Here’s How to Get Salt Stains Out of Your Boots

A good friend and mentor of mine once told me that “if you take good care of your tools, then your tools will take good care of you”. This article is about how to get salt stains out of boots, but that happened when I was working as a camp guide, and I know this statement to be true. A well maintained, and sharpened hatchet chops logs faster than a hatchet that has been neglected. 

But can this wisdom be applied anywhere else? 

Of course it can.

In many ways, clothing and tools are very similar. Appropriate clothes aid us through our daily tasks and make life more comfortable. And if I am going to be completely honest, for tradesmen (and women) out there, quality clothing and tools are synonymous. 

So just how do you take care of your clothing? This depends on what materials the piece is made out of. Today I want to focus on boot maintenance, specifically removing salt stains on leather. 

If you live anywhere with more than 2 inches of snow per year, then salt stains can seem unavoidable. These are stubborn stains that discolor the upper and makes the boot appear prematurely aged (not to be confused with patina).  

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Don’t Remove Salt Stains With Water

It is often a horrific sight and our first instinct would be to clean it with water. This seems logical because salt from our kitchen is easily dissolved by water. However, road salt is chemically different from table salt. 

Table salt is NaCl, a compound that can be evenly spread into a solution (water). Snow salt is that but with calcium and magnesium carbonate added in. The calcium and magnesium carbonate are the white compounds that stain your shoes. 

vinegar
via Mike Mozart, licensed under CC 2.0

Why Vinegar Removes Salt Stains

The trick here is to break down calcium and magnesium carbonates into things that can be dissolved by water. The solvent needed for this is acetic acid. Acetic acid may sound very “sciencey” but its diluted form, vinegar, is extremely common. You may even have it in your house! 

Vinegar breaks down the white substances into calcium and magnesium acetate as well as carbon dioxide. The end results of this chemical reaction are all water soluble meaning, water can remove them with relative ease. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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How to Remove Salt Stains With Vinegar

So now that you know the science behind the process, let’s talk about the appropriate steps to actually get the stains out. 

You do not want to use vinegar alone. Although vinegar itself is already diluted, it is still a very strong substance that can dry out any boot. 

For veg-tan or chrome tanned leather shoes/boots, what you need to do is:

  1. First, prep the shoe by wiping it down with a damp cloth.
  2. Then, dilute vinegar with water and mix evenly. Your mixture should contain 1 part white vinegar and 1 part water.
  3. Take a piece of fabric, dip it into the mixture and then rub the salt stain gently.
  4. Repeat step 3 until your shoe is stain free.
  5. Then give the boot one last wipe with a rag dipped with just water.
  6. Finally, wait for the boot to dry completely and then use the appropriate conditioner to condition the upper.

[Related: The 5 Best Conditioners for Men’s Boots]

suede alden indys

How to Remove Salt Stains from Suede

For suede shoes/boots, what you need to do is:

  1. Brush the shoe/boot with  suede brush or toothbrush to get dirt out.
  2. Then, dilute vinegar with water and mix evenly. Your mixture should contain 1 part white vinegar and 1 part water.
  3. Take a piece of fabric, dip it into the mixture and then rub the salt stain gently.
  4. Repeat step 3 until your shoe is stain free.
  5. After the shoe is stain free, wait for the shoe to dry and then brush the shoe with a suede brush to give it texture again.
  6. If you feel that the cleaning process caused discoloration, you may also purchase a colored protective spray made for suede and give it a coat or two. This should restore it close to its original color.

Do You Need a Cobbler for Salt Stains?

If you are not sure about something, it is best to call your local cobbler. Any cobbler should be able to get the stains out. I don’t think you should not risk damaging your boots if you’re unsure of your abilities or if you think a professional would do the job better. 

If you botched the job at home, and think throwing the shoe out is the only solution, then let me tell you that there just might be a saving grace. 

You can have a patina artist paint over the whole shoe! Adding a custom patina should mask any damage and instantly make the shoe look cool as hell. Patina artists, like Greg Park here in New York, these days can practically turn any leather shoe into a work of art. I highly recommend it for any neglected shoe laying around that desperately needs wearing. 

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