Just like anything else you wear, eventually work boots start giving signs that they need to be washed. You know you’ve gotta do something, but you’re not sure what.
Surely the question has come up in your mind: Can I wash my work boots?
In this article I’m going to answer that question and give some tips that’ll help you keep your boots fresher for longer.
I Want a Quick Fix! Can I Throw My Boots In The Washer?
No. You can’t throw your boots in the washer. Doing so will damage the leather and any adhesives used to build the shoe. If it’s a safety toe boot you might even damage the washer itself. You can wash your boots, but it requires you to do it by hand.
You are definitely going to find some articles on the internet that say this is fine, but I advise against it.
This isn’t to say you can’t wash your boots, you definitely can and we even have an article that covers how to do it.
Why Can’t I Throw My Boots in the Washer?
Putting leather boots in the washer subjects them to a level of abuse they’re not designed for. In the washer, the boots are entirely soaked, and then whipped around for anywhere up to an hour. This can begin, or even finish, the process of pulling the boot apart, stitch by stitch.
Keep in mind that leather and the stitching that holds it together are natural materials. Yes, sometimes the stitching is synthetic, but I’m guessing you don’t know that off the top of your head. I’m not going to give any advice that I think could potentially harm your boot.
Why Should I Avoid Machine-Washing Leather?
You should avoid machine-washing leather as it’s a natural material that responds differently when wet. The natural fibers of leather and stitches swell when wet. When swollen, they are more pliable and less structurally sound. It’s best to avoid heavy stress during these times.
Don’t get me wrong, leather’s natural response to water is great if you’re trying to stretch or break in your boots.
In this situation, you don’t have the control over the material, and are essentially throwing caution to the wind.
In the washer your boot is soaked, swollen, soft, and about to be tossed around for the entire wash and spin cycle.
If you still need some imagery to help understand why this is a bad situation, imagine doing this:
Soak your boot, inside and out, with soapy water.
Cover the top of the top of the throat so no water can spill out, and grab a hold of the pull loop.
Now, aggressively swing it around left and right for about 30 minutes.
Don’t be gentle, really let that boot have it!
Finish by dumping the water out and spinning it over your head for another 15 minutes.
That’s the experience your boot is going through.
The fact that boots don’t fall apart after a wash is really a testament to the quality of the products made by the top work boot brands.
Wait Just a Minute! I Bought Waterproof Boots, They’re Machine-Washable…Right?
Just because boots are rated waterproof doesn’t mean you can throw them in the washer. Waterproof only means that they won’t take on water from the outside while being worn. Leather is not an impermeable material and will absorb water if you throw them in the washer.
I’m Not a Leather Guy. Can I Throw My Synthetic Boots in the Washer?
Probably not a good idea! Just because boots have modern synthetic uppers doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s okay to treat them like a T-shirt. While not as destructive as to leather, throwing any type of work boots in the washer won’t be good for them.
The reasons I listed earlier with stitching, the violent whipping around, and the potential damage to the washer all still apply, even with synthetics.
There’s also the greater chance with synthetic uppers that your boots are neither blake stitch or goodyear welt construction methods.
This almost certainly means your boots are probably made with direct attach or cement construction methods, posing a whole new set of problems.
Is It Okay to Wash Cement Construction Boots?
Oh my word, Don’t do it! Washing cement construction work boots can break the adhesive that holds the outsoles and uppers together. While advertised as waterproof, the manufacturers never intended the water to be warm and soapy.
This is from the mouth of someone that bought almost nothing but cement construction boots during his years in the work trades.
Cemented boots have lots of great features, but longevity isn’t one of them.
Once the adhesive seal that holds the uppers and soles together is busted, it’s a race against time until the boots are completely useless.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve held a busted pair together with a healthy amount of duct tape, but I couldn’t advise you to do that.
Can you put steel toe boots in the washer?
Nope, avoid the washing machine for all the reasons mentioned above.
It’ll All Come Out In The Wash: A Summary on Why You Shouldn’t Throw Work Boots in the Washer
The natural fibers of the leather and stitching lose their structure and can come apart.
Any adhesives used in building your boots will decay.
The metal drum of your washing machine isn’t built to do battle with a steel toe cap.
I understand this might not be the information you wanted when you started searching for answers.
Sorry! I sleep better at night knowing that I gave proper information, not the easy path.
Just as it’s necessary to tell customers the difficult truths when they ask for job assessments, I have to do the same here.
I hope this hasn’t turned you off to washing your boots, because I can smell them from here!
In earnest, it’s not too difficult to wash your boots properly in ways that keep them stylish and hygienic tools that will serve you for years.