Winter weather is anything but kind. And it's especially rough on your footwear. From the freezing temps and near constant moisture to the salt-ridden sidewalks, there are all sorts of dangers out there. Here are some helpful tips for taking on the elements, whether you're sporting standard lace-ups or sturdier boots. After all, you can't expect them to stand up to the brutality of the season if you don't treat 'em right.
Nothing damages leather quite like water—it saps the suppleness from the skin and dries out the natural fibers, resulting in staining, stretching and cracking if not treated. But a few simple steps will prevent moisture from eventually ruining your leather. We should start by getting one thing straight: Waterproofing is something of a misnomer. Unless you have specially-lined footwear, no matter what you put on standard leather, it will never be fully waterproof. Water resistant is more like it. Protected, but not impervious to the elements.
Choose Your Protector
Shoe trees are crucial to extending the life of your footwear. They allow your recently worn shoes to contract and dry out to their ideal shape. Opt for the unvarnished cedar versions ($20), which will draw out moisture from the leather and also absorb odors. If you can, try to shelve the pair you just wore for at least 24 hours before wearing again.
Whether you've just shlepped through the slush or inadvertently stepped in a puddle, stuff your soaking wet shoes with newspaper or paper towels and set them to dry away from direct heat like the heater or radiator. (Direct heat dries footwear too fast, cracking the leather and melting the shoe from the inside out.) Before they're fully dry, remove the paper and insert shoe trees to retain the shoe's original shape.
Each winter, the United States uses 18,000 tons of salt on roads and sidewalks. Inevitably, a good portion of that salt will get absorbed into your shoes—leaving otherwise beautiful footwear dried out and stained. It's important to remember that the salt starts drying and warping the leather quickly, so act fast. Here's how to save your shoes.
Make a solution of one part plain white vinegar to two parts water and dab the solution onto the stains, working from the outside toward the center of the stain.
Dampen a clean cloth with water and wipe down the shoe to remove any lingering vinegar, then press a dry cloth into the leather to pull out any residual moisture.
Let them air dry for a day and then condition, buff or polish as usual.