How to remove sidewalk salt stains from leather boots

Updated February 21, 2017

Be thankful for sidewalk salt in the wintertime, because it's effective at helping us avoid injuries from slipping on icy surfaces. Of course, the downside is that these chunky salt particles get on our boots and shoes, leaving highly visible white stains behind. Cleaning these stains from your leather footwear on a regular basis throughout the winter will help them last to see another snowfall. Just follow these steps to clean, dry and polish a pair of leather boots in less than 10 minutes.

Check both boots for whole grains of salt that may be stuck to the outside. Remove all of these grains with your fingers.

Create a mixture of two parts water and one part white vinegar. It's OK to approximate the amounts, as diluted vinegar is quite gentle on leathers. Use your best judgment when mixing to make sure that you have enough to clean the outside of both boots; the required amount will vary depending on the size of the boots and of the salt-stained areas.

Dip a folded paper towel into the water and vinegar mixture and rub the solution onto a small stained area of one boot. After it appears that the white stains have been rubbed out, switch to a clean, soft cloth and buff the area dry. Continue moving along the surface of the boot, cleaning one small area at a time and immediately buffing it dry with a separate cloth.

Let both boots air dry for at least 30 minutes after you finish cleaning them. Check them again to see if you missed any spots. They may only show up after the leather has fully dried.

Polish your boots after they've completely dried, if desired. Use a separate soft cloth to apply the polish and buff the boots to a shine, but defer to any special instructions that may be on your shoe polish can. Regular polishing throughout the winter season will help strengthen the integrity of the leather and put up an additional barrier to the harmful sidewalk salt.


If you live in an area where you frequently experience this problem in the winter, consider purchasing an outdoor-style boot-scraping brush. These typically stay outside, near your front or back door, so that you can scrape the salt and muck from your boots right before you go inside.


Some suede and other materials are similar to leather in texture. If you're not sure what your boots are made out of, check the label before trying this method. The vinegar and water wash may not be safe or effective for other materials.

Things You'll Need

  • Warm water
  • White vinegar
  • Bowl
  • Paper towels
  • Soft cloths
  • Shoe polish (optional)
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