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4 tips for keeping your patrol boots in fighting shape

A good cleaning and shine will minimize wear and tear on your footwear and keep your feet comfortable throughout an entire shift


Shoe polish with a shoe brush.

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By Melissa Mann
Police1 Contributor

After taking the time to research and purchase your new pair of duty boots, there are many techniques and tips available to help maximize your investment, minimize wear and tear and keep your feet comfortable throughout your shift.

Here are four tips for making your boot maintenance regiment effective.

1. Create a Shoe Shine Kit
The first step in shining and maintaining your duty boots should be to assemble a good shoe shine kit. Use a small box with a lid to keep all of your items together and contain any shoe polish spills. Your kit should include the following items:

  • 100 percent cotton polishing rag, diaper or old T-shirt
  • Tin of wax shoe polish
  • Cotton balls
  • Q-tips for seam application
  • Horsehair shine brush
  • Rubbing alcohol (optional)
  • Newspaper

2. Spit-Shine
The original “spit-shine” was a term coined by military soldiers during combat who were forced to use any moisture resource that was available to them in the moment to shine their boots. Many variations of the original spit-shine process have evolved since and are highly effective in achieving a mirror shine on duty boots.

One technique is to apply a thick coat of polish to the entire boot using a small polish brush. Allow 15 minutes for the coat to dry, then brush off excess polish with a horsehair brush, which will leave a thin film remaining on the boots.

Melting the polish into the leather with the heat from a lighter’s flame is another trick used by many officers. After applying polish and letting it set, buffing can be done with a nylon cloth instead of cotton, which can bring the boots to a high, glossy shine.

Another unique application requires the use of a glass bottle to force the polish into the leather pores and creases. Next, let it set overnight in a cool place. This application can be used to bring up a smooth shine on places where a crease developed in the leather. After letting the polish set, brush off the excess dried polish and begin buffing.

3. Patience
The first shine on a new pair of boots can take a long while. The process will get easier each time you shine them as multiple layers of wax on the boots will achieve a shine faster. Deputy Tritenbach from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office compares shining shoes to the process of polishing brass or waxing a car. The process “takes a while to get there,” but is well worth the time and effort.

To begin the polishing process, thoroughly brush excess surface dirt from your duty boots with your horsehair brush. Pay attention to the seams and creases where dirt can gather. Use a damp cloth if necessary to clean dirt from the crevices if they don’t come clean by brushing. Let the boot thoroughly dry before polishing.

Cover the entire boot with shoe polish. Deputy Brenner from Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office suggests applying a light, thin coat of polish first.

“So thin, it’s just a haze,” he advised. Let the polish coat set for a minute before buffing.

A second, similar technique is to apply a thick coat of polish to the entire boot using a small polish brush. Allow 15 minutes for the coat to dry, then brush off excess polish with a horsehair brush, which will leave a thin film remaining on the boots.

Next, wrap a soft, lint-free, 100 percent cotton rag tightly around your finger so it’s smooth. Alternatively, you can also use a cotton ball. Dip your finger into a container of room temperature water so the cotton is wet, but not soaked or dripping. Ice cold water or rubbing alcohol are also options for polishing.

Place the wet cloth or cotton against the dried polish and rub the leather. With a light touch, move your finger in tiny circular motions until a shine appears. Repeat this process until you are satisfied with the level of shine.

Whether you use cotton balls or cotton diapers, cold water or rubbing alcohol, patience, dedication and a soft touch for polishing will pay off in achieving a mirror shine on your new duty boots.

4. Water Protection
A new pair of duty boots requires protection from the elements. In addition to keeping a mirror shine to meet inspection standards, weatherproofing your new boots should be a consideration, especially if you live in an area with adverse seasonal weather. Wet feet from wet boots will lead to big problems with your feet and mobility while on the job.

Water can and will destroy the leather on your new boots. Leather uppers that should have withstood years of steps and flexes can drastically deteriorate with water exposure which will shorten the life of your new boots. Leather is made from animal skin, specifically horse or cattle. It’s made with fibers that weave across one another. The leather consists of fat and proteins, which retain a set amount of moisture after being tanned. When leather gets wet, the water forms bonds with the lubricating oils and will actually float fibers away, making the leather brittle and cracked. Minimizing the release of moisture, including exposure to alkalines or acids, will assist in extending the life of your boots and reduce leather damage.

Waterproofing leather means creating a barrier that water cannot penetrate from either direction. As this is not always possible, protection from water damage is best described as “water resistant.”

Silicone spray will repel water, leaving the leather surface if your boots slippery. Be careful to not overuse silicone as it can have a drying effect on the leather. Choosing an oil-based silicone spray is best for boots that may be subject to harsh weather conditions as they don’t have such a drying effect.

Acrylic copolymer spray forms a microscopic net which will resist penetration of water molecules. It creates a flexible coating that protects the leather fibers from rain, and wet yet allows the leather to breathe.

With a little extra care and attention, the maintenance of your new leather duty boots will protect your investment and keep your feet safe and comfortable for a very long time.

Melissa Mann is recently retired from the field of law enforcement. Her experience spanned 18 years which included assignments in Corrections, Community Policing, Dispatch Communications and Search and Rescue. Melissa holds a BS in Criminal Justice and MA in Psychology with an emphasis on studies on the psychological process of law enforcement officers. She holds a deep passion for researching and writing about the lifestyle of police and corrections work and the far-reaching psychological effects on the officer and their world.