Expert Tips for Removing Yucky Winter Salt Stains

Road salt may be great for cleaning the streets, but it also presents a cleaning dilemma of its own—here's how to get those stains out

It's been quite a white winter so far in many parts of the country. And as if the mounds of snow and resulting brown slush weren't enough, we also have to deal with the yucky salt stains that travel home with us on our boots and coats and make their way onto our carpets. We told our salty sob story to a few cleaning experts, who gave us their tips on how to get rid of those telltale white rings.

Take Preventative Measures
"The first line of defense: you have to keep your leather items well waxed, basically waterproofing them," says Jeff C. May, coauthor of Jeff May's Healthy Home Tips. For shoes and outer garments, use beeswax, mink oil or the appropriate shielding agent before you hit the streets. For your home, try Scotchguard Upholstery Protector. To test your waterproofing job, put a drop of water on the material (it should bead up like it would on wax paper). Be sure to cover the entire surface of the material, particularly the point where your shoe or jacket will first contact the snow.
 
Remove Excess Snow Before You Get Inside
Before you enter the house, stomp, shake and shimmy off the excess snow. "A bristle rug or boot cleaner outside the door will remove most of the materials that adhere to the tread of your shoes, including road salt and dirt," says Karyn Siegel-Maier, author of The Naturally Clean Home.
 
Let Items Dry Naturally
Once inside, before you start rubbing those salt stains, let your boots, jacket or carpet dry naturally. If the material is so thick you’ll be waiting until summer, use a hairdryer. Joey Green, author of Cleaning Magic, recommends adding a bit of cornstarch, which will soak up the water.
 
Use a Natural Removal Formula

Put equal parts white vinegar and water into a spray bottle, and "spray the stains, but do not saturate," says Siegel-Maier. (Test this formula in an inconspicuous spot first, as the acid in the vinegar may damage certain dyes.) Then, gently blot with cloth or sponge. If blotting isn't doing the stain-removal trick, leave a water-dampened rag on the area for up to 10 minutes. "It’s kind of like osmosis," says May. "The salt is going to rise from the bottom up." Finally, vacuum your carpet to remove any debris that may be hiding inside the fibers.
 
Avoid These Common Mistakes
"Whatever you do, do not use baking soda to try and remove winter salt stains," warns May. The reason? The roads are coated in sodium chloride (common salt) and calcium chloride, which comes in the form of small pellets. Mixed with baking soda, the pellets will pull an eighth-grade chemistry experiment and create limestone deposits.
 
Also, avoid steam-cleaning your carpet. As with any porous surface, moisture droplets will get trapped inside and combine with the salt, which will make the stains even worse.
 
Finally, because road crews use other chemicals to accelerate the melting of ice, do not leave your stains untreated, for your sake as well as that of your furry loved ones. "Pets might be tempted to lick these spots or the salt off their paws, which can make them sick or even cause them to suffer burns," Siegel-Maier cautions.
 
What's your trick for removing winter stains? Chime in below!
 

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