How to rescue wet shoes in winter

Recovering from a thorough soaking is relatively straightforward with clothes: hang them up to dry, tumble dry if you must, or – if really necessary – use a hairdryer or bathroom hand dryer.

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Footwear, on the other hand, can be ruined or scarred for life if mishandled after a single weather event, or a lost umbrella.

Leather shoes can get wet, but it is not ideal. The main problem with wet leather is as it dries. The natural oils in leather bind to water molecules so, as the water molecules evaporate from your shoes, the oil goes with it. Do this quickly, and leather can shrink or become dry and brittle. That leads to cracking.

Drying shoes on top of a heater, or by the fire, is a terrible idea: avoid direct heat. A seemingly harmless quick tumble dry of wet sneakers can also wreak havoc as glue can come unstuck, and stitches unravel.

Luckily the best remedy for wet shoes is easily accessible and affordable: newspaper.

To dry your shoes gradually, towel off any excess moisture, then ball up the separated newspaper pages. Stuff as snugly as you can. Make sure to retain the original shape of the shoe as lumps can dry in. Wrap lightly in paper, and place in a sheltered ventilated spot.

Airing cupboards work well for drying, as long as they are under 35C, but avoid this if the shoes are smelly.


The best remedy for wet shoes is easily accessible and affordable: newspaper. (Image: Karlya Smith)

Repeat this process as the newspaper itself becomes wet – probably twice the first day, then less as they dry. It will take a few days at least, depending on the weather and how wet they are.

Be patient. Boots will take an especially long time to dry, and make sure they are supported to the top, stuffed with paper, fabric or a boot tree.

Speaking of shoe trees: investing in one, particularly in cedar, helps preserve, dry and scent treasured shoes. And it holds their shape for polishing.

Avoid using sections of the newspaper that have big photographs as they can bleed ink if wet. The business pages tend to have more words and fewer pictures, so they are my go-to.

Brown paper, used tissue wrap, paper towels and cotton household rags are alternative options, and best when drying pale-coloured or expensive footwear.
Shoes can take on a post-soak pong. This happens to synthetic/vegan leather in particular, but also to natural fibres such as cotton and linen, which are susceptible to biological attack (ie, mildew) when wet.

You are not off the hook once your shoes are dry. Give them a clean, too. Suede and nubuck will benefit from a good going over with a suede brush.

For smooth leathers, now is definitely the time to condition them with a soft cloth, and a leather conditioning cream from your local cobbler, to add oil back.

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