This document is not intended to be, nor presented as, a definitive guide to Bootblacking, boot care or leather care. It is just a document that shares my passion for leather and its preservation, and outlines my experiences and suggestions for its care. There is a lot I don’t know about yet, but am keen to find out more and learn.
The document is currently an early draft, please check back every few weeks for any updates (updates listed below). I do intend on adding photo’s as soon as I get some arranged to give a better idea of the instructions, and also of kit. And hopefully some video’s one day too!
Please have a look and tweet me your thoughts and suggestions!
What do you need?
Boots! No trainers, no ugg’s and no crocs. Boots come in so many different styles, finishes, sizes, heights, hides and colours. In this guide I hope to share my approach to caring for them, if a particular style / colour / finish of boot isn’t covered here please get in touch and I can see if I can help and then add some more to this guide for the next person.
Tools of the Trade
In addition to the products you will be using to prepare, clean, condition and protect your boots and leather you need some equipment – your basic tools of the trade. Here I have outlined the essentials I always have in my kitbag.
It is important to remember you don’t need to spend a fortune to start your kit bag. Invest in some essentials, the horse hair brushes, but you don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy buffing cloths etc.
Bootblacking is about work, effort and commitment – products that say they make work easier, quicker or one stop aren’t what you want or need. We don’t cheat … elbow grease is what we do.
Approximately 15cm / 6in brushes, these are best following the tradition of being 100% horsehair for smooth application and shine. You will need one for each colour of boots you work, most boots are black so that makes it easier to start.
Cloths for buffing a shine, dusting and wiping. Cut up t-shirt’s make great cloths for boot care! Cheap and plentiful.
These are awesome for buffing and really building a shine, they are just as effective as an eCloth but a whole lot cheaper and easier to replace. And you will be surprised just how effective they are at giving your boots and emergency shine.
Water Spray Bottle
Rinsing boots, your hands, and really working that extra shine with the polish.
More for your hands then anything else, particularly if you apply product with your fingers.
Have a bunch of these in your bag for working around the soles, for getting into crevises and down the side of tongues etc. Again be aware of polish colours, so you may need several if you are looking after different colour boots and there is a risk of getting polish on them.
If your working in a dark bar, dungeon or corner you need to see what you are doing!
for wiping and drying, have some in different colours to match the task. For example after cleaning a boot use a red towel to wipe off the soap / cleaner, then a black towel after you rinse it. A “dirty” and “clean” towel for wiping down.
Cigarette Lighter (or three)
These are great for getting rid of loose stitching. You just want cheap basic lighters not cigar / jet lighters. I say three because the smokers will always want to borrow them and forget to return it.
For bringing the colour back to contrasting stitching, usually a stock of yellow and white surfice, and have a pencil sharpener too!
And finally, something to keep it all in! This kit bag is going to be very important to you so make sure you have something safe, secure and specific to keep it all in. I personally have a Stanley Fatmax toolkit bag that works really well – the shoulder strap is good for carrying to and from bars.
Note on product use: Test any products you are using for the first time on old leathers or parts that wont be seen to ensure suitability first.
Preparation is key to so many things, and you need to start with clean boots. So the first product you need in your kit bag is a leather cleaner.
The first port of call for many for a leather cleaner is saddle soap, and it can and will bring up your boots to look great and get rid of of dirt, sweat, bodily fluids etc from your boots. But this is designed for saddles and horse tack.
It is usually a soap combined with oils and / or waxes such as neatsfoot oil, mink oil and lanolin. It is important to be aware of the type of saddlesoap you purchase, many will be too harsh for the types of leather used to make most fetish gear. For boots some of the saddle soaps may leave a fine layer of oil / wax that will make getting a really good shine much more difficult.
A glycerine based soap / saddle soap is much more suited to our needs as this will be kinder to the leather and also help to condition it. But that doesn’t mean you should skip applying a conditioner to the leather after cleaning!
Some saddle soap / leather cleaners come in solid form, these you add some water to and apply with a brush or sponge. Whilst others (such as Lexol Cleaner) are available in liquid form in a bottle or spray.
Polish is used to protect, waterproof, and extend the life of boots. It has one very big difference to dubbin which is often referred to in boot care … It is used to add shine and improve the appearance of the leather.
There are many many brands of polish available, and it is up to you to choose your favourite brand. My personal is Lincoln Shoe Polish from the USA.
Polish does have one property that is important to discuss … They are flammable products.
Quite often this is used by some, lighting the polish to warm / melt it to change its consistency to make more liquid. This is a great but of theatre … Particularly if done in a bar or club. But it should really stay as that. When you light the polish some of the essential chemicals within the polish are being burned away, this could change the effectiveness of the polish and the finish.
As well as cleaning your leather you need to keep it nourished and moisturised. Like when your washing your hair, a good quality conditioner makes a huge difference!
My absolute fave product for leather care has to be Huberds Shoe Grease, hand made in small batches in the USA. This stuff is amazing, most importantly it does a great job of looking after your leather, but it also smells fantastic! A deep rich smokey goodness.
You can just grab your can, get the lid off and dunk your hands in and work it all over your boots and leathers. Just ensure you do a patch test on any coloured leather!
It isn’t as easily available in the UK but there are some stockists. An easier alternative to this is something like Lexol Leather Conditioner you can get from Amazon.
This is only a basic guide to cleaning, polishing and maintaining your boots. Please read all the way through it before you think about cleaning or polishing a boot. Input and questions are both appreciated and encouraged!
1/ Inspect & Prepare
Whether your own boots, your Sirs or the boots of someone who has asked you to work their boots you always start the same way. Look at them, feel them, inspect them.
Unlace & unbuckle – note how laced, and how far buckled – you want to return them in the same way, some Bootblacks put laces around the neck whilst working. Just keep them out of the way and safe.
Now inspect the boots, look for any damage or issues and make the owner aware of them. As you continue to inspect the boots don’t just use your eyes, touch and feel the leather … Get to know the boots.
Now that you know the boots you are working with, find out what work you are doing. Do they want them just cleaned, a quick shine, a full shine, a mirror shine on them? What about any stitching, is that to be brought up to its original colour etc?
Dust / clean the boots with a dry cloth – get into the tongue of the boot and all the hidden corners, throughout the cleaning process make sure you get under any buckles etc and check both sides of eyelets.
Use saddle soap – not too much!
Use a small dauber brush to work into the leather and get into the hidden areas and also work up a bit of a lather
Use toothbrush in seams, gutter, and tight areas
Wipe down with a ‘dirty’ towel/cloth, spray down to rinse off and wipe clean with a ‘clean’ towel/cloth – I use red for the first wipe and then black for the 2nd wipe
If needed use a 3rd towel/cloth to ensure boots are dry, ensure to get into all the corners around the tongue etc
If the boots are rough out / oil-tanned leather do not polish them! Go to step 6!!
This is really important because these could be a £600+ pair of boots you are about to fuck and you will have one pissed owner in front of you.
Grab chosen polish – double-check it’s the right colour
Don’t flambé it – some like to light the polish to make it all liquid. This is good theatre but bad for boots – you are burning off the good chemicals. If you want to add some ‘theatre’ have a separate polish you use to do this.
Apply a thin layer over the boot – can use cloth or fingers (my preferred method – though gloves are recommended due to the chemicals in the polish)
Less is more, apply and spread over the entire boot
Avoid clumps of polish
Thin to win!
Apply in small circles and spread it out – make sure it’s even across the boot
4/ Quick Shine
Grab a horsehair brush – watch for polish colours! Don’t mix & match.
Use fast & light strokes to spread and thin the polish
Be methodical to ensure you work the entire boot – not just the toe cap!
You can be theatrical – two brushes if you like
Work over the entire boot, and then repeat
5/ High Shine
Aka elbow grease!
Use a mister bottle to apply a light amount of water over the polish
Then grab t-shirt/buff cloth and work fast and aggressively over the boot.
This isn’t a quick process!
Repeat as needed – after the first water polish you can use spit if you want
For an intermediate shine use the buff cloth after the brush
Or you can use a nylon stocking over the boot after you have done the first spray and buff. Grab a longer piece and pull it back and forth briskly over the boot, or place it over a finger or two and work in small fast circular movements.
Jump to step 7 now
6/ Rough out leathers
If you have polished the boot skip to step 7
Use shoe grease or boot oil – work it all over the boots, and rub it in by hand.
Choose a product suited to the colour of the boot – check it on a small area first.
Work it in – apply a little at a time, allow the leather a few moments to soak it up and then wipe off excess with a dry cloth.
7/ Relace, Rebuckle & Finish
Rebuckle and relace, check lacing and tightness
Use a china pencil to bring up the stitching