clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Essential Winter Shoe Care Guide

New, 1 comment
Illustration by Ariella Elovic for Racked
Illustration by Ariella Elovic for Racked

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.


In theory, winter sounds so bucolic: all chalets and hot cocoa and pristine snowfalls enjoyed from the comfort of a favorite reading chair set beside a roaring fire. In reality, it means slushy commutes and runny noses wiped on scarves and gloves (yes, I see you doing that) and general misery. To say nothing of the havoc it wreaks on your shoes, your marvelous shoes!

We should all move to Hawaii. Until the day comes when we do in fact all move to the Aloha State, however, there are a few basics you should know about winter shoe care.

Use Protection

In a perfect world, we would all remember to apply a protective product appropriate for the material of which our winter shoes are made before foul weather begins to hit. Instead, almost everyone forgets to do this until it's too late! I mention that mostly because I often get letters from people who are being awfully hard on themselves for forgetting to protect their shoes and then it makes me feel upset that they're so upset and then everyone is upset over something that's exceedingly common. With that said, remembering to use a protector is a really, really great thing to do.

Leather
There are a lot of leather protectors on the market, so if you have a favorite brand of shoe care products, it's likely that it offers a protector and you can go ahead and get that. Not all protectors are created equally, which is another way of saying read the application instructions provided by the manufacturer of whatever product you do end up using.

If you don't have a favorite brand of shoe care products, go with Good Housekeeping's preferred protector, Liquid Aquaseal.

Suede
Anyone who has ever owned anything in suede knows how temperamental it can be, which is why a protective product is so crucial to getting a long life out of your suede goods. The GH-approved product to look out for in this case is McNett ReviveX.

Rubber
You won't need a protectant for your rubber boots, but you should be prepared to clean them from time to time. Hunter offers its own branded cleaning products, which are fine to use, but you could also clean your wellies with plain old warm, soapy water. If white blooming occurs—this is very common and nothing to worry about at all—blooms can be removed with Armor All or olive oil applied with a soft rag and then buffed.

Canvas
Most people probably aren't sporting their Keds in the dead of winter, but in the event that your tennies are year 'round footwear for you, go ahead and apply Scotch-Gard Fabric & Upholstery Protector to them.

When Salt Stains Attack

Road salt stains like the dickens, but is actually very simple to remove from shoes. Try to get to it as soon as possible because salt residue is drying and can easily ruin leather in particular.

Leather
White vinegar will quickly and easily remove salt staining from leather shoes. To use it, simply apply a small amount to a soft cloth or rag and wipe the salt-afflicted areas.

Suede
A suede brush (which is generally sold in a set along with a suede eraser) should be all you need to remove salt stains. Really! Just brush 'em away. More stubborn staining can be tackled with the eraser.

Rubber
Nothing particularly special is required to clean salt off of rubber boots—a small amount of soap and water will do the trick nicely.

Canvas
Just as with rubber boots, canvas shoes can be cleaned with a bit of soap and water or with a laundry stain treatment spray.

What To Do When They Get Soaked (and Stinky)

Whether you get stuck in an unexpected sleet storm or just misjudge the depth of a puddle and find yourself soaked up to the ankle, drenched shoes are an unfortunate hazard during the winter months. And wet shoes can lead to stinky shoes, which is no good for anyone involved.

Balled up newspaper is going to help with both the wet factor and the stink factor. This sounds like a thing that should not work, and yet? It does. Setting a pair (or pairs) of wet shoes near a heat source, or even just near a fan if you're the sort of person who turns a fan on during colder months, will also help. Be mindful about using heat to dry leather though—it can be too drying, which can lead to cracking, and no one wants that. If smells persist after the shoes have dried completely, try an odor neutralizing product like Dr. Scholl's Odor-X spray powder or invest in a set of sneaker balls.

Now that you know all of that, get out there and enjoy some good ol' fashioned snowy fun.