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How to Break in a Pair of Doc Martens Shoes

Updated on November 2, 2016

Hooray! You’ve bought a pair of Docs! Take a moment to admire their never-worn beauty, because by the time you're done with them, they are going to look somewhat less pristine.

Breaking in your new Docs will take time and patience, but everyone goes through it. Read on to discover the ways to make this rite of passage go smoothly.

After your Doc Martens are broken in, they will be best friends with your tootsies for a long, long time. I've had these since 1996.
After your Doc Martens are broken in, they will be best friends with your tootsies for a long, long time. I've had these since 1996. | Source

Be Sure to Buy the Right Size

The too-small pair on sale will never fit, no matter what you do to them.

Breaking Your Docs In

Why is there a breaking-in period?

Well, consider the type of leather they're made of. Big, black, standard DMs are made from rigid, hard leather than requires care and time to soften it up and render it to the perfect fit. You may decide to engage a softening agent to save time and protect the leather from cracking, or you may choose to let them tell their own story. Remember, you spent a pretty penny on these iconic shoes, so give them the care they deserve!

At first, wear them around your home for one to two hours at a time. I'm not going to pull punches here… this will likely hurt the backs of your ankles, but hang in there! It will be worth it in the long run.

Doc Martens will rub against the backs of your feet or ankles as you break them in.
Doc Martens will rub against the backs of your feet or ankles as you break them in. | Source

Doc Martens: There Will Be Blisters

Taking Care of Your Feet as You Break in Your DMs

At first, after wearing your Docs all day, several things may happen:

  • Your socks will have left serious impressions and/or patterns on the top of your feet, especially if the socks are ribbed. Your feet will feel itchy in those spots. But take care! If you must scratch, do so gently; vigorous scratching of irritated skin will cause it to scrape and bleed. Try soaking your feet in a foot bath or basin filled with Johnson's foot soap or epsom salts. Towel them dry and massage gently if they are still feeling pinched.
  • If you have tied your laces tightly or have a fleshy calf, the boots themselves may have also left impressions on your calves. These impressions will go away over a period of several hours. Seeing an indentation on your calf can be distressing! Try not to tie your boots quite so tightly next time.

The tongues of these DMs have been worn to a soft, flexible comfort.
The tongues of these DMs have been worn to a soft, flexible comfort. | Source

Softening Your Boots

Softening your hard, smooth leather boots is easy when you do it right. Although the least hassling way to break in a pair of Doc Martens is to wear them outside, once blustery winter weather rolls around, take care to protect them! Water and salt will leave mottled marks on your shoes, and that's never attractive. So consider one of these treatments:

  • Wonder Balsam is Dr. Martens' unique blend of coconut oil, lanolin, and beeswax that protects against water, liquid, and salt marks while keeping the leather nice and supple without polishing.
  • Dubbin Polish is their natural wax formula for greasy, oily, and waxy leathers. It provides a water resistant coating to leather and is great for breathing new life back into old, dirty shoes that have been exposed the elements.
  • If you didn’t apply Wonder Balsam or another type of protectant and ended up with salt marks, Dr. Martens brand black polish (or any good quality black polish, for that matter) will restore color to your treasured black boots… use cherry polish for cherry-reds!

Socks with Docs?

Invest in several pairs of thick, soft, or squishy socks (i.e. wool for winter). They will protect your feet and ankles while stretching the leather where you need it to be stretched.

By all means avoid wearing thin cotton socks with your DMs until you have broken them in somewhat!

After years, the black eyelets of your DMs will become worn away and the metal beneath will show. Beautiful, yes?
After years, the black eyelets of your DMs will become worn away and the metal beneath will show. Beautiful, yes? | Source

Other Ways to Help Break in Docs

  • The last time I was in a DM store, the salesgirl informed me that some styles are cut more narrowly than others... for example, 1460s are cut significantly more narrowly than 1461s or some newer styles. If your Docs feel too narrow, consider using moleskin or a bunion pad in spots to protect your tootsies. It may not be glamorous, but your feet will thank you!
  • To help break up the extremely stiff back of the boot, fold them back at several levels each time before you wear them.
  • Also, bend them back and forth a bunch of times at the instep. This will assist in making them more pliable.
  • Use a boot stretcher to stretch the toe box over the course of several nights.
  • Lace them differently! Lacing over the eyelet everywhere except at the base of your ankle will assist the boot in bending.
  • You could wear them continuously for days (even while sleeping), but that will mainly just toughen your feet instead of softening the boots.
  • Personally, I like to wiggle my foot as far forward inside the boot as it will go to stre-e-e-etch that leather just a little further.

How long does it take you to break in your DMs?

See results
A happily broken-in pair of smooth black Doc Martens. At the time of this picture, these boots had been in service for 16 years!
A happily broken-in pair of smooth black Doc Martens. At the time of this picture, these boots had been in service for 16 years! | Source

Removing the Inner Sole

Doc Martens are equipped with an extra inner liner. Did you know you can remove it to customize the fit of your shoes? If you want a little extra room in there immediately, wiggle it out.

Personally, I've never bothered doing this— it's so much more comfortable to leave them in! But if you need more room in your boot, give it a try.

How Often Should You Wear Your Docs?

I have found that alternating days wearing your new DMs with other shoes will help your feet happy and give them time to renew themselves. You may want to break in your DMs as soon as possible, but is it worth hurting your feet? I don't think so.

But above all, do wear them, wear them, and wear them! Because after you’ve broken those babies in properly, you’ll have them forever and you can enjoy figuring out ways to wear them.

What Not to Do with Your Doc Martens

I would not suggest soaking your boots in water, lighting them on fire, or rubbing olive oil or Vaseline into them. These techniques may make your boots more pliable, but only because you will have ruined their structural integrity. Also:

  • too much water will make the stitching disintegrate over time
  • too much fire will turn them into charcoal
  • olive oil or Vaseline will just make them greasy.

Doc Martens makes a great product called Wonder Balsam that contains coconut oil, lanolin, and beeswax for just this purpose, and guess what? It’s comparable in price to Vaseline!

Buy Broken-In Boots Instead!

Of course, you could always just buy broken-in Docs instead of going through all of this.

The good people at Dr. Marten will break them in so you don't have to, using techniques like twisting, fold-and-hammer, eyelet aging, and edge buffing using things like emery paper and colored cream. The high shine is removed from the leather, the bright yellow stitching is dulled, even the bouncing soles are put through their paces. The result is a comfortable boot that you can wear without tearing up your feet.

Of course, if you do buy these pre-softened shoes, you'll never have the pleasure of doing all the work yourself... a trade-off I'm not exactly convinced is worth it. Either way, viva Doc Martens!

Looks like I've worn away several layers of rubber over 16 years of walking. These shoes have served me well!
Looks like I've worn away several layers of rubber over 16 years of walking. These shoes have served me well! | Source
Only time can provide a smoother sole to DMs.
Only time can provide a smoother sole to DMs. | Source

How Well Do You Know Your Docs? A Doc Martens Quiz


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    • Waffa profile image

      Margus Meigo Waffa 4 months ago from Estonia

      Unfortuantelly already after 10 years the metal part of inside my martins come open, so... so yeah, can not wear them as it is rubbing my foot.

    • profile image

      Paoloadventurer 5 months ago

      This post is spot on, I have just put on my black 1914's for the first time and can't wait to to get them feeling like a slipper, I agree it worth the pain. P.

    • profile image

      Amber Hunter 5 months ago

      The same happened to me! The first two times I wore them I had no problem but now , suddenly, even if I wear them for 5 minutes, they hit me in the back... Too bad because they look amazing and I love them.. Not sure if 'breaking' them will help in my case; I worry that the problem might be something else: that my feet that are too small for the boots and they get rubbed on the back of my feet. I got the boots size 39 EU (one size bigger that the one I wear) but normally I had no problem with bigger sized shoes before. However, I see that lots of people here have the same problem with blisters in the back of their feet, so I guess maybe trying to soften them up could help.

    • Karanja Joseph profile image

      Josep 6 months ago from Kenya

      Buying already broken work boots might be ideal for those who are required to wear them to work at short notice. The boots may, however, lack the excitement that comes with wearing near boots for the first time.

    • profile image

      Amber Hunter 6 months ago

      My Docs were fine for over a week and now they have decided to only start causin me blisters on the back of my feet. All I can say is Ouch !

    • profile image

      Skiddlywudz 6 months ago

      Damn 16 years? Thats what mine looked like after two months. Granted theyve been across the country and back twice from portland to ga to portland back to ga. Two and a half years later, they are antiquated to say the least. Just got me a new pair today and holy shot i forgot how shitty the break in period is. But to be fair i literally wear my docs all day every day, work, or otherwise, rain, snow, sun, sleet, fuckin hiking, shooting, driving, and yes, even skate boarding (yeah take that enties)

    • profile image

      Aveitos 7 months ago

      This post is worth everyone’s attention. Good work.

    • profile image

      Ann 7 months ago

      I have been trying to break in my "dream" boots for awhile. Now that I know I can remove the liners, the task seems easier. Now I just need bandaids on the heels but the toebox and instep fits perfectly :-) Many Thanks for the tip.

    • profile image

      Mboo 7 months ago

      I own 5 beautiful pairs. All funky too. Some r worn in better than others because of time.

    • profile image

      Will 8 months ago

      Hey clevercat,

      So i've bought my Martens and i've also got insoles which make them more comfy, and to break them in i've put bags inside them with water in them and put them in the freezer. will this do the trick?

    • profile image

      hotinthephils 15 months ago

      thank for the info all the info....

      Just bought mine about 2 months ago.......first time I've worn mine it felt like my soles are on fire....

    • profile image

      Sally 2 years ago

      I just got a pair but hearing your video makes me wonder why I want them now!! Just put some coconut cream on them.

    • profile image

      HayleyWilliamz 2 years ago

      My docs ain't very comfy

    • profile image

      Sarah 3 years ago

      Thanx!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hey, Sarah and also apologies to you for the delay in responding.

      Personally, I would suggest a new pair of 1490s as at least then they will break in to your foot, not someone else's. That said, my boots have lasted a very looooong time.

      However, one never knows what has happened to someone else's shoes... so I really can't say how long this particular pair that you are interested in will last. :( I mean, what if they were submerged in water for a week? Dragged through the mud and left without being cleaned?

      I guess it really depends on the condition of the boots... but without knowing the provenance of the pair, I might be wary of buying a stranger's shoes, especially if I am looking for a long life for them. As they say... let the buyer beware!

      Best of luck!!! Let me know what happens. :)

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Lumi! Hi! :)

      So sorry for the delay, but things have been a bit hectic this last week. Whatever you do, DO NOT use leather cleaner on patents, ok? They will get smeary and lose their luster. I would suggest nail polish remover (acetone) with a q-tip. Dab it over the scuff and it will remove the scuff, but work fast because it will dry fast. And don't put too much! (It will remove the dye.) Then buff with a soft cloth, and good as new!

      Hope this helps! :)

    • profile image

      Sarah 3 years ago

      Should I get oxblood vintage 1490 made in England docs cos I really need some boots that will last for ages ? How long should they last as they are made in England (how many years!?!?!?) 'Cos I wear through shoes pretty quickly thank you! Are they comfy and good quality... Sorry! I've never had them before!!!!!! Thank you!!

    • profile image

      Sarah 3 years ago

      How longWill mid oxblood 1490 docs last ? Thanx great post!

    • profile image

      Lumi 3 years ago

      Hello, how do I clean my Lamper Doc's? Help!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Brandon! :)

      Well, how wrinkly is wrinkly? Also, where are the wrinkles exactly? Wrinkly where your feet bend or wrinkly around your ankles? You are sure you got the right size, yes? Because if you got them too big you will likely have to tie them tighter than they were meant to be tied to fit your foot more closely and will cause some of that wrinkling. And these are the smooth ones, not more distressed leather, yes?

      I've only had wrinkly ones once, and they came that way -- my sister outgrew a cherry pair and they were so wrinkled at the ball of the foot that they had actually cracked before I got them, boo hoo! So let's avoid that for you. I would suggest Dubbin polish to keep them smooth and lovely. Also, make sure you don't have too much room in the shoe as I mentioned. Ironing? Not so much. I'm really not a fan of introducing hot things to my shoes!

      Let me know how it works out! And congrats on the shoes!!! :)

    • profile image

      Brandon 3 years ago

      I bought my docs and had them for a week, (I had no trouble with blisters or having to break them in or any of that jazz Hallelujah!) but they are wrinkly and everyone says so many things like the iron method and polish and I don't want to ruin them or anything, but is there anyway I can remove the wrinkles or prevent them when I buy another pair?

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Elizabeth, if the soft tongue is slipping around and bothering you, you could punch an eyelet or two in the tongue and lace through that. Good luck!

    • profile image

      Elizabeth Furney 3 years ago

      I have a use pair of docs I just got from a second hand store but the toung on the left one is stretched badly and very soft and worn. Is there a way to fix that?

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi, Grypo! I'm so glad you came across something that tip!

      Actually, patents and fabrics do seem a little tighter than other materials, in my experience as well, but that's wonderful that you will be able to enjoy them with a lot less discomfort. Too bad for your daughter, indeed! ;)

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hey, DocwithDocs! I loved your story, and your line, "let the sweet pain begin again." Such sweet, sweet pain. ;) Congrats on finding your perfect pair (again!)

    • profile image

      Grypo 3 years ago

      I didn't know they had a liner that could be removed. I've had a pair of patent Dr Martens for a couple of months now and I couldn't stand wearing them because they were so tight (I tried a size up and they were too long for my feet), but now that I've removed the liner they are pretty bearable.

      Without your tip I would have had to leave these in the closet for 8-10 years waiting and hoping that my daughter would one day be able to wear them - too bad for her :P

    • profile image

      DocwithDocs 3 years ago

      About 15 years ago, starting up my own company in Germany, had to buy some reasonably respectable looking shoes and amazingly found that Docs also produce a brown brogue (3989). Not the typical iconic look, but hey, same quality in what you might consider a "stealth Doc". Fell in love with them right away and I actually don't recall that much pain and anguish during the breaking-in period, but may just be blocking it out... The soul-crushing anguish did come a few years later: while rushing to leave a hotel to catch a low-fare, middle-of-the-night flight back out of Mallorca, I accidentally left one of my Docs under the bed, and no amount of begging over the phone go it back for me afterwards. Ugh.. At the time, I couldn't find this model easily again where I was, so I bought something else and settled... Fast forward a decade, now living in the US, and I've recently found the same model again on the Doc USA website, ordered and excitedly unpacked from the box today: let the sweet pain begin again...

    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 4 years ago from Japan

      Never heard of this expression for boots but interesting. Must look and feel much better after breaking them in.

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks so much, sparkleyfinger! You're so right -- thick socks look super cool with unlaced high Docs. Plus, I bet it keeps the back looking nice and pristine for much longer.

      p.s. Great profile name!

    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Harte 4 years ago from Glasgow

      Voted up, useful and, ironically, beautiful!! Aside from New Rocks, Docs are the sorest shoes ever to break in, but i agree that it is totally worth it!!! I don't actually lace mine up, but instead wear thick socks so i can leave the laces undone.. This probably isn't good for the support of the ankle, but meh, it looks awesome! :) Keep up the good work!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Spallbags, ouch! :-( But that beeswax will do the trick... I bet it works like a dream on people, too. ;-)

    • profile image

      Spallbags 4 years ago

      I love my DM boots. So painful to break in, I made the mistake of wearing them to a festival before they were broken in and came home with bleeding feet! I use a hemp oil and beeswax cream intended for extra dry skin on mine now and that seems to have done the trick!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi allydarcy! They are regular black smooth 1460s. (I've just had them a reeeeeally long time.) :^)

    • profile image

      allydarcy 4 years ago

      what kind of docs are those?

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Cool, rumintasari! Thanks for commenting. :)

    • rumintasari profile image

      Ruminta Sari 4 years ago from Sleman

      remind me to a friend who loves this shoes a lot :) Never had it myself though.

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Teaches 12345, I agree completely -- it's a great shoe and will certainly last. Thanks so much for visiting, and as always, it's great to see you!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I have never owned a pair of these shoes, but I know people who love them and pay a pretty penny for them because of the quality. Looks like a nice shoe to have. Thanks for the advice, I'm sure many will appreciate your help.

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      I remember that!!! :^) You are tall, so you could take 10 holes nicely, too. Not this chick... they would be halfway up my calf. Ha!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      They were black 10-eye smooth leather boots. So beautiful! The laces kept breaking, so eventually I made my own out of braided embroidery thread. That was fun. And colorful!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      What color were they, Brainy Bunny? I wanted to wrap my ankles in duct tape to ward off the scrapes when I did my first! Lol. But I'm glad we sucked it up and dealt. :^)

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Oh, I remember my ankles bleeding for days with my first pair of DM boots! But it was so worth it. They were my constant companions for nearly ten years, until I wore right through the sole!

    • theclevercat profile image
      Author

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hey, flashmakeit! Great to see ya! I hope it comes in handy. :^)

    • flashmakeit profile image

      flashmakeit 4 years ago from usa

      That information for my friends red wing boot. Thank you!

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