8 Reasons Why Leather Shoes Turn White When Wet (Plus Fix)

why do leather shoes go white when wet

We all know or notice that leather shoes sometimes turn white when they get wet. But why does this happen? The answer is surprisingly complex and has to do with a couple of important factors.

But to summarize, leather shoes go white when wet because there may be the presence of mold spores in the fibers of the leather shoe. Also, when your leather shoes become wet from water with salt or other minerals, the salts in the water can cause the leather shoe to go white.

To learn the details on why leather shoes become white when wet, read on.

1. Mold or Mildew Growth

One of the common reasons why leather shoes go white when wet is due to mold and mildew growth.

This is because both mold and mildew thrive in moist environments, so they will grow quickly on leather shoes that get wet.

Usually, your leather shoes may have mold spores from previous exposure to mold, and when the leather shoes get wet, these spores will quickly start to grow.

The resulting growth will create a white or greenish-white film on your leather shoes.

If you see any signs of mold or mildew on your leather shoes, it is important to clean them as soon as possible.

Otherwise, the mold and mildew will continue to grow and can eventually damage your shoes. The growth of mold and mildew can cause the leather to become discolored and even start to rot.

So if you want to keep your leather shoes looking new, it’s important to clean them and dry them off as soon as they get wet.

To avoid this problem you can also protect your leather shoes by applying a waterproof or a coat of beeswax polish to the exterior.

This will make them more impervious to rain and snow and will help to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

2. Salts In The Water

Another reason why leather shoes go white when wet is because of the salts in the water.

Water often contains dissolved minerals and salts, and when this water comes into contact with your leather shoes, it can cause these minerals and salts to be drawn out.

This will leave a white residue on your shoe that is made up of minerals or salt especially after the moisture or water has evaporated.

This is why salt stains are so common on leather shoes, especially if you live near the ocean or a lake and your shoes often get wet from rain or snowmelt that has been contaminated with these minerals and salts.

So it’s important to try to keep your leather shoes as dry as possible for this reason too.

Also, you would want to clean and conditioner your leather shoes a lot more frequently than you normally would if you live in an area with high levels of salt in the water.

In addition to that, do not treat or clean your leather shoes with hard water, as this will only make the salts in the water even more concentrated and could cause further damage to your shoes.

If you’re unsure whether the water running through your taps is hard water, simply use distilled water or a water conditioner to clean and treat your leather shoes.

3. Soap Residue In The Leather Fibers

One of the most common reasons why leather shoes go white when wet is because there was soap residue on them that interacted with water.

Soap and shampoo contain surfactants, which are chemicals that can help to break down dirt and grime.

However, these same surfactant chemicals will also react and interact with your leather’s natural oils.

This especially happens if you clean your leather with soap or leather cleaner and you do not rinse out the soap completely.

The result is that the chemicals in soap will interact with your leather’s natural oils and leave behind a white residue on it whenever the leather shoe gets wet.

This is often worse especially if you do not clean or dry off your shoes after they get wet because then this white residue leftover from the soap will absorb even more water to become larger and thicker.

If you want to avoid this white residue on your leather shoes, it is important that you properly rinse out all of the soap completely when you clean your leather shoes before drying them.

Also, only clean your leather shoe using a mild leather cleaner so as not to disrupt its natural oils too much.

It’s also important to make sure that you don’t use too much soap when you’re cleaning your leather shoes.

However, if there was already some kind of white residue on your leather shoes before you cleaned them, then the soap will only serve to make it worse and more difficult to remove.

In this case, you might need to use a stronger chemical cleaner or fine-grit sandpaper to try and remove the white residue from your shoes.

4. Using Harsh Leather Cleaners

Very similar to the point made above, using harsh chemical leather cleaners can also cause your leather shoes to go white when wet.

This is because these harsh cleaners can often contain chemicals that are very aggressive and will strip away the natural oils from your leather, leaving it dry, cracked, and brittle.

Once this happens, the next time your leather shoe gets wet, the water will be able to penetrate deeper into the leather and will cause the white residue to become even more visible.

In addition, this harsh cleaner might also remove any color from your leather shoe, leaving it with a pale or whitish appearance.

If you have been using harsh chemical cleaners like bleach to clean your leather shoes and they start to go white when wet, then you would want to consider switching to either a mild soap or leather cleaner that is designed for cleaning and conditioning your shoes.

On top of using the correct cleaners, it might help if you condition your leather shoes with a leather conditioner after you clean them too.

5. Leather Shoe Might Be Breaking Down

There is also a chance that your leather shoes might be breaking down and this could also cause them to go white when wet.

As mentioned earlier, the reason why your leather shoe goes white when it gets wet is because water interacts with the natural oils in the leather for a long period of time.

If you have been neglecting or not properly taking care of your leather shoes, then the leather might have started to break down and this could be causing them to go white when wet.

In this case, you would need to bring your leather shoes to a professional cobbler or shoe repair shop to get them repaired and restored.

If the leather cannot be restored, then it may be time to say goodbye to your old pair of leather shoes and get yourself a new one.

6. Water Reacting With The Leather Tanning Agents

There is also a chance that the water could be reacting with the tanning agent in your leather shoes.

Sometimes, the water that runs through our pipes contains rust and other metals that can cause a chemical reaction with the tanning agent in your leather shoes, turning them white.

If this is the case, then you might be able to stop your leather shoes from going white when wet by applying a leather protector or sealant.

You also want to clean your leather shoes with distilled water instead of regular tap water to help reduce the chances of this reaction from happening.

7. Problem With Leather Conditioner Or Protector Used

It’s also possible that you might be experiencing a problem with your leather conditioner or protector.

If you have been using a leather conditioner and protector on a regular basis, but your leather shoes are still going white when wet, then there might be something wrong with the product itself.

It could be that your leather conditioner or protector might be expired, or it might not be compatible with the type of leather that your shoes are made from.

Or, you might be using too much of it. You also want to take a closer look at your applicator brushes or sponges as they might be the culprit for why your leather shoes are going white when wet.

If any of these are the case, then you would need to discontinue using that product and find one that is better suited for your needs.

8. The Tanning Process Used

Also very similar to the point made earlier is that the tanning process used to create the leather material for your shoes could be a factor in them going white when wet.

If you look closely at most quality leather shoes, then they will have been tanned using either vegetable or chromium tanning processes.

Both of these types of tanning processes use natural ingredients and are considered superior options compared to other tanning processes that use harsh chemicals.

However, one downside of vegetable and chromium tanned leather is that it is more prone to going white when wet.

This is because the natural ingredients used in these tanning processes can sometimes interact with water and cause the leather material to become brittle and crack over time.

Related Article: Why Does Leather Turn White? (Plus Simple Ways To Fix It)

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons why your leather shoes might start going white when wet and it is important that you identify the root cause before taking any corrective action.

If you have been cleaning your leather shoes with soap and they start going white when wet, then it is probably because the soap is too harsh or not compatible with the type of leather that your shoes are made from.

Also, water containing salts or minerals, rusts, and other types of metals can cause your leather shoes to go white when wet.

Sometimes a combination of the factors mentioned above could be causing your leather shoes to go white when wet as well.

So take a closer look at your leather shoes and try to determine what could be the root cause of this problem.

If you are unable to find a solution, then it might be time to bring them to a professional cobbler or shoe repair shop for help.


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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