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How to Keep Your Shoes and Soles From Dry Rotting

If you don’t use your shoes regularly and they end up sitting in a closet for long periods of time, they may be susceptible to dry rotting.

When your shoes get damaged by dry rot, they are often not able to be salvaged. To avoid having to throw your shoes away, you should take extra care when cleaning and storing your shoes.

Here is our advice on how to keep your shoes and soles from dry rotting if you don’t use them often.

What Is Dry Rot in Shoes?

Dry rot affects your shoes when the fungus Serpula lacrymans grows in or around your shoe after you haven’t worn them for a while.

The fungus needs a damp, humid environment to grow. When you wear your shoes, your feet will sweat and this will create moisture inside the shoe, which won’t evaporate if it’s put in a plastic box or in the cupboard.

This creates the perfect environment for the fungus to grow and thrive, especially if you don’t wear the shoes often.

Dry rot can affect any shoe and it causes the materials to crumble, crack, and tear.

In leather shoes, dry rot causes the leather to become hard and brittle, with a white powdery substance on the shoe. The leather also breaks or has cracks that are visible to the eye.

Both natural and synthetic rubber shoes can be affected by dry rot, which causes the shoe to fall apart.

Conditions That Can Cause Dry Rot in Shoes

There are a number of factors that can lead to dry rot, with the biggest cause being moisture!

Moisture can get trapped in your shoe after you’ve worn it for a couple of hours, or even in your closet when they’re exposed to moisture in the air.

And if the shoes are made from materials that don’t breathe well, then the moisture can’t evaporate.

This can also cause moisture to build up in the shoe, creating the perfect environment for the fungus to grow.

With leather shoes, the fats are often removed from the leather during the tanning process and then the leather is re-greased in a process known as fatliquoring. This helps to make the leather soft and supple.

But if you don’t treat your leather shoes with leather conditioner or haven’t worn your leather shoes in a long time, then you may find that they become dry, brittle, and susceptible to dry rot.

If you leave or store your shoes in rooms where damp and humidity levels are high—like in a basement, attic, or bathroom—it can lead to dry rot or mold.

But also keeping your shoes in plastic or cardboard shoe boxes for extended periods can cause moisture to build up.

Not only can this cause dry rot to develop, but your shoes can become discolored which can make them look older than they are.

Tips to Keep Your Shoes Away From Dry Rotting

1. Invest in a High-Quality Pair of Shoes

When you’re looking for your next pair of shoes, make sure that they’re made from quality materials.

The materials either need to be breathable or have perforations in them that allow for excellent airflow.

If you’re looking at getting a new pair of leather shoes, then choose either 100% full-grain leather or a good quality suede.

Faux leather or bonded leather are types of lower-grade leather and may deteriorate quicker.

Full-grain leather and good suede can last for years if you clean and condition them at least once a month.

Even if you don’t wear the shoes often but you condition them often, it can help prevent dry rot from affecting your shoe.

2. Store Them in a Controlled, Dry Environment

Store your shoes in a room that’s dry and that has a low humidity level.

If you live in an area where humidity levels are naturally high, then store your shoes in a room with a humidifier.

Avoid storing your shoes in areas that are prone to temperature fluctuations, like the basement or attic, as this can increase the humidity in the room.

For leather shoes, you want to keep the temperature in the room between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level that’s not lower than 30% and not more than 60%.

3. Place Shoes on a Shoe Rack

If you’re going to be wearing a pair of shoes frequently throughout the week, like running shoes or work shoes, then put them on a shoe rack.

Make sure that there’s plenty of space between each pair of shoes on the rack so that the air can circulate properly between them. This will help moisture in the shoes evaporate and prevent dry rot.

4. Don’t Store Your Shoes in a Plastic Shoe Box

While shoeboxes can be a great way for you to store your shoes, you should avoid using plastic shoe boxes.

These boxes prevent air from circulating and can let moisture build up in the shoe over several months. This will allow the bacteria to grow and your shoes can be irreparably damaged.

Instead, store your shoes in either wooden or fabric boxes. These will help protect your shoes from moisture, dust, sunlight, and extreme temperatures.

When you put your shoes into the box, make sure that you stuff the insides and wrap them with acid-free tissue paper.

This will help prevent moisture from building up in the shoe and help preserve cork, leather, suede, and other materials.

5. Use Shoe Trees or Newspaper to Absorb Moisture

If you’re going to be storing your shoes for a long time, then make sure to use a Cedar wood shoe tree.

Not only will the cedar wood draw moisture away from the shoe, but it will also maintain your shoe’s shape.

You can also use newspaper in your shoe as an effective way to control moisture and prevent dry rot.

Roll the newspaper into balls and then stuff it tightly into your shoe, from the toe to the heel. This will also help to keep your shoe’s original shape and prevent it from shrinking.

6. Wear Your Shoes More Often

Try to rotate your shoes so that you’re wearing them every once in a while. This will let your shoes flex, which helps maintain their shape and allows them to breathe.

Make sure to give your shoes a clean before storing them again.

Leather shoes should be brushed gently and then treated with either a polish or leather conditioner every 30 to 45 days. This will help them to remain soft and supple while preventing dry rot.

For textile and synthetic shoes, you can do spot cleaning on the upper where it’s dirty with some mild detergent. Make sure that you clean one spot at a time and be careful not to over-wet the shoe.

Use a paper towel or clean dry cloth to remove the soapy residue and wipe your entire shoe several times. Then let the shoes air dry before you put them away.

7. Buy Corrosion-Resistant Metal Hardware

Most shoes come with either metal buckles, eyelets, or zippers.

Some manufacturing companies will either coat these with an anti-rust protectant or a layer of plating that prevents the process of oxidizing. However, not all manufacturing companies do this.

This will leave you with two choices. The first is don’t purchase any shoes with cheap metal.

The second is that you apply a coat of anti-rust protectant onto your shoes, like Rust-Oleum Shield H20.

8. Clean Insoles With Vinegar

White vinegar has natural disinfectant qualities and is an excellent cleaner.

To clean the insoles of your shoes, you’ll want to mix 2 parts vinegar with 1 part warm water.

Then place your insoles into the mixture and either leave overnight or soak them for a few hours. Make sure to rinse the insoles in fresh running water and then air dry them.

Once dry, your insoles will be fresh as the solution would have removed any bacteria that caused any odors. Place the insoles back in your shoes once they’re completely dry.