How to Take Care of Your Winter Footwear
Posted on May 14, 2014 by WinterBoots
Like anything else, your boots will last longer if you take care of them. You wouldn’t let your car go all year long without an oil change—you shouldn’t let your boots go without a little maintenance, either!
There is nothing more maddening than investing in a good pair of boots and wrecking them in the span of a single winter season. Here in Vermont, I’ve heard many of what seem like tall tales about Sorels and Baffins that last 10, 15, 20 years. There may be some truth in the adage, “they don’t make them like they used to,” but there are plenty of things you can do to help your boots last longer, and maintain their quality. The process of cleaning and conditioning isn’t terribly time consuming, but you can always bring your boots to a cobbler or some shoe stores to have it done if you would prefer that method. In the end, however, the time and money you spend on professional cleaning will be considerably higher than if you take the 15 minutes to do it yourself.
Wear and tear is, after all, an inevitable fact of life and footwear. Still, there are things you can do to your boots to protect them. And remember—it is always better to pre-treat than it is to wait until after the damage is done.
Caring for Leather
Leather products need to be routinely cleaned and conditioned. Shoe polish makes them look shiny, but it doesn’t actually to anything to repair any damage or prevent the leather from drying out and cracking. Leather products all require a little upkeep, but its well worth it in the end, when you have your leather goods for years, and not just one season.
To an extent, leather is inherently water repellent. Just not to the extent we’d like to think it is. Even if your boots are seam-sealed or have an internal membrane, the leather should still be taken care of. Even if they don’t leak, subjecting leather to the elements can still cause damage.
Luckily, there are a multitude of products out there to prepare your leather footwear for inevitable contact with moisture. You can buy this stuff online, or at any good shoe shop.
For leather, you will want a cleaner, a conditioner, and a water proofing agent. Cleaners come in many forms—sprays, wipes, even bars like regular old body soap. You will also need a conditioner, which, like cleaners, come in a variety of forms. It is important to clean and condition leather as needed. Depending on how often and how frequently you wear your leather boots, this could be once every 1-3 months, or 2-3 times a year. Waterproofing sprays are very handy. Conditioners like mink oil can also double as a waterproofing agent—just always be sure the leather is clean before putting any conditioning or waterproofing agent on it.
Caring For Suede & Nubuck
Caring for suede and nubuck requires different products than smooth leather does. A small brush is an optimal tool for getting dried dirt, dust, and other debris out of the contours. Just like with smooth leather, the key to preserving your suede or nubuck shoes is to pre-treat and prevent any damage.
In terms of products, there are a lot of options out there for suede and nubuck. You need the aforementioned brush, and a waterproofing, cleaning, and conditioning spray. Just like with smooth leather—you clean, you condition, and waterproof. As long as you are using the correct products for suede and nubuck, you’ll be fine—just don’t mix your products up!
Suede and nubuck tend to stain more easily than leather, and if they are not cleaned quickly, the stain can really set it. While the cleansers made for suede and leather are great, you can still use the vinegar and water trick for salt stains. Once you see a stain on suede or nubuck, it’s best to clean it as quickly as possible. Like I said before, try not to soak the suede or nubuck through with the solution. Soaking suede or nubuck will compromise its texture and can contribute to wear and tear.
Many companies make kits for leather and suede/nubuck care, which will include everything you’ll need, from your suede brush to the waterproofing agent.
Caring for Synthetic Fabrics
Synthetic fabric uppers (usually nylon) are the easiest to maintain. They don’t require conditioning, cleaning can be done with soap and water, and you can use waterproofing sprays (similar to the kind you’d use on a tent) to enhance the waterproof qualities of the fabric (especially around the seams).
Salt Stains: Salt stains are the ever-present enemy of all who live in cold, snowy climates! They affect all types of footwear—canvas, leather, nylon, salt does not care. Unlike other stains, you don’t even know you’ve got them until you get home and the moisture on your boots dries, leaving those tell tale white water marks. They are the footwear equivalent of that nasty ring in your bathtub, but luckily, there’s a nice and easy way to rid yourself of salt stains—and you probably already have everything you need in your pantry. While you can find products that claim to get rid of them, the simplest solution works the best: All you need is a clean cloth, white vinegar, and water. Mix some water and vinegar. Wipe down the boots. Easy on the vinegar, you can always do it again. The best way to get rid of salt stains—neutralize the salt. For suede or nubuck, you should blot more than wipe—you never want to soak suede or nubuck. While many cleansers on the market are great for getting rid of other stains, the general consensus is that none are as effective—or as accessible and affordable-- on salt stains as a simple mix of water and vinegar. This handy salt stain trick will work on all boots—leather, suede, nubuck, nylon.
Generally speaking, boots made from a synthetic material (like a boot with a rubber base and a nylon upper), will take less maintenance than a boot made of leather, suede, or nubuck. Be sure you have the correct supplies for all your boots so that you can get as many seasons of wear out of them!
-Have a supply of products for your boots, so that you can pre-treat them, and so that when they start to leak or get stained, you can address the problem right away. Many brands, including Leather Therapy and Kiwi, sell handy kits so you get everything at once—including a nice cloth or sponge.
-Invest in boot forms! And when I say “invest,” I just mean, “get some,” because they are very inexpensive and will really help your boots last longer. You can also stuff your boots with rags or newspapers, but I highly recommend a few sets of forms—especially if you have tall boots. The leather will inevitably be damaged by always being flopped over.
-Know where your local shoe repair store is. Broken grommets, popped stitches, worn out heels—this is the place to fix the big problems before they become irreparable.
-Mix your leather and suede/nubuck products! Have the correct products for your footwear.
-Dry your leather, suede, or nubuck boots by a heater. This will lead to cracking, and will undo any conditioning you’ve done.
-Polish over stains. The damage is still there, under the polish.
-Don’t leave all the work till next winter! Give your boots a good, end-of-season cleaning and waterproofing so they are ready to go when the snow and the temperatures start to fall.
Still have questions? Please don't hesitate to Contact Us! We are always happy to help.
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