Boot Care Made Simple: Wax Your Boots When They Need It

As I mentioned in a previous article, I finally pulled the trigger on a pair of Red Wing boots. I spent quite some time mulling over this decision, 3-4 years in fact. Now that I have them, of course I need to further over-analyze how to care of them.

Shoe shining and shoe care seems as mystical an art as shaving with a safety razor and badger brush. It seems complicated and esoteric at first, but when you really dig deep into it, you realize… it really is.

Just like getting that perfect shave with classic tools, everyone has their own opinion on what to do to break in a pair of leather boots and how to condition and maintain the leather. Digging around the internet, people say to take a shower wearing your boots, or filling them with hot water and then wearing them around until they dry…. Seriously?

Other experts maintain that “a monthly routine of ritualistically cleaning them by candlelight and applying various scented oils is a must”. Bragging about the frequency in which they clean and shine their boots, like it’s a contest.

I was almost ready to climb aboard, figuring the $280 price tag meant I was agreeing to buy into this maintenance schedule. It’s akin to buying a Mercedes or Land Rover. You don’t buy one thinking you don’t have to pay for $100 dollar oil changes. You buy one because you can afford the costly parts and regular maintenance. Right?

But then, I remembered these are freaking Red Wings. These boots were made to take a beating. Especially being Chelsea Ranchers. These were designed for ranch owners to wear out on the farm, doing chores and checking livestock. They’re meant to get dirty, scuffed, and muddy. These boots are cattle dogs. Not poodles. They aren’t supposed to be pampered, cuddled, and lovingly massaged by a Swedish dude named Lars. The last thing I want these boots to look like are the ones worn by this hipster on Newbury Street, rocking his one-of-ten pairs of “lumberjack boots” that have never met anything besides pavement.

Hipster: Siri, where’s the nearest forest? Siri: The nearest forest is 235 miles away from you. Hipster: Great, get me directions. But first, I have to go home and change my shoes.” (image source:


And so, with that, they won’t be. Your’s don’t have to either. Make a stand!

Upon coming to this decision, I promptly deleted the $50 shopping cart I’d assembled on Amazon. Filled with all sorts of snake oils, creams, polishes, and every size of imported horse-hair brush (from Pony to Clydesdale). Instead, I’m buying some cheap brushes (one dirty and one clean) and a tub of Red Wing boot oil. I’ll throw on one coat to start, and see how far it takes me. If its a month from now or a year from now, I’m just going to watch the leather for when its dry, give it another coating of oil. If the boots look especially dirty, a couple quick swipes with the brush and I’ll be on my way.

This is one of those times where I have to step back and un-complicate things. Maybe you should too. If you’re reading this, chances are you might be neck deep in uber-boot care fever. Take a break for a moment and realize what you’re doing. Have a snickers, you little man-diva. You’re creating for yourself a new chore of caring your boots instead of wearing them.

I forget sometimes that things need character. Cast iron skillets need a patina. Work pants need dirt. Hands need scars. Boots shouldn’t be any different.

To see how this mentality has faired for me and my kickers, check out Boot Care Made Simple: Part Deux

Tags from the story


  • I too have heard every imaginable way of breaking in a par of boots, most of the ways have a grain of truth to them but are a lot of hassle. My technique is a little different (and the same gloves and knife sheaths) all you need is a decent sized tub of one of the outdoor boot waxes (the ones with silicon in work well for me) and a source of heat, a paint stripping gun is overkill, the hob of a gas cooker works well. With a clean pair of boots cover the boots in wax, literally as think as you can smear the stuff on, then warm them over the flame until the stuff sinks in, repeat as many times as you have the patience/wax for. Done. Your leather is now protected.

    Shaping the boots to be a better fit couldn’t be any easier: you need whiskey and eight hours uninterrupted peace. Drink the whisky while wearing the boots, fall into a deep sleep while wearing the boots. Take the boots off and leave them to air in a coolish place. Da-Dah! you’ve now shaped the boots to your feet just like fire-forming a case to a chamber! Another waxing at this point will also help.

    The most important thing is NEVER try to speed up the drying out of a pair of leather boots, if they dry too quickly ie by a fire or on a radiator they will crack.

    I bought a pair of Lundhags last summer, previously to that I wore a pair of Redwings that lasted for about 15 years.

    • Sbw-
      Thanks for the advice! I plan on putting that to use. Using heat to help melt the boot treatment sink is something I’ve heard almost unanimously. So ill give that a shot when applying mink oil (mix of mink, lanolin, and silicone). It makes sense to me, as you’re liquefying the material to be absorbed.

      Although I’ve never heard of the whiskey based boot treatment, that also makes sense to me. I also assume that only a fine single malt should be used in this method. Nothing but the best for a quality pair of boots..

      Hope your new boots are treating you well. I hope mine start treating me well eventually too – they still feel like a pair of bricks! 🙂


Leave a Reply