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Cleaning winter boots and shoes

Cleaning winter boots and shoes is necessary and helps to prolong their life. Quite often, we might ignore the hard work our winter footwear does for us over the course of the season. It's something we take for granted without much thought. However, our winter boots and shoes do deserve our attention and some required pampering to get the most out of our winter boots and shoes.

Winter hazard - salt stains

The main winter hazard to cleaning winter boots and shoes are icky-looking salt stains.

Course road salt used on streets and sidewalks to control the snow and ice takes a toll on winter boots and shoes. Leather and suede in particular suffer, while the man-material boot materials are less prone to the effects of salt. The salt stains leave ugly, wavy white lines around the toes and heels definitely tell the story that you've been walking in slushy, snowy conditions.

Over time, the salts stains build upon one and another so if left until the next season to properly clean your winter boots and shoes, you may not be about to get the stains out or even minimize it.

If you are concerned aobut looking good then cleaning your winter boots to make them free of salt stains needs to be high up there on keeping your winter wardrobe in good condition.

Removing winter salt stains

The best way of reducing or eliminating them is using a solution of water and vinegar (two parts water to one part vinegar) and clean them with soft cotton cloths. You may have to repeat this several times as the salt will only appear again when the boots are dry. Over the course of the winter, it's a good idea to do this a few times to help minimize the salt damage.

  • Salt stain cleaning Formula: One part vinegar to two parts water

Once dry, use the right polish/spray/wax/cream to "condition" them to maintain the quality of the leather and suede in particular. Remember to read the manufacturer's instruction on the can, bottle or tube to see what is recommended.

Some waxes and polishes also act as a water-repellant to but the cremes are generally for restoring the suppleness of the leather or suede.

To finish off the process of cleaning your winter boots and shoes, you can add another waterproof layer by spraying them for extra protection. In this way, you'll get the best use out of your winter footwear but only do this when your boots are completely dry though.

Remember to repeat this conditioning routine throughout the winter to help repel the ice, snow, salt and sand as it will wear off over time and exposure to the various winter conditions. Remember though, cleaning your winter boots and shoes first before conditioning them is the logical process.

Cleaning man-made synthetic boots and shoes

Cleaning winter boots and shoes made of synthetic material uppers is probably the easiest type to keep clean out of the three main types of material used to make winter boots and shoes.

These simple cleaning steps are:

  • Use a damp cloth to wipe any loose dirt and grit.
  • Use an old toothbrush to dislodge away any more stubborn dirt embedded in the boot or shoe upper. Go with the nap or natural grain of the boot's fabric when brushing. If the material of the boot looks odd, then you've brushed the nap the wrong way. Try again, going the opposite way so the grain looks and lies flatter.

Air-drying is best for any boot type. Man-made uppers can be placed closer to a heat source unlike leather and suede that will shrink. Overall, these types of boots and shoes are more resistant to dirt and everyday wear and tear than smooth leather and suede boots.

Cleaning winter leather boots and shoes

Cleaning leather involves a little more work but not much.

  1. Start gently brushing it with an old toothbrush first to remove any loose dirt.
  2. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the surfaces (smooth surface leather contains natural oils but with cleaning, it tends to reduce that amount of oil).
  3. Let them dry naturally away from any heat source
  4. Add some conditioning oils or cream back in to the leather to prevent them from fine cracking or worse, splitting.
  5. spray a leather protector over the boots to minimize the damaging effects from snow, water, dirt and other debris as final preventative measure.

Cleaning winter suede boots and shoes

Both leather and suede (sometimes called "Nubuck") are definitely more delicate of the three main types of material used in winter footwear. You definitely need to be more careful with the rough-textured suede. For a start, you keep suede dry to clean unlike wiping leather and synthetic uppers with a damp cloth.

If you brush the salt deposits off first, brush in a downward motion only. Rubbing the suede can damage it and spread the salt crystals making it harder to clean. You would still use the vinegar/water mixture (sparingly) but do a small area at a time using an old toothbrush, which also works well for this task. There are also dry-cleaning bars you can buy. They work much like using a pencil eraser to take off or minimize any scuff marks.

Brushes to clean winter boots and shoes

Brushes can be made out of nylon, polyester blend, rubber and wire. Some types can be used for a wide range of footwear while other types of brushes are only for a particular type.

For example, softer brushes work well for softer suedes. For rougher suedes, a stiffer bristled or even a wire brush can be used. However, be very careful with wire brushes as it would be easy to ruin a good pair of boots with harsh, unforgiving wire bristles.

Winter boot and shoe protection products

There are lots of water-repellant shoe and boot protection products available to protect and enhance the life of your winter footwear.

The basic and most common products you'll find are:

  • Cremes for suede and leather
  • Boot conditioning polishes
  • Waterproof waxes and polishes
  • Water-repellant sprays
  • Soft and stiff brushes for buffing.

Depending on what your winter footwear is made of, you'll need different products for leather, suede, calfskin, shearling and man-made materials. For both leather, suede and calfskin footwear, you will need some of these products I mention above to protect them from the hazards of winter.

Don't get too carried away by buying lots of these products. Just decide what's critical that you'll need to suit the type of winter boots and shoes you have. Since you have spent a significant amount of money to buy your winter footwear in the first place, don't skimp on this last part. Investing a few extra dollars to give them some additional longer-lasting protection just makes sense. The trick is to actually use the products over the winter and not neglect your winter footwear - can be easier said than done.

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