Here's how to expertly repair the damage this horrible winter did to your leather shoes
After a long winter of rock salt, dirt, ice, and snow, it's finally time to give your trusty boots a rest.
But before you bury them in the back of your closet, you should be sure they're ready the next time it gets snowy again – because, sadly, the ice and slush will return.
Proper care can dramatically increase the lifespan of your footwear. Well-made shoes can last decades, if cleaned and oiled regularly. This routine maintenance will also increase their effectiveness at repelling cold and water.
Though I used an old pair of boots, most leather shoes can benefit from this sort of treatment – even many styles of women's shoes.
Let me show you how.
For this repair demonstration, I'm using my 4-year-old Chippewa Apache "GQ" boot. These boots have only been oiled once, and are in pretty rough shape. They've seen two long upstate New York winters, as well as two equally rough New York City winters. They were not babied in any way, and are prime candidate for this rejuvenation process.
There's road salt, dirt, and who-knows-what-else caked on. The leather is starting to show signs of age and is a bit dry. However, these boots still have a lot of life left in them. If taken care of properly – which is what we're doing now – I'm confident they could last another 5-10 years.
Yes, I am aware they may need to be resoled soon.
To start, we're first going to "wash" the leather with some leather soap. Leather soap, like the Saddle Soap I used here, is specially designed to clean up dried-out leather hides. Though it's a weird yellowish color, it lathers and foams just like the hand soap you use for your own non-dried out hide.
To apply it, rub the soap block with damp rag in a circular motion. Whip up a good lather and then apply it directly to the shoe or leather product you're cleaning.
Don't be afraid to use some elbow grease. Make sure you get the soap in all the little cracks of the shoe, where dirt can hide. If you're doing it right, your rag will quickly turn a few shades darker, if not completely black.
If you did it right, your shoe should look something like this once it dries.
Notice how different the leather now looks? Since the soap is a base, it strips away the remaining oils as well as the dirt. The leather is now all dried out. Which leads us to the next step ...
Applying leather oil! I used Obenauf's Leather Oil, which contains a blend of natural oils, as well as beeswax. These help preserve and protect the leather, while aiding to the leather's ability to repel water.
The bottle comes with an applicator, which you can use to apply the oil directly to the leather. The oil is pretty slick, and it makes a bit of a mess. Best to do this outside, or over some newspaper.
Once applied, use a dry rag to massage the oil into the leather. The leather should drink it up pretty quickly.
The oil will darken the leather as it moisturizes. Make sure the entire shoe is a uniform color – and that you get the oil into all of the leather's folds and creases.
Don't get too alarmed by the darkened color. After drying, some of the shoe's original color will return. With most leathers, that will happen with wear.
Voila! Your shoe is now ready for whatever next winter has in store.
After the shoe completely dries, you'll notice quite a difference between your old, beat-up shoe and the newly treated one.
As you can see the, the oiled shoe is much better looking with a uniform, dark finish, when compared to the "rustic" look of the untreated boot.
Now make sure your closet is ready for spring ...