7 Tips to Help You Weatherproof Your Shoes for Winter

iStock.com/Barringtonhd
iStock.com/Barringtonhd

The rain, ice, snow, and slush of winter—not to mention salted sidewalks and roads—are hard on footwear. But a storm shouldn’t stop you from wearing your favorite kicks. Here are seven tips for weatherproofing your shoes for bad weather.

1. Don’t immediately reach for the waterproofing spray.

While completely waterproofing your shoes may sound like the best option, in reality, it will leave you with very sweaty feet. Waterproofing sprays create a barrier to ensure that nothing can pass through the material—but that also means that your shoes won’t breathe, creating a little pocket of hot, sweaty air around your foot. You probably want to look for something that will make your shoes water-resistant instead. If you’re going to be standing in a puddle for a decent amount of time, just go ahead and wear your rain boots.

2. Pay attention to material.

You’ll need to approach weatherproofing your shoes differently depending on what material they are. Whatever water-repelling spray you choose, read the label to make sure it will work on the pair of shoes you’re using. While waxes work on leather shoes, sprays are better for suede or fabric. Some shoes—namely, patent leather ones—can’t handle water-resistant sprays at all.

You can definitely find water-repelling sprays that will work for most of the shoes in your closet, though. The highly rated Tarrago Hightech Nano Protector spray works for leather, suede, nubuck (the sanded leather often found in work boots), and textiles like velvet. One warning: If the shoes aren’t black or dark brown, make sure to test a bit of the spray on an inconspicuous area of the shoe first, because some sprays can change the color of the material.

3. Clean and condition first.

Before you try to snow-proof your footwear, you want to make sure those shoes are completely clean, whether you’re waterproofing your hiking boots, running shoes, or designer suede. Otherwise, you’ll just be sealing in dirt. You can use a cloth to dust off any debris, then apply a cleaning solution. Some experts recommend using simple dish soap on leather, but you can also get solutions specifically designed for premium shoes, like this one from the sneakerhead-oriented shoecare company Jason Markk. If you’re working with leather shoes, you should use a conditioner to moisturize the leather and keep it from drying out and cracking, applying a layer while the shoe is still wet from cleaning. According to The Wirecutter’s tests, the French-made Saphir Renovateur is the best conditioner on the market. Then, once that whole process is finished, go ahead and apply the protectant spray or wax.

4. Use vinegar to take care of salt stains.

Salt stains happen, but you can mitigate the damage with a little bit of white vinegar. The Spruce recommends a mixture of 1 cup cold water and 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar. Use a white towel or cotton balls to apply the diluted vinegar to salt stains. The acid will dissolve the salt, and the stains will disappear. The technique works best on fresh stains, though, so try to take care of the issue as soon as you can.

5. Get a brush.

Keeping your shoes looking their best is an ongoing process. You should brush grime off your shoes regularly—ideally after every wear. It’s an easy way to remove dirt, mud, and salt before they build up and stain the material. It may seem like a lot of work in the moment, but it will save you time scrubbing at those stains later.

For leather, The Wirecutter recommends the Hanger Project’s medium horsehair brush ($15) for leather shoes, citing its quality construction and high bristle density. You’ll want something a little different for more delicate materials. For fuzzy fabrics like velvet, Racked recommends the very reasonably priced Evercare Magik brush.

6. Pay attention to the seams.

For the most thorough protection against the elements, pay extra attention to where the sole meets the top of the shoe and any other seams where water might get in. Backpackers and outdoorsy types swear by the beeswax-based Sno-Seal. You apply that one with a rag or a gloved hand, so it's easy to dab a bit extra around the seams compared to the rest of the boot.

7. Spray gently.

When using a water-resistant spray, you don’t want to deluge your shoes. Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before spraying, but in general, most sprays should be applied at least 8 inches away from the shoe to get a more even application of the product. Let the shoes dry thoroughly before you go out in the elements. How long this weatherproofing lasts will depend on the spray, the shoe material, the weather, and how often you wear your shoes, so again, check the instructions on your particular product to figure out how long your shoes will remain protected from the elements. You may only need to wipe your work boots down with Snow-Seal once a year, for instance, while you probably will have to reapply the Tarrago Nano Protector Spray to your vintage velvet ballet slippers more often.

Why You Should Never Charge Your Phone in Public USB Ports Without a USB Data Blocker

Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images
Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images

The USB charging ports that have popped up at airports, coffee shops, and even outdoor stations around cities in recent years are definitely a lifesaver when your smartphone is down to its last bit of juice. A dead phone is annoying at best and downright dangerous at worst, so it’s totally understandable why you’d jump at the chance to revive it at your earliest opportunity.

However, those public ports might not be as benevolent as they seem. According to Afar, hackers can load malware onto those stations—or on the cables left plugged into the stations—which can then deliver passwords and other data right from your device to the hacker’s. If you have used a public port recently, don’t panic; TechCrunch reports that these cases are fairly rare. Having said that, it’s definitely better not to risk it, especially considering what a nightmare it would be to have your identity stolen.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office explains that the easiest way to prevent becoming a victim of this type of scam, often referred to as juice-jacking, is simply to abstain from using public USB charging ports. Instead, invest in a portable charger, or plug your own charger into an actual AC power outlet.

But unoccupied power outlets are notoriously hard to come by in public places, and portable chargers themselves can also run out of battery life. Luckily, there’s a small, inexpensive device called a data blocker that will enable you to use public USB charging ports without worrying about juice-jacking. It looks a little like a flash drive with an extra slot, but it lacks the two wires usually found in USB chargers that can download and upload data. That way, your device will charge without transferring any information.

You can get two of them for $11 from Amazon here.

[h/t Afar]

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12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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