How To Break In Vegan Doc Martens’ Boots and Shoes

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High quality vegan leather is one of the best recent inventions, in our opinion. But, like real leather, vegan leather sometimes needs to be broken in before you can wear it comfortably. So, how do you break in your vegan Doc Martens?

What You’ll Need

The process of breaking in your vegan Doc Martens is similar to breaking in any new boots or new shoes: soften and stretch. The tools are similar, as well. You’ll need:

Breaking in any shoe takes time, patience, and determination. But it’s worth it. Breaking in your vegan Docs can help to make them more comfortable, and can prevent blisters, too.

How Do You Soften Vegan Leather?

If your Dr. Martens hurt whilst wearing them right out of the box, it could be that the material needs softening. Softening your boots can also help to prevent rubbing and painful blisters, so treat your vegan Docs with a leatherette conditioner.

For extra protection, use a vegan dubbin. Dubbin is a wax-based paste that conditions and waterproofs new leather. It also protects vegan friendly synthetic material, and makes it more resistant to cracking.

There are both animal-based and vegetable based dubbins, so be sure to select a v-friendly brand.

Doc Martens makes its own conditioning product, Wonder Balsam, but it is neither vegan nor appropriate for use on vegan leather (see below for more details on this stuff).

How to Break in Vegan Dr Martens: Step-by-Step

dr martens 1460 lace up boot

Are you ready to break in your Doc Martens? Then let’s go!

Method 1: Condition and Wear

The classical method for breaking in a pair of shoes is conditioning them material then wearing the boots until they’re comfortable. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: The Setup

Take your new Doc Martens out of the box. Remove the laces, and set them on the newspaper or drop cloth.

Step 2: Cleaning

Take your boot brush and give each shoe a quick cleaning before applying your conditioner. 

Step 3: Conditioning

Using a cloth, apply a generous amount of dubbin or other conditioning agent to the uppers, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t forget the tongue.

Let the conditioner sit on the shoe for half an hour, or as the manufacturer recommends.

You’ll want to repeat this step once a week for the first few weeks, then once a month after that. It will help to keep your Doc Martens supple, and your feet pain free.

Step 4: Buff 

Using one of your clean cloths, wipe the conditioner off. Using another one, buff the shoes to a shine.

Step 5: Prepare Your Feet

Now it’s time to get your feet ready for their maiden journey in your new Docs.

First, take off your shoes and socks, and wrap your heels with medical tape. Be sure to cover the entire heel area.

If you tend to get blisters on other parts of your feet when breaking in a new pair of shoes, apply the tape there, as well. 

This will protect your feet from the inside stitching, which can take a while to soften and mold to the shape of your foot.

Now put on a pair of thick socks. 

Step 7: Prepare Your Shoes

Next, take your painter’s tape, and use it to cover the stitching on the inside of the shoe. Cover the stitching around the heels and at the toes.

The tape probably won’t stick perfectly on its own, but don’t worry. Body heat and the pressure from your foot will hold it in place until it sticks well.

This will provide an extra layer of protection for your foot, and will also keep the new stitching from tearing up your socks.

Step 8: Take a Walk

Put the laces back into each shoe. Put the shoes on, and lace up normally–not too tightly, but not too loose, either. They may feel tight, but time and wear will loosen them up.

Start with short walks around the house. You can also wear them while sitting still. Your body heat will help the material to soften and mold to the shape of your feet.

As the shoes become more comfortable, wear them for longer periods, and venture outside.

Method 2: Ice Method

We’ve all heard that water expands when it freezes. Did you know that you use this principle to stretch your boots by up to 10 percent?

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Large Ziploc bags
  • Water
  • A plastic bag large enough to hold your boots
  • Your freezer

Step 1: Place the Bags

First, take the laces out of your Docs. Set one empty Ziploc bag inside each shoe, making sure that the bag reaches to the end of both toe and heel.

Step 2: Fill the Bags

Carefully fill each bag with water. Seal the bags.

Step 3: Freeze

Place your shoes in the large plastic bag. This will protect them in the freezer.

Let them sit in the freezer for four to eight hours. As the water freezes, it will expand. This, in turn, will help to stretch the uppers.

Step 4: Remove from the Freezer

Take your shoes out of the freezer and let them sit for 20 minutes or so. This will allow the ice to thaw a bit, which will make it easier to remove the bags from the shoes.

This probably won’t break the shoes in all the way. You may still have to wear them around a bit before they’re reliably comfortable.

Breaking in Vegan Dr. Martens’ Boots and Shoes: FAQs

Now that you know a few methods, you probably have questions about the specifics. Here are a few things that may come up.

Is Doc Martens Wonder Balsam Vegan?

dr martens wonder balsam vegan leather

No. Doc Martens Wonder Balsam is made with lanolin, which is derived from wool. 

Although no animals die in the production of lanolin, the commercial sheep industry itself is slaughter-based. Moreover many vegans avoid products like wool, which are produced through the exploitation of animals.

Moreover, the manufacturer specifies that Doc Martens Wonder Balsam is not appropriate for use on vegan materials. (1)

Are Vegan Docs Easier to Break In?

Breaking in any shoe comes down to two processes: conditioning and stretching. Conditioning softens the material so that it’s more likely to mold to the shape of your foot. Stretching transforms a tight shoe into one that fits well and is comfortable to wear.

You can break in both real leather and synthetic leather. How long it takes depends on the process you use, and how much time you put in.

How Long Does it Take to Break in Vegan Dr Martens?

It’s typically easier to wear your boots around the house for short periods each day and work up to a long walk. It can take several weeks to fully break in your shoes this way.

Conditioning your boots before breaking them in can shorten the breaking in process, as the material will be softer and more amenable to stretching. 

Using a boot stretcher can also make things go a bit faster.

What About the Hairdryer Method?

The hairdryer method is a quick and dirty way to make a tight pair of leather shoes fit the foot a bit better. (2)

Unfortunately, as vegan boots are made from synthetic materials, this method isn’t recommended, as the heat from the hair dryer can ruin the vegan leather.

That’s How to Break in Vegan Leather Doc Martens!

Now that you have the tools and the techniques, you’re ready to make those Docs your feet’s best friend.

Did you find this article helpful? Do you have any other tips for our readers? Drop ’em in the comments!

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how to soften vegan leather doc martens
About The Author:
Jess Faraday

Jess Faraday is a vegetarian from a family of vegetarians. A recent vegan, she wants to spread the word about the benefits of plant-based eating for health, for animals, and for the planet.

  1. Doc Martens | Wonder Balsam Shoe Protector |
  2. Lifehacker | Break in a Pair of Shoes in Minutes With a Hairdryer |


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