Sometimes you have the perfect pair of boots…except they’re slightly too small.
Nobody wants to wear a tight shoe let alone work in one.
In this article I will detail some methods that will teach you how to stretch work boots for a better fit.
If you have a new pair of work boots and want to learn how to break into them, then visit this article.
Having owned several pairs of safety footwear in my years as a contractor, I utilized some of the methods you’ll see here when it was necessary.
One of the methods was new to me.
I’ve heard some less savory methods from my union/tradesmen friends, all of whom love to tell you a life hack when it comes to work and work gear.
I omitted some things I’ve seen and heard, as I found them impractical.
“Wear the boots with two pairs of socks for seven days before wearing them to work.”
I’ve never had seven days off from work since I was 14.
Others I found by searching manufacture websites, safety gear websites, and reviewers.
My purpose in writing this is organizing information that is scattered around the web and the world.
I want to make it accessible and digestible so you won’t have to spend hours searching for answers.
The reason why you have boots that don’t fit is irrelevant.
No focusing on the problem, just the solution!
For All Methods
Keep in mind that all the methods I will detail, work best on leather.
Synthetic materials tend to return to their original shape over time, whereas leather can be coaxed into taking a new shape.
With that, let’s dive into the different methods so you’ll know how to stretch work boots.
Specific Toe Types
Stretching your work boots is one thing.
However, what if you have a specific toe cap that you want to stretch?
Products to Assist the Stretch
There are products available that might give your boots enough stretch just with their application and wearing the boots.
If that isn’t enough, they still make an excellent addition to your boot care routine and might prolong the life of your boots.
Leather Conditioner / Mink Oil
Leather conditioner and mink oil are similar in that they hydrate leather, make it softer, and make it more pliable.
They aren’t identical though.
Leather conditioner is usually used on leather products that take less abuse than boots, so it won’t change the color of your boots
Mink oil will darken the color of your boots, and is generally used on leather products that you wouldn’t be concerned with changing color.
Keep this in mind before you start using mink oil on anything leather.
Boot Stretching Spray
Stretching spray is a product that loosens the natural fibers of the leather and allows them to take a new position.
You can purchase this product at a cobbler’s store or online.
If you want to make your own stretching spray, it’s possible to do with rubbing alcohol and water.
That said, I looked through a number of different ‘recipes’ on various sites and message board, and there is no clear consensus on what the proper ratio is.
To protect my boots, I would play it safe and buy a manufactured stretching spray rather than play chemistry with the advice of someone on a message board.
If you were thinking “there’s gotta’ be a tool to stretch my boots,” there is!
It’s called, quite appropriately, a boot stretcher. There are two different styles of boot stretcher in the pictures above.
The first picture on the left helps you stretch the width of the boot, while the second picture on the right helps you stretch the vamp (the area of the boot between the base of the tongue and your toe cap).
The version in the first picture will help you stretch the width of the boot.
Models like this have little peg holes that allow you to insert one of the attachments, stretching particular areas as opposed to stretching the entire boot uniformly.
This can be combined with stretching spray, leather conditioner, or boot oil to achieve maximum effect.
This is helpful, as many people develop bunions, have had injuries that changed the shape of their foot, or just have feet that aren’t the shape the majority of manufactures assume they will be.
I am fortunate not to have this problem with boots, but I do have this issue with T-shirts.
I’m far taller than I am wide, and I really land between sizes.
There’s no solution for me other than getting fat or paying for tailored clothing (HAH!), but a boot stretcher is a solid solution if you have this issue with your work boots.
This is the most controlled method you can use, and I recommend it, however it can cost you in the ballpark of $50 per stretcher (at the time of writing this).
You can find cheaper plastic ones, but the wooden ones will last longer and are more visually appealing instruments to have.
For some reason, men could care less about the beauty of things like a vase, but we appreciate a good looking tool.
Leverage (Broomstick Method)
It’s possible to stretch your boots using leverage, often referred to as the broomstick method.
This is pretty straightforward.
You insert a broomstick (or any strong handle that has a rounded tip such as a mop stick) through the opening in your boot.
Use leverage to put pressure on the problem area with the end of the broomstick.
Like with a boot stretcher, the effectiveness of this method increases with oils, conditioners and sprays.
This is something I would recommend if you’re in a pinch (pun intended), but not as a primary method to solve the problem.
It’s too imprecise, it requires you to beat up the backstay and foxing of your boot (the area above the heel to the top of the boot).
Referring to the diagram, you’re using the backstay and foxing as a fulcrum with the broomstick method so this might have unintended consequences.
There are other ways to use leverage, but as soon as I began to detail them I realized I was just making an improvised boot stretcher.
It would end up costing more time than it’s worth to do this.
Heating your boots will make them more pliable and stretchable.
For this method you’ll need a couple pairs of thick socks, a hairdryer and some leather conditioner for after you’re finished.
WARNING: Only use this method on leather boots.
I don’t know the heat resistance of your synthetic boots, and don’t want to be responsible for ruining your boots if they melt as a result of this method.
First, put the socks on. This serves two purposes, increasing the amount of stretch you’re putting on the boot at the same time you protect your feet from getting burned.
Second, put the boot on. I recommend doing one at a time so your feet don’t get too hot.
Third, point the hair dryer at the areas you want to stretch.
Hold it a few inches back from the surface of your boot for about 30 seconds.
While you’re doing this you can ‘work’ the boot with your foot from the inside if it’s possible.
Fourth, after you’re done, make sure to apply some leather conditioner to your boots.
In addition to heating it, hair dryer will dry out the leather and if not properly rehydrated it could damage the leather in the long run.
I can already hear some of you thinking what I was thinking and the answer is NO, do not use a heat gun to speed up the process.
You might be interested to know more about how to dry your work boots in this article.
You’ll burn the leather, and maybe even your food. The goal is not to scorch the leather, just to heat it.
You can even freeze water as a method to stretch your work boots.
This is the method that caught me by surprise with how clever it is.
Fill a plastic bag with water, and make sure that there’s no pocket of air remaining in the bag.
How much water?
Read through the rest of the instructions for this method and you will understand it’s a variable that depends on your boots, and what area of the boot you’re trying to stretch.
Put the bag in your boots, then put your boots in the freezer.
Whether you’re trying to stretch the toe area, or the heel area, make sure that area is pointed down so the water will flow that way.
Leave the boots in the freezer overnight, and take them out in the morning.
The water will have frozen and the ice expanded to slowly and effectively stretch your boots without the slightest bit of effort on your part.
This is important: you need to let the boots thaw before trying to get that block of ice out, failure to do so could damage the leather and potentially ruin your boots.
Wait 20-30 minutes so the leather has warmed up and is pliable once more.
I hope this has helped you figure out what your next move should be to get your boots as comfortable as possible.
Work is tough, we rely on our boots to make it easier, not more difficult!