Purchasing new work boots is an investment in your feet. High-quality boots offer invaluable protection and durability in a variety of potentially hazardous environments such as warehouses, construction areas, and other industrial workplaces. When your feet are comfortably nestled in well-made boots, you can go about your tasks with greater ease and stability. Having shoes that fit without pain is not just a luxury; it is essential to your safety and foot health.
The Importance Of Breaking Boots In
Unfortunately, new work boots rarely fit comfortably upon first wear. Even if they are the best size you can obtain without your feet slipping around, the boots may pinch your toes or chafe your heels. Whether they are made of finished leather or steel-toe, new work boots usually feel quite stiff as well. This is because the boot materials need to be stretched in order to conform to your feet. This stretching is called “breaking in”.
Wearing work boots that have not been broken in may break your stride in more ways than one. It will be difficult to be fully engaged and productive on the job if your toes are screaming or the skin on your ankles is being scraped with every step. More importantly, wearing unbroken-in work boots may compromise your foot health, causing calluses, bunions, corns, hammertoes, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and other problems. Breaking in your boots is the ounce of prevention that is more than worth a pound of cure.
How To Break In Work Boots
Unless you never wear your shoes, you will break them in eventually. Fortunately, you do not have to break your feet or budget in the process. The best boot care depends on the boots’ make and materials which vary widely among brands and styles. Therefore, consult the manufacturer’s care instructions and warranty before attempting to break in your boots. Your boots and your feet are worth the further investment of time and effort to conform your boots to comfort. Here are several time-tested DIY methods to help you make your shoes fit just right.
Leather shoe stretch conditioners and sprays are especially formulated to break in and maintain new shoes. Apply conditioner or spray to the uppers of your work boots. Look for a liquid, oil, or cream product that the manufacturer recommends and follow the instructions carefully. Allow the boots to air dry, then wear them at home for about an hour. Repeat as necessary, slightly increasing your time in the boots, until the boots fit comfortably. You can use conditioner or spray along with the shoe stretcher or stick method discussed below.
A shoe stretcher is a piece of wood used to widen shoes. It is formed in the shape of a shoe. To use a stretcher, insert it into your boot and extend it to make a snug fit. Leave it in place for at least a whole day. A block of wood may also be effectively placed in tight areas of the boot.
A stick such as a mop or broom handle offers greater precision than a shoe stretcher. Place a large stick into your boot toward the heel or toe that is tight. Firmly but gently bend each boot over the stick to help loosen the leather fibers. You should be able to see that the leather has slightly protruded, indicating that it has been stretched.
Place two socks over each shoe shaper and place within your boot. Leave overnight to stretch the shoes. If the boots are still too tight, repeat this method.
Bend and Step
To make your new work boots more flexible, bend the boots back and forth with your hands just before wearing them every day until they become more malleable. Step on the heels or toes of your boots to soften up these common stiff areas.
The soft layers of socks will cushion your feet while adding bulk which will stretch your boots. Look for socks such as hiking socks that have extra heel padding and fit snugly without itching. Put on two pairs of thick socks, then wear your new boots at home for about an hour.
Try on the boots with one pair of socks that you would normally wear with them. If the boots still pinch, repeat this method. A few hours daily should be sufficient time to stretch the material gently and gradually while you become accustomed to the shoe. This method is ideal for steel-toe work boots.
Moleskin is a thin, soft material applied to the skin to provide a barrier between areas of the foot that may scrape against the insides of the boot. It can be purchased at just about any drug store. Place moleskin on your toes, heels, or any other spot vulnerable to chafing.
Insoles make new work boots more wearable if you are short on break-in time. They come in a wide range of thicknesses. The extra layer of cushioning that insoles provide will help make the boots more flexible while molding to your feet over time. Select an insole with your preferred thickness that is specifically designed for work boots.
Place one rolled up washcloth into each boot when you are not wearing the boots. Once the boots have been broken in, the cloths will help the boots maintain their shape.
Wear some socks with your new work boots until your feet start hurting. Soak a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and apply it to saturate the area of the boot that is tight. You can also dilute alcohol with an equal amount of water and spray the tight area. You should feel immediate relief as the leather gives. Keep on the boots for 20 minutes until the alcohol has evaporated. Repeat a few times if needed until the leather loosens up to conform to your foot. The alcohol should not leave any spot on your boot.
Some popular shoe-stretching methods are actually quite risky for your boots. These shortcuts may do more harm than good, permanently altering the shapes of your boots and making them unwearable. Further, you will not be able to return the shoes after any failed attempt to stretch them contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions. Proceed with these techniques cautiously.
Using the low heat setting on a hair dryer, apply heat toward the tight spots on your boots. The heat will help soften and expand the material. A conditioner can be used along with heat for fast results. Exercise caution as direct heat could dry out the material on your boots and cause it to crack.
Place one freezer bag into each boot with the zip lock facing upward. Pour water into each bag until the bag bulges, then close the bags. Make sure that the bags fit snugly where the boots pinch. Tie up the boot laces as if you were putting them on. Place the boots upward in a freezer overnight. As the water freezes, it will stretch your boots. The next day, take the boots out of the freezer and wait until the ice has melted. Take out the bags and try on your boots. This method should only be used with waterproof boots. Also, be advised that freezing temperatures could have a negative effect on leather.
Immerse your work boots in warm water for at least 30 minutes. Finished leather may require more soaking time. Remove excess water, then wear the boots with two pairs of socks for at least 30 minutes. This method should only be used with waterproof boots as well. Monitor the boots closely; leather may start to warp with exposure to excessive moisture.
Here are some final tips for a pain-free transition into your new work boots:
- Try more than one method to break in your boots.
- It is best not to wear new boots for extended periods right away. They need time to be broken in gradually — at least a few days to two weeks.
- Make sure that your boots fit well before purchasing them and attempting to break them in. Try them on with socks of varying thicknesses to avoid sizing errors and ensure correct fit.
- Do not try to break in any shoes if you have existing foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, corns, blisters, or ingrown toenails.
If your work boots are too small, no method or period of time will stretch them enough to make them fit your feet. If you are experiencing intense pain or pinching, it is likely that you will need to purchase boots in another size. Proper sizing and care for your new work boots will pay off with comfortable, safe feet for many work days to come.