How to Break in Work Boots Like a Pro: Tips and Tricks

Lacing up your new pair of well-made leather work boots and wearing them to work the moment they land on your doorstep is an ill-advised move.

You would be skipping the crucial breaking in step and putting your expensive footwear and your feet at risk.

The thick leather upper and stiff leather midsoles are likely to squeeze and pinch your feet, leaving you with painful blisters. Spending long hours in a shoe that hasn’t conformed to your feet leads to painful chaffing and pinching in the toes.

It also increases the likelihood of your precious boots sustaining damage as new boots tend to pop a stitch or two as the leather stretches. It takes anywhere between 80 and 100 hours to break in a new pair of quality leather work boots. That’s roughly 3 or 4 weeks before you can actually wear them to work. If then, it’ll take maybe an additional week or two for the boot to contour to your feet and achieve the perfect fit that leather work boots are famed for.

Here is an in-depth guide to help you break-in any pair of work boots and ensure that they serve you for an incredibly long time.

Breaking in Work Boots the Right Way

Ease Them into Your Feet

Wearing a new pair of work boots might feel like standing on the rung of a ladder, especially when you wear them all day. This is because your feet won't be used to the high arch that comes with a new boot that can leave your feet feeling tired and achy.

Instead, you should wear new work boots for two or three hours each day for a couple of weeks until the arch in your feet gets used to them. That means you need to buy a new pair of boots well in advance to accommodate the break-in the period.

The simplest way to go about this is to wear the boot around the house every day for a couple of weeks, preferably with a pair of thick socks. Layering the socks also works as the extra layer of fabric helps to stretch the leather uppers in problem areas such as the toes.

Wearing a new pair of work boots, especially steel-toed varieties, allows them sufficient time to contour around your toes while letting your feet get used to the shoe. If the work boot sole is too stiff, try bending the body back and forth before putting them on for a couple of days. With time the sole will become more flexible to let you walk more comfortably.

Douse Pressure Points with Alcohol

If you’re keen to speed up the breaking-in process when wearing them around the house, rub alcohol on the pressure points. A solution of 1 part rubbing alcohol mixed with three parts water makes the best choice. Use a cotton ball or a dampened clean cloth to rub the alcohol solution inside the work boot.

You only need to wear the boots until your feet begin to hurt and rub the alcohol on the uncomfortable areas of the boot. The alcohol causes the leather to distend and accommodate the shape of your feet. As the alcohol evaporates, the leather dries around your feet holding the shape of your feet in the expanded position. That ensures a snug, comfortable fit as you walk around with the shoe on. This method makes an excellent alternative to dunking the entire shoe in water, which often destroys the leather.

Break Out the Leather Oil

Breaking in a new pair of work boots can be a painful affair but that should be the exception rather than the norm. Leather oils help you speed up through the 80-100 hours of wear without enduring blisters and painful corns on your feet.

Treating the vamp leather – the piece of leather at the front of the shoe – with leather oil softens the leather, making it more malleable around your feet. That speeds up the process of forming to your feet while sparing you the associated discomfort.

However, you should also use these oils on the back of the boots as you need to leather fabric around your ankles to stay firm. If there’s a little pinching in any of these areas, rub a small amount of oil on the spot to get the necessary stretch.

The leather oils cause the boot to expand in the ball areas in the first four weeks to accommodate the edge of your feet as well as engage the boots in a comfortable fit. During this time, the leather insole also takes the shape of your footpad, eliminating strain and fatigue when wearing the boot for a long time.

Get a Boot Stretcher

If you’ve dutifully filled the 80 to 100 hours of wear but your boots are still giving you grief in the form of blisters, it’s time to enlist the help of boot stretchers. You can also get external stretchers right off the bat if you’re keen to speed up the breaking in process.

Shoe stretchers are similar to shoe trees but have a mechanism that gently expands the shoe from the inside to gradually stretch the fabric. They are simple to use as you only need to insert the boot stretcher into the work boot and twist the knob that widens the toe section of your boot. Twist the knob until you feel a little bit of resistance and then leave it in place for some days.

You certainly don’t want to stretch out the boot all at once. Instead, you need to stretch the shoe over several days. Adjust the stretch until you get a little more resistant with each passing day until the boot fits your feet just right.

For an added precaution, be sure to moisturize the boot with leather oil or conditioner when using a shoe stretcher. The oil softens the leather to let you get more stretching while safeguarding the leather against cracking.

Apply Some Moisturizer

If you don’t have fancy leather oils around the house or can’t afford to buy some, you can still break in the work boot with excellent results. Hair conditioner or body lotion on the uppers work just fine and won’t cost you much.

Simply apply the moisturizer evenly over the problem areas and leave the boot to air dry for a while. Airdrying the work boot is the best option since it allows the moisturizer to soak into the leather material. Once the hair conditioner or lotion soaks in, you can then wear your new pair of work boots around the house for a few hours.

The now softened leather fibers molds quickly to the shape of your feet. This approach not only saves you money but also ensures that your feet don’t endure countless hours of painful blisters. You can use a moisturize alongside a shoe stretcher.

Get a Pair of Insoles

If you’re pressed for time, purchasing a pair of insoles can help you break in a new pair of work boots without torturing your feet. They are a great way of molding new boots while ensuring comfort every step of the way. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the type of insoles; from thin padding, to thick gel insoles, and everything in between.

Just be sure you pick a pair that’s specifically designed for work boots. Such insoles promote sole flexibility, making wearing a new pair of boots more bearable and gentler on your feet. The added cushion lets the sole conform to your feet with time.

Use a Stick

This solution is as simple as it gets when looking to break in a new pair of work boots. It entails placing a stick such as a broom or a mop handle in the problem area. Once the stick is on the problem area, either the toe or heel, you only need to bend the boot over it. That helps loosen the fibers by forcing the leather to protrude outwards. The results are noticeable immediately as the bulge is quite pronounced. That said, you need to practice caution to avoid damaging your new work as applying too much force can crack the leather. For good measure, you can use a moisturizer or leather oil to soften the leather before attempting to use this method.

Breakout the Hairdryer

If the work boot doesn’t slip over your calves without giving you grief, a hairdryer can help you solve this problem. Start by wrapping your calves with ace bandages. Set the hairdryer to a low level and use it to warm up the leather around the ankle regions before putting on the boots. Only use the hairdryer long enough to warm up the leather and not any longer.

Caution: Setting the hairdryer’s temperature too high can ruin your new boots and burn your calves.

Now slip on the boots and zip them as high as possible. Then walk around in them for about an hour. After an hour has passed, reheat the boots while they are still on your feet and force the zipper all the way up. Repeat several times if the zipper doesn’t go all the way up until zipping up becomes effortless.

Use a Bar of Soap

This method is as basic as it sounds and only requires a bar of soap. Start by wearing the boot and noting the pressure points. Wet the bar of soap with water and apply it on the inside of the boot. Rub the mush layer of the soap into the leather until it’s completely absorbed. Then wear the shoe for an hour or so. Repeat the process as needed to eliminate the pinch.

Get Shoe Stretcher Sprays

If you prefer professional solutions, you can’t go wrong with a shoe stretcher spray. Such sprays soften the leather, making it mold into your feet and giving you the perfect fit you crave. Start by wearing your work boots then noting the sticking points. Take the boots off and spray the problem area with the solution. Put on the boots before the stretching solution dries off if you want the best results. This method is effective on work boots without a lining.

Terrible Ways to Break In Your Work Boots

Soaking in Warm Water

While members of the military service swear by this method, it remains a terrible way to break in your pricey pair of work boots. Typically, this method entails dunking both shoes in a bucket of warm water for about half an hour. You’re then required to slip on the wet pair of boots with your socks and walk around them for nearly an hour.

The water softens the fibers causing the leather to mold to your feet to create a perfect fit. The logic behind this method is that once the boots dry thoroughly, they will retain the molded shape of your feet.

Unfortunately, soaking leather boots in water for a long time can damage them and lead to permanent warping. It can also result in a mold build up between the insoles, especially when they are not removable.

Using Frozen Water

This method entails filling a sealable plastic bag with water and placing the water bag inside the work boots and positioning the packet on the problem areas. You then need to place the pair of boots inside a freezer. Since water expands when frozen, it will form ice, pushing the leather outward. You’re supposed to remove the shoe from the freezer and let the ice thaw before removing the water. However, freezing the leather fabric can cause it to crack and chafe.


Every new pair of work boot is stiff and uncomfortable when it gets to your doorstep. You must know how to break in work boots to ensure that they serve you for a long time. Taking the time to break in new work boots is a great way to safeguard your expensive purchase and protect your feet from needless pain and suffering. The best part is that you have a plethora of options to pick from, most of which are dirt cheap. Only a handful of methods require additional purchases if you’re running on a tight budget. You can use some of these everyday solutions to ensure that your new pair of work boots give you a comfortable fit.

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