How to Clean and Care Dr. Martens

Doc Martens, or Dr. Martens, boots come from humble beginnings as a work shoe in the UK in the 1960s. Rising to fame with the working-class youth and rock legends of this era, like Pete Townshend, these shoes are now an iconic expression of individuality and style.

If you’re interested, you can find out more about the history of the brand in this video from Doc Martens.

These boots and shoes are hard-wearing and come in many different styles for men, women, and children. There are the classic original 1460’s, right through to embroidered designs like the ladies Vonda.



Let’s look at how to clean Doc Martens to keep them looking in tip-top condition.


How to Clean Doc Martens Shoes

The manufacturer uses many different materials to make Dr. Martens boots. While the classic boots are leather, styles have evolved, and you can now find designs made from fabric, canvas, and vegan-friendly synthetic materials.




Cleaning Leather Doc Martens

Dr. Martens uses different types of full grain, fine grain, and waxy leather to fabricate its boots and shoes. The recommended cleaner and conditioner for Doc Martens care from the manufacturer is the Wonder Balsam, a blend of beeswax, lanolin, and coconut oil. It’s designed to prevent cracks in your leather shoes and to protect them from salt and water.



Before cleaning the leather, you’ll want to make sure the soles are free from dirt and dust, and that you remove the shoelaces.

The Soles

What You Need
  • A small bowl.
  • Warm water.
  • Dishwashing soap.
  • A shoe brush, dishwashing brush or toothbrush.
  • Clean cloth or rag.
What You Do
  1. Half fill your bowl with warm water.
  2. Add a few drops of dishwashing soap.
  3. Mix them together.
  4. Dip your brush in the soapy water and shake off the excess.
  5. Scrub the soles of your footwear to remove dirt, mud, grime, and dust.
  6. Once the soles are clean, dampen your cloth in fresh water and wipe the soles over.


To Clean the Shoelaces

What You Need
  • A small bowl.
  • Warm water.
  • Dishwashing soap.
  • Toothbrush.
What You Do
  1. Remove the laces from your shoes or boots.
  2. Mix a few drops of dishwashing soap with warm water.
  3. Place your laces in the soapy water and swirl them around.
  4. If your laces are particularly dirty, you might need to scrub them with the toothbrush.
  5. Remove the laces and rinse them in fresh water.
  6. Hang them to dry.


To Clean the Uppers

What You Need
  • Shoe brush.
  • A few clean, soft cloths.
  • A sponge.
  • Leather conditioner such as Wonder Balsam or mink oil.
  • Shoe polish.
  • Newspaper.
What You Do
  1. Using your brush, remove dried mud, dirt, and dust from the uppers.
  2. Pay special attention to areas of stitching around the welt where the sole joins the uppers. Also to the eyelets for the laces and the tongue of the boots or shoes.
  3. Take your leather conditioner and apply a small amount to a clean cloth or sponge.
  4. Using a circular motion, work the conditioner into the leather.
  5. Make sure you cover all of the leather uppers.
  6. Leave the shoes to dry for about 30 minutes after application.
  7. Gently wipe off any excess conditioner that remains.
  8. Once the shoes are dry, they’re ready to be polished.
  9. Choose a wax polish to match the color of your footwear or a neutral one like this in the Doc Martens Shoe Care Kit.
  10. Place some newspaper or other protective material over the area where you’re going to work.
  11. Open your tub of polish and gently wipe a clean cloth in a circular motion over the wax to soften it. Warming the wax polish will make it easier to apply.
  12. Once you have some polish on your cloth, apply it all over your Doc Martens with a firm pressure to push it into the pores of the leather.
  13. Leave the polish-covered shoes to stand for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.
  14. Take a shoe brush and buff your Doc Martens to polish the leather and remove any excess.
  15. Once you finish buffing with your brush, use a lint-free cloth to wipe over your boots or shoes to remove any dust or polish that’s left behind.


Pro Tips

  • To get polish into hard-to-reach places, use a toothbrush or cotton bud.
  • Older shoes might benefit from applying two layers of polish. Remember to let the first layer dry before applying the second one.
  • If you have a build-up of old polish, you can remove it with some rubbing alcohol, saddle soap, or acetone-free nail polish remover. Find out more in our article, a systematic guide to removing polish from leather shoes.


Cleaning Suede Doc Martens

Suede is a form of leather. It’s the soft underside of a hide which is sanded to give a soft, luxurious finish. This material isn’t as hard-wearing as full-grain leather and needs special care when cleaning. Then there’s faux suede, a synthetic material that mimics the finish of suede.

To learn how to clean suede Dr. Martens, take a look at our step-by-step guide in our article, Nubuck vs. Suede. For faux suede footwear, all the detail you need is in our complete guide to cleaning faux suede shoes.


How to Clean Fabric or Canvas Docs

Doc Martens made from fabric or canvas need a different type of cleaning. You can’t toss these shoes in the washing machine; it’ll damage the glue that holds everything together.

What You Need

  • A soft shoe brush and a soft toothbrush.
  • A small bowl.
  • Warm water.
  • Dishwashing soap.
  • Paper towels.

What You Do

  1. Ensure your Doc Martens are dry, particularly if they’re muddy.
  2. Take your soft shoe brush, like this one from Alloda and brush your shoes. It has the best of both worlds — soft boars hair for cleaning delicate uppers, and nylon for cleaning the soles.
  3. Once you’ve brushed the shoes, use a dry paper towel to remove dust or debris from the surface.
  4. In your small bowl, mix two cups of warm water with a teaspoon of dishwashing soap.
  5. Agitate the mixture to ensure it’s combined using your toothbrush.
  6. Take the toothbrush out and shake off any excess water.
  7. Gently scrub the fabric working on small sections at a time, making sure you follow the grain of the canvas or fabric.
  8. All the shoes should be covered to help prevent spotting or color inconsistencies.
  9. Once you’re happy with the scrubbing mission, use a moistened paper towel to remove the soap residue. Remember to use fresh water and repeat until all the soap has gone.
  10. Blot the shoes dry with a dry paper towel.
  11. Allow the shoes to air dry for 24 hours away from direct heat or sunlight.

You can read more about cleaning fabric or canvas shoes in our ultimate guide.


Pro Tips

Stuff your shoes with some clean rags or paper towels as they dry to help them keep their shape.


Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Difference Between Doc Martens Wonder Balsam and Doc Martens Dubbin?

Wonder Balsam is a conditioning treatment for your Doc Martens leather shoes. It’s a mix of lanolin, beeswax, and coconut oil that helps soften the leather and preserve it. Dubbin is also made from wax and can soften and preserve leather.

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Dubbin can also add a level of water resistance to your shoes and is suitable for oily, waxy leathers. It can help soften new shoes, making them easier to break-in.

You can essentially use both of these products on your leather Docs. Apply the Dubbin first and let it soak in for a few hours. Follow with Wonder Balsam to clean and protect.

This video from Casey Nash shows you how to use these two products.


How Do You Use Doc Martens Wonder Balsam?

Apply the leather conditioner by placing a small amount on a clean, dry sponge or cloth. Work it into the leather using circular motions, covering all the uppers of your boots or shoes. Leave it to dry on the footwear for about 20-30 minutes then gently remove any excess with a soft cloth or soft-bristled brush.

This video from Jeph Journals shows you an old pair of Doc Martens Classics being restored using Wonder Balsam.


Should I Use a Protector Spray on My Doc Martens?

Absolutely! A protector spray will help prevent damage from water, stains, and UV light. Doc Martens recommends its Ultra Protection spray for all its shoes, leather, suede, or fabric. It’s a good idea to use this on your footwear straight-out-of-the box and then repeat applications every time you clean them.




How Do I Clean My Vegan Doc Martens?

These eco-friendly shoes are made from synthetic materials and contain no animal products in their construction. Mimicking the look of leather, they can easily be cleaned with a damp cloth. Wipe it over the surface of the shoes or boots to remove dirt, dust, and debris.


Stepping Out in Clean Doc Martens

Your Doc Martens are an investment that could last you many years if you care for them properly. Cleaning, conditioning, and polishing them will help keep them supple and looking good.

We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to clean Doc Martens and picked up some useful tips. Please leave us a comment and let us know how you get on with cleaning your favorites, and don’t forget to share.


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