Melting snow that soaks your toes.
Slushy patches you can’t avoid.
That ubiquitous white crust of road salt.
Beautiful as it is, snowy weather brings…
A blizzard of pitfalls for your leather boots.
Leather dress boots are an essential style investment, but they need to be treated right. Wearing them in less-than-ideal conditions can be nerve-racking. What if you ruin them?
But you shouldn’t be intimidated. Nice boots are still boots—outdoor wear is what they’re for. With proper care and cleaning, a good pair will see you through decades of winters. Today I'll show you how to avoid hiding them away until spring.
Today's tips work best with a well-made pair of boots, and they are brought to you by Thursday Boot Co.
Check them out for high-quality leather dress boots at practical prices.
3 Ways to Keep Leather Boots Looking Great All Winter
#1. Store Leather Boots Between Uses (The Right Way)
The internal ‘fibers’ in a high-quality pair of leather dress boots are constantly oxidizing and drying. That’s why leather needs to be treated regularly—to coat the drying fibers and prevent breakage. Leather also ages and cracks due to chemical action, including exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
Heat, direct light, and motion accelerate both processes, and they’re all unavoidable when the material is on your body. So the main goals of leather storage are to control those three factors and keep the conditions optimal to preserve the oils in the leather.
It’s okay to wipe your boots off with a soft, dry cloth when you come in from the snow. Just don’t try to dry them with heat. They might dry faster in front of the radiator or heater vent, but they won’t last as long.
When you’re not wearing them, keep leather boots away from temperature extremes. Again, this means anywhere your central heat vents, as well as windows that get direct sun.
Cedar shoe trees wick away moisture collected during wear without dehydrating the material itself—they’re the best way to make sure every last drop of melted snow is dry. (They also prevent odors and help the shoes keep their shape!)
#2. Weatherproof Men’s Leather Dress Boots
Most leather conditioners contain some ingredients that seal out moisture, so a well-cared-for pair of leather shoes will still hold up in snowy weather. If you’re shining them regularly with a polish and/or conditioner designed to protect leather you’re all set.
It’s also common for manufacturers to include a sealant coating, so check their website before you do a weatherproofing treatment yourself.
If neither of the above is true of your boots, it’s time to DIY. Before spraying with a sealant, make sure the boots are broken in and give them a good cleaning. Spot test any product you use on a small, discrete section of the shoe just in case.
There are a huge number of shoe-weatherproofing products on the market, but not every product is right for every boot.
Athletic shoe sealing sprays that contain silicone are fine for suede and nubuck but won’t work for other leathers. They can cause discoloration and drying. For oiled or full-grain leathers, look for weatherproofing products made specifically for leather shoes.
For leather-soled boots, edge dressing–a special acrylic-based shoe polish–can be applied around the sole to prevent moisture from seeping in. This will keep your feet dry and keep the shoes looking better longer.
If you apply edge dressing, put it on before any other sealant products. It won’t adhere properly if you’re layering it over something else.
#3. Clean and Condition Leather for Winter Weather
Leather is animal skin. Just like your skin, it’s affected by the dry heat inside during winter and needs some extra attention to prevent excessive drying.
Trace pollutants in central heating systems and the sheer dryness of the airspeed increase the oxidation process. Leather shoes and boots will need to be treated or shined more often. You shouldn’t shine shoes more frequently than twice a month, but if you’re wearing them often, aim for once a month at least.
If you’ve been shining shoes using only a liquid shoe polish, now's the time to add conditioning to the routine. Go for a thicker cream or petroleum-based product. It will keep the material supple for longer and seal in much-needed trace moisture.
You don’t necessarily have to spend much money or hunt down a specialty product—the active ingredient in many leather waxes favored in cold regions (like Pecard) is good old petroleum jelly.
A soft cloth and a little Vaseline will take care of most scuff marks and dirt stains while also hydrating the leather. A specifically formulated conditioner will provide more protection, however.
Suede and nubuck leathers are vulnerable to water stains from melting snow. The best way to avoid them is by simply patting them dry with a towel when you come in.
If they show up, though, they can be scrubbed out with saddle soap and a soft shoe brush. Look for one made for suede with no metal bristles.
Weatherproofing and regular cleaning will help avoid road salt stains (and overshoes for outdoors will help even more).
If worst does come to worst, the following last-ditch rescue can be performed on non-suede leather shoes WITH A SEALANT COATING (never on bare leather!):
- Mix one cup cold water with 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar.
- Apply the solution to a soft towel and wipe away any salt stains.
- Wipe again immediately with room-temperature water and allow to air dry, then go about your normal shoe-shining routine.
This method should only be a last resort. Acidic substances like vinegar aren’t great for leather, but road salt is worse—it drastically increases cracking and drying. If the salt residue won’t come off with normal cleaning, this trick can save the pair.
Leather needs a little extra care in the colder months, but its function and durability–especially in wet conditions–make the extra care worth your time. The versatility of leather dress boots includes seasonal versatility, and with a little know-how, you can take full advantage of that. Paired with a classy winter coat and matching gloves, they have all the makings of a winter style staple.
Don’t be afraid to brave the cold and damp with panache. With good quality leather, you get out what you put in: be good to your boots, and they’ll repay you with years of all-weather wear.
If this guide to wintertime leather boot care has you feeling more confident about buying a pair for the coming season, shop Thursday Boot Co.'s selection to find your new go-to cold-weather footwear.