Stepping Out: Salt Stains, Slush Spots and Scuffs? Not This Winter

January 20, 2012
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Accidents do happen, and if your shoes do get soaked or splotched try to clean them as soon as possible. Like most stains, the longer you leave them, the more difficult they are to remove.

by Julie Davis

To wear or not to wear your beautiful new leather boots after a snowstorm? It’s a question many of us ponder, if not struggle with, during the winter months. If you wear them, there’s a good chance they’ll get ruined—stained, soaked, scuffed. And if you don’t, they’ll spend the season collecting dust.

Photo credit: Scott Longfield

Any woman with a closet full of heels braves the challenge for a night on the town—tiptoeing around snow piles, dodging slippery spots, and hopping salt-soaked puddles. Inevitably, though, she finds herself teetering on her tippy toes, only to splash down in the middle of the dirty, slushy puddle. For men, it’s a similar problem, only they have to contend with three-story high snow piles that have forced them to park the car a half-mile away.

“The salt used on roads, sidewalks and driveways has a corrosive nature and it destroys paint on cars and blacktop on roads. You can imagine what it could do to your favorite leather shoe or handbag,” says Joe Giaramita, owner of White Dove Cleaners in Red Bank. If left untreated, those unsightly white salt spots will stay put and the color of the shoes will eventually fade.

The best and most obvious option is to wear weather-appropriate shoes to your destination, and then swap it with a nicer pair once you arrive. The trouble is most of us would rather not lug an extra bag and clunky winter boots, so instead we take the risk.

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If you can’t resist wearing your designer stilettos or sleek leather loafers when the streets and sidewalks are coated with slush, Giaramita says to polish them often. “This gives the shoe a layer of protection and makes stains easier to remove. And the oils in the polishes used today repel light water drops long enough to shake them off before spotting,” he notes. He also says to make it a habit of keeping a small dry towel on hand (in the car or hidden in your handbag). “If your shoes get wet, you can immediately dab them to help prevent staining.”

Accidents do happen, and if your shoes do get soaked or splotched try to clean them as soon as possible. Like most stains, the longer you leave them, the more difficult they are to remove. Professional cleaning is an option, but these expert, at-home solutions work equally as well.

Leather: As mentioned, polish leather shoes often during the winter months to repel water. To remove salt stains, mix a quarter cup of cold water with two tablespoons of white vinegar. Dip a clean white rag into the solution and wring it out. Gently wipe the stained area. Use another clean white rag and pat it over the treated spot to remove excess water and speed the drying process. Allow the shoes to dry naturally, avoiding direct sunlight or heat, which can cause the leather to become stiff and brittle. If the stain is still visible once the shoes are dry, repeat the process. For scuffs, dip a clean white cloth into water and then baking soda. Gently rub the spot. Buff it dry with a clean white cloth.

Photo credit: Scott Longfield

Suede: A liquid solution won’t work on suede. If anything, it will stain the fabric more than the salt and snow. Instead, grab an eraser (the end of a pencil will do) or an emery board and softly buff away the stains. If the texture of the fabric looks warped or uneven after removing the scuff or spot, lightly buff it with a toothbrush or a special suede brush to renew its texture.

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Soft boots, such as Uggs: Giaramita says to always spray these types of boots with a water and stain repellent before you wear them for the first time. “In the event they do get wet and stained, the best cleaner is the Ugg cleaner that needs to be mixed with equal parts water and applied generously to the entire area with a damp cloth and spread evenly throughout to ensure proper cleaning and drying,” he says. Another option is Woolite. Add a teaspoon to a cup of warm water and spot treat. Be sure not to scrub too hard—it can cause the material to pill. Like leather, these types of boots should dry naturally. Heat can harm the material.


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