Winter tends to wreak havoc on every single facet of our life, serving up everything from cold-weather skin woes to bouts of blues to work wear fashion dilemmas. One other (often overlooked, but unpleasant, nevertheless) side effect of winter? Those irritating salt stains on boots. The white marks tend to creep up slowly (but surely), and then plague us all season long. This year, we’ve decided to address the issue at hand (or foot?) once and for all. We turned to David Mesquita, vice president of Leather Spa (and all-around shoe-care aficionado) who gave us the lowdown, starting with how to remove salt stains and then finishing with follow-up treatments to preserve the life your shoes.
Address the Stain Right Away
“Salt harms the composition of your shoe, especially for very delicate soft [leather] skins, like calf or kid skin,” Mesquita says. “It’s like any stain you spill—the longer you wait, the further it penetrates, and the harder it will be to remove over time.”
Use White Vinegar Diluted with Water
“White vinegar alone will work—just spill some on a paper towel and wipe it on—but you have to dilute it because of the smell. Vinegar dissolves into the material, breaks up the salt, and lifts the stain right up,” Mesquita says. “Just rub the vinegar solution in until the stain mark goes away. You can also buy salt stain removers from any pharmacy, but white vinegar is an easy at-home remedy.”
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For Suede Shoes, Use a Brush
“You might need to use a brush to work the white vinegar into the fibers of suede, which is called nap,” explains Mesquita, who recommends a soft nylon brush, versus a metal one. “After it’s dry, brush the suede back and forth to bring back the nap.”
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Follow Up with a Leather Cream After It’s Dried (Just for Leather, Not Suede)
“Salt and the vinegar treatment can dry out the leather, which can fade the color and also cause cracks. To help inject moisture and adjust the color that’s been faded from water or salt damage, use a pigmented leather cream,” he says. “Like skin, leather has essential oils that help keep it supple. If you prefer that worn-in look, use a neutral cream or a leather conditioner, which doesn’t have pigment.” But if you want to correct severe fading, Mesquita says, take your shoes to a professional.
Finish with a Stain Repellent Spray
“To prevent future salt stains, use a water stain repellent spray—and not a waterproof spray,” he emphasizes. “Waterproof ones are too strong and they clog the pores of the leather, which prevents shoes from breathing. Spray a stain repellent 8 to 12 inches away from the article and give it two light applications.”