Summer’s heat wave might still be fresh in our minds, but it won’t be long before the weather starts to change and we’ll be complaining about polar vortices and Arctic blasts once again. And, of course, the havoc all that snow and sleet can wreak on our footwear. So if you’re beginning to refresh your winter-shoe wardrobe, or pulling old pairs out of storage, it isn’t too early to think about taking preventative measures that’ll keep your feet dry and your shoes in like-new condition.
The right products and methods for weatherproofing shoes depends on their specific material and how you plan on using them. We asked a cobbler, a stylist, and a footwear-industry pro to break down the best way to protect all your winter shoes — from delicate suede clogs to rugged snow boots. Scope their picks below — your January self will thank you.
Best protector for high-end leather and suede shoes
If you just dropped a lot of money on a pair of calfskin-leather heels or suede booties, you’re definitely going to want to protect them from the elements. Edward Andrade, of Cesar’s Shoe Repair in Manhattan, generally advises avoiding wearing your nicer shoes in bad weather, but since you never know when you’ll get caught in the rain, it’s still important to treat them with a gentle product. “If the products are silicone-based or greasy, they’ll change the finish of the shoe,” he says, and instead recommends this lightweight Meltonian spray that repels water without altering the look or feel of your shoes. You can also spritz it on leather and suede coats and jackets.
Best protectors for everyday leather shoes
Less precious shoes can handle a more heavy-duty spray, like this one from Spanish leather-care company Tarrago that incorporates nanotechnology — tiny particles that fill tiny openings in the leather to block water from getting in. “Leather is porous; it’s essentially a skin, and like our skin it has pores, so it breathes and takes in water through its pores,” says Andrade. “Nanotechnology puts on a coating, sealing the pores so water won’t seep in. It keeps water from penetrating.”
When San Diego–based personal stylist Vanessa Valiente’s clients ask her how to protect their leather shoes, she recommends Kiwi’s silicone-based spray. Silicone bonds to leather creating a barrier that keeps moisture out. Andrade agrees that while silicone-based products can be too harsh on fine or light-colored leathers, they’re very useful for dark-colored and black leather shoes that you’ll be wearing all winter. He says to spray your boots or shoes once a month to maintain the protective layer, paying special attention to the “edge of the seam where the sole meets the upper,” a common spot for water to leak in.
Best protectors for everyday suede shoes
Soft suede footwear requires special treatment. “Suede is like having a shoe that’s a sponge, so anything that falls on it will be picked up,” says Andrade. A material-specific spray — Valiente likes this one from Scotchgard — makes suede less absorptive without damaging the shoe.
“Before treating a suede or nubuck item, you want to get the nap of the material up with a horsehair brush,” says Valiente. Doing so ensures there isn’t any dirt on the shoe that could get sealed in, and that the spray will be applied evenly. She says Star makes her favorite 100 percent horsehair-bristle brushes, which are gentle enough to not snag or pull on the delicate fabric. Wait a few hours for the protectant spray to absorb, and then brush again to restore texture.
Best protectors for heavy-duty snow shoes
For shoes you’ll be wearing on the slushiest of winter days — or even hiking muddy or snowy trails — break out the beeswax. It’s Andrade’s pick for everything from hiking to ski trips because, after applying, it dries as a solid wax that makes boots impregnable to wetness. Paul Ronto, avid outdoorsman and content director at shoe review site RunRepeat likes Sno-Seal’s beeswax formula for weatherproofing any leather boots. “Boots without a waterproof lining will never be 100 percent waterproof, but leather treated right can get pretty close,” he says.
Like beeswax, mink oil is a heavy-duty protectant that should be reserved for shoes you don’t mind altering the look of slightly. Andrade says applying mink oil will “change the finish of [the shoe] and act like a layer of wax on a brand-new car. If you do that once every two months, it’ll keep your feet super dry.” The paste won’t damage leather though, and is one of the best ways to protect your feet from extreme weather.
Best for removing stains
All of the products above will repel salt — both the small amount naturally found in rain and the heavy layers poured on streets and sidewalks — which can cause leather to burn and bubble, but there’s always the chance some will seep in. If your shoes do end up stained, Andrade says it’s important to remove the stain instead of simply polishing the shoe, which will imprint it further. He says to apply Fiebing’s stain remover to shoes “and scrub the heck out of them.” Let the shoes dry and repeat the process if the stain isn’t gone.
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