Hiking in winter near urban areas, it’s difficult to avoid getting salty snow/slush on one’s boots. Of course, the first rule is to rinse it off immediately, and not to let it soak in. But sometimes one doesn’t do that (other priorities intervening, or plain old procrastination, …) and so one ends up a few days/weeks later with soaked-in salt on the boots.

At this stage, what should I do next?

All the advice I can find online (mainly: wipe with a vinegar solution) seems to be for just immediate/superficial cleaning — I have tried it, and it had very little apparent effect. Even if part of the answer is that I’ve irreversibly damaged the boots, I’d still like to know how to minimise/mitigate the damage going forward.

My current boots (which are in this state now) are nubuck, but I’d be interested in answers for other common materials as well.

  • 1
    Welcome to the site Paul. I am dealing with this exact problem up here in Canada at the present moment. Hope you get some good answers.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 13:08

3 Answers 3


Put them on a go for a hike where it is wet or snowy and not salty. The post How much sea water can I safely drink? has a bunch of words about salt and water in a body. Leather is skin.

The same principals apply. You wore boots in a heavy salt environment and the salt equalized into your boots. If you wear them in a wet low salt environment, the salt will equalize out of the boots.

As pointed at in the comment by @KenGraham, you should use care and dry they boots slowly, you will also want to treat the leather afterwards.


  • Theoretically your answer makes some sense (not a whole lot), but one should be cautioned into drying the boots rather slowly so as not to crack the leather and reapply a leather treatment afterwards.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 13:40
  • 1
    @KenGraham you are corrected, edited. Thank you. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 14:22
  • On the same principle, but for something do-able at home, I guess I could just soak them in shallow fresh water for a while, and change the water a couple of times to dissolve out as much salt as possible? Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 20:40
  • 1
    @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine You could, washing with saddle soap as recommended in the other answer could also be helpful. Treating them after you get the salt out is probably the most helpful thing you can do to prolong the life. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 20:45

It think the best way to approach this subject is three fold.

  • Cleaning the Shoes
  • Preventing Further Damage
  • Use a waterproofing product

Here are three steps to clean your boots:

Cleaning the Shoes

1 Use vinegar and water. A great DIY product for removing salt stains from leather shoes is a solution of water and vinegar.

•Simply mix two parts water with one part vinegar in a small jar. Dip a clean, soft rag into the vinegar solution and use it to gently wipe away any salt from the surface of the shoes.

•Remove the vinegar solution with a water-soaked cloth, then dry with a clean towel.

2 Use saddle soap. Saddle soap is a great product for cleaning leather shoes and is often made from 100% natural ingredients.

•Apply a small amount of saddle soap to a moist sponge and work it into the leather using small circular motions.

•Use a clean, dry cloth to buff the shoes and remove any excess saddle soap.

•If you're interested in making your own saddle soap at home, see this article.

3 Use a salt-stain remover. Many shoe and shoe-repair shops sell small bottle of chemical salt-stain removers. These are very effective and last through multiple applications. Use according to the instructions on the label.

Preventing Further Damage

1 Allow the shoes to dry. If your shoes are wet as well as salt-stained, it's important to let them dry out completely in order to avoid permanent damage.

• Place the boots in a warm dry space, away from any direct heat sources, such as a radiator or fireplaces. Rapidly drying the shoes can cause more damage than the water.

• Remove any unattached insoles and stuff the shoes with newspaper -- this will speed up the drying process and help the shoes to hold their shape.

• Replace the damp newspaper with dry newspaper every couple of hours for even faster drying.

2 Condition the leather. Salt can really dry out leather, so it's important to condition your shoes well after salt exposure to replace any lost moisture.

•Buff a little store-bought leather conditioner or lotion into the shoes. This will soften the leather, helping to reverse the effects of the salt.

•If you don't have any leather conditioner handy, a couple of drops of olive oil will do nicely. Rub a light layer of olive oil onto the surface of the shoes with a soft cloth.

•Repeat the process every few hours until the leather doesn't seem to be absorbing any more oil. Buff away any excess with a dry cloth.

3 Use a waterproofing product. Buy a special waterproofing product designed especially for leather.

•This will help to protect your shoes against both road salt and water damage. Water actually draws salt out of the leather itself, so it can be just as bad.

•In fact, you should apply this product to any new leather shoes you buy to prevent any damage from occurring in the first place. - How to Clean Road Salt off Leather Shoes


Clean and condition. REI

Good old saddle soap is good. Then lots of boot conditioner as the salt will dry them out. Then water proofing.

  • 3
    May I ask what the problem is?
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 16:19
  • Thankyou for your answer, and I certainly wasn’t the downvoter, but you’re contradicting lots of other sources when you say “vinegar is more for mold”, so it would be helpful to have some explanation of why we should trust you over them (I guess this is why you were downvoted?); plus the link you give is about general cleaning, it doesn’t mention anything specifically about the soaked-in salt issue or anything obviously similar. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 17:24
  • @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine Thanks for the feedback but I am exactly suggesting a general cleaning, conditioning, and water proofing.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 17:53

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