Disinfecting stinky leather without damaging it beyond use?
March 27, 2011 2:57 PM   Subscribe

My all-leather combat boots stink. Probably colonized by fungus. Looking to disinfect and wash without murdering the old, already mildly damaged leather.

Pretty much what it says on the front page. I have some nice old Corcoran 10" Field Boots that I am overly fond of. They looked about a year old for 5 straight years, didn't smell of more than mild eau de foot, but then I took a new job, worked long, hot hours, and caught a nasty case of athlete's foot that resisted over-the-counter products. The boots have about another year or so of life left in them, and I'd like to keep them as long as possible for sentimental reasons--I've worn them to a lot of concerts, parties, jobs... a lot of life, basically. But mostly I'm totally poor and would rather buy cleaning product than toss otherwise wearable steel-toes. Still, when you can smell your shoes stankin' when you cross your leg, something must be done.

I tried some anti-odor powder, which works for a day, and then it's back to exactly where I was before hand. It's not killing anything. Plus the outside of the leather is starting to smell.

I've found lots of advice on how to prevent shoe odor from here on out, but as for disinfecting and cleaning porous, all-leather, deep, airless boots, Google and other Ask Mefi's haven't been clear.

Can my boots be disinfected, defungal-ated and cleaned without destroying the old leather?

Here are some of the methods I'm considering and specific questions about them:

* Would freezing the boots kill fungus as well as the bacteria, and kill them completely?

* Would alcohol destroy the leather further, and would it touch any potential fungal infections?

* Does leather harbor fungal infections (I'm 99% sure yes, but it would be 100% before I start considering soaking them in fungicidal liquids).

* Are there particular commercial products that would work on the unfinished interior leather--bowling shoe cleaner? The bowling shoes available for rent at lanes always seem pretty water-tight inside and out.

*Any recommended home brew disinfectant solutions, including but not limited to bleach, lysol, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil, vinegar? I've heard hydrogen peroxide mentioned. Bleach solutions sound like and extremely poor idea for leather goods, but maybe if it's diluted enough it's a viable option. Vinegar is mildly disinfectant, but I worry about the ph. I own tea tree oil, which is funguscidal, but it's a tiny bottle and I don't know if I could get enough into the leather to help. Or if it's ph balanced.

Once I kill the bacterial/fungal colonies, is something like saddle soap the best bet for washing out the teeny bacterial corpses and teeny bacteria-poop? I'm also like advise on drying combat boots in a cold climate. Stick a blow-dryer down them for a couple of hours set to low heat?

Whew! Sorry so long-winded, I just got new ADD meds... Heh...
posted by wires to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Try the old Army remedy: Spray them inside and out with Lysol (the regular old-fashioned unscented disinfectant spray that comes in a pale yellow aerosol can). Really saturate the inside especially. The leave them to dry naturally at room temperature. Repeat as needed.
posted by amyms at 3:09 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm pretty sure tea tree oil is a no-go because it eats through certain rubbers and plastics.

I've used alcohol on leather successfully, but not for this purpose. I'm pretty sure alcohol is the main ingredient in bowling shoe disinfectant. Basically, we're talking about Lysol here.


The BEST way to clean these initially is to dry them out completely, use soap and water inside, and dry them out COMPLETELY. Repeat. Spray with anti-fungal spray or Lysol. Let dry completely...

Then, make sure you air them out and spray as needed.

posted by jbenben at 3:14 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wonder if you could microwave them?
posted by InkaLomax at 3:32 PM on March 27, 2011

Wires, here's some advice for a year from now.
When you go to replace those lovely but stinky boots, buy two pair, and alternate wearings. Leather footwear needs to breathe/air out for a full day before you wear it again...no, this is not urban folklore, it's really true. Your boots will last much longer, and they (and your feet) will thank you.
Also, I'm sure that you would never dream of wearing them without socks, right?
posted by BostonTerrier at 3:53 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

It may not work for you, but I chucked my stinky fungal suede leather shoes in a cold wash in the washer with a little bleach. After long, long air drying they're odorless and fine to wear again. They'd gotten really, really bad after being left two weeks in a plastic bag, wet from sloshing around in south Indian monsoon rice-paddy mud.
posted by anadem at 4:42 PM on March 27, 2011

Best answer: 18 year military veteran here who has learned the hard way the best techniques to take care of feet and boots:
1. Clean normally, and spray with lysol as suggested upthread.
2. Then let dry for as long as you can in the sunlight-- a really long time, like a month if possible.
3. You can try to speed this up by crumpling up newspapers and stuffing them down in the toebox-- this wicks moisture away from the leather and is a good way to dry out wet shoes and boots in general. Change the crumpled up newspapers every day.
4. If you have a friend who is a skier or snowboarder, that person may have access to a boot dryer (also)-- basically a very low powered hair dryer that blows a small amount of warm air into the boots for several hours. Sunlight really helps this process, as well.

The rationale behind all of these measures is that the fungal/yeast organisms that are living in your boots will survive a trip through the laundry-- it just helps spread them around. They will survive several days or even weeks (depending on the strain) on the leather and seams of the boots. But the one thing they can't survive is a completely dry environment. You kill the fungus by making it die of thirst. The longer you dry out your boots, the better chance that you will succeed in rehabilitating them. To rid a pair of socks of the athlete's foot fungus usually only takes a week or so of drying out. Because boots are much thicker and have so much more surface area, I'm guessing that it will take a lot longer.

5. Once this is done, you leather may be quite stiff and dry or even cracked, but it can be restored with a saddle soap or (my preference) Sno-seal.

All these techniques also work for ridding your body of athletes foot-- buy at least two pairs of shoes, and alternate them every day making sure each pair is completely dried out. Own more than 20 pairs of socks, and wear one after the other in succession so that each pair of socks goes through the laundry and then dries out for many days before you put it back on again. If you do these things you will no longer be troubled by athlete's foot in your footwear, socks or feet. The question is-- do you really love these boots that much to go through this trouble? Good luck with your problem!
posted by seasparrow at 7:51 PM on March 27, 2011 [14 favorites]

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