Dry rot is the bane of carpenters but this decay caused by a fungus can affect leather and rubber as well. Dry rot in rubber is the bane of car aficionados, particularly those who like classic cars. However, it can conceivably affect the rubber in shoes as well as leather. Just as dry rot mostly harms old houses and classic cars, it is vintage shoes that are most often affected by dry rot. This can really ruin your Jay Gatsby cosplay.
What Is Dry Rot?
Dry rot is caused by the fungus known as Serpula lacrymans. It is typically not hazardous to health unless the person in question is asthmatic or allergic to fungus, to begin with. The leather affected by dry rot is discolored. It may be grayish or lighter in color.
The texture would be cracked and broken. Dry rot causes the leather to shrink, tearing the fibers irreparably. The leather would be hard and brittle to the touch. A powdery substance appearing after the substance is touched is a telltale sign of dry rot fungus.
Dry rot in rubber is a different story. It is not caused by fungus but by a molecular breakdown. This happens whether the rubber is natural or synthetic. The polymers simply break apart due to extremes in temperatures, lack of use or constant UV radiation. Even if the rubber is left in the dark it will deteriorate if it is not routinely flexed.
What Causes Dry Rot?
In leather, dry rot happens when the oils in it evaporate. This makes the fibers dry out and pull apart. Evaporation of oil makes the leather weak so that it breaks and cracks. This is why you are urged to condition your leather so that the oils are preserved and thus the leather is also preserved. Leather can last many years if properly cared for. In fact, genuine high-quality leather can last a lifetime or more.
How Can You Prevent Dry Rot?
As suggested, keeping your leather thoroughly conditioned will keep the oils from evaporating and prevent dry rot. Keep in mind that too much moisture is also bad for leather. They must be kept in a dry environment. A cedar shoe tree is excellent for keeping away mold and fungus.
You know those little packets you find in new shoes and bags that look like sugar packets but say “DO NOT EAT” in all caps? Those are silica packets. It absorbs water vapor. (And, seriously, don’t eat them.)
Stuffing newspaper in the toes of the shoes is a safe and effective drying method. If you plan to put your shoes in storage for a long time, here are some things you should keep in mind first.
- Start with high-quality shoes Poorly made shoes are just not made to last. Glue erodes away faster than stitching. Pleather deteriorates much faster than the real deal. There is an urban legend about three generations of cowboys killed by the same pair of boots, or rather, a rattlesnake fang stuck in the leather. The part about a single fang having enough venom to kill three people over several years is farfetched. However, it isn’t so farfetched for a cowboy to wear the same boots his grandfather wore.
- Store the shoes in a controlled environment. As said before, the shoes must not be kept in extreme temperatures, be they extreme heat or cold. They should also be kept away from direct sunlight. A walk-in closet is a good choice. Basements and laundry rooms are not good choices. If you’ve ever been to a museum, you’ll notice something that looks like a thermometer in the glass cases. That’s so the curators can make sure the climate is just so to preserve the artifacts. This way, shoes more than 4,500 years old can be preserved for viewing.
- No plastic or cardboard storage Some people like to store their shoes in the box they came in. After all, what’s the point of having a pair of Coach loafers without a box marked with that horse-drawn coach logo. (Huh. Who knew horses did graphic design?) This lets in too much moisture. Your shoes are not leftovers. Don’t try to store them in plastic containers. That keeps the moisture in. Remember that even Tupperware and plastic wrap don’t keep mold away forever. A shoe rack or even an open shelf is much preferred.
- Absorb moisture A cedar shoe tree maybe your best option. Not only does it smell nice and repel bugs but it will keep mold and bacteria away. They are not expensive so they are a good investment. Desiccants such as silica gel also do a good job of absorbing moisture. The absolute cheapest way to absorb moisture while storing your shoes is to stuff them with newspaper. For your millennials out there, newspaper is a tough textured paper that people used to print news on.
- Wear those shoes or at least condition them “These boots are made for walking” goes a song sung by Nancy Sinatra. “And that’s just what they’ll do.” Your boots were made for walking. This is a case of use it or loses it. They need to be flexed and exposed to fresh air. They also need shoe polish and leather conditioner. Otherwise, just like the philanderer in Nancy’s song, you will face the consequences of your actions.
Other Good Tips to Keep Your Shoes Going For a Very Long Time
- There are more good things you can do to make your shoes last a long time. Remember that soles are the part of the shoe that takes the most beating so try to protect them. You can find a variety of sole protectors for different kinds of shoes online. Store them someplace safe.
- You should line them up neatly in pairs in your closet. On the floor it is fine but a shelf is better if you don’t have a shoe tree. Leave some space between the pairs. Designer shoes will come with a dust shield but a pillowcase will do.
- Remember that shoes are not machine washable, not even canvas ones. This is not good for your shoes nor is it good for your machine. Machine washing shoes will make them wear out faster. Shoes should be washed by hand with a cloth and soapy water. It must be done before the stain really has time to set.
- With leather, a baby wipe is handy for a quick clean up. After a wash, stuff them with newspaper and let them air dry. Not only will this get the shoes dry but it will alleviate odors, keep the shape and prevent dry rot.
- You can make your shoe water repellant if they are not already. There are commercial water repellants that come in a spray can that you can use. Beeswax also works. It’s a simple do it yourself project. Remember that your shoes should be clean and dry before you put any waterproofing on the surface. Just dip an old toothbrush in melted beeswax and coat it all over the surface of your shoe.
- The wax is liable to clot up as you work with it. Use a blow dryer or heat gun to melt the wax further so you can smooth out the lumps. Don’t get the shoes too hot. If the color seems uneven, just put more wax on the blotchy parts. The wax will not only waterproof your shoes but make them shiny. It may even make them a little warmer.
- Consider trying to repair shoes before replacing them. A professional shoe repairer can help you with just about anything. They can even provide you with polish for odd colored shoes. Sometimes all you need is a heel replacement. A shoe repairer can even buff your shoes to look like new.
- A shoehorn not only makes it easier to put a shoe on but keeps the heel in shape by preventing crunching. This will also keep the collar of the shoe in shape. Overall, a shoehorn can stretch your shoes without creasing them. You can find one wherever dress shoes are sold.
- Your dress shoes should be regularly buffed and shined. Don’t make the mistakes Skippy made! Putting Kiwi on your boots does not involve fruit or small, flightless birds or people from New Zealand.
- Putting something on your boots to make them black and shiny does not involve duct tape. Use a polish that matches the color of the leather. This should get rid of any scuffs and odd marks. Once the polish is dry, give them a good buffing with a soft cloth such as an old t-shirt.
- Don’t forget to moisturize! This can keep your shoes from cracking after exposure to the elements. Just as you would only get quality shoes, you should only get quality moisturizer. Good leather moisturizer is easily absorbed into the leather. It will nourish the shoes and keep them fresh.
- Do not use a shoe cream that just sits on the surface. It will only help your shoes temporarily and it will come off easily on the hem of your trousers.
- Your shoes also need a day off. alternate your shoes. Don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. This will keep your shoes looking like new for a long time.
Can Dry Rot be Repaired?
Unfortunately, once dry rot sets in, the only thing you can do is to keep it from getting worse. The broken fibers just cannot be put back together. Remember what was said earlier, this is a break down on a molecular level.
This is why it is so important to keep leather supple by proper storage, shining and conditioning. If the leather is just very dry but hasn’t gone into the rotting stage as of yet a little oiling might fix that problem. If it has already cracked, oiling may not help.
Simple mold is a different story. First, allow the shoe to air dry completely. Do not put it near a heat source or in direct sunlight. Once it’s dry you can use a soft bristle brush or cloth to wipe the mold away. It is a very good idea to wear a surgical mask while doing this so that you do not inhale any mold.
You can use a small attachment on a vacuum cleaner or Dustbuster to get rid of all the mold residue and spores. Remember not to use the vacuum directly on the leather. Once all the mold is gone, work in some conditioner to preserve the leather.
If it looks like just a white film, it’s very easy to clean. This is just a result of the pores on the leather contracting. This squeezes the oil out and leaves a white film. It is unattractive, but not a sign of any permanent damage. The white film can be wiped off quite simply with a lint-free cloth. Maybe give them good conditioning just to keep them in shape.
Dry rot is a terrible thing to happen to leather. One of your shoes have it, the best you can do is give them a dignified death. This is a good case of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure, as Benjamin Franklin would say.
The leather must be kept lubricated but not damp. They must be conditioned and stored properly. If you start with high-quality leather and care for it in the right way your shoes should last you a good long time.