Follow any group of people down a hallway these days and you’ll likely see a fair number of right legs sporting a grayish-white half-moon of salt at the hem of their pants. Heels are similarly emblazoned with the sordid seal of sodium, the result of shoes marinating in the melted snow pooling on a car mat.
Suede boots and leather shoes sport an almost lacy embellishment of white crystals around their perimeter. Careless where you’ve set your purse or briefcase? The mark of rock salt is upon you.
But just as winter isn’t the end of the world, neither are salt stains. Even better, the solutions are simple, inexpensive and require no particular skill (leaving you to devote the bulk of your time to perfecting the curbside puddle jump.)
Here’s the deal: The folks at Rodale.com contend that salt stains can be cleaned with a soft cloth dipped in water or a water/vinegar mix. They start with 1 tablespoon of vinegar in a quart of water, but other websites go straight for a 50-50 mix of water and vinegar. Landing in the middle is the always-sensible Heloise, who makes a solution of 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup water.
Others say a squeeze of lemon will perform the same magic.
First, though, let the salt dry and brush off as much as possible with a toothbrush or other soft brush. Then dip a cloth in the vinegar solution and gently wipe the stain. You may have to do this several times to get it all out.
Then blot away the moisture with a terrycloth towel.
If the suede's nap seems flat after all this effort, you might try this idea, which popped up on several cleaning sites: Steam the boot over a pan of boiling water while brushing the suede with a wire brush. This could double as a skin-freshening facial. Or maybe not.
Toward fending off future stains, clean up your car mats, too, using much the same process: Mix a 50-50 solution of water and vinegar and wash the mat, then press a clean towel into the mat to blot up the water and the salt. Don’t rub; blot.
For clothes, most salt stains disappear when washed in regular detergent, but get at them as soon as possible. A fabric saturated with salt isn’t going to last as long, and the dye may go wonky on you.
If your trousers need to be dry-cleaned, make sure to point out the stain to your cleaner.
And yes – there's always a told-you-so -- we could avoid a lot of pain by pre-treating our shoes and boots with any of the pre-winter sealants that are available. So noted.
Also noted is that this is the last full week of January. Winter won’t last forever, but you know what looms between now and spring: puddles.