This document is not intended to be, nor presented as, a definitive guide to Bootblacking, boot care or leather care. It is just a document that shares my passion for leather and its preservation, and outlines my experiences and suggestions for its care. There is a lot I don’t know about yet, but am keen to find out more and learn.
What do you need?
Boots! No trainers, no ugg’s and no crocs. Boots come in so many different styles, finishes, sizes, heights, hides and colours. In this guide I hope to share my approach to caring for them, if a particular style / colour / finish of boot isn’t covered here please get in touch and I can see if I can help and then add some more to this guide for the next person.
Tools of the Trade
In addition to the products you will be using to prepare, clean, condition and protect your boots and leather you need some equipment – your basic tools of the trade. Here I have outlined the essentials I alw
ays have in my kitbag.
It is important to remember you don’t need to spend a fortune to start your kit bag. Invest in some essentials, the horse hair brushes, but you don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy buffing cloths etc.
Bootblacking is about work, effort and commitment – products that say they make work easier, quicker or one stop aren’t what you want or need. We don’t cheat … elbow grease is what we do.
- BrushesApproximately 15cm / 6in brushes, these are best following the tradition of being 100% horsehair for smooth application and shine. You will need one for each colour of boots you work, most boots are black so that makes it easier to start.
- ClothsCloths for buffing a shine, dusting and wiping. Cut up t-shirt’s make great cloths for boot care! Cheap and plentiful.
- Nylon StockingsThese are awesome for buffing and really building a shine, they are just as effective as an eCloth but a whole lot cheaper and easier to replace. And you will be surprised just how effective they are at giving your boots and emergency shine.
- Water Spray BottleRinsing boots, your hands, and really working that extra shine with the polish.
- Wet WipesMore for your hands then anything else, particularly if you apply product with your fingers.
- Tooth brushHave a bunch of these in your bag for working around the soles, for getting into crevises and down the side of tongues etc. Again be aware of polish colours, so you may need several if you are looking after different colour boots and there is a risk of getting polish on them.
- Head torchIf your working in a dark bar, dungeon or corner you need to see what you are doing!
- Towelsfor wiping and drying, have some in different colours to match the task. For example after cleaning a boot use a red towel to wipe off the soap / cleaner, then a black towel after you rinse it. A “dirty” and “clean” towel for wiping down.
- Cigarette Lighter (or three)These are great for getting rid of loose stitching. You just want cheap basic lighters not cigar / jet lighters. I say three because the smokers will always want to borrow them and forget to return it.
- China PencilsFor bringing the colour back to contrasting stitching, usually a stock of yellow and white surfice, and have a pencil sharpener too!
And finally, something to keep it all in! This kit bag is going to be very important to you so make sure you have something safe, secure and specific to keep it all in. I personally have a Stanley Fatmax toolkit bag that works really well – the shoulder strap is good for carrying to and from bars.
Note on product use: Test any products you are using for the first time on old leathers or parts that wont be seen to ensure suitability first.
Preparation is key to so many things, and you need to start with clean boots. So the first product you need in your kit bag is a leather cleaner.
- The first port of call for many for a leather cleaner is saddle soap, and it can and will bring up your boots to look great and get rid of of dirt, sweat, bodily fluids etc from your boots. But this is designed for saddles and horse tack.
- It is usually a soap combined with oils and / or waxes such as neatsfoot oil, mink oil and lanolin. It is important to be aware of the type of saddlesoap you purchase, many will be too harsh for the types of leather used to make most fetish gear. For boots some of the saddle soaps may leave a fine layer of oil / wax that will make getting a really good shine much more difficult.
- A glycerine based soap / saddle soap is much more suited to our needs as this will be kinder to the leather and also help to condition it. But that doesn’t mean you should skip applying a conditioner to the leather after cleaning!
- Some saddle soap / leather cleaners come in solid form, these you add some water to and apply with a brush or sponge. Whilst others (such as Lexol Cleaner) are available in liquid form in a bottle or spray.
Polish is used to protect, waterproof, and extend the life of boots. It has one very big difference to dubbin which is often referred to in boot care … It is used to add shine and improve the appearance of the leather.
- There are many many brands of polish available, and it is up to you to choose your favourite brand. My personal is Lincoln Shoe Polish from the USA.
- Polish does have one property that is important to discuss … They are flammable products.
- Quite often this is used by some, lighting the polish to warm / melt it to change its consistency to make more liquid. This is a great but of theatre … Particularly if done in a bar or club. But it should really stay as that. When you light the polish some of the essential chemicals within the polish are being burned away, this could change the effectiveness of the polish and the finish.
This is only a basic guide to cleaning, polishing and maintaining your boots. Please read all the way through it before you think about cleaning or polishing a boot. Input and questions are both appreciated and encouraged!
1/ Inspect & Prepare
- Weather your own boots, your Sirs or the boots of someone who has asked you to work their boots you always start the same way. Look at them, feel them, inspect them.
- Unlace & unbuckle – note how laced, and how far buckled – you want to return them in the same way, some Bootblacks put laces around neck whilst working. Just keep them out of the way and safe.
- Now inspect the boots, look for any damage or issues and make the owner aware of them. As you continue to inspect the boots don’t just use your eyes, touch and feel the leather … Get to know the boots.
- Now that you know the boots you are working with, find out what work you are doing. Do they want them just cleaning, a quick shine, a full shine, a mirror shine on them. What about any stitching, is that to be brought up to its original colour etc.
- Dust / clean the boots with a dry cloth – get into the tongue of the boot and all the hidden corners, throughout the cleaning process make sure you get under any buckles etc and check both sides of eyelets.
- Use saddle soap – not too much!
- Use small dauber brush to work into the leather and get into the hidden areas and also work up a bit of a lather
- Use toothbrush in seams, gutter, tight areas
- Wipe down with a ‘dirty’ towel / cloth, spray down to rinse off and wipe clean with a ‘clean’ towel / cloth – I use red for first wipe and then black for the 2nd wipe
- If needed use a 3rd towel / cloth to ensure boots are dry, ensure get into all the corners around the tongue etc
- If the boots are rough out / oil tanned leathers do not polish them! Go to step 6!!
- Grab chosen polish – double check it’s the right colour
- Don’t flambé it – some like to light the polish to make it all liquid. This is good theatre but bad for boots – you are burning off the good chemicals.
- Apply thin layer over the boot – can use cloth or fingers (my preferred method – though gloves are recommended due to the chemicals in the polish)
- Less is more, apply and spread over the entire boot
- Avoid clumps of polish
- Thin to win!
- Apply in small circles and spread it out
- The polish will be dull – make sure it’s even across the boot
4/ Quick First Shine
- Grab horsehair brush – watch for polish colours! Don’t mix & match.
- Use fast & light strokes to spread and thin the polish
- Be methodical to ensure you work the entire boot – not just toe toe cap!
- You can be theatrical – two brushes if you like
- Work over entire boot, and then repeat
5/ High Shine
- Aka elbow grease!
- Use a mister bottle to apply a light amount of water over the polish
- Then grab t-shirt / buff cloth and work fast and aggressively over the boot.
- This isn’t a quick process!
- Repeat as needed – after first water polish you can use spit if you want
- For an intermediate shine use the buff cloth after brush
- Or you can use a nylon stocking over the boot after you have done the first spray and buff. Grab a longer piece and pull back and forth briskly over the boot, or place over a finger or two and work in small fast circular movements.
- Jump to step 7 now
6/ Rough out leathers
- If you have polished the boot skip to step 7
- Never polish!
- Use shoe grease or boot oil – work it all over the boots, rub in by hand. Choose a product suited to the colour of the boot – check it on a small area first.
- Work it in – apply a little at a time, allow the leather a few moments to soak it up and then wipe off excess with a dry cloth.
7/ Relace, Rebuckle & Finish
- Rebuckle and relace, check lacing and tightness
- Use china pencil to bring up the stitching
In Bars, Scene & Community
A Bootblack is not a sub / slave or servant – they are a Bootblack. Many are also Master’s, Sir’s or Daddy’s so be respectful!
They are an important part of the community doing an amazing job – several times I have heard them referred to as the “alcmemists, carers and magicians of the leather community” keeping guys boots and leathers in superb condition.
Bootblacks are seen at many event nights in bars around America, unfortunately there aren’t many here in the UK. They are people who have a passion for looking after peoples boots, gear and by that the communities heritage and something that is such an important part of it – the gear we wear.
Many bootblacks will have a specific chair they use for working in, a raised platform for you to sit in and rest your boots on whilst giving them lots of access to get all around them.
Bootblacks are very rarely paid for the services by the bars or event hosts. The equipment, tools and products they use they often buy and provide themselves out of their own pockets. Something really important, particularly those outside the USA, to be aware of is that you really should tip your Bootblack. Yes they do it because they love to do it and get something from it, but they also invest a lot of time, effort and importantly money in their kit and products.
Offering them a tip at the end of a service that keeps your boots looking great, but more importantly keeps them in great condition so they last longer, is a small price! Depending on the amount of time, products used, and service provided I would generally expect a tip to be around £5 to £10 on average, upto £20+ if leathers are being cleaned and conditioned too or they are particularly big boots or boots in need of a lot of work.
Protocols for Sitting in a Bootblack Chair
This protocol was not written by me, nor do I take any credit. As far as I know it was originally written by a member of the Bootblack Brigade website that has now shutdown unfortunately. It is still highly relevant, and incredibly important:
- Many Bootblacks depend on their tips to help with expenses of supplies, gas, etc., as well as donating a portion of thier tips to a charity so please tip the Bootblack generously!
- NO ONE has the right to demand service a Bootblack and ALL Bootblacks reserve the right to decline service. Bootblacks can and will turn down service if you become belligerent or are just an asshole. Bootblacks will protect each other. Ass-hats are not tolerated and will be blacklisted through word of mouth.
- Do Not Touch the Bootblack without asking permission first.
- Ask permission to touch ANY items in a Bootblack kit.
- Do Not assume the Bootblack is a submissive or slave (calling a Bootblack “boy” will not end well for you if they are indeed a Daddy or Sir). Bootblacking is a skill set and not about gender or honorifics.
- Do Not assume the Bootblack is here to satisfy your sexual boot fantasy. (That being said negotiate a scene prior to sitting in their chair).
- Just because the person before you had their boots licked DOES NOT mean yours will be licked also.
- It is the Bootblack’s decision who they will service and when and the decision is FINAL.
International Mr Bootblack
Started in 1993 and runs throughout the International Mr Leather weekend in Chicago
A Brit (Nick Elliott) won in 2012 as an ex pat but never someone from / representing a bar or club from the UK
Leather is natural – it dries out, it gets dirty, and it can crack and break down and eventually fall apart. We need to maintain it!
How often have I seen coming up to a big rubber event the rubbermen & rubberpups talking about cleaning their rubbers, vivishining them and getting them ready and looking the best for the event – countless. How often have I seem guys talking about their leather the same way? About 5 or 6. And a big reason is that people don’t really know how to clean or maintain their leather or know what products to use.
Dry cleaning leather is possible, but you have to trust your dry cleaner and it is very expensive as must only be done by a specialist leather dry cleaner. And it can be a very costly mistake if done badly!
To maintain your leathers you need to shampoo and condition them, it’s a fairly simple two stage process.
Step 1: Clean
Use either saddle soap or leather cleaner (Lexol for example). I would then use a small dauber brush to work a lather with some cleaner and water and work it all over the leather, remembering to get under any flaps or epilets etc.
Only do oneside at a time, if you need to turn the leather over (for example doing some jeans) clean, rinse and dry one side before turning it over to do the other.
Once lathered and cleaned, wipe the cleaner off, then spray over some water from a mister bottle and wipe it clean again with a fresh towel. Again ensure you get under any collars or flaps etc. You want to fully rinse the leather of any cleaner.
Step 2: Condition
Take your chosen leather conditioner and work it into the leather, I would use either Hubbards Show Grease or Lexol Leather Conditioner. Again complete one side at a time before continuing.
If the leathers are quite dry or it has been a while since you last treated them leave the conditioner for a few minutes to soak in and fully hydrate the leather and then with a fresh towel / cloth wipe away any excess conditioner.
Leave to fully dry before packing away.
My fascination with leather started at an early age – bikers. It always starts with the bikers. And then as I grew up and discovered my cock and what it was used. That fascination turned into more of an obsession – wearing it, admiring it, using it. I now use the term Leather to describe sexuality, kink exploration and BDSM interests, it is where it all started for me and is my primary focus. My actual move into BDSM sex came in my early 20’s, the Internet was very helpful. Starting off in a more submissive role, I found that as my knowledge and experience grew I enjoyed the Dominant role and allowed that to flourish. But I can still submit to the right man when the chemistry hits.
When visiting various Leather events in the USA I discovered the art of the Bootblack, these men and women who care for our boots and leather. Really struck me and became something that appealed – yes you can get a Top / Dom and be a Bootblack! And so I continue to learn and develop my skills and craft.
I am now a forty-something man who’s aim in life is to grow old disgracefully, and to help others explore their own sexualities and to know that you don’t have to confirm to any given protocol or stereotype. And I also love introducing people to their sexuality, showing them that Leather and BDSM doesn’t just mean pain, it’s about control and sensations. The biggest thrill for me is the high someone can get from their first experience in the dungeon, or when they push their limits that little bit further then they thought and try something new.