If you’ve ever put your shoes into long-term storage and taken them out six months or a year later only to discover the leather is ruined, the glue is falling apart and the rubber is cracking, dry rot is an issue you’re familiar with.
Shoes don’t always do well when you don’t wear them for long periods, and dry rot is the main culprit – so in this post, we’re going to talk about why this problem occurs as well as discussing how to keep shoes from dry rotting.
What is dry rot?
Dry rot is the process whereby leather and other materials become infected by mold and gradually deteriorate.
In fact, “dry rot” is something of a misnomer since moisture is required or it to occur – and as we’ll will see in a moment, reducing moisture is one of the keys to preventing it.
Once leather or other material is infected by fungal spores, mold sets in and the material breaks down. Then, if you leave your shoes in storage for a long time without realizing that dry rot has taken hold, they will be ruined by the time you take them out again.
Sometimes, you may read that dry rot can affect rubber too, but this is not true.
After taking your shoes out of long-term storage, you might find that the rubber has become brittle and cracks easily, but this is another issue.
It is due to the natural process of the structure of rubber breaking down with time, but even though this is not due to dry rot, we will also say a few words about how to minimize this process during long-term storage.
How does dry rot happen?
Dry rot needs a certain amount of moisture to begin. This doesn’t mean your shoes need to be damp – it just means that some moisture in the air is required for dry rot to start.
With enough moisture present, fungal spores become established in the leather or other material, causing mold to form, which then begins to break down your shoes.
Another factor that can allow spores to become established in leather is when the natural oils in the leather dry out.
This might sound counter-intuitive since we just said that dry rot requires moisture. However, oils protect the leather from mold – so when moisture in the air is coupled with dried-out leather, the perfect conditions for dry rot are created.
In terms of rubber, the problem doesn’t come from mold but rather from natural chemical processes that cause rubber to harden and become brittle.
It is a natural and unavoidable process that is caused by environmental factors like heat, UV light and ozone.
How can you stop dry rot in shoes?
The way to prevent dry rot in shoes is by identifying the factors that cause it to happen and removing those factors when putting your shoes into long-term storage.
Here are some of the most important precautions you can take to prevent your shoes from dry rotting:
1. Store them somewhere dry
The first thing to do if you want to avoid your shoes being affected by dry rot is to store them in a suitable place, and that means somewhere dry and with low humidity.
If you can store them in a dry closet, that will help ensure the air is as dry as possible.
However, storing them in a laundry room, in a basement or somewhere with a water heater is a bad move since these areas all tend to be more humid.
To reduce the effect of UV and heat on the rubber parts of your shoes, storing them somewhere cool and dark will also help.
2. Don’t store them in a sealed box
You might imagine that storing shoes in a sealed box would protect them from moisture, but in practice, the opposite is true.
There will already be enough moisture in the box when you seal it for dry rot to begin, and by enclosing your shoes in a plastic or cardboard box, you are only sealing that moisture in with them.
Far better is to store them on an open shoe rack with plenty of ventilation. This will allow more airflow, helping to keep your shoes free of dry rot.
3. Use something to absorb moisture
To reduce moisture further, you should store your shoes with something designed to absorb moisture in the air.
The best option is a shoe tree made of cedarwood. A shoe tree is placed inside the shoe and absorbs moisture and odor while also helping the shoe to retain its form. Cedar is the preferred material since it has excellent moisture and odor-absorbing properties.
Cedar shoe trees are not expensive and are a smart investment if you want to keep your shoes safe in storage, but another option is to use silica packs.
These are the small packs labelled “do not eat” that you find in the packaging with a whole range of items, including some foods.
They are designed to absorb moisture and are not expensive to buy, and if you leave a few of these in and around your shoes in storage, they will help stop dry rot.
Finally, the other option is just to use old newspaper. It might not be as effective or elegant as shoe trees or silica packs, but it still does the job – and is essentially free. Just stuff some into your shoes before putting them into storage and you will reduce the risk of dry rot.
4. Treat the shoes before putting them into storage
We mentioned above that the oil in leather helps shoes resist dry rot, so make sure you treat your shoes before placing them into storage.
If you plan to leave them in storage for extended periods, taking them out and treating them again every 3-6 months will help keep them in perfect condition.
5. Buy good-quality shoes
Buying good-quality shoes in the first place is important too. Budget shoes are made of cheap materials, and cheap leather or rubber won’t last as long as the top-end stuff.
This means if you want your shoes to last, it’s a good idea to spend a bit more when you buy them – that way, if you store them properly and look after them, you can expect to be wearing them for many years to come.
6. Take them out and wear them!
The last thing you can do to ensure your shoes stay in good condition is simply to take them out and wear them from time to time. This will help prevent dry rot from setting in, and it will also allow you to catch it early if it does manage to establish itself in your shoes.
Proper storage and care are the key
The most important thing about dry rot is to understand where it comes from and why it happens. This will allow you to take the correct steps for storing your shoes and caring for them properly to ensure that dry rot doesn’t have a chance to take hold.