Not all funky stuff on the surface of your boots is necessarily mold and mildew. It’s a good idea to determine what you’re dealing with so that you know how to handle it.

There are two primary reasons for white stuff to appear on the surface of your leather boots or shoes:

  1. The growth of microorganisms (fungus or bacteria) on the surface of the leather,
    or
  2. Oils or salts migrating from within the leather and crystallizing on the surface.

How can you tell what the funky stuff is on the surface of your leather?

If your boots have been stored in a damp place or were put away wet, and if they smell like mold or mildew, it’s a good bet that you’re dealing with fungus and/or bacteria growing on your leather. In part 1 we discussed how to deal with fungus and bacteria.

If you’re pretty sure moisture hasn’t been an issue and your boots don’t smell moldy, the funky white haze on the surface may be “fatty bloom” or “fatty spue (spew).” This white “bloom” is the result of fats, oils, or waxes used in the tanning process which have begun to migrate through the leather and crystallize on the surface. Changes in temperature or humidity will often make these oils and waxes move to the surface of the leather. If you’ve had your boots in storage for a while you may notice this white haze when you unpack them.

Sometimes this white bloom is a result of the waxes and oils that you may have applied as a dressing on your boots or shoes. Oh, and by the way, we’re talking about boots and shoes here, but any oil tanned leather can potentially reveal this bloom. Your bags, belts, jackets or other leather goods could look white and hazy, too.

Regardless of whether the bloom results from internal oils or external oils, the big thing to remember about fatty bloom is that it’s not harmful to the leather. It just really detracts from the leather’s appearance.

What to do:

Buffing the leather briskly with a soft but sturdy cloth, like an old towel, will often make the bloom disappear. Gently heating the leather with a hair dryer or other low temperature heating device can also help the oils move back into the leather. Don’t use too much heat! It can wreck your leather.

And remember, less is more when it comes to applying leather oils, balms, waxes and polishes. Wipe away excess dressings when you’re caring for your boots or you may be surprised by a white buildup along seams. It’s not harmful, just not particularly attractive.

Another type of bloom called “salty bloom” can result from salts used in the leather tanning process. Sometimes a salt line will appear on the surface of your boots if they get wet from rain or sweat. This salt is coming from inside the leather and moving to the surface. It can usually be wiped away with a damp cloth. Don’t use too much water to remove the salt or you may cause more salt stains to appear. Applying a small amount of MooBuzz after the salt is gone and your boots are dry will make your boots look great.

Note

This “salty bloom” is not the same type of salt stain that appears from salt that is spread on roads and sidewalks in snowy and icy weather. Salt coming from OUTSIDE the leather can permanently scar the surface of your boots or shoes. This “external” salt should be neutralized with a mild solution of vinegar and water (see: How to remove salt stains from leather) and the leather should be allowed to dry thoroughly.


Always remove surface salt and other grit from your boots and shoes before polishing or conditioning. A light coat of MooBuzz on clean, dry boots will protect them from water and external salt damage and will keep them looking their best.

You’re taking good care of your leather!

Well, unless they are made of gorgeous, velvety green suede this is probably a bad thing.

Leather is a natural product and mold and mildew (fungi!) will grow on it in the right conditions. These conditions usually involve dampness and darkness and it doesn’t take long. Basements, car trunks, and the back of closets are all places wet shoes and boots can linger and get moldy and funky.

Even if your boots weren’t wet when you stored them, they may get funky in a damp place. Most leather is hygroscopic, meaning that it will absorb moisture from the surrounding atmosphere until the leather reaches a point at which microorganisms will grow on it. It’s best to stop that process as soon as possible. Essentially you need to clean the surface of your boots and dry out the leather a bit.

If your boots smell like mold or mildew, it’s a good bet that you’re dealing with fungus growing on your leather. If your boots don’t smell moldy, but they look weird, there may be something else going on. (Our next post will continue this topic and will discuss on other funky stuff that can happen to boots.)

But I digress. Back to mold and mildew. Here’s a simple way to clean surface mold and mildew off of your leather boots or shoes. Other remedies are available which employ harsh cleaning agents (like alcohol or bleach), but try this method before resorting to the big guns. You don’t want to risk discoloring your leather.

How to clean mold and mildew from leather - 3 things you will need

You will need:

  1. Clean towel or cloth for initial wipe down
  2. Another cloth or natural bristle brush for cleaning
  3. Bucket or sink
  4. Warm water
  5. White vinegar
  6. Clean, dry towel

What to do:

  1. Dampen a clean towel or cloth with clean water and wipe down the boots top to bottom to remove as much surface gunk as possible.
  2. Make a solution of white vinegar and water – 1 cup vinegar to 1 cup warm (not hot) water.
  3. If this is starting to sound familiar, you may have read our article on removing salt stains from leather but these instructions vary a bit.
    soaking in a tub - no, tub holding water to apply to boot with sponge? - yes!

    Best Practice!
    Never submerge leather. Always bring water to boot or shoes with a brush or cloth.

    Using your clean soft cloth or natural bristle brush, gently scrub your boots. Remember: to avoid creating water stains it is important to get the entire surface of the boot wet. It’s best to bring water up to the boot. Do not submerge your boot. If your boots are really smelly, use a damp rag to wash the inside as well.

  4. Once you have wetted and gently scrubbed your leather top to bottom with vinegar and water, rinse gently with clear water. Remember to bring the water up to the boots. No dunking.
  5. Pat your boots with a clean, dry towel to remove any excess water. If your boots are a light color you may want to use a light colored towel just to be sure you don’t transfer color from the towel onto the boot.
  6. Odrawing of a fan - Air dry, better yet sun dry your boots after washingnce you’ve removed any excess water, set your boots someplace with good air circulation and allow them to dry thoroughly. If you can set them outside in the sun that will help. Remember, avoid high heat areas like near a fireplace, wood stove, or radiator. The key is plenty of fresh air and sunshine. If you can put them outside, great. If not, just put them some place airy to dry.
  7. Once your boots are dry, check them over and buff gently with a dry cloth. If mold and mildew remain, follow up with a second cleaning using a mild soap solution (¼ teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap to 2 quarts warm water). Wash with soap as indicated above using a cloth or natural bristle brush to gently scrub any trouble spots. On smooth leather (not suede) you can also use saddle soap following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  8. Again, rinse well by bringing clean water up to your boots with a cloth or natural bristle brush.
  9. Pat dry with a clean towel. Use a light colored towel for light colored leather to prevent possible color transfer from the towel to the leather.
  10. Allow to dry thoroughly with plenty of fresh air. Avoid heat.
  11. Apply to leather in a circular motionWhen dry, condition and waterproof your boots with MooBuzz!

Good Job! You’re taking great care of your leather.

If your boots or shoes get really wet, the good news is that they’re probably going to be fine.

The bad news: you may have a bit of work to do.

Getting leather wet is usually not as damaging as letting it become too dry.

If your boots got really wet, have now dried, and you don’t see any watermarks or salt stains, yay. If they are relatively clean, just wipe them with a damp cloth to remove any lingering grit. If they are smooth leather (not suede), condition and waterproof them with a light coat of MooBuzz. Let the MooBuzz absorb completely then wipe off any excess. If your boots are suede, brush well with a suede brush and treat them with silicone-free water and stain protector made for use on suede. Boom, you’re done. Go have fun.

If your boots got really wet and have dried with watermarks or salt stains, or if they’re really dirty, I recommend you wash them as soon as possible. Detailed washing instructions can be found here: Condition and Waterproof your Leather boots last forever and How to Remove Salt Stains from Leather Shoes and Boots

Once you have washed your boots, it’s time to dry them.

Rules: Lots of air. No heat.

Don’t put your boots near a fire or radiator or (gasp!) in the oven to dry out. Heat can do all kinds of bad stuff to your boots including shrinking the leather and melting your soles.

Once your boots are dry, and if they are smooth leather, condition and waterproof with MooBuzz. Again, if they are suede, brush well with a suede brush and treat them with silicone-free water and stain protector made for use on suede.

If your FEET got wet when your boots got wet, check over your boots for areas where water may be getting in. The usual culprits are holes or cracks in the soling, cracks in the welt, and tears in the upper where it meets the sole. Get those babies to your local cobbler!

As a cobbler I notice that people fall into one of three general categories when it comes to caring for footwear. They either:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Do Something
  3. Do too much

As a general rule you want to be right in the middle: Do something.

You can tell if you’re doing too little because your leather will look dry and the color may look faded. Dry leather tends to shrink away from the stitching which can cause seams to loosen up which, in turn, may cause threads to break. Really dry leather can begin to crack which will cause the early demise of even the best leather shoes or boots.

It’s amazing what a light spritz of water and a horse hair brush will do for a tired looking shoe or boot. If your boots and shoes aren’t getting really dirty you may just need to wipe them down once in a while with a damp cloth and brush them off. Treat them to a light coat of MooBuzz twice a year or so. Pay attention – if you notice that drops of water are soaking into your leather instead of beading up, it’s time to reapply some MooBuzz.

Grit and grime can act like sandpaper across the top of your boot. If your shoes and boots are getting really dirty on a regular basis you’ll want to clean them on a regular basis. If you’re washing your boots regularly, the frequent wetting and drying can cause the leather to dry out. Remember: no heat to dry your boots and shoes! Follow each wash and dry session with an application of MooBuzz to keep the leather conditioned and waterproofed.

Be careful not to over-condition! Your leather should not feel loose and greasy. Too much oil can cause weakening of the leather fibers and may even cause eyelets and lace hooks to pull out. Again, pay attention: when water soaks into your leather instead of beading up, it’s time to MooBuzz.

Recap – When should you MooBuzz?

  1. When your boots are brand new – soften the leather to speed break-in and to prevent water damage.
  2. When your boots are feeling stiff after washing and drying – MooBuzz to replenish moisture and waterproof. Be judicious. You can always put on another coat.
  3. When you notice water soaking in instead of beading up – it’s time to MooBuzz.
  4. When the salt trucks come out in the winter – MooBuzz helps prevent salt damage!

1Heat can dry your leather out too much, too fast leading to cracking and shrinking. Neither of these is reversible. Both of these will ruin your boots.

2Heat can reactivate adhesives and cause soles to become loose. This can usually be fixed with a trip to the cobbler but you’ll be without your boots for a while.

3Heat can shrink some types of soling and this may deform your shoes or boots. This, in turn, may severely alter the fit. Again, this can usually be fixed but we’re talking sustainability here: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (thanks Ben Franklin – you know: waste not, want not).

4Heat can melt and distort internal components. Most boots have a thermoplastic toe counter to maintain the shape of the toe. This can shrink or get dented. Sometimes this is fixable, but typically not.

Keep your boots away from heat – campfires, fireplaces, radiators, ovens, closed up cars parked in the sun, or any other area that may become really hot for extended periods of time.

1 Condition and Waterproof

Apply a coat of MooBuzz before you step out into the snow. MooBuzz will protect your boots or shoes from water and salt.

2 If you forgot to MooBuzz, wipe off water and salt as soon as you can.

Don’t let your boots or shoes sit covered in melting snow. Remove excess surface moisture as soon as you can to prevent the salt from penetrating the leather. Letting salt stay on your boots or shoes may lead to permanent discoloration and scarring.

3 Neutralize Salt Stains

Clean the salt off as soon as you notice the telltale white halo. It’s pretty simple.

  • First, lightly wet down the outside of your footwear from top to bottom with clear water. Don’t dunk them into the sink. Just bring water up to the shoe or boot using a brush or cloth.
  • Then use a mild solution of white vinegar and water (1 generous TBSP vinegar for every cup of water) and a natural bristle brush to gently scrub the salty areas of your boots or shoes.
  • Rinse thoroughly with clear water (again bringing water up to the shoe or boot), blot with a clean towel, and allow to dry completely. Then apply MooBuzz!

See our Blog Post – “How to Remove Salt Stains from Leather Boots and Shoes” for more information.

One of my customers recently asked me NOT to clean and shine his shoes. I was confused. These are complimentary services when I re-heel or re-sole footwear. Most people take me up on it.

I must have looked puzzled because he followed up his request with a rather sheepish admission: He loves to spend time on weekends cleaning, conditioning, and shining his footwear. He finds it relaxing.  I was touched. I immediately knew we were kindred spirits.

For me, caring for nice leather footwear and accessories is part of the fun of having them. It’s one of the reasons I was drawn to leather work and shoe repair. With proper care your items look better, feel better, and last longer.

If you’re the type of person who likes to do your own leather care, you already know that it can be a deeply satisfying hands-on experience. I have many customers, however, who are very hesitant to take care of their own leather goods. And I have to admit, I’ve seen some really bad outcomes when customers thought they were doing the right thing, but they weren’t. Sometimes there’s no coming back from a bad leather care mistake.

Cleaning, polishing, conditioning, and waterproofing are all things that can be done at home.  But here’s the crux of it, the “Pro” and the “Con” depending on your point of view: You have to know what you’re doing. And like anything else, it takes time to gather knowledge and gain experience. If you love learning new things and you like working with your hands, leather care will probably be fun for you. If, on the other hand, the very thought of taking care of your leather items makes you feel anxious or disgusted, leave it to a professional.

Watch this space for pointers on proper care and maintenance for your leather goods. It’s really pretty easy once you know the basics. A few important steps can ensure that you won’t have to do some really tricky cleaning and refinishing work down the road. You might even find a new way to relax.

If you live in snow country and have ever left your house in winter, this has probably happened to you.

It’s winter. It’s slushy and slippery and there’s salt everywhere: On the street, on the sidewalk, on your door mat, and on your boots.

I’m talking about that crusty, white halo around the base of your boots and shoes.

It’s best to wipe your boots or shoes off as soon as you can to remove most of the salt right away.

Letting salt stay on your leather may lead to permanent discoloration and scarring. 

Clean any remaining salt off as soon as you notice that telltale white halo. It’s pretty simple.

How to remove salt stains from leather - 3 things you will need

All you need to clean the salt off of your leather boots and shoes is:

  • warm water
  • white vinegar
  • natural bristle brush
  • clean towel
Always bring water to boot. How to clean leather.

Best Practice!
Never submerge leather. Always bring water to boot or shoes with a brush or cloth.

The cleaning process is just five easy steps:

  1. Mix up a mild solution of white vinegar and water in a separate container: We use about 1 TBSP vinegar for every cup of water.
  2. Over a sink or large plastic tub, use a natural bristle brush to bring the vinegar and water solution up to your boot/shoe and scrub gently.
  3. Once you have gently scrubbed your entire boot/shoe with the vinegar and water solution, you will need to rinse it with clean water. Again, use your brush to bring the water up to the boot/shoe.

Do make sure to get the entire exterior of the boot/shoe wet so that you don’t end up with water marks once your boots/shoes are dry.

Don’t hold your boot/shoe under the running water or dunk it in the sink.

  1. Gently pat your boot/shoe dry with a clean towel.
  2. Leave your boot/shoe to dry fully – away from any direct heat sources.

Repeat with your other boot or shoe. See also Make Your Boots Last Forever

Once your boots/shoes are clean and dry apply a coat of MooBuzz to replenish moisture, restore suppleness, and protect against water and salt.

Want to know how to care for your leather shoes and boots? Use MooBuzz. It conditions and waterproofs to help prevent water damage and salt stains.

Here’s an easy way to tell if MooBuzz is right for you.

Infographic - how to decide if you should use MooBuzz

 

What should you look for if you want to buy footwear that, with proper care, will last for many years? Here is some basic information regarding sustainable footwear.

Sustainability has two components: what shoes are made of and how they are made. Part 1 includes information to help you determine what materials your shoes are made of. Next let’s talk about the combinations of materials and construction methods that, in my opinion, create the most long-lasting footwear.

The wide varieties of material and construction methods available today make it possible for most people to own multiple pairs of footwear.  It’s likely that not all of your footwear is made of the same materials or made in the same way. The type of shoe you buy will in large part depend on how you plan to use it. You’re probably not going to hike in a dress shoe, and you’re probably not going to dance in a hiking boot.

I see and repair dozens of shoes each week. My experience tells me that there is not one particular material or construction method that is “best” for everybody and for every purpose. Therefore I’ve developed a sort of hierarchy of what to look for when you are trying to buy sustainable footwear. I present this hierarchy as “here’s the rule, but here’s the exception.”

Main guiding principle:

Good Materials + Quality Construction = Good Shoes

This seems obvious, but what does it really mean?  This is where my hierarchy comes in. I’m going to lay down my basic “rules” and then sift through the exceptions to come to some conclusions.

As noted in Part 1, when looking for sustainable footwear it’s best to focus your attention on four major areas:

  1. The upper – The exterior portion of your footwear that is not the sole. In my experience, sometimes the shaft of a boot is not included in this definition and may be a different material.
  2. The lining – this is the part of the shoe that is on the inside of the upper. It touches your skin (or your socks).
  3. The welt – this is the part of a shoe that holds the upper to the sole. Not all shoes have a welt.
  4. The sole – this is the part of the shoe that touches the ground. Sometimes called the “outsole.”

What to look for in shoes when it comes to sustainable:

Upper:

General Rule

Leather lasts longer than fabric or man-made materials

Exceptions:

Poor quality Leather – leather is a great material for shoes and boots and will usually outlast most other materials. But as we noted in our Field Guide, not all leather is the same. Do some checking about what type of leather you’re getting. Unfortunately, price is not always a good indicator of quality.

Constant wet/dry – leather is not always the best option for certain kinds of conditions. If you’re getting your shoes or boots wet and muddy on a daily basis, they may not last as long as you’d hoped. The mud-moisture-dry cycle can act almost like a saw across the flexing parts of the footwear. Deep and jagged cracks can develop and shorten the life of the footwear.

If you like the feel and fit of leather, but you work or play in a continuously wet and muddy environment it’s best if you can either protect them with an overshoe or be serious about letting them dry out, cleaning the mud off, and then routinely applying a conditioner and waterproofer.

Vegan footwear – I have seen shoes and boots specifically made as vegan footwear that is among the most well-made footwear I’ve come across. The price of this footwear is typically reflective of this superior quality. If you are selecting vinyl footwear because you do not want to use leather, you may want to be sure the highest quality materials and construction methods are being used to ensure longer life of your footwear.

Lining:

General Rules

A leather lining is best

Fabric is better than vinyl

Exceptions:

Wet Conditions – I actually think a leather lining is best. Leather linings tend to hold up really well. But again, if your footwear is getting wet on a regular basis, a synthetic fabric lining is probably better than leather.

Oftentimes I see a nice leather upper lined with vinyl. The vinyl cracks over time and crumbles away from its backing. It looks and feels terrible. This is an area that you want to be careful about when checking what your shoes are made of. Really check the manufacturer’s details. Sometimes you will read “fully lined leather upper.” This doesn’t necessarily mean the lining is leather.

Welt:

General Rules

A welt is better than no welt

A stitched welt is better than a cemented welt

A leather welt is better than a rubber or plastic welt

If no welt, look for a midsole

Diagram of shoe - can you find the welt?

Welt – details of how a welt is attached.

When I refer to a welt I am referring to a separate strip of leather, rubber or plastic that is stitched or cemented to the upper to which the sole is then attached. A welt can be stitched or cemented to the upper and the sole.

Another very strong method for constructing shoes is the Blake (or McKay) stitched method. This method results in a slimmer appearance because the sole is stitched directly to the upper from the inside of the shoe.

A midsole is a full-length outer sole which is usually glued to the upper and then stitched either directly to the upper or to the welt. This is also a very good method for constructing footwear. The sole is then cemented and/or stitched to the midsole. The Blake stitch and midsole construction methods are a bit less likely than a welt to keep water from reaching the interior of the shoe.

A large amount of information about welts and shoe construction methods is available on the web. I do not explore the fine points of those construction methods in this article. My goal is to discuss what types of shoes are most repairable/sustainable.

After many years of repairing all types of footwear, I conclude that a welt, any welt, is better than no welt if you’re concerned about re-soling. A shoe made with a welt can usually withstand multiple resoles. In addition, worn or broken leather welts can be easily replaced by most cobblers. Many manufacturers offer re-crafting services for welted footwear. This service oftentimes includes replacing the welt. Any time you can replace the original parts, you are talking sustainability.

A lot of quality footwear is made with a welt and a midsole (suspenders and a belt, ha ha). I love this construction method. It makes re-soling very straightforward and provides many options with respect to replacement soles.

Sustainable leather welted boot sustainable (repaired)

Leather welted boot with new soles and heels

A cemented welt is not as strong as a stitched welt. But most cemented leather welts can be re-cemented when they come apart and can be replaced when they crack or break.

Leather welts tend to last longer than plastic and rubber welts. Plastic welts are prone to cracking at the stress points which can cause severe leaking.

Exceptions:

Although welts are preferable, many types of unwelted footwear are well-made and very sustainable. Here are some examples:

Cemented Components – Birkenstock sandals with a leather upper, cork footbed and EVA sole are among the most sustainable footwear on the market. Every piece of these sandals can be either repaired or replaced. I wish I had invented them.  Many types of fine men’s and women’s dress footwear are totally cemented together. Today’s adhesives are pretty amazing. Many of these shoes and boots can be resoled.

Cemented “unit” type soles – Many hiking boots are made with soles that are cemented to the upper. No welt, no stitching of any kind holding the parts together. So long as the boot is made with a full-length lasting board, these soles can be replaced.

Stitchdown or turnout shoe – these shoes and boots look like they have a welt, but they don’t. Good examples of turnout shoes can be seen at conkershoes.com. This is a simple and good way to make a shoe or boot. Danner, Clarks and many other makers of quality shoes and boots use this method on some of their footwear. Stitchdown shoes can usually be resoled if they are stitched to a midsole. If they are stitched directly to a molded sole, it’s unlikely they can be resoled.

Sole (Outsole):

General Rules

Leather Soles are comfy, long lasting and can be dressed up or down

“Rubber” Soles are comfy, long lasting, formal or casual

Polyurethane (PU or PUR) Soles = Caution!

Natural Gum Rubber or Plantation Crepe Soles = Caution!

One-Piece Molded Soles = Caution!

Leather soles are extremely comfortable, but will require a breaking in period. They last a long time and can usually be replaced as long as the upper is in good shape. Their tendency to be rather slippery can be remedied by adding a thin rubber outsole over the leather. This thin rubber sole is sometimes known as “cat’s paw,” sole guard, or sole saver. If applied correctly it will preserve the beauty and comfort of the original leather sole while adding grip and protection. When the rubber sole guard wears out it can be removed and replaced without having to disturb the original leather sole.

What we call “rubber” soles today are often a compound of rubber and plastic. Many different materials exist today to meet different demands for durability, abrasion resistance, weight, and comfort depending on the application. You can find rubber soles on everything from dress shoes to lineman’s boots. They perform well; and many can be replaced with high-quality, readily-available replacement soles. Rubber soles win the longevity battle in my opinion, but leather wins on comfort.

Exceptions:

Let me explain why you should be cautious about the last three materials on my list.

Polyurethane Soles – polyurethane is a plastic material which can exist in many forms-some flexible, some rigid. The reason for caution is because soles made of polyurethane will eventually break down, crack, and crumble. This process is a function of the age of the soling material. Usually this process of breaking down begins somewhere around the 5-7 year point.

I have customers nearly every week who bring in shoes with pristine uppers and crumbling PUR soles. I used to just remove the cracked or crumbling part of the sole, if possible, and bond a new sole to the remaining PUR sole. But the original PUR sole will eventually deteriorate and the bond holding the new sole will fail. In my opinion, that’s not a good value for my customer. If the shoes don’t have a midsole or a welt –I can’t repair them.

Regular and hard wear of PUR soles will actually postpone the deterioration process. I usually tell people who have PUR soles to just wear the heck out of them because the soles won’t last forever and they can’t be resoled if they don’t have a midsole or welt.

Natural Gum Rubber Soles – natural gum rubber, also called plantation crepe, is natural latex from rubber trees that has been coagulated usually into rather coarse-looking sheets that can be used for shoe soling, among other things. The reason I advise caution is that this soling will begin to soften and become very sticky if it comes into contact with any sort of petroleum product. Be careful when pumping gas, or standing at the bus stop, or walking across the street! I once had a customer whose shoes became stuck to his closet floor when his plantation crepe soles got real sticky after he pumped gas. It also can be very slippery in wet and cold weather.

Natural gum rubber (plantation crepe) which undergoes further processing becomes “regular” rubber and is used for all sorts of products, including shoe soles. Rubber shoe soles (also called caoutchouc) do not have the same “negative” qualities as noted above.

A few words about “crepe:” In the shoe industry, Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) is also called “crepe.” This may create some confusion with plantation crepe. They are not the same thing. EVA is a man-made material (the copolymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate). Plantation crepe is a natural product from rubber trees. EVA is an extremely flexible material with properties similar to rubber but with excellent toughness. Many shoes are made with EVA soles or with EVA as a mid layer and a tough rubber compound material for the outermost sole. It has neither the disintegration qualities of PUR nor the “sticky” qualities of plantation crepe.

One-Piece Molded Soles – these soles usually come in one of two types:

  1. Molded soles that are stitched to the upper. These shoes are often made to look like they have a separate welt, but they don’t. The soles are one molded piece of polyurethane or other material and the stitch holes are molded into the sole. The sole is then stitched to the upper through these holes. The stitching is real, but the welt is not. If the holes wear through or break, the shoe is usually a total loss.
    This shoe has a fake welt and can not be repaired.

    Pristine upper with molded PUR sole that can’t be repaired.

    The sole can’t be restitched or replaced except with an original sole from the manufacturer. Many manufacturers change models quite frequently and the soles are often not available. This type of shoe causes more heartbreak for my customers than any other type of shoe.

  2. Soles bonded directly to the upper with a pseudo-welt which comes up onto the upper and forms a little “cup” that hugs the upper. These pseudo-welts will often have stitching molded right into the soling material to make it look like the sole is stitched. Sometimes the sole will even have molded stitches or real thread on the bottom to make it look like the soles are stitched. They are not stitched, but it gives you an idea about how valuable stitched soles are if manufacturers will go to these lengths to “fake” it.

The reasons for caution with this type of sole are two-fold. First, many, many molded soles are polyurethane (PUR) and we discussed above the problems with these soles eventually disintegrating. If the soles crumble, they can’t be replaced. Second, even if the sole is not PUR and it lasts long enough to simply wear out, it oftentimes cannot be replaced. It would be great if manufacturers made the molded and stitched soles available so that cobblers could replace them. But they typically do not. Many molded soles which may at first appear to have a stitched sole (with re-sole potential) may not be sustainable after all.

Conclusion:

If you sift through all my rules and exceptions you could put some things together to come up with a sustainable shoe. It might look something like this:

Leather upper, leather lining, welt construction, leather sole with rubber protection to meet the pavement. And you’d be about right. That is a very sustainable design.

Except, most of us have varied lives. We walk to work, we go to the beach, we walk in the water, we hike, we work in the garden, we go to the gym, and we go to weddings and funerals. And most of us need a variety of shoes to take us through our lives.

Your shoes have to fit your lifestyle and your budget. My hope is that by learning about some of the benefits and limitations of common materials and construction methods you may be able to find a type of shoe that is a bit more sustainable than some you have worn in the past. Even if you can’t afford the most expensive shoe on the market, you will know what to expect from the shoes you’re buying.

@featured image credit

Featured image photographic imagery are derivatives of Rusty crane  by Sarah Sammis, and Along the Road  by Rusty Clark, used under CC BY.