Here's how to protect your boots and other shoes from damage this winter

For when salt, snow, and ice ride in town

leather boot care is important during winter Credit: Getty Images / bojanstory

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Pumpkin spice everything and cozy blankets aside, we all know what else fall brings: Winter.

With arctic seasonal woes in the forecast (slush, snow and ice, we’re looking at you) across much of the U.S., shoes are collectively sighing as they’re thrust into a wet and wild world. Translation: Things are about to get salty, and your leather items won’t like it.

Mark Kohlenberg, founder and CEO of Milwaukee Boot Company, warns, “Salt will destroy all leather footwear.” But, he says, “Prevention and removal of salt residue will ensure your footwear continues to look good and lasts a long time.”

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some steps for you to follow that will keep your favorite footwear damage-free, and lasting longer through the winter.

Start with a fresh canvas

Since your winter shoes and boots have more than likely been sitting idly in your closet, Kohlenberg recommends cleaning any debris, dust, and dirt from them before preparing them for winter wear.

For smooth leather shoes, use a damp cloth and clean all exposed areas of the shoe. For a suede or nubuck shoe, you can try a nubuck eraser (Kiwi has this one) or a light brush on the shoe’s surface.

snowboots lineup
Credit: Getty Images / 12MN

Since your winter shoes and boots have more than likely been sitting idly in your closet, clean any debris, dust, and dirt from them before preparing them for winter wear.

Give your leather shoes a winter coat

Once you’ve cleaned your leather shoes, it’s time to give them their own winter coats—of protection spray.

Tracey Sloga, founder of BootRescue, says, “The perfect time to spray those brand new boots or shoes with a protector spray is before wearing them.”

BootRescue includes an all-natural spray that offers leather and suede a breathable barrier to repel water and stains. For extra protection and to give leather boots a shine, she also suggests a wax for leather shoes, paying extra attention to fully coating the shoes’ heels, soles, and especially the grooves.

Kohlenberg, who lives in Milwaukee, fights heavy lake effect snow every winter. He keeps his boots in tip-top condition with silicone, an ingredient found in sprays to protect and waterproof footwear.

He adds, “This should be done periodically throughout the season to make sure your footwear continues to be protected from salt, snow, and water,“ he adds.

Cozy up your heels

Let’s say you live in a city or urban setting, so you’re not slogging through snow drifts but you are dealing with slush and muck. If you’re on your way to a business meeting and you don’t want to take a chance by spraying your beloved Loubs or Manolos, the newly launched Patten Place shoe cover may be the answer.

The cleverly designed, modern take on galoshes slip easily over most high heeled shoes (think stilettos, booties, wedges, even tall boots), and a hollow heel accommodates 2.5 to 4.5 inches. Made of a PVC material that easily wipes clean with a damp cloth, they protect your beauties from rain, snow, and—thanks to the non-slip tread—ice.

Don’t give your shoes a salty attitude

snow boots walking
Credit: Getty Images / olaser

Slogging through snow drifts, slush, and muck means your winter boots will need some serious care.

If you’re wearing boots in the snow and slush and get salt stains on them, you need to take action.

BootRescue’s Sloga emphasizes, “Make sure to clean them off as soon as you come in. Salt can start damaging boots immediately, making the leather dry out and buckle.”

Kohlenberg agrees, “If salt isn’t thoroughly removed, it will continue to damage the leather/suede/nubuck material, and you may have to replace the shoes.”

Kohlenberg does say to wait until the boots dry to start your cleaning treatment, and Sloga suggests stuffing your wet footwear with newspaper and putting them somewhere away from direct heat to dry.

Once they’re thoroughly dry, you can use a light brush on suede or nubuck shoes to remove all salt or debris residue. Sloga says, “For really stubborn stains, you can use something hard to rub them off, like a nail file.”

Use a damp cloth on smooth leather shoes and repeat, if necessary, to make sure all salt is removed. You can also use BootRescue salt stain wipes, paying particular attention to the heels and grooves where salt can collect and do the most damage.

Shake off the stink

All that tromping through chilly temps in heavy wool socks might make your boots and shoes a little fragrant, so to speak.

Sloga has a few easy ways to get them smelling fresh again. “Replace the insoles, stick your shoes in a plastic bag, and pop them in the freezer overnight. Yep, really,” she says. “Or, place dryer sheets in them for several hours after wearing.”

You can also use Arm & Hammer Shoe Refresher Spray to give them a quick blast of a fresh scent. It’s not exactly spring flowers, but we’ll take it.

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