Sometimes you need to make your steel toe boots a little bit wider; fortunately, it’s possible!
Maybe your boots got soaked and shrunk a little bit, or you’re wearing thicker socks in the winter that create discomfort.
Whatever your reason, today we’ll cover the ways to do it.
Don’t assume that discomfort is a must while wearing steel toe boots; it’s simply not true. Now let’s look at the ways to widen.
Can I Widen My Steel Toe Boots?
Yes, and if you’re even asking that question, you almost certainly should do so. Poorly fitted work boots can cause pain in the foot, but that pain can also migrate to other areas of the body, including the back!
Keep in mind, maybe your boots fit when you bought them, but something about the boots has changed.
Leather can shrink as it gets wet and dries again.
This is even a prime method used to form fit and break in cowboy boots. It’s great when used as a method, but it can happen accidentally too.
There’s also the chance that your foot has changed shape over time, and it needs more space than the boot has to offer. That may seem like a crazy concept, but it can happen that our feet morph, either naturally or as a result of the poorly fit boot!
You might also be interested to know whether steel toe work boots can cause foot problems. We have an article dedicated to that.
Can you Widen a Steel Toe Cap?
Not really no. The purpose of this article is to present methods of widening a work boot that incorporates a steel toe cap.
The aim is not to stretch the steel toe cap as this would a) prove incredibly difficult and b) beat the object of having a steel toe cap in the first place.
Our key focus is on the leather and pinch points.
You might be interested in knowing more about how steel toe boots should actually fit correctly.
How to Widen Steel Toe Boots: Step 1 is MOST Important!
There are several ways to widen steel toe boots. Some methods use mechanical tools, some use hand tools, some use heat, while others use ice (yes, that’s correct).
There isn’t one “correct” way to widen your footwear, but rather, several methods that you can use.
I will say that all the methods I will detail are helped by stretching sprays and leather conditioners.
These mixtures and salves can moisturize and mobilize the leather in your boots before stretching, so you get more bang for your buck with your efforts.
Make no mistake, this should be your first step, not the stretching itself.
Using these products will also substantially reduce the likelihood of popping a seam on the Goodyear welt (or any welt for that matter) or ripping the leather.
Yes, while we often think of leather as a material that’s almost unrippable, it’s not true.
Even leather can tear, and it’s particularly vulnerable when it’s been dried out and put through the wringer, as most work boots are.
Don’t get overeager to get the job done, or your next task will be buying a new pair of boots altogether!
Widening Step One: Boot Stretching Spray
Stretching spray is essentially just rubbing alcohol, but the boot brands that make their own formula attest that there’s something they put in there that makes for a superior product.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to spend the extra cash or go to the medicine cabinet.
I’m of the opinion that with something as valuable to me as a pair of steel toe work boots, I’ll shelve my skepticism for a moment and pay a couple of extra bucks.
Being perfectly straightforward, normally I don’t, but this is a special instance.
Widening Step One: Leather Conditioner
Leather conditioner is a bit more dynamic of a material than sprays.
There are a variety of creams, salves, waxes, all of which serve the purpose of preventing leather from getting dry and brittle.
Going into all the different types of conditioner available is another article in itself!
It’s a good idea to have a conditioner on hand as part of regular boot maintenance.
For this process, I’d classify it as a must-have item.
You’ll be able to get some stretch without using a leather conditioner, but the results are night and day between using it and going without.
Widening Step One: USE BOTH!
Before getting into stretching, you’re going to have to clean your steel toe boots to apply anything to the leather.
It’s not a long process; just don’t throw them in the dryer afterward.
Once they’re clean, I advise applying the leather conditioner for a couple of days in a row before getting into the stretching.
You don’t need to rewash the boots after each day you use them.
Wash them once, dry them properly, then just wipe them down with a damp rag at the end of the day and apply the leather conditioner afterward.
On the day of the stretching, then apply the stretching spray about an hour before the process.
You want to give the spray a little time to be absorbed.
Boot Widening Method #1: Boot Stretcher / Widener
The most controlled way to widen your boots is by using a boot widener.
This is a mechanical device that you can purchase in good shoe stores or online.
Think of it as having a shoe tree but with a long handle.
If you’re going this method, I advise getting a good wooden shoe stretcher, not plastic, as they break easily.
Simply insert the tool and crank it until you begin to feel some resistance.
A good boot widener will actually have little inserts that can be positioned to deal with particularly problematic areas of the boot.
Sometimes the entire width of the boot isn’t an issue, just one or two areas.
If this is the case for you, this is absolutely the best method available, as it gives the highest level of control over where and how much of the boot gets widened.
Remember, take it easy with the first session.
You can always repeat this process, but you can’t unstretch something as easily as you can stretch it further.
The goal isn’t to tear your poor boots in two; just give them a little encouragement to be bigger than they are currently.
Boot Widening Method #2: Ice Method
Yes, you can also use the strange properties of H2O to help widen your boots.
Simply fill a bag with water, get all the excess air out and seal it.
Throw the bag in the boot and throw the boot in the freezer overnight.
The water will expand as it freezes and so will your boot!
I advise starting small and seeing what kind of results you get.
Granted, you want to make sure there’s enough water in the bag so that when the ice expands, it goes out instead of going up through the throat of the boot.
It’s just unwise to fill the boot entirely and get a far wider result than you intended.
This method is rudimentary, but as long as you have a plastic bag lying around, and who doesn’t, it’s free.
Boot Widening Method #3: Heat – Use with caution
After letting the stretching spray and leather conditioner absorb, grab a hairdryer.
Put the boot on, position the hairdryer about five or six inches away from the boot’s surface, and turn it on.
As the boot warms, work the problem areas with your foot from the inside.
For anyone that’s already thinking, “if a hairdryer is good, a heat gun must be great,” stop that.
The goal is not to char the leather, just to loosen it up. If you use too high a temperature or put the hairdryer too close to the leather, you’re just going to cook away the stretching spray.
If at any point you feel that your foot is hurting from the heat, you’re way too close. You should just feel a creeping, growing warmth that never reaches the point of discomfort.
Boot Widening Method #4: Hand Tools
Broom or shovel handles can be used to get leverage against the side of the boot and widen it in this method.
I’m not a huge fan of this method as it can really wear on the throat and other parts of the uppers in ways that weren’t intended.
In a pinch, pun intended, this method can help, but I’m wary of doing more damage than good in this instance.
I can think of hand tools I’ve got, a very wide pair of pliers used for crimping sheet metal, that would work perfectly.
This tool I have in mind gives way more control over the areas that are getting pressure and which are left alone.
This tool is very specific, so I can’t assume everyone has access to one of these. Sorry!
Boot Widening Method #5: Foot Power
This is hardly a method but rather a concerted effort to “work” the leather of the boot with your foot while it’s reacting to the stretching spray and leather conditioner.
This can be done at home while sitting at a dinner table, on a couch, at a desk, etc.
This is the most tedious and time-consuming method, but it might be the best in many ways.
You can be sure that you’re not going to widen the boot more than you’d like it to be, and it’s almost free, besides the time and effort.
Consider This After Widening Your Boots
While all these methods do work, it’s important to trust your feet.
What I mean by that is, if they still hurt after several widening sessions, the boots might simply be too small.
As I noted earlier, feet change, and boots shrink.
Sometimes it’s just time for a new pair of boots.
If you’re still feeling pain after trying one or more methods, head to your local footwear provider and see if there’s a pair that fits your foot better.
Don’t Stay In Pain
The most important takeaway from all of this is don’t work in pain.
Foot pain may seem minor, but it can have serious and long-lasting effects that are, in some cases, irreversible.
Take care of your body by paying attention to the work gear you’re wearing.
Regardless of whether you have a pair of cowboy boots or composite toe boots, the process mentioned above will be similar, if not the same.