Now that the rain and sleet has ushered in the season of leather-killing sidewalk salt, it's time to get serious about taking care of your boots. We've been stocking up on Chamberlain's Leather Milk, developed in Fort Worth, Texas, to meet the needs of men handling cattle, to make sure our tanned goods make it through the holidays in decent shape. Chamberlain's collection runs the gamut from hard-core cleanser to Chamberlain's Leather Care Liniment No. 1, which is the company's perennial best seller because it is perfect for conditioning shoes and belts – and smells like cherries instead of chemicals.
No. 1 is best for firmer, stiffer smooth leathers, such as your oxfords, brogues, and boots, which you should minister to before they get injured by the elements. Once the leather becomes damaged, it's more difficult to treat, and since leather is still a living material, it needs nourishment to avoid drying out and cracking. Over-conditioning, however, can cause clogged fibers that are prone to damage. Before you use the stuff, clean your shoes as much as possible by removing excess dirt with a slightly damp cloth. Apply No. 1 using the applicator pad included with the bottle, rubbing it into the leather before allowing it to dry briefly. As always, try to test the product first on a hidden part of the shoe to see if it will darken lighter-colored leathers. We didn't see any change in our cognac-colored or black boots, but an older pair of brown boots with existing water damage might absorb the cream unevenly.
Chamberlain's No. 2, the Straight Cleaner, packs a bit more punch but still uses all-natural, non-alkaline cleaning agents to gently remove grit and substances that damage leather. Use the No. 2 to clean shoes before applying a conditioning treatment. Chamberlain's No. 3, the Water Protectant, is a heavier conditioning treatment made of natural oils and waxes – ideal for shoes that will see a lot of outdoor action, such as Red Wings, hiking, or motorcycle boots. Keep in mind that this treatment will definitely darken lighter leathers, so test it out first to see if you're okay with the result. Though heavier than the No. 1, the No. 3 still absorbs quickly, and after investing some time in this preliminary care, it's deeply satisfying to see drops of water standing on, rather than penetrating, your boots on a rainy day.
Chamberlain's also works wonders to keep leather jackets and bags in fine shape. If you're spending your days on salted sidewalks, it pays to make sure your favorite pieces aren't getting assaulted. [Chamberlain's Leather Milk No. 1, 2, and 3, $14.95–$19.95; leather-milk.com]