How to Protect Shoes from Snow and Salt Damage This Winter

It’s a rough time of year for footwear. Chicago’s shoe repair pros advise how to prevent and repair the damage.

Pedestrians walk across South Canal Street at West Jackson Boulevard in downtown Chicago on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. Their shoes are getting seriously messed up.   Photo: Jose M Osorio / Chicago Tribune

The streets are full of salt and slush, and all your shoes are in danger. Well, not necessarily. Sam Shunnarah, general manager of Beehive Shoeworks (35 N. Wells, 312-263-4888), and Mike Morelli, owner of Brooks Shoe Service (29 E. Madison, 312-372-2504), have some Chicago-tested techniques on preparing and repairing leather and suede shoes after having been subjected to the city’s winter sidewalks. 

First and foremost, if you prepare your shoes for winter weather, they will last many seasons and you’ll spend a lot less money. Shunnarah suggests Ralyn Aquatec (available at Beehive for $8.95) to protect your leather, suede and fabric shoes from water, salt and dirt. Keep in mind, each pair of shoes requires a full can to adequately water proof. Morelli invites customers to let Brooks protect shoes at the store, using a product that is much stronger than what’s sold on the shelves, for $15.

Once your shoes are treated, don’t go purposefully submerging your feet into puddles, but when winter life occurs, this will significantly help. If your shoes do happen to become soaked, let them dry naturally, not exposing them to any heat, which will cause leather to crack and harden.

For those of you who have neglected proper preparation of your shoes this winter, there’s still hope for a full restoration. Brooks charges around $25 for a combination of a hand cleaning process, using a desalting solution, and preparing shoes to (again) endure to the elements. Morelli also suggests allowing them to put on protective soles for $30, which will not only make shoes last longer, but will also give them a better grip for icy days.

Beehive offers a seven-step system to bring your shoes back to life, even as they’re puttering out. The first step is to clean mud and soil shoes by hand. Second, there is spot cleaning. Desalting comes next, using a Shop-Vac to remove salt bubbles, lines and rings.  They condition, polish, brush and buff the freshly cleaned shoes in the fourth through sixth steps. And finally, they top this off with waterproofing, protecting you to go back out in it. The service costs between $18.50 and $49.50, depending on how cruel (or kind) you were to your footwear.

This is, of course, a lot of work. Not to state the obvious, but you should spare your best shoes entirely—just keep them in the closet until we reach the end of snow boot season.

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