Step by Step: How to Clean Winter Boots and Shoes

Step by Step: How to Clean Winter Boots and Shoes

Just because your boots are made for walking doesn’t mean they’re made for winter. Salt, slush, snow, ice, and caked-on mud can all take a toil — not just on your body as you navigate slippery sidewalks, but also on the footwear you’re trusting to keep you upright. After all, most boots and shoes are leather and vinyl. Ideally, you did the prep work last fall to prepare ahead of the season. But even if you didn’t — and you’re reading this in icy, wet socks — it’s not too late to spare some of your shoes from ending up damaged and discarded. Instead, grab a soft bristle brush and a clean cloth, and let’s lace up with these tips to clean winter boots and shoes. 

Step 1: Brush off debris 

When it comes to winter shoe care, you first want to remove any gunk that has dried on your boots. After you’ve cleared it off, use a soft-bristled brush or a cloth to remove any remaining salt residue, mud, or debris. Start out working in slow, circular motions with your brush or cloth. This will help pull the debris without damaging the material in the process. Be sure your boots are dry before beginning this step. Otherwise, the dirt can seep into the material and make matters worse.

Step 2: Prepare a gentle cleaning solution  

For leather, suede, or even synthetic fabrics, create a cleaning solution using two simple ingredients. Fill a spray bottle or bowl with a mix of 50/50 water and white vinegar. You can also add a few drops of tea tree oil to combat lingering odors. 

Step 3: Clean the surface 

Using a soft sponge or cloth, dip it into the cleaning solution and gently dab or rub the surface of the shoe. Work in small sections, focusing on stains or dirty spots. For tougher marks, use a soft-bristle toothbrush or an old, clean toothbrush to gently scrub those areas. 

Step 4: Rinse winter shoes and pat dry 

Your boots or shoes are almost ready. Dampen a clean cloth with water and begin wiping down your footwear. Ensure the item is thoroughly rinsed. Next, pat the shoes or boots dry with a clean, dry towel to absorb excess moisture. Avoid placing them near direct heat sources, as excessive heat can damage certain materials. If you’re working with leather, you can proceed to condition the material (see below).


Tips for caring for certain winter boot materials 

The steps above will clean synthetic, leather, suede, and nubuck. However, each material has unique needs if you want to maintain them. Follow these care tips to help your boots and shoes last for many winters to come. 

Leather boots: After cleaning, apply a leather-friendly conditioner or balm to maintain moisture and prevent cracking. For the most sustainable options, natural products like beeswax or plant-based oils are excellent alternatives to synthetic conditioners. 

Suede and nubuck: Grab a suede brush or an eraser designed for suede to gently remove stains or scuffs. Brush weekly to keep the boots looking fresh. When tackling salt stains, if at-home care techniques don’t work, take your footwear to a professional. 

Synthetic materials: You can regularly wipe down synthetic boots with a damp cloth and mild detergent created by mixing eco-friendly laundry sheets with water. SaltyLama’s eco-friendly sheets are just as safe for the environment as they are for people and animals. Because SaltyLama’s laundry sheets are plant-based, they are 100% vegan and cruelty-free, produced without animal testing. Likewise, look for vegan-friendly shoe care products that are cruelty-free and made from plant-based ingredients. 

Drying and storing your winter boots 

After cleaning and conditioning your boots, stuff them with paper towels or shoe trees to maintain their shape and absorb excess moisture. Always avoid placing them near heat sources like radiators or fireplaces, as this can damage the material. Instead, air-dry at room temperature.


To make cleaning easier in future winters to come, consider applying a water-resistant spray or wax coating to protect your boots from moisture and salt stains. Seek out eco-friendly waterproofing products made with non-toxic, biodegradable ingredients. 

Other tips for long-term care 

Take the best care of your winter shoes by following these expert tips:

Routine maintenance: Clean your winter boots regularly, especially after heavy use or exposure to harsh weather conditions. This will help prevent any stains from binding with the material. This will extend the life and appearance of your footwear. 

Rotate your footwear: If you have more than one pair of winter shoes, swap them out regularly. This will allow your shoes to dry between wears, reducing the chances of damage and mold.

Following these sustainable cleaning and care tips for winter boots, you’ll keep your footwear in top condition all season long. So, say goodbye to salt, snow, mud, and gunk. Happy cleaning!


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