How to Make Your Winter Boots Last a Lifetime

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 Lenora Gim / Getty Images

You wouldn’t leave the salt and grit on your car after the big thaw brings in spring; why would you treat your shoes any differently? Your shoes are a lot like your car, after all: Take care of them and, with regular maintenance, they’ll last a lifetime.

“Leather takes a beating in the winter,” says Phil Collias, the owner of Chicago-based C.A. Zoes, which manufactures Shinola’s leather and shoe care products. “Between the salt and the repeated wet and dry cycles, you really need to nourish the materials.”

Collias, a third-generation shoe-care manufacturer, says that treating your abused boots starts with getting the dirt off. “The saddle soap is a good general purpose cleaner for soft leather,” says Collias, who adds that dirt “should come off before you put anything on it” like polishes or oils.

This is the point where you have to take stock of exactly what abuse you put the shoes through. Southerners might have evaded much of the street-grit wear that Bostonians were in the thick of for the last few months. If there was a lot of salt, “you might also need a salt stain remover,” Collias adds. “If it’s heavy grain leather like a boot, you want a mink oil, which is a waterproofer and a conditioner for heavier leathers. You want to replace the moisture that has been depleted during the winter.”

That’s the good moisture, by the way — the natural oils that keep your leather flexible. If there’s still moisture from your sweat or melted snow hanging around, he suggests not putting them near any heating elements “because it dries the leather out. Let them dry naturally.” Paper towels and newspaper can be also stuffed inside to soak out the excess water, and after that, you should put shoe trees in to keep the boot’s form.

But before storing them, you also need to do your regular shoe maintenance. If they need polish and color, you would need a paste wax or a liquid cream to add color back into the leather, which you can put on before or after the mink oil. That’s for boots and heavy-duty leathers. Dress shoes require different treatment — polish needs to be built up in several layers to restore that expensive shine, if they’re for looks and not just utility.

Once they’re ready to be shelved until the next cold snap, Collias says continue storing them in a cooler area. If it’s a dress shoe, you can put a bag over them to keep dust off for the next season. As for boxes, “it’s a personal preference,” Collias says, “but i do it.” Finally, for heavy-duty shoes, you should finish with a sole and heel enamel to give it a factory finish.

Most of your basic shoe-polish kits will lack one or two of these ingredients, so if you need to add them to your existing kit, you can find what you need at C.A. Zoe’s MFG Co.