Those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere are in the middle of winter. What comes with winter weather besides cold temperatures (excepting locations closer to the equator, such as where my buddy “S” snowbirds in a U.S. Southern State)… is precipitation in the frozen form: ice and snow.
I have blogged a lot about the importance of having good traction when walking on slick pavement and on ice and snow. For me, boots that have the best traction have Vibram 100 (or similar) lug or waffle soles on them. They are like snow tires for the feet.
But what also comes with the frozen precipitation is the stuff that is spread to provide better traction for vehicles and to melt it: road salts (sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium) and abrasives (sand, fine grit gravel, silicon, and even aluminum particulate matter).
The combination of these products — road salts and abrasives — is an exceptional hazard to the health of your boots. Here is what I do daily about it…
Yep, you heard me. Wipe ’em down. Clean ’em off. Remove those salts and particulate matter from your boots before they do significant damage.
The damage to your boots is caused by:
* Formation of acids from road salts. I will not go into the wonky details of giving chemical equations, but you should know that salts are chemical compounds produced by chemical reactions. Those chemical reactions that formed salts can continue with exposure to water and other chemical compounds in the environment (and on walks and roads.) The acids produced are relatively mild, but nonetheless, they are acids. Acids cause leather and rubber to decompose quickly.
* Corrosion. Salts are very corrosive on their own.
* Breakage of the boot’s construction elements — threads, nails, etc., that hold soles onto the vamp (foot) and the heel (or heel counter) onto the boot will oxidize and corrode. Boots exposed to road salts and water that are not cleaned off regularly will rather quickly develop holes, lose a heel, or otherwise fall apart. (Especially true with cheap-o Walsucks purchases of “winter boots” made in China. Don’t fall for that.)
When you are wearing boots in winter and enter your home, instead of removing boots that are probably wet and grimy and leaving them by the door, in a mud room, or in the garage, do what I do.
Remove your boots and look at them. If they do not look wet, then just use a damp paper towel and wipe the soles. You will probably be amazed how dirty your paper towel will look, even though the boot soles did not look “that bad.” Trust me — road grime is almost invisible, but is insidious with its damaging properties.
Use a leather wipe to wipe down the leather on the sides of the boots near the soles. Wipe off the top of the vamps as well. Again, you will be amazed at the amount of grime you wipe off and ask yourself, “how’d that much junk get on there?” Leather wipes do not have to be fancy — I use leather wipes made for car upholstery that I buy at my local auto parts store. They come in a can and you can pull out one wipe at a time. (You only need one for daily boot care.)
If the boots look wet or if there is mud, ice, or snow packed into the soles, then bring your boots to a sink and spray water onto the soles to wash the crap out between the lugs. (Weather permitting, or the “summer alternative,” you can use a garden hose to spray boot soles to remove mud built up and packed onto lug soles.)
Dry the boot soles with a paper towel, and wipe off and damp-dry excess water from overspray on the rest of the boot.
Then use a leather wipe as described above on the leather of the rest of both boots to wipe away accumulated grime.
One additional and important thing to know is that leather wipes are chemically neutral, and will rather quickly negate the effects of acids produced by exposure to road salts and prevent deterioration of leather.
And yeah — this even applies to loggers or other boots expressly marked “waterproof.” It is a little-known fact, but the “waterproof” label on boots just means that the boots are better sealed to prevent water from seeping into the boot, such as if you just happen to walk in a stream or work for hours in muddy, wet, or snowy environments. The “waterproof” label does not mean that the leather of those boots will not corrode or decompose when exposed to road salts. So…
Every.single.time. Your boots will last much, much longer if you take 5 minutes to care for them every time you wear them.
Life is short: daily boot care is simple when it is a routine.