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Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Chuck Bolinger points out the difference between a reconditioned suede boot and its salt-stained mate on the right.
Don’t toss, recondition

Breathing new life into boots

Chuck Bolinger patched a toe hole in the left Ugg boot and added a matching design on the right boot.
One of the services Chuck’s Foot Support offers is adding high-traction soles to shoes.
Felicia Bolinger uses a foaming leather and suede cleaner to remove salt stains and recondition a suede boot.

If you think you’re having a rough time this winter, look down at your feet.

Chances are your leather winter boots have trudged through inches of sludge, and now those pesky stains and scuffs are staring back at you.

Before you give your boots the boot, try a few of these tips first.

Waterproof, condition, repeat

Would you wash your hair once every winter? Give boots a deeper clean by investing in a fairly inexpensive shoe shampoo product and brush to remove dirt. Chuck Bolinger, owner of Chuck’s Foot Support, says then to apply waterproof and conditioning treatments to boots at least every 3 to 4 weeks during the winter.

“Even if your boots get caught in mud, they will be easier to clean – especially with this lovely Indiana weather we’re having,” he says.

While waterproofing leather boots will keep the water and salt spots at bay, a conditioner gives the material the nourishment it needs to restore flexibility and color.

Depending on the style of the boot, pick out a high-gloss or satin polish to take care of the scuffs and make the boot even more watertight. If you’re wearing leather dress shoes to the office, Bolinger suggests purchasing a pair of rubber overshoes to keep them clean.

Hold the salt

If you have a pair of Ugg-like boots, you’ve quickly learned road salt is not your friend. Salt discolors leather, suede and even vinyl, and the popular boot for girls and women appears to be the most affected victim.

“Salt is the biggest damager, and with this cold weather it’s a like an acid – it bubbles up and you get the white stain,” Domingo Garcia, owner of Dupont Shoe Repair, says. “Every time the salt on the leather gets wet, the bubbling of the leather gets bigger if you don’t neutralize the salt.”

Shoe repair stores sell desalting products but there is a home remedy you can try as well. Pour into a cup equal parts white vinegar and water, and dab the stains with a soft cloth.

If the stains are too stubborn or have caused the material to dry out and crack, you’ll need to leave it to the professionals. Bolinger says that he works with customers to design leather patches for some Ugg boots to transform the blemish into an accessory.

Put it on vinyl

As spring rounds the corner, the same rules apply to vinyl or rubber rain boots as well. Although these boots are easier to wipe off and clean, Bolinger and Garcia agree that keeping up with waterproofing helps the boot from drying out and cracking.

“If you take care of them they do last,” Garcia says. “Vinyl has certain life expectancy, but a lot of the time if you spray them, they can last longer.”