How To Clean Dr. Martens (Leather Upper, Shoelaces, And Sole)

Despite being highly durable, your Dr. Martens still need some maintenance in order to age well. This is especially required if you wear them frequently in areas with lots of mud and dirt. If you want to restore them to their fresh-from-the-box state, there are a few easy ways to do so!

Cleaning your Dr. Martens would mean removing dirt and applying conditioner to the leather upper, washing the shoelaces in soapy water, and scrubbing the soles. Almost all of the items needed in cleaning can be found in your home— with the exception of leather conditioners that you can also buy from Dr. Martens stores.

Need a step-by-step guide to doing all the things I mentioned above? Well, you're on the right page! Here, I'm going to tell you how to refurbish your docs so they'll look almost brand new. Let's get started!

Steps on how to clean your Dr. Martens

While cleaning a pair of docs is not a herculean task, some people forget to clean the laces and soles because they are too focused on the upper. Remember that if you really want a pristine-looking pair of boots, all its parts should be maintained, and they should smell pleasant, too!

To avoid skipping any parts of your docs, I divided this section into three: cleaning the leather upper, laces, and shoes. I'll also share some tips on removing stubborn dirt from the sole's grooves and a lot more!

Dr. Martens Men's Cabrillo Chukka Boot, Black Wyoming, 9 M US

Dr. Martens Men's Cabrillo Shoes

Cleaning the leather upper

From the name itself, the leather upper is the upper part of your docs that is made of leather. It is glued or stitched to the sole, and it covers your toes, top and side of the foot, and the back of your heels. 

Here's how you can clean the leather upper and give it a lustrous sheen:

Step 1. Remove the laces from your docs

Removing the laces will help you easily clean the parts near the eyelets and gain easy access to the interior of your boots. Later in this guide, I'll give you the details on how to clean your laces as well.

Step 2. Brush off all the dust and dirt

Some skip this step and proceed to wipe the shoes with a damp cloth, but that's not a good idea. There is some stubborn dirt that is best removed by a brush, like dried mud. You can use a shoe brush or nail brush to remove dirt from your docs. Do not skip the yellow stitching and inside the tongue when brushing.

Step 3. Wipe your shoes with a damp cloth

After brushing, that's when you should wipe your Dr. Martens with a damp cloth. This ensures that there will be no more dust. For the yellow stitching to stand out again, use a damp toothbrush and brush it until the discoloration is removed.

Step 4. Wash your docs with the appropriate cleaner

I won't judge you if you skip this step. Some people aren't really comfortable using soap with their docs. But if you want to try, you can use Bick 1 Leather Cleaner. 

You only need to apply a penny-sized amount on a damp cloth or brush and then work it around your boots in a circular motion. Be careful not to apply too much cleaner because it can damage your docs.

Once there is already a light foam on your boots, wipe with a damp cloth to remove them.

Dr. Martens, 2976 Leather Chelsea Boot for Men and Women, Cherry Red Smooth, 11 US Women/10 US Men

Dr. Martens Unisex 2976 Smooth Leather Boots

Step 5. Air dry your boots

Let your boots air dry for around 30 minutes. Never put it in a dryer because the heat can potentially melt the glue in your docs. Never put it in direct sunlight as well because this will cause excessive wear. 

If you want to air-dry your docs fast, try putting it near a fan or the vent of your refrigerator.

Step 6. Apply some leather conditioner

If you used leather cleaner for your docs, you would definitely need to apply some leather conditioner. 

Like washing your hands with soap, using a cleaner can strip the natural oils from the leather and cause some cracks and dryness, which can significantly lessen the durability of your docs.

Before you go buy whatever appears first in Google when you search for leather conditioners, know that there are suggested conditioners according to the type of Dr. Martens leather used.

  • Patent lamper leather: This waterproof leather with a glossy surface is recommended to be conditioned with Ultra Protector. However, some people say there is no need since this type of leather does not dry or crack.
  • Smooth leather: Smooth leather that came from corrected grain from Argentina would look new by applying Wonder Balsam.
  • Nappa and Virginia leather: Docs made with this smooth and supple leather needs a good application of Wonder Balsam, too.
  • Gaucho/Crazy horse leather: This iconic leather that features distressed brown tans would also need a generous amount of Wonder Balsam.
  • Vegan leather: Since vegan leather is technically made of microfiber, which is a polymer-synthetic material, it only needs some White Shoe Polish Cream.

In conditioning, the leather using the above products, apply a liberal coat on your docs and massage using a cloth or sponge. Do not skip the hard-to-reach places and let the conditioner dry for 20 minutes.

Dr. Martens Men's 1461 Oxford, Cherry Red, 7 M UK/8 M US

Dr. Martens Men's 1461 Oxford Shoes

Cleaning the soles

The soles are the bottom parts of your boots. It is usually made of two parts– the insole and the outsole. The insole gets direct contact with your feet, while the outsole makes contact with the ground when walking.

It is vital that you clean the insole to prevent unwanted odor, especially if you perspire heavily. To prevent your boots from deteriorating, you should also remove the mud, grime, and dirt from the outsole.

Step 1. Make a dishwashing soap solution

In a bucket or bowl, put a liter of warm water. Add some dishwashing liquid or liquid soap and mix.

Step 2. Scrub the outsole of your Dr. Martens

Get a shoe brush and dip it in soapy water. Scrub the outsoles until all the dirt is removed. If stubborn mud or debris is stuck in the grooves, use a toothbrush to remove them. You can also remove them using tweezers and then go back to brushing.

Step 3. Wipe the soles

Once you are done brushing, wipe the outsole with a damp cloth and air-dry.

Step 4. Create an alcohol mixture

Mix equal parts of isopropyl alcohol and water. If there’s no alcohol that’s readily available, you can use hydrogen peroxide or vinegar instead. Put the mixture in a spray bottle.

Step 5. Spray the insoles

Put the insoles on a flat surface and spray them with the alcohol mixture you made in step 4. Ideally, this should dry quickly.

Step 6. Dry the insoles

Let the insoles dry in a well-ventilated area. This will make your insoles smell fresh and disinfected. Do not put the insoles back to your docs unless it is completely dry.

Dr. Martens, 1460 Original 8-Eye Leather Boot for Men and Women, White Smooth, 9 US Women/8 US Men

Dr. Martens 1460 Smooth Unisex Boots

Cleaning the shoelaces

Even though most Dr. Martens come with spare laces, it is still your responsibility to clean your used ones. Luckily, it is quite easy to do so.

Step 1. Swirl the laces in soapy water

Mix soap (dishwashing or liquid soap) in water. Soak the laces and swirl them around. 

Step 2. Scrub the laces with a toothbrush, rinse, and hang dry

If your laces are extremely dirty, find a used toothbrush to remove all those dirt. Brush it until the actual color of your laces appears. This applies to all types of Dr. Martens laces, whether it be round, flat, or ribbon.

After washing and brushing, rinse your laces in clean water and hang them to dry.

How to clean canvas Dr. Martens

Dr. Martens also offer casual canvas boots and shoes. This is made of traditionally weaved canvas, so it doesn't need tough cleaning. All you have to do is remove dust from your docs using a brush or dry paper towel.

After dusting your canvas docs, make a soap solution using dishwashing liquid and warm water. Get a brush, dip it into the soap solution and gently scrub the fabric of your shoes or boots following the grain of the fabric.

Once you are done, remove the soap residue using a damp paper towel. Let it air-dry for 24 hours, but avoid putting it in direct sunlight.

Dr. Martens 101 Vegan Black UK 3 (US Men's 4, Women's 5) Medium

Dr. Martens Vegan 101 Unisex Fashion Boots

How to clean Vegan Dr. Martens

Among all the types of material used by Dr. Martens, vegan leather is the easiest to clean since it is made of synthetic material. The procedure in cleaning vegan docs is similar to that of canvas docs– using slight soapy water, brush, and paper towel. 

However, if you are always on the go, you can also clean vegan docs with wet wipes. In both cases, though, you should not put your docs in direct sunlight to dry.

Removing the scuffs from your Dr. Martens

Scuffs on your docs cannot be avoided, so you should have an idea of how to deal with them. Generally, you can use household items in removing scuffs if they are only transferred material. But if the scuff marks are abrasive, you would need a good wax polish.

I made a detailed guide about removing scuff marks from your Docs, click here. Check it out to learn about the step-by-step of removing scuffs without damaging your docs.

Polishing your docs

The cleaning process won’t be complete without polishing your Dr. Martens. And the task isn’t that intimidating!

All you got to do is find the right polish. The brand often recommends wax-based polish that has the closest color to the upper of your docs. You can also use neutral-colored polish if that’s the only product available.

Once you have the polish ready, apply it and run it around your docs in a circular motion using a rag. For hard to reach areas of the boots, use a toothbrush or Q-tip in applying. Let the polish sit for 10 to 20 minutes, and then buff the leather using a shoe brush. 

Dr. Martens 2976 Platform Chelsea Boot, Black Polished Smooth, 4 UK (Women's 6 M US/Men's 5 M US)

Dr. Martens Unisex 2976 Slip Resistant Service Boots

Frequently asked questions

Can you wash your Dr. Martens in a washing machine?

Whether you own a leather, canvas, or vegan Dr. Martens, it isn’t a good idea to toss them in the washing machine since this can damage the glue used in the boots and the material of the upper. 

Following the traditional ways of cleaning your docs (i.e., using a damp cloth, applying leather conditioner, etc.) are still your best options.

How can I make my docs smell better?

There are a couple of tricks you can do to make your Dr. Martens smell better. The first is by putting them in an air-tight bag and leaving them in the freezer for three hours. The cold air will help kill the bacteria that cause bad odors.

Another thing that you can do is put lemon peels inside your boots and leave them overnight. An alternative to this is putting two teaspoons of salt inside your boots and letting it eliminate the moisture that causes the foul smell for two hours.

Cleaning your Dr. Martens, final thoughts...

In cleaning your Dr. Martens, there are three areas you should focus on: the leather upper, the laces, and the sole.

To clean the upper leather of your docs, you should do the following:

  • Step 1. Remove the laces from your docs.
  • Step 2. Brush off all the dust and dirt.
  • Step 3. Wipe your shoes with a damp cloth.
  • Step 4. Wash your docs with the appropriate cleaner.
  • Step 5. Air dry your boots.
  • Step 6. Apply some leather conditioner.

Meanwhile, to clean the soles, here are the steps we discussed:

  • Step 1. Make a dishwashing soap solution.
  • Step 2. Scrub the outsole of your Dr. Martens.
  • Step 3. Wipe the soles.
  • Step 4. Create an alcohol mixture.
  • Step 5. Spray the insoles.
  • Step 6. Dry the insoles.

Lastly, here’s how you wash the laces of your docs:

  • Step 1. Swirl the laces in soapy water.
  • Step 2. Scrub the laces with a toothbrush, rinse, and hang dry.

See? Cleaning your docs is not that difficult! Most of the items needed are already in your home. Just remember to be gentle when brushing, so you're docs won't get bruised in the process. Happy cleaning!

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