Step-by-Step Leather Care:
We suggest cleaning and conditioning your boots every two-or-so months (steps below). However, intermittently cleaning residual dirt from your boots will keep them looking nicer and make the conditioning process less time consuming. We suggest brushing your boots with a horsehair brush and wiping them down with a damp rag regularly.
1) Remove any loose dirt from your boots with a horsehair brush.
2) Wipe down your boots with a damp rag to remove any fine dirt particles.
3) If your boots are still visible dirty, use a mild leather shampoo (outlined below) to clean them more thoroughly. Your leather shampoo should come with directions, but they all work much the same way: add a small amount of water, lather the shampoo with a clean rag, and work into the leather in circular motions. Follow-up any shampoo application by wiping down your boots with a damp rag.
Note: allow your boots to fully dry before moving onto the next steps.
4) Apply conditioner to your boots. Most leather conditioners will come with directions, but applying them is fairly similar across the board. Take a very small amount of conditioner (less than you would think) and rub it into the leather with your finger in small, circular motions. For conditioners that are liquid at room temperature, it can help to apply them with a clean rag, sponge, or brush.
5) Let your boots sit overnight (or at least for a few hours) and then buff them with either a clean horsehair brush or rag.
Note: leather should not change in color significantly when conditioned. If it does you have likely applied to much conditioner; there is not real "fix" for this -- just remember to apply less conditioner next time.
Types of Leather Care Products:
There are several different types of leather care products on the market, and each serves a different purpose. We've categorized them into three primary classes: shampoos, conditioners, and waxes. Each type is described below, and examples of consumer-accessible products are given. The product lists are not meant to be all-encompassing, but we did our best to cover a wide range of available products.
If you are wearing your shoes in a very rugged environment, leather shampoo is an important product to keep them in tip-top shape. If a boot is caked in dirt and mud, wiping them down might won't be sufficient to get them clean; leather shampoos will help to remove stubborn dirt, but will leave the leather dehydrated. If you end up using a leather shampoo it is important to follow it up with a leather conditioner.
I have broken down the product examples into two categories: mild and strong. Mild shampoos are excellent to remove dirt, light stains, and so on. Strong shampoos will do that same, but will also begin to strip-out dyes, oils, waxes, polishes, and other finishes. Strong shampoos are notneeded for run-of-the-mill maintenance and should be used sparingly.
Examples: Various brands of saddle soap (mild), Saphir Renomat (strong), Bick 1 (strong)
This pair of Cranberry Horse Rumps had been worn for around three months without any treatment. They were then brushed, wiped down with a damp rag, and conditioned with Bick 4.
Conditioners are definitely the most important leather care product. Without them your boots will dry out, which will lead to cracking and deterioration over time. There is no steadfast rule regarding how often you should condition your leather footwear, but we suggest every two months as a guideline. Once you are in the habit of conditioning your boots you'll start to notice when they are becoming dry, which is the really the best way to determine if they need conditioning.
Every conditioner is different but application remains fairly consistent. The easiest way is to a put a small amount on the tip of your finger rub it into the leather in small, circular motions. I suggest conditioning the tongue (or somewhere else that is not highly visible) first so that you get a sense of how much conditioner to use. There should be little to no darkening of the leather post-conditioning, although vegetable tanned leathers (particularly undyed veg-tans) will darken more than other leathers. If the leather darkens significantly then you most likely applied too much conditioner, for which there is no real "fix." Boots will dry-out with wear, so we suggest wearing them harder than ever in the event that they have been over-conditioned.
Suedes, nubucks, roughouts, and other textured leathers can be difficult to apply conditioner to. Many people do not condition these types of leathers as they are prone to changing in appearance during the process, but there are several tricks that can be used to mitigate this. If your boots are unlined (all Trumans are vamp lined or fully lined) then you can apply the conditioner to the interior of the boot. Some leather conditioners come in a spray bottle, which makes application to the exterior of the boot very easy. Although this may affect the appearance of the leather, it will do so more evenly than applying by hand. Use a horsehair brush to even-out the appearance of the leather once it has been conditioned; if it still appears uneven, use a suede-brush to further even the leather.
Examples: Lexol Leather Conditioner, Huberd's Shoe Oil, Red Wing Boot Oil, Neatsfoot Oil, Bick 4, Venetian Shoe Cream1, Saphir Renovateur2
Leather waxes are used to impart water resistance into leather and otherwise protect then from heavy wear. Unless you are working in your boots everyday, chances are such treatments will be overkill. Using wax products on leather will often result in it darkening and losing a lot of its character, so we suggest wearing your boots without a wax treatment to help you decide if you'd like to apply one.
Application of these products is done in much the same way as conditioners, but the amount that is applied is generally more generous. I suggest using the directions on the back of the product you are using to achieve the best results. Many people heat their boots after applying the wax (or heat the wax before applying it to their boots), but this does not help and is much more likely to harm the leather.
Examples: Various products referred to as "dubbin" or "wax," Huberd's Shoe Grease3, Obenauf's Leather Protector4, Burgol N-Juchtenfett5
1,2 Both Venetian shoes cream and Saphir Renovateur are multi-purpose products. They contain conditioner to keep leather from drying out, but also have some polishing waxes to give boots a mild shine.
3,4,5Huberd's Grease, Obenauf's LP, and Burgol N-Juch are primarily made with protective waxes, but there is a small amount of leather conditioner within them. We do not suggest using these products as a primary conditioners.
Leather Care Accessories:
Shoe trees have two primary uses: to help shoes maintain their shape while they are not being worn, and to wick moisture out of the leather.
Most shoe trees are constructed in the same way -- they have a spring-loaded shaft to ensure the tree fits the shoe length-wise, and they have a cedar toe to fill up the shoe width-wise. The toes of some shoe trees are adjustable in width, which is marginally better due to the fact that the width of the shoe is better accounted for. Some shoe trees are designed with a hinge rather than a spring, but that makes them less adjustable.
Cheaper shoe trees will be made of plastic rather than cedar. Although these will still help shoes to maintain their shape, the moisture-absorbing benefit of cedar will not be present.
Some high-end shoemakers offer lasted shoe trees, which are designed to fit perfectly into shoes made on their lasts. These are the best shoe-trees if you own a pair of their shoes, but few people use them.
Horsehair brushes should be one of your most-reached-for leather care tools. The soft bristles will not scratch delicate leathers, but still have enough rigidity to be useful.
These brushes can be used to dust-off your shoes, remove caked on dirt, or buff your shoes post-conditioning. If you plan to use one of these brushes to clean your shoes it is good practice to have a second brush for all polishing, buffing, etc.
Suede brushes are generally multi-piece tools. They will generally have several soft-rubber heads, nylon metal head, and a large rubber head. If you are trying to remove a stain or scuff from suede, nubuck, roughout, or other nappy leathers, we suggest using a horsehair brush before moving onto the softest head on your suede brush. If the mark won't come out with these, then move onto the sturdier portions of the suede brush.