Boot care and storage 101

Before you box up your boots in favor of spring and summer sandals, learn how to treat your favorite footwear right: suede, patent, bootie style, knee-highs or otherwise.

Dior runway boots. Imaxtree

Now that spring is here, it’s time to pack away your knee high boots and slip into some brightly colored flats. Before you banish your boots to the back of the closet for the season, try these steps to prolong the life of your shoes so that they are still shiny (and perfectly molded to the shape of your foot), for years to come.

Waterproof

BCBG leather boots on runway

BCBG boots. Imaxtree

Yes, spring’s warmer weather means putting your boots away soon, but it’s also the best time of year to snag a new pair of knee-highs on sale. (Like you needed another excuse to shoe shop!) You might even get a chance to wear them once or twice during brisker early spring days before boxing them up again for the fall. But before you stroll with them through April showers, take note.

Ideally, when you bring a pair of boots home from the store, your first step is to wipe them clean and then waterproof them with a treatment spray (even if the only place they’re going for the next few months is back into their box to wait for a colder day). A good waterproofing product will protect your boots from rain, snow, and unforeseen wine spills. Hey, it happens to the best of us.

When you’re choosing a waterproofing agent, be sure it’s safe for the material of your boots. Suede is very delicate and won’t always appreciate the same products as leather. When in doubt, visit your local shoe repair shop with your boots and have them recommend the right spray. When you do take your boots back out for fall, experts advise remembering to spray them with your waterproofing agent monthly.

And as long as we’re talking daily wear: remember to wipe down your boots with a microfiber cloth after every use, (you can remove larger amounts of dirt with a plastic or rubber-tipped brush made specifically for boots or shoes).

Maintenance

Cornejo black suede boots

Cornejo boots. Imaxtree

Once your boots are waterproofed, it’s safe to wear them out on a light rainy day. (You do need to use a little common sense: no suede will hold up in a monsoon, no matter how much waterproof spray you spritz on.) In order to keep them looking tip top after your outings, try this four-step process for monthly shoe maintenance, from the Shoe Service Institute of America.

First, clean the surface of leather boots with a leather cleaner. Next, use a leather conditioner to soften the leather, which may have become stiff from the extra moisture over the course of snowy and rainy months. Then you’re ready for the polish. Use a cream or paste polish over liquid, which have higher wax content to give the color and shine more staying power.

The correct way to polish is pretty simple: spread a layer of paste or cream onto the boots and let it sit for a few moments, then buff with a soft, clean cloth until the surface is shiny and all of the polish is removed. Be mindful of zippers and other hardware, and grooves near the sole where polish can get stuck. If you like, you can wear your boots while you do this, which will allow you two hands to polish. (Plus you can pretend that you’re having a professional shoeshine. Paying a pro for this is also an option, of course, if you feel like treating yourself).

If your boots have scuffs, try dipping a soft cloth in water, then in baking soda and rubbing the spot gently. When the scuff is gone, wipe the surface with a clean, damp cloth and buff dry.

After you’ve polished and touched up, it’s time to apply your waterproof coat once more. Once your boots are dry, you’re good to go.

Salt and Snow

If you live in a snowy location, it’s likely that you’ll have to deal with some salt and snow-residue stains on your precious boots before boxing them up. If you don’t, that residue will eat away at the leather while they sit unused. Fortunately, it’s possible to nip the damage in the bud. You can attack salt residue on leather with a solution made of equal parts white vinegar and water, soaking a soft cloth in the solution and dabbing it over the affected area before wiping gently with a towel. Allow the boots to air dry and then buff with a soft cloth.

Salt stains on suede should come off by using a suede brush. For a more stubborn stain that you can’t get out with vigorous brushing, try a suede eraser (which is typically sold alongside suede brushes at any drug store).

Mind Your Materials

Ferretti suede boots on runway

Ferretti boots. Imaxtree

When caring for any kind of shoes, it’s important to think about what they’re made of. And it’s not just traditional leather that needs a touch of TLC. Here are some specific tips for caring for patent and plastic boots (though these will work for your cute spring flats, too).

Patent Leather

You can buy a special foaming patent leather cleaner, or use Windex and a soft cloth to keep these looking shiny and new.

Remove patent leather scuffs by dipping a Q-tip in non-acetone nail polish remover and rubbing the affected area gently. Don’t press too hard, or leave the residue on the surface. When the scuff is gone, wipe clean with a damp cloth and allow to air dry.

If you notice salt stains, a solution of half white vinegar, half water, will also work on these.

Rubber

You can clean these durable inclement weather favorites with soap and water all through spring, and before you put them away for the summer. I like to use dish soap, mostly because of the lovely smell, but any soap will work.

Storage

Branquinho brown boots on a chair

Branquinho brown boots. Imaxtree

The number one thing to know about storing tall boots? Invest in boot trees, which make sure that your boots continue to hold their shape. When tall boots fold over themselves in your closet for long periods of time, creases will form in the leather, and wrinkling will occur around the ankles.

Boot trees are inexpensive, available at most stores that sell shoes, as well as organizational stores. The fancy ones are typically made from cedar wood, which help repel odors and any pests (think moths) as well as keep the shape, but plastic ones do the trick just fine for most purposes. If you’re storing your boots for a few months, stuffing them full of acid free paper is also a good option, just be sure that the boots themselves are completely dry before stuffing and storing them for a long period of time. (During seasons of heavy use, though, stick with the plastic or wood boot trees. Otherwise you’ll constantly be removing paper from your boots for daily wear.) Also consider wrapping your boots in a soft fabric bag to avoid dust while they wait for their next use.

Pay a visit to your cobbler

Sometimes as the weather turns warmer, I like to take my boots in to my local cobbler for a little special service. Cobblers have access to stronger leather creams with more color options that aren’t usually sold to consumers because of the intense fumes. Once every year or so, I find a professional polish just the right luxury.

If your boots are high-heeled, you’ll want to pay attention to the rubber or plastic tip on the heel, called a lift. If this wears down too far, it can damage the heel. I usually find that these need to be repaired each season of hard wear. You can do them yourself of course (purchase the lifts at any shoe repair shop, or online) or have your cobbler do it for you for about $12 a pair. If you have larger heels in need of replacement or repair, expect to pay $10-$40 for new ones.

One way to get more wear out of your boot soles is to add rubber sole protectors. Prices for this start at about $15 per pair (new soles cost anywhere from $45-$80 per pair). Don’t currently have a favorite cobbler? Search for one on the Shoe Service Institute of America’s website.

Once they’ve been cleaned, treated, and repaired, your shoes are ready to store safely for next season. If you treat your boots well, they will repay you with loyalty and comfort for years to come.

Cara Strickland
Cara Strickland

Cara Strickland is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about food, faith, singleness, and relationships for a variety of publications in print and online. You can find more of her work at carastrickland.com.