How to Remove Salt Stains From Shoes

salt stains on boots

The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to 10

Winter weather means icy walkways often made safer by sprinkling them with salt. The salt used to melt ice on sidewalks and streets contains calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, minerals that can leave white stains on shoes and boots, often permanently. That's why removing salt stains from leather, suede, and fabric shoes as soon as possible is so important.

There are some rules to follow that will lead to successful cleaning:

  • Don't wait: Act quickly to treat stains.
  • Don't make the stain larger. Always work from the outside of the stained area toward the center of the stain to prevent it from spreading.
  • Don't use the wrong type of shoe cleaner. What works on leather boots won't work on your suede sneakers.
Stain Type Salt-based
Detergent Type Distilled white vinegar, suede and nubuck cleaner, leather soap and conditioner, laundry detergent
Water Temperature Cool

What to Consider

The most important thing to know before you attempt to remove salt stains is what type of material your shoes are made from. Are they made of natural leather, man-made "leather", suede, nubuck, canvas, wool, or a combination of materials? Are the shoes machine-washable?

If you are uncertain and there is no care tag inside the shoe, take the time to visit the manufacturer's website. Most contain information on shoe care that will help your shoes last longer and look better.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools


  • 1 to 2 microfiber cloths
  • 1 to 5 cotton balls
  • 1 soft-bristled brush for suede
  • 1 washing machine



  • 1 bottle distilled white vinegar
  • 1 container leather conditioner
  • 1 bottle suede and nubuck cleaner
  • 1 bottle laundry detergent


How to Remove Salt Stains on Leather Shoes and Boots

items for removing salt stains from shoes

The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  1. Use a Vinegar and Water Solution

    • Mix 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar with 1 cup of cool water. Soak a few cotton balls in the mixture, wring slightly, and wipe one over the salt-stained areas.
    • Use a fresh damp cotton ball as the salt stains are transferred to the cotton.
    • Do not saturate the leather with the mixture.
    wiping boots with vinegar to remove salt

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

  2. Let the Shoes Dry

    Allow the shoes to air-dry away from direct heat to prevent excessive wrinkling of the leather. The shoes and boots should dry overnight or for up to 24 hours.

    letting shoes dry

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu


    Use shoe or boot trees to help the damp leather hold its shape. If you don't have shoe trees, stuff the shoes with white tissue paper to help absorb the moisture.

  3. Buff the Leather

    Once the leather is dry, buff the entire shoe or boot upper with a clean, dry microfiber cloth. If desired, treat the shoes or boots with a shoe conditioning product to make them more waterproof.

    Be sure to test any product on a small interior area to see how it affects the color of the leather.

    conditioning shoes

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

How to Remove Salt Stains on Suede, Sheepskin, or Nubuck Shoes

  1. Brush the Shoes or Boots

    To remove loose particles of soil and salt from suede, sheepskin (UGGS), or nubuck shoes, use an old, soft toothbrush or a shoe brush designed for suede to gently brush it away. Try to follow the grain of the suede.

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    • In a small bowl, mix a solution of one-half cup of vinegar and one cup of water. Soak a lint-free microfiber cloth with the solution and wring until the cloth is not dripping.
    • You can also use a commercial suede leather cleaner and follow the product directions.
  3. Treat the Salt Stains

    • Use the damp cloth to gently wipe away the obvious white stains from salt or other ice melt products.
    • Keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as the stain is transferred.
    • Be careful not to saturate the shoes to prevent shrinkage and permanent staining.
    • Use the same cloth to clean other areas that show signs of dirt or other stains.
  4. Brush and Air-Dry

    • Once the stains are gone, gently brush the surface of the shoes or boots with the suede brush following the nap of the leather.
    • Allow the shoes to air-dry away from sunlight or direct heat.
    • Use shoe trees or stuff with tissue paper to help them hold their shape.

How to Remove Salt Stains on Fabric Shoes

  1. Check the Care Label

    Check the care label or manufacturer's website to see if the shoes should be hand-cleaned or are machine washable. Many fabric shoes like canvas and wool sneakers can be machine-washed with care.

  2. Pretreat the Salt Stains

    Mix one-half cup of vinegar and one cup of cool water in a small bowl. Dampen a microfiber cloth with the solution and wring until it is not dripping. Wipe away any evidence of salt stains from the fabric.

  3. Wash the Shoes

    • If the shoes are machine-washable, place them in a mesh delicates bag before tossing them in the washer loaded with similar colors and fabrics. Use the gentle cycle, cool water, and your regular laundry detergent.
    • If the shoes cannot be machine-washed, after wiping away the salt stains, use a microfiber cloth dampened with plain water to "rinse" the shoes by wiping away any remaining residue.
  4. Air-Dry the Shoes

    • Remove the shoes from the mesh laundry bag.
    • Do not place the shoes in an automatic dryer. The high heat can cause some glues to dissolve.
    • Allow the shoes to air-dry away from direct heat.

How to Remove Salt Stains on Vinyl and Faux Leather Shoes

  1. Wipe with Vinegar and Water Solution

    • For rubber, vinyl, and faux leather shoes or boots, mix a solution of one-half cup of distilled white vinegar and one cup of cool water.
    • Dip a cloth in the solution and wipe away the salt stains.
    • Dry with a microfiber cloth to prevent streaking or water droplet stains on the shoe surface.

Additional Tip for Handling Salt Stains

  • As soon as you come in from a walk through slushy streets, give your shoes a quick cleaning with a cloth dipped in plain water before the salt dries.