I am really rather good at getting wet feet. I mean, if there is a boggy puddle – or even just a bog – to find, then I can find it. Especially if that boggy puddle is deeper than the top of my boots and seep in the tops. Yes, I own gaiters, no, I generally don’t wear them. This is all fine in general, I’m good at cleaning my boots and allowing them to dry properly, but sometimes you have no option but to leave them in a bag in the car for a couple of days before I can get anywhere to deal with them properly. And that can leave them a little bit smelly…
Hiking in the rain and the mud.
This is exactly what happened to my relatively new pair of KEEN Terradora leather waterproof hiking boots. They are the leather version of the super light and comfortable Terradoras I reviewed last year, and I absolutely love them. They have become a firm favourite, especially for more urban hikes where I want something comfortable and flexible but also waterproof and hardy. The first ‘big’ hike I took them on was the Harvest Hobble, during which they were completely saturated. Unfortunately I was not able to get them dried out properly inside and left them in the garage where they dried super slowly, leaving them with a lovely damp water smell – okay, stench.
Despite continuing to wear them (once they were actually dry), each time I brought them inside the lovely damp smell would eventually fill the cupboard where I kept them. And no-one wants a smelly cupboard! So I researched how I might get rid of the smell… cue a blog post featuring my findings just in case you have a similarly stinky pair of boots in need of attention.
De-Stinking Hiking Boots
Generally the stench coming from inside your hiking boots is caused by them getting damp and not drying out properly (or drying out super slowly). I can confirm that simply getting them wet again and letting them try properly doesn’t get rid of the old smell, it just comes back until you take action to get rid of the odour. You could try Fabreze or similar, but I found they did nothing that lasted any more than a couple of hours. I needed something much more permanent, and discovered that a few things I already had in my kitchen cupboard were the answer.
First of all, sort the outside of the boots out.
Clean the outside of your hiking boots as soon as possible after getting them dirty as you can. I generally hose them down outside (in my own garden when I get home, a tap at a campsite, or even a hose at a garage forecourt if I need to, they usually don’t mind) to get rid of the all the mud and grime, using a brush lightly if there are any stubborn bits. To be honest I am not bothered if my hiking boots look dirty, this is more about not treading mud and dirt inside my house or car, and trying to prolong the life of my boots as much as I can.
Then let them dry, either outside in the sunshine (oh for a sunny day) or inside in the warm. An airing cupboard or a campsite drying room is perfect if you have one. You may then choose to treat your boots with wax, cream or whichever product you prefer or best matches your boots, although it might be wise to do that after you’ve got rid of the odour in case you get the outside of your boots wet again during the following steps.
The important bit, odour wise, is the inside.
Remove the insoles (assuming they are not sewn in; most hiking boots come with removable insoles so you can remove to clean or replace with custom ones) and laces.
Make sure the inside of your boots are clean. If that means washing them out, do that. You can use a brush lightly to rid them of any stubborn patches. Alternatively, or indeed in addition (but on dry boots), use a bit of antibacterial spray to freshen things up, allowing it to soak into the fabric of the boot, which will help kill any germs that have decided to make your boots their home.
Assuming your boots are not completely saturated, in which case, leave them to dry out a little before doing this bit, pour a decent amount (more than a table spoon) of baking powder into each boot and leave them dry out completely. This can take ages; having them on a low radiator or in an airing cupboard speeds this process up, but it still may take 24 hours.
That’s the inside of your boots done, but it’s likely that most of the smell is actually coming from your insoles. Submerge the insoles and laces in warm water (nicer for your hands) with the smallest drop of washing up liquid. The washing up liquid cuts through the grime and the odour, but you don’t need much or you’ll end up with a big foaming mess. Give the insoles a really good wash, using your fingers to work the soapy water into the fabric. Once you’re happy, rinse the insoles in clean water. Be sure to rinse them out properly, it may take two or three rinses – you don’t want to have boots full of foam the next time you go hiking!
Put your insoles and laces on a low or near a high radiator to dry out fully and reasonably quickly.
Once everything is dry, empty out the baking powder from the boots, replace the insoles and laces, and you are good to go. If there is still a lingering smell, add a decent amount of baking powder again (with the insoles in this time) and leave for another day. I had to do this with the KEENs, but a second lot of baking powder did the trick.
Aaaaand they’re wet and muddy again…!
Since treating my KEENs in this way I have treated two pairs of trainers using the same technique, and both are definitely much better. It’s great finding something that works!
Do you have any hacks for sorting out wet/smelly hiking gear? Have you got your own version of this technique? Let me know in the comments.