see also - Saddle Soap, Soap Brush, Spray Bottle

Boots get dirty. That's their job. Footwear protects you feet not only from injury, but also from dirt. Polishing dirty boots traps dirt in the polish, making it very difficult to get any sort of gloss. Oil-based conditioners, such as Huberd's Shoe Grease, combine with dirt to form sludge. Therefore, it is imperative that dirt be removed from boots before any polishing or conditioning is performed on them.

The first thing to consider is whether the boots in question can be exposed to water. Most leathers, being skin, are relatively water-tolerant, but there are a couple of notable exceptions. When exposed to water, leather will generally absorb some of it, particularly if the leather is dry, and light colored leathers tend to darken when they absorb water. This is a temporary phenomenon, but it can negatively affect the boots' appearance for a few hours until the leather dries. Additionally, water-soluble dirt and impurities in the water can deposit in the leather, permanently staining it. Common light colored leathers, horsehide and calfskin, for example, can generally be wiped off with a damp sponge without much water being absorbed, so that is definitely an option.

For most common leathers, the secret to using saddle soap properly is the proper amount of water. Too little water, and the soap smears around the leather and won't come off. Too much water, and there may not be enough soap to get everything removed from the leather. The ideal amount of water is enough to lather the saddle soap, but not more.

Wet the brush or the soap; don't wet the leather. A few squirts of water from a spray bottle should be sufficient. Load the brush with saddle soap, and begin scrubbing one boot. The soap and water should make a fine dense lather that doesn't run down the boot. If there's no lather at all or a whitish film, use more water (at this point, you can spray the water onto the soaped portion of the leather). If there are a few bubbles and the rest is just wet, use more soap. Distribute the lather all over the boot. If one is using liquid saddle soap, no additional water is necessary for application. The soap can be sprayed directly onto the soap brush. When the brush stops producing lather, reload the brush with soap. It's best to apply and remove the soap on one boot before moving to the other boot, as the soap will be more difficult to remove if is dries completely. On some boots, particularly very tall or very dry boots, the soap may dry before the entire boot is soaped, so it may be necessary to apply and remove the soap to individual sections of the boot rather than the entire boot at once.

There are two approaches to removing the soap. Many bootblacks will use water to wash the saddle soap away, as is the standard soap-use practice. However, other bootblacks prefer to use a soft absorbent cloth to soak up the water and soap. It is worth noting that using water to rinse saddle soap away requires a significant amount of water that will drip onto the floor or ground, which may pose a problem in indoor situations.

Leather clothing can be cleaned in a similar manner. Fine garment leathers: shirts, blouses, skirts, etc. are more susceptible to swelling by absorbing water, which can permanently affect the fit, so proceed with caution. Professional dry cleaners are in a better position to clean those leathers, as well as light colored leathers, which are, again, prone to discoloration when exposed to water. However, motorcycle chaps, heavy leather pants, jackets, and vests are very suited to such treatments. Clothing often gets overlooked in the cleaning and conditioning realm, despite the fact it can be subject to much more damage from lack of care than boots due to the constant flexing and bending that clothing undergoes.