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.”
To clean salt-stained leather shoes, follow these steps:
â¢ Use a de-salter, like Fiebing Salt Stain Remover.
â¢ Clean the shoe with a leather cleaner, like a saddle soap or Lexol leather cleaner.
â¢ Use a conditioner or leather lotion to soften the leather back up.
â¢ Use a dye or polish to restore the color.
â¢ Apply a silicone-based waterproofer.