I’m An Adult Now – Winter Boot Care

Today we’ll be going over how to take care of your winter boots, something that, surprisingly, many people don’t know how to do. Maybe it’s our attitude of fashion being disposable – we don’t care for and repair our clothes, we just buy new ones. But a bit of effort, at least on the waterproofing front, makes your footwear last longer and keeps your feet drier and warmer.

Beyond basic leather cleaner and polish, there are a variety of products to waterproof footwear for winter, and which one to use depends on what the boots are made of.

First, start with a clean, polished boot. Use a soft cloth to wipe down the boot. Clean the welt (the outside edge where the leather meets the sole) with a welt brush or an old toothbrush. Use a wax-based polish that matches the colour of the shoe and apply with the same soft cloth, using circular motions. Allow to dry for five minutes and then buff to a shine, first with the same soft cloth and then a horsehair brush.

Some of the products you need – polish, leather cleaner, dubbin, silicone or acrylic spray, horsehair brush.

To waterproof, there are five options:

Dubbin – made with wax and fats, sometimes contains animal fat (I once had a tub of this that made our boots smell like bacon), usually used on work boots or more rugged boots. Creates a barrier over the item that repels moisture, but can be sticky and may affect the finish of leathers with a high shine. Can darken leather, so definitely do a patch test on coloured items. Apply with a cloth, paying special attention to seams and welts. Best for: non-shiny leather of all grains. Do not use on: synthetic materials, fabric, suede, patent.

Mink oil – made from minks (duh), so not vegetarian-friendly, mostly used for dress shoes. Has an equal ratio of fans to haters. Creates a high shine on grained leather. Known for moisturizing properties. Can alter the colour of the leather. Apply with a soft cloth, as per the dubbin. Best for: dress shoes, anything that you want a high shine. Do not use on: synthetic materials, fabric, suede, patent.

Cream waterproof – comes in a squeeze tube. Works on leather but is great for man-made fibres, especially for footwear with more than one type of material. Can be polished to a low shine but tends to take scuffs easily. Apply squeeze tube directly to product, ensuring seams and welts are well-covered. Best for: synthetic materials, fabrics. Do not use on: suede, patent.

Silicone spray – the best choice for suede or other napped fabrics, easy to apply. Often has a strong smell, be sure to use in a well-ventilated area. Follow product directions to ensure an even coating. Best for: suede or items with mixed materials that include suede. Do not use on: patent.

Acrylic spray – works the same as silicone but creates a “net” of product on the footwear, rather than a coating, which better allows the leather to breathe, while still keeping wet from rain and snow out. Follow product directions to ensure an even coating. Best for: leather, suede, synthetics and mixed materials. Do not use on: patent.

Three different boots, three different treatments: waterproof cream for the synthetic steampunks with multiple materials, silicone spray for the velvet Docs, and coloured polish and dubbin for the green leather.

Observant readers will note that none the products above are recommended for patent leather. There used to be patent cleaners available but they’ve since gone off the market. The process to make patent leather is to spray the leather with a plastic coating, so technically, it’s already waterproof. Silicone and acrylic sprays will bead and then dry cloudy. Best bet for patent is to simply wipe with a clean cloth. If you’re concerned about leakage in the seams of the welt, apply a bit of dubbin with a Q-tip around the entire welt.

Don’t forget to waterproof your leather bags. This hobo backpack made from upcycled leather jackets from Deborah Adams Designs gets a good slather of dubbin a couple of times a year.

Here are the basics:
– an old soft cloth; cotton jersey is great. (While you can re-use a polish cloth, dispose of anything with waterproofing product on it, and never try to wash a cloth with polish. In our house, we just use pieces of old leggings or yoga pants.)
– polish in the appropriate colour
– a welt brush or other small brush
– horsehair buffing brush
– waterproofing product of your choice
– shoe trees for quality leather shoes you don’t wear often, to help keep their shape

How often?
During the winter months, in a harsh, snowy climate, polish and waterproof most regularly-worn footwear at least once a month.

Augh! Salt!
Use a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water and spray the salt stains lightly, then wipe with a soft dry cloth. This may require repeated applications for severe salt stains. Apply waterproofing/moisturizing treatment before wearing again. Note that this process (mostly from the salt) may make suede hard and tough.

Augh! Soaker!
First, treat any salt stains as above. Then stuff the item with balled up newspaper or paper towels and place somewhere warm to dry. Do not place directly on or near a heat source as this will dry the leather and cause it to crack. If the moisture has affected the sole, causing it to separate, take it to a shoe repair for assessment. Apply waterproofing/moisturizing treatment before wearing again.

The suede on these Naots requires silicone spray, but the Doc Marten Chelsea boots get a coating of dubbin.

And finally, my most adult advice for winter footwear – put away the Docs. While Doc Martens does make some footwear with winter-friendly leathers and lug soles, most of the products just can’t handle winter weather. Anyone who’s ever done a header on an icy sidewalk in a pair of DMs will vouch for the fact that the regular soles are useless on ice. Also, without a lining they’re not a warm shoe. Most importantly, the hard, thick leather of DMs gets very stiff in the cold – it doesn’t even have to be below freezing. I ruined two pairs of Docs before a salesclerk (at a chain shoe store, not the Docs store) advised me that it was because the leather was cracking from the cold. Now, even if the sidewalks are clear, once the temperature goes below 5°C, the leather Docs go away for the winter.

This article originally appeared on Still Weird Zine.