditioned.

Because these types of leathers have a deeper texture, they won't absorb conditioner as fast as a traditional leather will. Do several thin layers and repeat if necessary. Rub with the grain of the leather (never against it).

SUEDE LEATHER

Suede cowboy boots will require a different kind of care. Instead of a using a leather conditioner, apply a non-silicone water repellent when the boots are new. Do at least a couple of coats before you wear the boots, since water and salt stains are much trickier to remove on suede than other leathers.

Use a soft nylon brush or toothbrush to get rid of dust and dirt. And don't worry if you get your suede dirty or wet. A suede eraser will really help with this.

To reinvigorate old suede, hold your boots over boiling water. The steam will work wonders on the material, allowing you to brush it back into shape and give it some shine. Small stains can be treated with white vinegar, while liquid stains can additionally be treated with talcum powder (just let it sit overnight, then brush it off).

PATENT LEATHER

Patent leather boots are simple to take care of. Wipe any dust or dirt off with a damp cloth and then buff them up with a dry cloth.

DISTRESSED LEATHER

Distressed leather cowboy boots require different care

And finally, a word on taking care of distressed leather cowboy boots. They're made a bit differently, in that oils are added during the tanning process. Those oils will begin to dissipate with time, so you'll need to apply thick coats of conditioner or even mink oil to help thoroughly condition these leathers.

Distressed leather is meant to be worn in all weather, but be sure to get the boots dry once you're done wearing them. Oil them up as soon as possible after they've been soaked, and keep away from artificial heat sources.

AND THAT'S HOW TO KEEP YOUR COWBOY BOOTS LOOKING GREAT!

Whether you’ve invested in one pair or many, with the proper care and attention, your cowboy boots will look better, feel better, and last longer. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and happy cowboy boot wearing!


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3 comments

Dec 11, 2016 • Posted by Sabrina

How do you fix your cowboy boots when they start to fold down around the bottom? By bottom I mean the bottom of the part that is designed to go up around your leg

Aug 14, 2016 • Posted by Boot Butler

Hi Cam, apologies for the belated response! The jury is out on using Vaseline for boots. Some boot owners swear by it, while others say that it dries out the leather. It seems as if that has been working for you and, especially since you write that you have some medical conditions, perhaps the simplest solution—using what you have—is the best solution for now.

If, down the line, you do want to buy a product that’s specially formulated for conditioning and waterproofing your boots, keep in mind that they are not very pricey. And a good trick is to look in places like Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, where the prices will be even better.

Good luck and have fun with your cowboy boots!

Mar 29, 2016 • Posted by Cam Hall

I have 3 new pairs worn once not dirty I would like for you to tell me what to purchase to take care of them in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. And lots of brown leather boots one shorty black beaded boot.
I’m new I love Cow girl boots.I’m usually going to town and back or on the back of a trike when permitted.
I hat Fibromyalgia so it’s hard to do lots of things.
I actually used Vaseline on both to keep them shiny and waterproof. It hasn’t hurt either and I let them sit alnight then use a rag to buff then. Is that ok.
Please tell me if it’s ok or what i need to buy and use.
Thank You,
Mil.

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