John Jannuzzi

How to Take Care of Your Shoes in Winter

John Jannuzzi
How to Take Care of Your Shoes in Winter

By Jolie Kerr
Illustration by Tara Jacoby

For those living in a cold climate, winter is hard. It's cold, and dark, and all that snow eventually turns to slush and then there you are, standing ankle-deep in a puddle of semi-frozen sludge in your favorite pair of suede shoes, cursing yourself for not having moved to Miami when you had the chance. To make things a little less hard on you, and your shoes, here's what to do about the five most common cold-weather afflictions your shoes will suffer from this winter.

Problem 1: Your Leather Shoes Are Covered In Salt Stains

There are two big problems with those hideous salt rings that begin to mar winter footwear right around the time of the season's first snow: The first is that they're, well, hideous. The second is that, if left unaddressed, they'll dry out the leather, which will leave your shoes looking dull and eventually lead to cracking and splitting over time.

White vinegar: While salt stain removing products exist in the world, you don't need them — good old white vinegar works beautifully on salt-stained leather. You'll want to dilute it with an equal amount of water (1-2 tablespoons of each will be more than enough) and apply that solution to the leather using a soft cloth like an old t-shirt or sock. Use enough vinegar solution to render your cloth wet but not dripping, buff vigorously at the salt stains, repeating as needed until they're fully eliminated. Then, go over the leather using a dry cloth.

Leather conditioner: Once the salt stains are gone, apply a thin layer of leather conditioner to the shoes using a soft cloth. The salt and the salt-removing stuff can both cause leather to dry out, but this will bring all the moisture back.

Problem 2: You Wore Suede In The Snow

In a perfect world, we’d all remember to apply a protective coating to our suede shoes before we wear them outside. But the world is an imperfect place. So while I would like to strongly, forcefully, emphatically suggest that you not sleep on suede protector, I know many of you will forego it, only to wade into a dirty slushy puddle in your new Chelsea boots.

Suede has a bad reputation for being a difficult hide to maintain, and deservedly so, but if you have the right tools for the job it's actually quite easy to reverse damage caused by water, salt and road grime. You’ll want a suede eraser and a suede brush, which should be bought in a set that will run you about seven bucks.

The eraser will remove stains and scuffs from suede; to use it, rub it gently on the soiled areas, just like how you'd use a pencil eraser. Then, use the brush to lightly go over the whole shoe, which will remove grit and dirt and restore the nap of the suede.

Problem 3: Your Sneakers Got Soggy

Here's a way to save the print media industry and a pair of shoes that have gotten hopelessly soaked: Ball up a few sheets of newspaper and put them inside your soggy pair. Weirdly enough, newspaper will absorb both moisture and smells. You can also set the shoes near, but not too near, a heat source like a fireplace or radiator, to speed up drying time.

Problem 4: Your Rubber Boots Are Filthy

Rubber boots are pretty forgiving when it comes to cleaning off mud and salt: A damp rag or paper towel will do the job just fine. You can also use a glass cleaner like Windex (seriously! It's what I use on my own.) or diluted dish soap to clean a pair of rubber boots.

Speaking of those rain boots, there's a thing called "bloom" that occurs on rubber wellies. Bloom refers to the chalky white patches that occur naturally on aging rubber boots. Some people like the look of it! But if you don't count yourself among them, use Armor All Tire Shine or olive oil applied to a soft cloth to buff away bloom.

Problem 5: Your Furry Slippers Smell Rank

Furry slippers, by dint of being both slippers and furry, are meant to be worn without socks. But that means that after a few weeks, months or, gulp, years of stuffing your feet in them to get all warm they start to smell like … garbage.

If they’re not machine washable, there's a cheap and easy way to de-grime them that's basically like Shake'N Bake-ing your house shoes. Pour about a cup of cornmeal into a brown paper bag, Ziploc bag, or a garbage bag for larger pairs of furry footwear like boots (up the amount of cornmeal to two cups for boots). Place your pair in the bag, seal it tightly so you don't fling cornmeal everywhere, and shake it like a snowglobe. Leave the shoes inside the bag with the cornmeal for about an hour, during which time it will absorb grease and grime from the fur. Remove the shoes, knock them together a few times to dislodge cornmeal, and dump the bag in the trash.

To stave off foot funk in between wearings, Sneaker Balls are a great choice. Just pop them into your slippers, or any other shoes that are prone to smelling like old feet, and let them do their thing. Spray deodorizers like Kiwi Select Fresh Force or Dr. Scholl's Odor X also work super well at quickly nuking the smells plaguing your favorite winter footwear.