Salt: Great on Food,Not on Floors, Clothes and Footware

January 21, 2015

Road salt is essential on the roads and sidewalks in the winter to keep us safe, but it can wreak havoc on your clothes, shoes and floors. This adds new cleaning routines and presents different challenges to housecleaners and homeowners in maintaining the cleanliness of homes and offices.

Why Salt Residue Is So Hard To Remove
  • The makeup of most ice melting products is based on calcium chloride or salt because of its effective melting properties and because it is relatively cheap.
  • The problem when it comes to floor care is that it has a high pH (alkaline), just like floor stripper. Left on too long, the finish on the floor can be lifted, leaving a sticky mess and a big job to strip the floor and re-coat.
  • As well, salt crystals can act like sandpaper underfoot, dulling a floor's surface or damaging a finish.
  • Once the surface is damaged, the underlying floor can be damaged or stained by water and other foreign matter that soaks in.
  • To get rid of this salt residue it has to be neutralized, that is to change the pH to neutral.

How To Remove Salt Residue

  1. As soon as you can remove water droplets that may contain salt. To do that easily keep a mop handy, which can be used with rectangles of old terry-cloth towels. These towels can be laundered and reused.
  2. As stated above, the alkaline salt residue needs to be neutralized. The best way to do this is with an acidic chemical. There are many brands of acidic pH cleaning chemicals. Often your floor supplier recommends a product for use with your specific floor.
  3. The most inexpensive and environmentally friendly choice is using vinegar, which has a low pH.
  4. Mix warm (not hot) water with vinegar and use a soft cloth or mop to remove the salt residue. Use 4-5 oz. of water to 4 gallons (approx. 15 L).
Dealing with Other Bothersome Salt Stains


  ✓ Dried road salt and deicer stains look terrible, and can actually damage your car.
  ✓ Wipe off spots with a soft cloth dipped in water or a solution of half water and half vinegar.
  ✓ If your car is too dirty to spot-clean, take it to a car wash. Car washes are more environmentally friendly than doing the same job at home because they filter the dirty runoff instead of letting the salt run into drains where it can run into streams and rivers.

  ✓ Anything that is made of weather-resistant fabric (snow boots or jackets) can be cleaned with a soft cloth dipped in water or a water/vinegar mix (1 tablespoon of vinegar in a quart of water). Then wipe clean with a dry cloth.
  ✓ For everything else, let the salt dry and then brush it off, either with a clothes brush or a soft hairbrush-- fast and easy! Make sure beforehand that any mud is completely dry, too, or you will work it in rather than remove it.
  ✓ Then wash the item in the washing machine.
  ✓ If laundering is not an option, gently sponge the dirty areas with a moist cloth, and pat off the dirty water with a dry cloth. Move on to a water-vinegar mixture if the salt stain persists.

  ✓ Salt can damage leather, so to preserve leather shoes/boots clean the salt residue off as quickly as possible by dipping a clean, soft rag in a one-to-one solution of water and vinegar and wiping away salt or dirt. This wiping may need to be repeated several times to completely remove the stain.
  ✓ Saddle soap is also good for cleaning leather items. Rub the saddle soap onto a moist sponge then apply it to the leather in a circular motion, and buff it with a dry cloth.
  ✓ If your your shoes are soaked through, remove any unattached insoles, dump out any water, and clean as above. Then stuff the shoes full of crumpled newspaper and allow them to dry. DO NOT put them near a heat source as high heat may damage the leather further.
  ✓ After your foot-ware is dry, apply a leather conditioner; olive oil or a beeswax-based leather conditioner are good choices. Rub on the oil with a soft rag, and allow the leather to absorb it (test a bit in an inconspicuous place first to see you like the effect or not).
  ✓ Continue to wipe on a thin layer of oil/conditioner every few hours until it no longer seems to disappear into the leather. Buff off any excess with a dry, soft cloth.

  ✓ Suede is trickier to clean, but try blotting it with a soft towel soaked in white vinegar to take out the worst of the stains. Once it dries you should then buff the suede with a dry cloth to renew the surface (the “nap” which makes suede soft).

With (hopefully!) spring, with it's own cleaning challenges, on the not too distant horizon, these steps can help keep your floors, clothes, and cars protected from corrosion until next winter.