This Training Center article is written by the editors of SNEWS®
Footwear aftercare products are not just a way to increase “units per transaction” for your store. Properly used, aftercare solutions will:
• Renew worn-off Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatments on footwear.
• Enhance water-repellency AND breathability of footwear.
• Help prevent footwear aging and destruction caused by poor or no care.
• Enhance the user’s comfort and performance of purchased footwear.
Which, when summed up, means you end up with a much happier and satisfied customer.
Footwear care basics
All footwear comes with a factory-applied DWR that lasts anywhere from 30
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minutes to 30 days, depending on the treatment and how much abuse the footwear receives. Be sure of this: All DWR will wear off at some point. When this happens, the outer fabric will wet out, meaning it will soak up moisture and, if the footwear does not have a waterproof/breathable membrane (such as Event or Gore-Tex), the foot will then get wet from the outside moisture. If the footwear does have a waterproof/breathable membrane, it will cease functioning (breathing) once the outer material wets out, and the foot will get wet from its own delightful ooze. Which means, even if the footwear you are selling customers is supposedly waterproof by construction, it will quickly become less than waterproof or appear to be so to your customers IF you do not provide them with the means to properly care for the footwear they just purchased.
Keep in mind that aftercare is a mindset, not just a couple of swanky products. In order for it to work, users must actually implement good aftercare habits! It’s not enough to simply put the bottles into the customers’ outstretched hands and steer them to the register. Take the time to explain how to use the products you are going to sell customers, and why using them is so important.
What aftercare products to choose?
It really isn’t that difficult as long as you know the footwear materials you are working with:
>> Fabric or mixed fabric/leather uppers: Clean always with a gentle shoe soap, or cleanser. Waterproof fabric and leather with products specifically formulated for fabric/leather uppers and condition leather parts with recommended products.
>> Suede or nubuck leather uppers: Always clean with a gentle shoe soap, or cleanser. Waterproof suede or nubuck with products specifically formulated for suede or nubuck uppers.
>> Smooth-finish leather uppers: Clean always with a gentle shoe soap, or cleanser. Waterproof leather with products specifically formulated for leather uppers and condition leather with recommended products.
What about Gore-Tex footwear?
Although some companies still claim in literature that the product is “recommended” by Gore, in fact, Gore no longer recommends any footwear care product as best or better than another. The fabric lining in a Gore-Tex shoe requires no special care other than the occasional rinse if your customer desires. Leather lined boots should be cared for just as you would your outer, with proper cleaning to remove impregnated salts and sweat, and conditioning with a leather conditioner to ensure the lining remains soft and supple. Improper treatment, though, of the leather lining and/or the leather or fabric/leather outer can render the shoe useless in terms of breathability. Always follow manufacturer’s guidelines for care.
Can footwear be damaged by aftercare?
Yes. If the wrong product is applied, or even if the right product is over-applied, bad things can happen to good boots.
If the right product is over-applied, breathability can be impeded which, while technically not damaging the footwear, can cause the user to get wet from within. If your customer does find they overdid it a bit on applying the leather or fabric treatment, a good cleaning will most often solve the problem.
The biggest problem can come from using the wrong product. By wrong, we mean mostly by using a treatment that works poorly with modern tanning processes of leather, and/or a product that reacts poorly with the glues used in modern boot construction. Most modern leathers use a chromium-salt tanning process, rather than the older oil-based process. Using oil or fat-based proofing treatments such as neatsfoot or mink oils can react very poorly with modern leathers, often over-softening them to the point where the boot is ruined. Our recommendation is to follow a boot manufacturer’s guidelines for leather care. When in doubt, a water-based cleaner and treatment system is most often recommended.
What is the basic process to clean/waterproof footwear?
No matter what type of footwear your customer owns, from an expensive leather boot to a less expensive low-top walking shoe, regular cleaning is very important. Just rinsing off footwear every time it gets dirty will go a long way in prolonging its lifespan. Caked-on dirt is one of the worst things to leave on leather — it sucks out all the leather’s natural oils, leaving it dry and prone to cracking. Leaving wet mud/debris on boots can be equally harsh, providing bacteria a lovely environment in which to grow and destroy the leather.
To properly clean and waterproof footwear, tell your customer to perform the following:
1. Remove laces and footbeds.
2. Hand brush any loose dirt/debris off the footwear using a stiff nylon bristle brush or brass bristle brush. A retired hard-bristle toothbrush will suffice here if a specialized brush is not purchased.
3. Using lukewarm water, rinse off the easy-to-get dirt.
4. Using a product specifically designed for cleaning footwear, gently scrub the footwear thoroughly — we’d recommend you also tell your customer to use the cleaner on their footbeds and shoe laces as well.
5. Rinse very thoroughly.
6. Apply a waterproofing agent. These come in brush on, rub in or spray on. Some are best applied when the boot leather is still damp, and others require the leather or boot upper to be dry. Follow directions explicitly.
Do’s and Don’ts in Aftercare
First, the no-no’s!:
• Never use heat to accelerate drying! Tell your customer that they can place crunched-up newspaper in wet boots to facilitate the process, changing the paper periodically.
• Never store boots with caked on mud or dirt.
• Never use solvents to clean leather or fabric uppers or soles.
Now, the absolutely do’s!:
• Clean your footwear regularly — rinse after every outing and thoroughly clean as needed.
• Many conditioning and waterproofing agents can darken light leather. Always tell your customer to test the application on an inconspicuous place first to be sure the resulting appearance is acceptable.
• Reapply DWR to help footwear resist moisture, and in turn shed mud more easily.
• Periodically apply conditioner to any leather parts.
• Dry thoroughly after wear — removing footbed helps accelerate the drying process. There are a number of products available that, when placed inside shoes, help to accelerate the drying time by absorbing the moisture in the boot. Of course, aside from these, there’s always crunched up newspaper.
• Store footwear in a cool and dry place, in a shoe bag or box. Shoes left to gather dust, debris and cobwebs in between use will not last nearly as long.
• Use a cedar shoe tree to extend the life of footwear.
How long can your customer expect their footwear to last with proper care?
There is no hard and fast answer to this one as it depends a lot on how sturdy or durable the boot or shoe is to begin with. Consider too that a properly fit boot will last longer than a poorly fit one (that’s all on you, the salesperson to ensure good fit). In addition, a person’s gait will affect how quickly a boot or shoe wears. Then, there are the other variables, such as how the boot is used. Boots, even the sturdiest ones, will wear far more quickly if used for working rather than just for walking. Stomping on the blade of a shovel, for example, can break a shank loose. Grass stains from yard work can actually harden leather causing it to crack. Hard surfaces, such as granite, cement or asphalt will wear a sole and lead to more scuffing in the upper than walking on more forgiving surfaces such as dirt trails. Oily spots on parking lots can contaminate your rubber soles and cause them to soften. Yard chemicals too can cause some soles to soften or crack. No matter how a shoe is used though, remind your customer that the fastest way for them to end up with a shoe that wears out quickly is to NOT care for it properly as recommended above — with regular drying, cleaning, waterproofing and conditioning.