Taking care of boots

I’m hard on boots and shoes. My mom often told me that growing up, and it always baffled me (still does, to be honest). Is it because my feet are big, or because I traipse through puddles, or because I don’t pick up my feet between skips? I never figured it out, but she was right — I go through footwear too fast. Taking care of boots and shoes, I’ve decided, should be something I learn to do.

While recently moving my boots (and sweaters and scarves) to the front of the closet for the coming cold weather, I decided that now’s the time for me to take stellar care of my boots to minimize their turnover. Here’s how:

Before putting them on

Protect boots with a coat of protector—even if you think you’re not going to get caught in the rain or snow or land in slush. (You never know!) Some brands (like Ugg and L.L. Bean) have their own products, and you can easily find a variety of protectors made for leather, suede, and fabric. Follow the directions for any protector carefully. (If you have suede boots, you’ll want to use a suede brush to restore the nap after using a protector). 

(If you’re also conditioning your boots with a leather conditioner [see below], apply the protector after the conditioner.)

I look for natural ingredients and avoid aerosol sprays. This year, for a natural solution, I’m trying beeswax as a protector on my leather and vegan-leather boots. (It’s not a good option for suede, though.) 

Whatever protector you use, remember to reapply it every couple of months. 

After you wear them

• Take them off with care. When you take off your boots, don’t step on the backs of them with the other foot. (You’ll damage the back of the heel.) Instead, loosen the laces or buckles or unzip the zipper and pull them off with both hands. (Taking good care sometimes takes patience!)

• Remove dirt. Wipe your boots clean with a clean washcloth. Remove any salt, snow, or spills.

• Air them out. Before tucking your boots in the closet, open their zippers and buttons and laces, and put them in an airy spot at room temperature—but not right next to a hot fireplace or radiator or heater, because that kind of heat can crack leather and other materials and melt the glues that bind the shoes together. 

• Store with support. Don’t just toss your boots in the bottom of the closet. Stand them nicely where other shoes won’t get thrown on top of them. And provide support for boots any higher than ankle height to keep them from folding over and leaving creases. You can invest in boot trees that match the width and height of your shoe — cedar ones also help control odor. Or you can do like I do and stuff the toes with paper and cut pool noodles to the right height to support the tops. (I buy mine at the dollar store.) 

Every now and then

• Wash them. For cleaning boots, I like to use a mixture of pure liquid castile soap and warm water. (Just a squirt of soap in a bowl of warm water is plenty.) Simply dip a clean washcloth in the soapy water, wring it well, and wipe your boots. (Don’t soak them.) Using a clean cloth dipped in clean water and wrung out, rinse them off. (Again, don’t soak.) Let your boots dry overnight. Then follow up with a conditioner to restore the oils.

• Condition them. This is a crucial step for taking care of boots. If your boots are leather, moisturize them with a leather conditioner about once a month to keep them soft and supple. I like to use coconut oil. Just rub it on, in circular motions. Leave it on for about half an hour, then wipe it off with a clean cloth and buff. I also do this to my vegan leather boots. 

• Brush them. Brush your boots with a stiff-bristled brush now and then to keep them clean. Once a week should do it. If your boots are suede, use a suede eraser, followed by a suede brush. Know those shiny spots you see on suede when the fabric is worn down? The eraser can buff those off, too. Then use the brush to restore the nap.

• Give them a makeover. If your good boots are looking worse for the wear, tote them to a shoemaker. A rubber sole and/or new heels will give them plenty more mileage. And if your boots are badly scuffed, the shoemaker can apply a cream with the right pigmentation to restore them. 

I recently discovered Armstrong’s All Natural, a source for natural shoe and boot cleaning products, including leather cleaners, conditioners, and brushes. Are there any natural cleaning products you like to use for taking care of boots?

You might also like: 

Prevent Pilling—How to keep sweaters, bedding, and other items from pilling

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