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How To Clean Leather Boat Shoes

How To Clean Leather Boat Shoes

The versatility of boat shoes means you can wear them almost anywhere and everywhere. Are you sailing along the coast? Boat shoes are the obvious answer. Spending a casual day walking the dog and enjoying the sunshine? Again, boat shoes are perfect for the occasion. However, wearing them frequently (especially sockless) means they’re going to get dirty (and probably start to smell). Cleaning them is important to eliminate odors, and also prolong the life of the leather. It will not only make your boat shoes look better, but it will also make them more comfortable too.

Supplies Needed

It doesn’t take much to clean boat shoes, but having the right supplies available will make the process faster and easier, with better results. You can get them right back on your feet and be on your way to chasing new horizons in no time. Remember: never use harsh chemicals or cleaners on leather shoes, as they can damage the leather.

  • Water

  • Dish soap

  • Microfiber rags

  • Leather cleaner

  • Leather conditioner

Cleaning Steps

Follow these steps to clean your boat shoes.

1. Remove Laces

If your boat shoes have removable laces, take them out and wash them separately. Most laces can be cleaned with a simple mixture of room temperature water and dish soap. If the shoes don’t have removable laces (or laces at all), then you can skip this step.

2. Wipe Them Down

Grab a microfiber cloth, wet it with ordinary water and use it to wipe down the outside of the shoes. A damp rag will be fine - don’t soak it or the leather will start to absorb the water. This will remove any lighter dirt, dust, debris or sand. You can do this as frequently as you want to give your boat shoes a quick cleaning between major cleanings. You can also use a leather cleaner depending on how dirty they are.

If there are salt, oil or grease stains, these will need to be treated separately. Follow our full guide to cleaning leather shoes and boots for detailed instructions on how to address these types of stains.

3. Apply Leather Conditioner

After cleaning, make sure your shoes are completely dry before moving on to this step. Apply some leather conditioner to a rag (preferably microfiber) then gently rub it into the shoe. Apply it evenly and uniformly to make sure it doesn’t affect the color or the finish. Wipe off any excess with a clean rag - excess conditioner can attract dirt and dust which will have the opposite effect. Polish isn’t recommended for boat shoes. Whereas dress shoes are intended to be shiny, boat shoes typically have a matte, subdued finish.

Can You Throw Them In The Washing Machine?

No, you should not put your leather boat shoes in the washing machine. Leather contains natural oils which allow it to remain supple and comfortable. Putting your shoes through a wash cycle will remove those oils and dry out the leather, making it less comfortable and more likely to crack. The oils also contribute to the color/finish, so there may be discoloration after a wash cycle. Always adhere to the manufacturer’s specific care recommendations. For Samuel Hubbard boat shoes, we specifically recommend against placing them in the washing machine. 

Getting Rid of Odors

There are lots of ways to get rid of stinky odors in your boat shoes. Use one or a combination of these tactics to tackle especially funky odors.

Odor Spray

There are dozens of odor-fighting sprays on the market and pretty much any of them will work on boat shoes too. Just like you would use on any other pair of shoes, give the inside of the shoe a quick spray after wearing them, or in between wearing them. The spray will need some time to work, so let your boat shoes sit overnight (or longer) before wearing them again.

Freeze Your Shoes

The reason your shoes smell is because foot sweat creates a warm, moist environment inside your shoes. Bacteria love this - it’s the perfect situation for them to thrive. Bacteria don’t do well in cold temperatures, so freezing your shoes is a natural way to kill off bacteria and reduce odors. Place your boat shoes in a zip-loc bag and make sure the bag is sealed. Then place the bag in the freezer and let it sit overnight. When you remove the shoes, you’ll notice less of an odor. The bacteria will come back over time, so repeat as needed. 

Foot Powder (Baby Powder?)

Similar to foot spray, foot powders are designed to remove odors but have the added benefit of preventing them too. Most foot powders can be applied to your foot while you’re wearing your boat shoes - the powder absorbs sweat and moisture which prevents it from being absorbed by the leather. For best results, apply a thin coating of powder to your feet before putting your shoes on. Using too much will create an unpleasant paste-like substance when the excess powder combines with foot sweat. 

Baby powder can be used in place of dedicated foot powders - it contains talcum powder which removes moisture. That’s the difference between baby powder and dedicated foot powders - a dedicated foot powder may have other additives to reduce odor whereas baby powder only reduces moisture.

Powders (foot or baby) can also be applied when you’re not wearing the shoes, to draw out moisture overnight.

Shoe Trees

Shoe trees are used to store shoes when they aren’t being worn. Most shoe trees are cedar, which not only removes moisture from the shoes but also leaves behind a natural, pleasant, cedarwood scent. In addition to removing moisture, shoe trees help shoes maintain their shape which reduces leather creasing.

Preventing Odors

In order to prevent future odors, there are several steps you can take to keep your boat shoes smelling fresher.

Wash Your Feet

First and foremost, wash your feet thoroughly in the shower. Men are especially notorious for neglecting their feet when they wash up. Keeping your feet odor-free is the first step to reducing shoe smells. 

Rotate Shoes

If you wear your boat shoes regularly, buy a second pair and rotate wearing them. The rotation allows each pair to get a full 24 hours to dry out, which reduces odors. You can either buy the same pair and no one will know you’re rotating them, or buy a different color/design for different styles and looks.

Socks

Socks can prevent boat shoes from getting stinky, but that comes at a cost. Most socks are not moisture-wicking, meaning they hold moisture and trap it against the skin. Socks will prevent the leather from getting sweaty, but the downside is having damp socks pressed against your feet all day. Learn more about the merits of wearing socks vs. going sockless with boat shoes.

Storage

For best results, store your boat shoes in cool, dry places. Remember, warmth and moisture encourage smelly bacteria to multiply. If possible, avoid placing them on the floor, and use a shoe rack or similar. Ideally, cedar shoe trees can be used to help boat shoes maintain their shape and reduce odors.

Shop Boat Shoes From Samuel Hubbard

Thinking about a new pair of boat shoes? Check out our collection! Samuel Hubbard boat shoes are designed to go anywhere and everywhere that you do. We believe that empowering others for their journey starts from the ground up. Handcrafted construction from the finest materials means all-day comfort wherever you go.