What began as a purely functional way to slosh through wet and messy areas has become a fashion statement. Rubber boots or Wellies are now a standard in most shoe closets. While most are quite durable, they do need a bit of care to keep your feet dry and still maintain that fashion edge.
How to Clean the Outside of Rubber Boots
To keep rubber boots flexible and looking their best rinse away any wet debris or mud after each wearing with plain water.
If the mud has dried, use a medium bristle brush to brush it away. Pay particular attention to the treads on the soles. You may need to use a smaller brush, like an old toothbrush to remove the mud from the treads. When the boot is completely clean, simply wipe down with an old cloth dipped in warm water.
To remove heavier soil or winter salts, mix one teaspoon of dish detergent in two cups of warm water. Dip a cloth in the solution and clean the boots from the top to the bottom. Finally, rinse by wiping down the boots with plain water and a clean cloth.
Allow the boots to air dry naturally away from direct heat sources like heaters or full sunlight.
Don't Forget the Inside of Rubber Boots
The insides of rubber boots need even more attention than the outside. Most boots have a lining or inner sole that can become soiled and smelly. If not cleaned, the inside of the boots can actually become a breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria and Athlete's foot fungus.
To clean the inside, mix a solution of one teaspoon liquid heavy-duty laundry detergent that contains enough enzymes to break apart soil (Tide and Persil are considered heavy-duty) and two cups warm water. Soak a clean cloth in the solution and wipe down the entire interior of the boot. Next, dip a second clean cloth in plain warm water and rinse away the detergent solution.
As an added precaution to prevent the growth of bacteria, mix a 50/50 percent solution of distilled white vinegar and water. Place the vinegar mixture in a spray bottle and lightly mist the inside of the boots. Allow the boots to air dry away from direct heat and sunlight.
If you have been wearing the boots in contaminated floodwaters, the inside should be disinfected with a solution of pine oil or phenolic (Lysol) disinfectant and clean water. Mix according to directions and scrub inside and out with a soft-bristled brush. Allow the boots to air dry.
Extended use of chlorine bleach can damage rubber boots.
To freshen smelly boots, sprinkle the inside with about 1/4 cup baking soda for each boot. (The interior of the boots should be dry.) Allow the baking soda to stay overnight or longer. Empty before wearing.
How to Remove White Film from Rubber Boots
Quite often, rubber boots will develop a white marbled film or powder on the outside. This is known as blooming. Because rubber is a natural product, in certain temperatures insoluble particles may rise to the surface. Blooming isn't very attractive but does not affect the durability of the boots.
To return the rubber boots to the original shiny finish, there are commercial sprays you can use. Or, you can use just a few drops of olive oil on a clean cloth to wipe down the boots. Work in a small area at a time, working from the top of the boot down to the sole.
Never apply the commercial spray or olive oil to the soles of the boots. No one needs a slippery boot!
6 Tips to Keep Your Rubber Boots Looking Their Best
- Always wear socks to absorb excess moisture. This will help prevent odor and stains.
- Allow the boots to air dry between wearings, if possible.
- To speed drying, stuff the boots with a clean towel or tissue paper for an hour. Remove and finish the air-drying process.
- Keep the boots in a cool dry area when not in use. Avoid extreme temperatures.
- Store upright with boot trees or rolled-up towels to keep the sides from folding or sagging.
- Add a sachet (cedar, lavender or plain baking soda) during the off-season to keep the insides smelling fresh.
Amazonian Indians, Goodyear, and a Duke
It was actually the native Indians of the Amazon who "discovered" rubber boots. The Indians would collect the latex sap from the bark of the rubber tree. Then they would dip their feet in the sap and hold them over the fire for as long as possible to solidify the sap, the first rubber boots.
Centuries later, in 1839, Charles Goodyear developed a way to keep rubber pliable in both extreme heat and cold by combining rubber sap and sulfur and then heating the mixture. He used his vulcanized rubber to create boots and, of course, tires.
It was an English Duke, the first Duke of Wellington, who made rubber boots a fashion statement. Arthur Wellesley popularized a rubber boot based on the design of leather Hessian boots. They became a staple while hunting and gardening for the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.
Messina, Gabriele et al. Is It Possible To Sanitize Athletes' Shoes? Journal of Athletic Training vol. 50,2 (2015): 126-32. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-49.3.55
Nair, Prabhakaran. The Agronomy and Economy of Important Tree Crops of The Developing World. Elsevier, 2010