Salt stains on leather. ¶ Water marks on suede. ¶ Scuffed heels, worn soles and unsightly turned-up toes. Shoes and boots take a beating during the winter. Neglecting them makes it worse.
Rather than pampering pricey pumps, we wear them in slushy parking lots. We pile up soggy boots in the hallways and kick dusty flats under our desks. We do not always protect our investments.
Shoe-care advice is everywhere. On websites. On hang tags. In consumer magazines. At the neighborhood shoe-repair shop. The tricky part is taking the time to do the right thing at the right time using the right products, tools and techniques. ¶ That means properly weatherproofing footwear before wearing it in the elements the first time. Cleaning, conditioning and further protecting footwear as recommended. Taking shoes for repair to extend their lives and improve their (and your) looks. Even taking a moment to remove the salt from boots upon entering the house.
“The best thing you can do is keep your boots and shoes dry and clean. Most people, when they come home from a sloppy day out on the street or sidewalk, just take off their boots and set them by the door,” said Tom Burakowski, owner of the Shoemaker’s Bench, 5428 S. Abbott Road in the Town of Hamburg.
“Many people have very fine shoes and boots. If they just took the time to take the paper towel and wipe them dry, a lot of the salt and, of course, the water and snow would be wiped off. Tomorrow would be so much better if they did that. When the salt dries overnight, that is when it does the most damage on the boots,” he said.
“And if you protected them ahead of time with some silicone or conditioners and oils, it would have resisted the absorption of the salt, and maybe the boots wouldn’t have gotten so saturated. People don’t realize just how significant polishing a shoe or boot can be when it’s dry and clean. Polish can be a very good protectant,” Burakowski said.
“I also encourage people to trust their intuition. We know how to do things. It’s really just a matter of doing it. Any attention we give our shoes and boots, they appreciate,” he added.
Shoe boutique owner Valerie Gasiewicz knows a bit about boots, women and Buffalo’s winters.
Some customers wear leather in the fall and then switch to an easier-care faux leather during the snow, slush and road-salting season, she noted. Others stick with leather because they love it.
“We see plenty of women who want the real leather throughout the whole winter, but you have to be able to maintain it, you have to care for it and protect it. Otherwise that salt in our Buffalo winters will just eat away at the shoe,” she said.
“If it’s a bad winter, I usually spray my leather boots two or three times throughout the season,” said Gasiewicz, owner of the Shoe Suite, 4446 Main St., Snyder.
No matter the footwear material or style, picking the right care products and tools – from repellents to brushes – is key. This matters if your boot is a tall fashionable style or a short rugged one.
“There are so many different materials that boots are made of – from faux leather to cloth to real leather to suede – you can’t just pick one product off the shelf anymore. I think the best thing is to utilize your local shoemaker, your local cobbler, and to find out what the best product is for that shoe or that boot that you are trying to protect,” she said.
Shoe and product manufacturers also often provide a customer-service phone number people can call with care questions. Information and inquiries also are found on many websites.
KIWI, the maker of shoe- and boot-care products and accessories, offers facts and tips on its website, www.kiwicare.com. And individual manufacturers, such as UGG Australia and Johnston & Murphy, offer both shoe-care advice and products for doing so (including kits).
UGG’s website, www.uggaustralia.com, also features a video on caring for and cleaning UGG classic boots, which includes tips such as stuffing boots with clean paper towels to speed up the drying process and help maintain their shape.
Here are some other ways to keep your shoes and boots in tiptop shape:
• Whether it’s a repellent, conditioner, polish or other product, choose one that is designed specifically for suede, leather or the other material you’re treating, including synthetics. Then apply according to the manufacturer’s directions. Pay attention to warnings regarding proper ventilation, etc.
• When using a product, always do a test patch in an inconspicuous area, Gasiewicz said. “You want to make sure that it is not going to stain or discolor the boot in any way.”
• When it comes to shoes you love (and paid good money for), repair rather than replace. Gasiewicz has worn shoes for years simply by having the heels replaced when necessary. (Plan on spending $15 to $20 to replace heels on women’s shoes, Burakowski said, which will include some cleaning and touch-ups.)
• Don’t store shoes and boots in a cold, damp area such as a basement or garage.
• Consider storing shoes in the original box or individual shoe bags – especially if you do not wear them often – to protect them from dust, which can damage them. Some manufacturers provide bags with purchase. Bed Bath & Beyond sells a drawstring canvas bag with see-through window on its website, www.bedbathandbeyond, priced $14.99 for a set of two. These also are convenient for carrying shoes to work or packing in a suitcase.
For seasonal storage, Burakowski recommends using paper bags (or the cardboard boxes) rather than plastic. “Plastic will trap the moisture in the boot or shoe, whereas a paper bag would allow it to breathe and the paper itself will absorb any moisture that was left in the boot or shoe,” he said.
• Another suitcase packing tip: Men’s roomy athletic socks are the perfect size and thickness to shield dainty pumps, according to the editors at Real Simple. They also will prevent dirt from transferring to your clothes.
• Remove salt from leather shoes with white vinegar or a shoe desalter purchased from a shoe-repair shop. (“The desalter will be nicely balanced so that it doesn’t really have a residue of the vinegar smell. Many times when you use a home product, the person uses too much vinegar so you walk around smelling like a pickle,” Burakowski said.)
Prefer vinegar? Good Housekeeping suggests mixing equal parts white vinegar and water. Soak a rag in the solution and dab the leather shoes. Rinse with a water-dampened cloth. Wipe with a dry towel. Let the shoes dry, away from radiators or other heat sources, which can make leather brittle. Finally, buff with a soft cloth.
• Shoe or boot trees can help footwear maintain its shape, especially when used right after it’s worn.
• Have a cobbler put rubber sole guards on leather soles (about $20). It extends the life of the sole and creates a nonslip surface, Burakowski said. Adding heel plates – a kidney-shaped piece of plastic nailed on the back of the heel – is another idea (about $5 a pair).
• Shelves and hanging shoe bags are safer for shoes than your closet floor. Your mother was right.
Experts also often recommend not wearing the same shoes every day but rather rotating them to give them time to dry and regain their shape.
Or, as your mother may also have told you, give them time “to breathe.”