The words dry rot should send chills down your spine if you are an owner of fine leather shoes or heels.
Some people may think it won’t happen to them, but if you’re storing your valuable shoes incorrectly, there’s always a chance your Salvatore Ferragamos, Allen Edmonds, Tom Fords or Christian Louboutins will fall victim to dry rot. If you have expensive cowboy boots, especially those made with exotic skins, you’re not immune to this tragedy.
And once the dry rot sets in, there’s no turning back…
If I have you scared or at least piqued your interest, this blog post will teach you how to keep your leather shoes from dry rotting.
What Exactly Is Dry Rot and What Causes It?
Dry rot is the process in which leather degrades due to the lack of moisture in the material. When all the oil from the leather evaporates, the fibers in the material become brittle and crack, which leads to permanent damage.
This process usually occurs if your leather footwear is kept in warm, dry conditions. Dry rot can also happen if your shoes are being stored in extreme conditions — very hot or cold temperatures as well as high humidity.
The degradation won’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process that will inevitably destroy your shoes no matter how expensive or cheap they were.
And like I mentioned before, once leather becomes dry-rotted, there is no way to repair the material. Any leather unaffected by the dry rot can still be salvaged, but anything that has rotted is gone for good.
How to Prevent Dry Rot
If you want your leather shoes or heels to last a long time, you’re going to need to store them in optimal conditions. Storing them in a damp basement or attic is not going to cut it.
Your leather goods will thrive in cool, lightly humid areas, such as closets or climate-controlled storage areas.
According to leather manufacturer Townsend Leather, you want to keep your leather goods at temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity between 30% and 60%.
Use a hygrometer, a device used to actively measure temperature and humidity, to see if the space you’re using to store your shoes is ideal.
If the temperature is fine but the air is either too dry or too humid, use a humidifier or dehumidifier to address that issue.
After determining where you’re going to keep your shoes, we recommend placing your shoes on shoe racks as they allow proper ventilation between each pair of shoes.
Plastic containers may be a convenient storage option and a great way to show off your shoes, but they also don’t provide enough airflow that your leather shoes need.
Additionally, plastic containers will trap moisture inside the box and damage the leather.
Preparing Your Footwear for Storage
Clean Your Shoes Before Storing Them
It’s one thing to figure out where to keep your shoes when you’re not wearing them, but it’s another thing to prepare them for storage.
If you don’t wear your leather shoes or heels often, then it is best to clean and condition them before putting them in storage.
On the other hand, you should clean your shoes about once a month if you wear them on a fairly frequent basis.
As always, remove any dust and debris from the shoe with a horsehair brush. If there are more stubborn stains, use a lightly damp microfiber cloth to wipe your footwear clean. Thoroughly dry your shoes afterward.
Also, you should thoroughly dry your shoes or heels before storing them if they get wet during use.
After you’ve cleaned your shoes, condition them with a leather conditioner or a shoe cream polish. FootFitter’s shoe cream not only adds a shine to your footwear, it also rehydrates the leather and locks the moisture in.
If you are conditioning cowboy boots made with exotic hides, make sure to use a conditioner specific to exotic leather or a lanolin-based leather conditioner.
Moisturizing your leather shoes or heels before storing them will ensure that the fibers in the leather stays pliable. This should make them less susceptible to dry rot, when kept in the right conditions.
Keep Moisture in Check to Avoid Dry Rot
In addition to cleaning your shoes before storing them, you should be mindful about moisture in your shoes. This is where a cedar shoe tree comes in handy.
Cedar shoe trees are doing double duty as a shoe shape retainer and moisture absorber.
I know we just talked about moisturizing your shoes, but one of the jobs of a cedar shoe tree is to absorb any excess moisture from inside the shoe.
If left unaddressed, the excess moisture — created by sweaty feet — will leave your shoes smelling and will eventually lead to dry rot.
Should you choose to go with a plastic shoe tree, make sure to place a few silica gel packs in the shoes to absorb excess moisture.
If you can’t get a hold of a shoe tree, try stuffing your shoes with acid-free paper — it will help the shoe retain its shape while absorbing some moisture.