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How to Protect Your Boots This Winter

Because boots should last for more than one season.
Last year's polar vortex in New York City. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Last year's polar vortex in New York City. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Growing up in Houston, I naively thought that winter ended on Christmas Day, after which I could retire the long-sleeve shirt I wore under my uniform during soccer games. Now, living in New York, I know all too well that winter doesn't even start until January and snow in April is nothing to be surprised about. 

To that end, it's time to take action to protect the season's most essential weapon against the elements -- the leather boot. If you are going to pay top dollar for a high-quality shoe, you need to give it some TLC on the regular to ensure it survives for seasons to come without staining, cracking and generally looking as gross as you probably feel inside after battling Global Warming's nasty sister, the Polar Vortex.

1. Clean

The salt that so effectively melts the snow on the sidewalks is a dangerous substance for boots. If left uncleaned, it will stain and damage leather and cause rusting in any metallic accents or zippers. Every night when you get home (or anytime you come inside, if you can), wipe with a damp cloth to remove dirt and salt, which often creates a white residue in long streaks. 

Cleansing or desalting liquids are also really helpful for trickier stains or dried-on salt patches. Depending on how often you use the boots, it is also a great idea to clean them with saddle soap about once a week, which softens and conditions the leather. Be sure to do a spot test before you go crazy over the entire shoe, just in case the soap has a darkening effect. To use the soap, rub a damp cloth in the pod to create a lather and rub over the shoes. Let it dry slightly and then wipe off with a clean, damp cloth. Leave them to fully dry propped up in their natural shape, with either newspaper inside or by using a boot shaper. Just be sure to not place them next to a heater or radiator! 

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Click through the slides below for cleansers, saddle soaps and boot shapers. 

2. Protect and Condition

Leather is just like human skin, so moisture is a very important part of winter survival. Regularly using a leather conditioner will keep the shoes from cracking and make them more resistant to water. Dab the solution onto a gentle towel and rub the shoes until they look restored. 

But for more serious water-proofing, there are many great sprays on the market. The most important part is to remember to reapply the spray regularly, about once a week. Once at the beginning of the season is not enough. 

Another way to prevent damage is to have your cobbler reinforce the soles of the boot before you hit the snowy streets. Many higher quality shoes don't come with the sturdiest all-weather soles and it's an easy fix that will won't radically change the look of the boots. The cost of resoling can range from $20 to $80, depending on the cobbler and type of boot. 

3. What about suede?

Suede should not get wet, and should definitely not be cleaned or treated with the agents listed above. The best way to care for suede is to immediately address any stain with a specialty brush, as well as to brush it on a nightly basis. If brushing doesn't do the trick, you can try to file off a stain very gently with a nail enamel board. 

4. What about rubber boots?

Rubber boots are a bit easier, but they need care too. Wipe off dirt and salt with soapy warm water (dish soap is an easy choice), followed by a clean damp towel. A pencil eraser can help with tougher smudges. And for extra spiffiness, use a rubber boot shine.