Hold the salt: Buildup can damage leather shoes |

Hold the salt: Buildup can damage leather shoes

If seasonal salt damage to your shoes can’t be avoided, it can be dealt with.

Professional shoe-repair specialists can get shoes back to a nearly new state. And many shoe-repair stores sell products that will help you get the job done at home.

The attention to your shoes is well worth the effort. Salt stains look bad, but, more importantly, if let go, they will permanently damage shoes — particularly those made of leather.

“It’ll eat the leather away and dry and crack it. It makes bubble marks on the sides of your shoes,” says Rex Streno, owner of Ullrich’s Shoe Repair, Downtown.

A common misconception is that road salt is the main cause of the damage, he says.

“Salt doesn’t come from the road,” Streno says. “Salt comes from the leather itself. The leather is tanned with salt. When it gets soaking wet, the salt rises to the top of the shoe. That’s how you get the salt stains. The salt is in the lining, and it’s in the leather.

“There’s a time in April and May when there’s a lot of rain that I get people bringing in shoes full of salt. It comes from getting soaking wet.”

An effective salt remover is a chemical de-salter, such as Fiebing Salt Stain Remover, which usually is sold in 4-ounce bottles at shoe-repair shops. It also is effective on suede.

“Sometimes, (the salt stain) comes back again, and you have to do it a couple of times,” says Gabriel Fontana, owner of Gabriel Shoe Repair, Downtown.

It’s important to recondition the shoes, because of the drying properties of salt, says Tom Zullo, owner of Edgewood Shoe Repair.

“We sell a salt-stain remover — that’s the best thing to do,” Zullo says. “Then what I do is clean it off with a leather cleaner, like a saddle soap or a Lexol leather cleaner. Then I’ll hit it with a conditioner or leather lotion to try to soften it up, to put some moisture back into the leather, because the salt will dry it out in an instant.

“Clean it. Condition it. Sometimes, if it’s black, I’ll hit it with a black dye. If it’s not, I’ll use a cream polish, to match up the color as best as I can; rub it in, buff it out. (It’s) always a good thing to hit it with a silicone-based waterproofer, or others, depending on the material of the shoe, whether it’s suede, satin, leather or canvas.”

Suede is a bit tougher to deal with than leather.

“If it’s black suede, I’ll still hit it with a salt remover. Because you don’t have to worry as much about it leaving a stain. If it’s the tan color suede, like the Timberland boots or something, it’s tough. I’ll try to get it out with a suede cleaner, then try to get it out with a suede brush.”

At home, without professional shoe-cleaning products, there are ways to minimize salt’s effects on your shoes, although they’re not as effective.

“If you’re wearing your shoes home on a slushy day, if it’s like a black leather dress shoe, just get a rag with a little bit of water on it and give them a light rinsing,” Zullo says. “Let them air dry. Don’t put them near a heat source. Try to dilute the salt out.”

Moving quickly is important. Don’t let the salt stains set in.

“Just cleaning the salt out doesn’t restore the damage. You really need to hit it with some conditioner to soften it up, then some polish, then the water treatment. That’s what I do here, and all anyone can do at home.”

Cleaning up

To clean salt-stained leather shoes, follow these steps:

• Use a de-salter, like Fiebing Salt Stain Remover.

• Clean the shoe with a leather cleaner, like a saddle soap or Lexol leather cleaner.

• Use a conditioner or leather lotion to soften the leather back up.

• Use a dye or polish to restore the color.

• Apply a silicone-based waterproofer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.